Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week

Washington, D.C. – May 26, 2008 . . . Major stories this week included posturing by Iran, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany in advance of today’s new report by the IAEA on Iran’s nuclear program; coverage from Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, of the World Economic Forum; the 60th anniversary of Israel; the US presidential primaries in Oregon and Kentucky; Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor; US efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace talks; election of a new president, finally, in Lebanon; religious intolerance in Iran; on Iran’s ongoing economic problems; on a new report on human rights violations in Iran issued by the Iranian Human Right’s Society; a series of interviews on the presidential primary in Oregon with Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Congressman David Wu (D-OR), Meredith Wood Smith, Chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Oregon, Frank Dixon, Vice Chair of the Democratic Party in Oregon, and Oregonian blogger Sara Gilbert; and interviews with Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State James Jeffrey on US-Iran relations; with Mehdi Khalaji , a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute, on the inherent contradiction between official Islam in Iran and democracy; and with Minoo Akhtarzand, Director-General of Banverket, the Swedish Rail Administration.

Look ahead: Late Edition will broadcast from the newly opened Newseum on Thursday, May 29, in a live, interactive town hall on freedom of the press and media. The program will primarily feature Iranian and Iranian-American students in the United States and special guests by phone from inside Iran. Members of the audience will be invited to ask questions.

News and Views interviewed Ambassador James F. Jeffrey, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, live on set May 19. The Ambassador leads the Bureau’s Iran Policy Team. “We have had several rounds of talks on the subject of Iran with Iraqi officials in Baghdad,” Mr. Jeffrey said. “From time to time on various issues – counselor matters, incidents in the (Persian) Gulf – we have had exchanges with the Iranians through Swiss Embassy contacts in Tehran. We have an offer now on the table from the 5+1 [five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany]. But there are no secret channels of communication with Iran.” Ambassador Jeffrey said the US hopes to see more unofficial contacts between Americans and Iranians. “We have backed this with funding over the last three years, we have had a variety of groups from Iran come to the US – medical, educational – and we hope this continues. The only limitation is the readiness of the Iranian government to allow that.” The Ambassador said he wanted to repeat the Norooz message the President had given to the Iranian people. “We very much respect the Iranian people and we desire to live in peace with them and to have a very positive relationship. [However], universally, across the board, the governments of the region are very concerned about the behavior of the Iranian government and they feel that it is a risk to their security.” Mr. Jeffrey looked directly into the camera at the close of the interview and offered a powerful invocation to the Iranian people: the United States wants to live in peace with the Iranian people, but Iran's government it putting its people at risk.

News and Views May 20 reported Iran has agreed to a visit by the European Union’s foreign policy chief, who will deliver a proposal for Tehran to stop enriching uranium. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told local news agencies that Tehran has accepted Javier Solana’s request for a visit. But he did not say when that visit would take place. The Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, told a news conference in Jerusalem on Monday that “The threat that Iran poses is one that is posed not only to Israel and not only to this region, but to the world. It is a threat that has to be dealt with if we are serious about stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction. That is a principle, a pillar of American foreign policy.” The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies has released a report saying Iran's disputed nuclear program has sent a wave of interest in atomic energy across the Middle East. While the flurry of interest in nuclear power is still tentative, the report said countries such as Saudi Arabia, Algeria or Egypt could soon feel the need to match Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

News and Views May 23 reported that the US Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Gregory Schulte, says Washington is looking for clear signs of improvement in the Iranian nuclear dossier in the IAEA’s upcoming report. Mr. Schulte said Washington is waiting to see if Iran is prepared to respond in full to the allegations of past weaponization studies, to implement the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Additional Protocol and to suspend uranium. In an interview with mwc.news (Media with Conscience @ www.mwcnews.net), former IAEA inspector Hans Blix said enrichment for a country has only two reactors is uncalled for. He said Iran’s enrichment facility that is under construction/completion should be inspected closely. Mr. Blix also proposed that Iran be given a guaranteed supply of enriched uranium. He said the Middle East – including Israel – should be free of enrichment activity, adding that with a comprehensive peace agreement in the region, Israel would not need to produce nuclear fuel either. Elements of the forthcoming IAEA report have leaked to the media: Iran has not suspended enrichment. Inspectors have seen the third generation of Iranian-made centrifuges. An IAEA spokesman in Vienna told VOA/PNN that he anticipated the report would be released on May 26.

News and Views May 20 reported that a senior member in the entourage of President Bush, who concluded a trip to Israel last week, had said in a closed meeting in Jerusalem that Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were of the opinion that military action against Iran was called for. The claim was very indirect: the Jerusalem Post was quoting Army Radio which was quoting a top official in Jerusalem who was quoting the aide to the US leader. The White House issued a statement saying the report was not worth the paper it was printed on. The White House Press Secretary said, “We, along with our international allies who want peace in the Middle East, remain opposed to Iran’s ambitions to obtain a nuclear weapon. To that end, we are working to bring tough diplomatic and economic pressure on the Iranians to get them to change their behavior and to halt their uranium enrichment program. As the President has said, no president of the United States should ever take options off the table, but our preference and our actions for dealing with this matter remain through peaceful diplomatic means. Nothing has changed in that regard.”

NewsTalk anchor Jamshid Chalengi reported from the World Economic Forum in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, on President Bush’s May 18 speech before Arab leaders, in which the president said there are positive developments in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The US leader concentrated on peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the spread of democracy in the Middle East. Mr. Bush said he is trying to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians before the end of his term in January 2009. On the Islamic Republic of Iran, President Bush said the international community should not allow Iran to build nuclear weapons. He highlighted Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, his concern about terrorists’ access to nuclear arms and the Islamic Republic of Iran’s interference in Lebanon. Mr. Chalengi also reported that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said the Palestinians’ problem is the center of all unrest in the Middle East.

NewsTalk anchor Jamshid Chalengi reported from the World Economic Forum in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, on the May 19 address given by Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister, Barham Saleh. He told the assembled leaders Iraq has achieved progress, but said the achievements are still very vulnerable. He acknowledged the Islamic Republic of Iran is a very important country in the Middle East, and that Iran can play a very important role the security of the region. Mr. Saleh said Iraq has many common interests with Iran, but added that Iran should respect Iraq’s sovereignty and should not interfere with Iraq’s internal affairs.

News and Views May 19 reported that President Bush, speaking at a World Economic Forum meