Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week

Washington, D.C. – March 31, 2008 . . . Major stories this week included increased violence in southern Iraq; Iran’s economy continuing to have serious problems with inflation and unemployment; President Bush giving a speech on the global war on terror; ongoing campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination by Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama; on five former US Secretaries of State urging the next US administration to open a dialogue with Iran; Vice President Dick Cheney wrapping up a trip to the Mideast; interviews with one of the top Iranian-Americans serving in the US government, Goli Ameri; with Nasrin Basiri on her husband, Iranian dissident Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, finally being allowed to fly back to Berlin; with political analyst Mashallah Shamsolvaezin and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi on the law enforcement or public security police in Iran; with Hassan Shariatmadari, president of the Iranian National Republicans on Iranian politics; with Kurdish journalist Massoud Kordpour on the crackdown on Kurdish human rights activists; with Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and financial Intelligence Stuart Levey on economic sanctions against a Bahrain-based bank because of its support for Iran; with human rights activist Iraj Mesdaghi on the treatment of political prisoners in Iran; and with journalist Parvin Kooh Gilani on journalism both inside Iran and abroad.

Today’s Woman March 25 talked with Goli Ameri, the Iranian-American recently appointed as the Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. (She is pictured here, center, with program hosts Elham Sataki and Reza Saber.) Born and raised in Tehran, Ms. Ameri came to the US to attend Stanford University. “I always say that America is the place for opportunity,” she said. “The door is open for anyone, as long as you are respectful and hardworking, the sky is the limit and you can overcome any obstacles that might get in your way. Many people immigrate to the United States because of the way this society is organized. We all come from different backgrounds and we all work and live together. No matter where you’re from, he door to success is open and being a woman in the United States has for me been a benefit.” After graduating, Ms. Ameri married and had children. She also became a very successful businesswoman, eventually founding her own telecommunications consulting firm. She even ran for a congressional seat in 2004. After she lost the race in Oregon's 1st Congressional District, President Bush named her as one of three public members of the US delegation to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. Ms. Ameri said President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have said they want to have better cultural and educational relations with Iran. “We have now established a website – www.educationusairan.org – where Iranians interested in studying abroad can obtain information regarding application and enrollment processes. The State Department’s education department works with 165 societies and seeks to include everyone.” Ms. Ameri saved her strongest words for the Iranian woman: “If there is an aspiration you want to achieve, know that you can do it. The rights of women are universal and should relentlessly be fought for.”

News and Views March 24 reported on the death toll for US soldiers hitting 4,000 as a roadside bomb killed yet four more soldiers in southern Baghdad. A military statement said at least one coalition soldier was wounded in the bombing, which took place shortly after the five-year-anniversary of the war. Vice President Dick Cheney, on a visit to Jerusalem, said the latest death toll may have a psychological effect on the public. He expressed regret for every casualty and loss in Iraq and said the decision to send young men and women into harm’s way is never easy. Violence in Baghdad and northern Iraq Sunday claimed the lives of at least 58 Iraqis.

Roundtable with You March 27 carried live – with simultaneous translation – the speech given by President Bush on the global war on terror at an Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. In his remarks, the President said, “We have seen significant security gains [in Iraq] result from the surge….This progress isn’t glamorous, but it is important….We’ve weakened the influence of Iranian-backed militias….And as we speak, Iraqi security forces are waging a tough battle against militia fighters and criminals in Basra – many of whom have received arms and training and funding from Iran. Prime Minister Maliki’s bold decision – and it was a bold decision – to go after the illegal groups in Basra shows his leadership, and his commitment to enforce the law in an even-handed manner. It also shows the progress the Iraqi security forces have made during the surge.” President Bush blamed a good bit of the violence in Iraq on the destructive influence of Iran. “If America’s strategic interests are not in Iraq – the convergence point for the twin threats of al Qaeda and Iran, the nation Osama bin Laden's deputy has called “the place for the greatest battle,” the country at the heart of the most volatile region on Earth – then where are they?...It would signal to Iran that we were not serious about confronting its efforts to impose its will on the region…. If Iran is turned back in its attempt to gain undue influence over Iraq, it will be a setback to its ambitions to dominate the region.”

News and Views March 27 reported that Iraqi officials said a bomb struck an oil pipeline in Basra, where Iraq forces are battling Shi’ite militias for a third day. Officials did not say who was responsible for the pipeline attack. It also is unclear whether the damaged pipeline will greatly affect crude exports. Meanwhile, witnesses in Basra reported more heavy fighting, and least 40 people are reported killed in the past two days since forces began an operation against Shi’ite militias. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has issued an ultimatum, ordering Shi'ite gunmen to surrender their weapons by Friday or face the consequences. In Baghdad, followers of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr held demonstrations against Mr. Maliki. Separately, rockets or mortar shells struck Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, a day after a similar attack wounded three Americans.

News and Views March 25 reported on new violence in Iraq, with Iraqi officials saying fierce fighting between government security forces and Shi’ite militias in the southern city of Basra has killed at least four people and wounded more than 18 others. Iraqi military officials say security forces have clashed with gunmen from the Mahdi Army of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Officials say the fighting follows the starts of a major military operation this morning (Tuesday) against rival Shi'ite militia factions. Earlier, the US command in Baghdad accused Iran of continuing to provide money, weapons and training to Shi’ite insurgents in Iraq, despite pledges by Iranian leaders to stop the aid. In a VOA interview from Baghdad, Colonel Steve Boylan, a spokesman for the top US General in Iraq – David Petraeus – said analysis confirms Shi’ite extremist groups carried out Sunday’s rocket attacks on Iraq’s Green Zone. Colonel Boylan said the weapons were supplied by Iran and that coalition forces are working to break the insurgent networks.

VOA/PNN March 30 interviewed Nasrin Basiri who said her husband – Iranian dissident Amir Farshad Ebrahimi – was finally allowed to fly to Berlin, where he lives, on Friday afternoon after being held nearly 18 hours over Thursday and Friday in a cell inside Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport. Mrs. Basiri said a man claiming to be an Iranian official demanded Turkey extradite Mr. Ebrahimi, and allow him to escort the dissident back to Iran. Wire reports said Iran wants to question Mr. Ebrahimi about his involvement in the defection of Ali Reza Asgari, a former Iranian defense minister and Revolutionary Guard commander, who disappeared during a trip to Turkey in late 2006 or early 2007. Mr. Ebrahimi fled Iran after being released from prison in 2003. He had been arrested and imprisoned for several years in Tehran’s Evin prison for making a videotaped statement in which he described the connections between political leaders and pro-government militias in the violent crushing of student protests in 1999. Since living in Germany, Mr. Ebrahimi has worked as a journalist and blogger.

News and Views March 30 reported on the death in a Tehran hospital Saturday of one of Iran’s most prominent historians, Fereydoun Adamiyat. He was 87 years old. VOA/PNN interviewed Berlin-based Iranian scholar Kazem Kardavani about Mr. Adamiyat. He said, “Mr. Adamiyat’s work on Iranian contemporary history was unique and incomparable with others in Iran and abroad.” Mr. Adamiyat was the author of many books on Iran’s history, particularly its constitutional movement. He also served as an arbitrator at the International Court of Justice in The Hague for several years.

News and Views March 25 interviewed Jalil Roshandel, Associate Professor and Director of Security Studies at East Carolina University on Vice President Cheney’s trip to the Middle East. Mr. Roshandel said the Bush administration is trying to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in the last year of his administration. He said the Vice President emphasized Iranian and Syrian support for Hamas as evidence they are doing everything they can “to torpedo the peace process.”

News and Views March 24 talked with London-based economist Hassan Mansour about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement on Iran’s economy. The president says Iran’s inflation and unemployment rates have decreased, with inflation dropping to 14% and unemployment hovering at just over 12%. Mr. Mansour says the figures appear to be false and are “far from the actual situation of Iran’s economy. This is just populist propaganda from Mr. Ahmadinejad.” Most sources put Iran’s inflation rate at around 19%, with the high rate blamed in part on Mr. Ahmadinejad’s populist spending policies, which include colossal subsidies and presidential handouts.

News and Views interviewed Bijan Bidabad, an economics professor at Tehran University, on the impact of sanctions on Iran’s economy. Mr. Bidabad said, “The functions of the economy are deeply corrupted by governmental and semi-governmental institutions. And these institutions are contributing additional problems to Iran’s economy.” Paris-based economics professor Fereydoon Khavand said, “Iran’s economy is suffering from both the sanctions imposed by the international community and the incompetence of the Ahmadinejad administration.

News and Views March 27 talked with political analyst Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, who also is a well-known journalist in Tehran, about the Iranian Revolution Guard Corps handing over part of its responsibilities to the law enforcement police. The general commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Ali Jafari, said law enforcement police, who are part of the Home Secretary’s office, will now oversee road checkpoints and enforce laws in urban areas rather than the basij, a volunteer paramilitary force serving at the pleasure of the IRGC. Mr. Shamsolvaezin dismissed this change as bureaucratic: “This process is more to unify the ruling system rather than to cause a conflict of interests among two different state offices.”

News and Views March 24 talked with Hassan Shariatmadari, president of the Iranian National Republicans – one of the parties making up the leftist exile bloc collectively known as the United Republicans of Iran – about remarks made by former president Mohammad Khatami. Mr. Khatami, who was unhappy to see most reformists disqualified from parliamentary elections March 14, says the people of Iran can vote to change the regime. Mr. Shariatmadari, who is the son of the late Grand Ayatollah Kazem Shariatmadari, told PNN he disagrees. “According to Iran’s constitution,” he said, “no referendum can be held in Iran to change the current system.”

News and Views March 25 talked with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi about the success or failure of the Islamic regime’s public security plan – the government’s scheme to ensure compliance with Islamic morals. Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan, Tehran’s police chief, said March 24 that public security had improved in the past year. Ms. Ebadi said the police chief is wrong. “Detaining youth due to their gelled hair or their make-up does not make a society safer. In fact, it only serves to make people worry.” General Reza Radan is infamous for his crackdown on “un-Islamic” hair and dress styles.

News and Views March 25 talked with Massoud Kordpour, a Kurdish journalist and human rights activist, about the Iranian judiciary’s sentencing of seven Kurds to prison. Each of the detainees, all of whom were arrested two years ago in the western town of Baneh, was sentenced to one year in prison for participating in a mass protest against the local police. Mr. Kordpour said, “You don’t hear much news about detainees in Kurdistan or about human rights abuses in Kurdistan. In fact, sometimes it doesn’t seem that Kurdish activists are fully supported by human rights organizations in Iran or abroad.”

News and Views March 27, 2008 interviewed lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei who represents Mehdi Mitra Naddami, an Iranian transsexual being kept in solitary confinement. Mr. Naddami was condemned to one year in jail and order to pay $22,000 in damages for hitting someone in the nose during a fight last year. Mr. Mostafaei said his client has been in solitary confinement at Evin Prison from Day One due to his sexual orientation. Mr. Mostafaei said Mr. Naddami will remain in jail because he doesn’t have enough money to pay bail or have anyone in his life who could help him pay the required compensation.

News and Views March 24 reported on the fundamental disagreements Republicans and Democrats have on the Iraq War as two milestones are reached: the war enters a sixth year and the death toll for US soldiers reaches 4,000. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham visited Iraq last week with his party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Senator John McCain. He told CBS the war is a sacrifice this country is making to make us safer. “I’m incredibly pleased with the performance of our troops and with General Petreaus….there have been major political breakthroughs.” Senator Graham highlighted some of the changes he saw: passage of a de-Baathification law, passage of a $48 billion budget where every group in Iraq gets to share in oil revenues, an amnesty law, and the scheduling of provincial elections in October. The Senator also said, “Oil revenues are up by 50%, oil production has doubled, inflation has dropped from 66% to 5%, sectarian violence is down 90% and our casualties are way down. We’ve got a long way to go, but I believe the surge has worked on all fronts.” Senator Graham acknowledged the war has been mismanaged, but said the costs of losing would be enormous. He said victory is important to “defeat Al-Qaeda in Iraq and to create a buffer to Iran. I’ve been to Iraq many times, and I can assure you the Iraqi people do not want to be dominated by Iran. And the Iranian activity in killing Americans is going up by the day because they’re threatened by success in Iraq... If you started announcing the withdrawal, an arbitrary withdrawal from Iraq, you would freeze political progress. You would let Al-Qaeda get back up off the mat. You would embolden Iran even more. Iran is very afraid of this working out well. They don’t want a representative democracy on their border, because they’re a theocracy, a dictatorship. You would unleash all the forces we have suppressed. And in my opinion, we would be going back to this region with a bigger war. And that would be a defining difference in this election.”

News and Views March 25 reported that Senator John McCain said the US is succeeding in Iraq and that he wouldn’t change course – even as the US death roll rose to 4,000 and the war entered its sixth year. Fresh from his eighth visit to Iraq, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said, “For the first time, I have seen Osama bin Laden and General [David] Petraeus in agreement, and that that is a central battleground in the battle against al-Qaeda is in Iraq today.” Despite a wave of attacks that left at least 61 Iraqis and four US soldiers dead and a new call from bin Laden to Arab countries for “help in support of their Mujahedin brothers in Iraq,” Senator McCain said Iraq has become the central battleground in the struggle against radical Islamic extremism, “I don't think I would change the strategy now unless General Petraeus recommended it. I think he’s trusted by the American people, the president and by me. And General Petraeus again showed me facts on the ground where the surge is succeeding.” Democrats took issue with his remarks and cast his candidacy as a repeat of President Bush’s tenure. Earlier in Pennsylvania, Senator Hillary Clinton also spoke about Iraq. She said, “We’ve got to restore American leadership and of course we have to end the war in Iraq, and I just disagree with John McCain, who said it would be fine with him to keep troops in Iraq until the next hundred years, well no, we are going to start bringing them home within 60 days if I’m your President.”

News and Views March 28 reported that Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania has endorsed Senator Barack Obama’s campaign for the Democratic nomination – a key endorsement in advance of the all-important primary in Pennsylvania on April 22. One of the state’s other prominent Democrats, Governor Ed Rendell, has endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Senator Clinton leads in the polls in Pennsylvania – which will allocate 158 delegates in the drawn-out battle between the two senators. A number of leading Democrats are suggesting Senator Clinton drop out of the race. Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said there is no way Mrs. Clinton is going to win enough pledged delegates to win the nomination and that she should withdraw. Democratic Party chief Howard Dean said supporters of the two candidates should be careful of tearing each other down because it could damage the party’s chances of winning the White House in November. Meanwhile, Republican John McCain launched his first television ad of the general election, portraying himself as a courageous leader with the knowledge and experience to keep the country safe as a wartime commander in chief. “The American president Americans have been waiting for,” the ad says, juxtaposing footage of the Arizona senator campaigning with clips of himself imprisoned in Vietnam three decades ago.

News and Views March 25 talked with Stuart Levey, the Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, about the various banking and financial pressures the Bush administration is applying against Iran. Mr. Levey noted that although the US imposed economic sanctions on the Bahrain-based Future Bank earlier this month, the United States and Bahrain enjoy very good relations. In fact, he said, the President met with King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa earlier in the day at the White House. Mr. Levey said the sanctions were imposed because of the bank’s role in supporting Iran’s proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. He said the bank was controlled by Iran’s Bank Melli, which poses a serious threat to the integrity of the international financial system. “Iran does not live up to the financial standards of the world. That is why Iran is isolated and that is why its banks and businesses are experiencing numerous problems.”

News and Views March 25 reported that the head of the Senate Banking Committee hailed a Commerce Department decision to suspend the export privileges of a British company that had illegally shipped three US-made aircraft to Iran and was preparing to send it three more. “There is no doubt that the Iranian government is a patron of terrorism and a weapons proliferator. We must continue to do everything we can to cut off their supply of goods and sensitive technology,” Senator Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, said in a statement. He lauded work on the case by US and British authorities. But he said other countries “still are not doing enough to prevent critical goods from being shipped to Iran.” The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security on Friday issued a temporary order suspending for 180 days the export privileges of Balli Group PLC in Britain, Blue Airways based in Armenia and Mahan Airways in Iran. It cited evidence that the parties knowingly violated US federal export laws and made false statement about the ultimate destination and user of the aircraft.

News and Views presented the other side of the aisle with Democratic Senator Jack Reed, who told CBS, “The problem with Iraq is, every time you turn the corner, there’s another corner. And I don’t think politically that they’ve made the progress they have to make. The reconciliation that Senator Graham talked about was passed, but according to my last trip, and talking to Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus, it’s up to implementation.” Senator Reed said the de-Baathification law could be used to bring Sunnis back into government or to purge them. He also said Iraq’s central government is not functioning effectively. He said one reason for that is because Iraqi politicians feel they have as much time as they need because US forces are on the scene. “And proponents who say they want to keep them there for 100 years just reinforce the notion in Baghdad that they don't have to make these tough political decisions. And if they do make them legislatively, they really don't have to implement them. So, we have a long way to go.”

Roundtable with You March 24 focused on the treatment of political prisoners in Iran with Iraj Mesdaghi, a writer and human rights activist who spent 10 years – 1981-1991 – as a prisoner of conscience at Evin, Gohar-Dasht and Ghezel-Hesar prisons. Mr. Mesdaghi described the horrible conditions he observed while imprisoned, but said, “Despite all the restrictions and limitations, political prisoners celebrated NoRouz by setting up a Haftseen table by all means available to them.” Mr. Mesdaghi said computers and other electronic devices have enabled prisoners to communicate with those outside. He said one means of torture was to mix criminal prisoners with more fragile political prisoners, with prison guards carrying out other abuses. One viewer who called in to the program was a member of the Bus Transportation Union, and he took the opportunity to draw attention to the condition of Mahmood Saleli, who served his sentence, but was charged with a new crime before being released. He is seriously ill and the caller appealed to international organizations to call for his immediate release. A mother called from Challus, Iran, to say her son has been jailed the past two years, but her family has no knowledge of the charges against him. “My son has been denied visits by family members,” she said. Mr. Mesdaghi concluded by saying human rights abuses continue unabated in Iran while the condition of political prisoners has deteriorated rapidly.

News and Views March 28 reported that Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte has dismissed suggestions his visit to Pakistan is aimed at dictating anti-terrorism policies to the new Pakistani government. During his stop in Karachi Thursday, Mr. Negroponte said he has no hidden agenda and no desire to interfere in Pakistan’s internal affairs. He said the US-Pakistani partnership remains strong, and that Washington envisions a continued close and productive alliance that benefits both countries. Mr. Negroponte added that the United States is committed to working with all of Pakistan’s leaders on the full spectrum of bilateral issues – from fighting extremism to improving educational and economic opportunities.

News and Views March 25 reported that five former US Secretaries of State have urged the next presidential administration to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba and to open a dialogue with Iran. Colin Powell was joined by Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright, all of whom participated in a roundtable discussion sponsored by the University of Georgia. The former Secretaries of State also urged the US to open a line of dialogue with Iran, each saying it is important to maintain contact with adversaries and allies alike. Secretary Albright stressed the importance of finding “common ground,” and Secretary Christopher urged diplomats to explore opening contact with other “vectors of power,” such as clerics and former political leaders. Secretary Baker suggested the dialogue could center on a common dilemma, saying a “dysfunctional Iraq, a chaotic Iraq, is not something that’s in the interest of Iran. There’s every incentive on their part to help us, the same way they did in Afghanistan.” Secretary Kissinger, who served the Nixon and Ford administrations, urged an open – if delicate – line of communication with Iran. “One has to talk with adversaries,” he said.

Late Edition March 23 reported on the announcement by security forces that they will be enforcing the Islamic code of behavior more strenuously after the Norouz holidays. The “moral police” – a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – are tasked with stopping or arresting those who dress inappropriately, listen to the wrong music, don’t have their hair trimmed properly, and the like. At least 20 people have been arrested for breaking these “rules” and at least one, Hamed Akbari, is sentenced to death. Late Edition also reported that police in Isfahan have arrested seven members of a rap group. Late last year, the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry categorized rap as illegal due to the obscene words used by many of the genre’s artists.

News and Views March 26 focused on the surge of violence in southern Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered Shi’ite militants fighting government forces in Basra to surrender their arms within three days or face the consequences. Iraqi officials say at least 40 people have been killed and at least 200 others wounded in two days of fierce fighting in the city. In other violence, the US Embassy in Iraq says rockets or mortars struck Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone Wednesday, seriously wounding three Americans.

News and Views March 26 reported on political developments in Pakistan. Yousuf Raza Gilani of the Pakistan People’s Party took the oath of office Tuesday at the presidential palace. President Bush telephone Mr. Gilani to congratulate him on assuming office and reiterated that Washington views Pakistan as an important ally. The White House says both leaders agreed that fighting extremists is in everyone’s interest. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Richard Boucher, the Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, met with President Pervez Musharraf and with Nawaz Sharif, a senior partner in the country’s new coalition government. They were expected to meet in Islamabad with Prime Minister Gilani while there.

News and Views March 25 reported on Vice President Dick Cheney’s last stop on a nine-day trip to the Mideast – Ankara – where he met with Turkish leaders. A senior administration official said a major topic in the talks was the issue of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The official also said the Vice President made a strong case for the importance of making Afghanistan a successful state, though the Turkish leaders made no immediate commitment to add to their troop level there. Back in Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Nuclear Energy Cooperation. Bahrain affirmed its intention to forgo sensitive fuel cycle technologies and rely on existing international markets for nuclear fuel. This stands in direct contrast to Iran’s nuclear activities.

News and Views March 26 reported on Senator John McCain’s visit to California where he said he planned to chart an independent course on US foreign policy if elected President. Speaking at the World Affairs Council, Mr. McCain called for a more vigorous international diplomacy and a new effort to rebuild frayed relations with allies. Distancing himself from the sometimes unilateral diplomatic approach of President Bush, Senator McCain said the United States needs to live up to its responsibilities as a world leader and become a “model citizen” in the global community. “The United States cannot lead by virtue of its power alone,” the Arizona senator said. Earlier, former First Lady Nancy Reagan endorsed Senator McCain as the Republican nominee for president. The Senator continues to collect backing from leading Republicans who might help him unite the party and win over critical conservative voters.

News and Views March 27 focused on the US presidential race. While Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee delivered addresses on foreign policy all week with few distractions, the two remaining Democratic candidates continued to campaign hard for their party’s nomination. Despite the math, Senator Hillary Clinton refuses to concede defeat. Illinois Senator Barack Obama Thursday promised relief for struggling homeowners and regulatory changes to Wall Street if he is elected president. Senator Obama, who spoke in New York City, criticized an economic plan unveiled by Senator McC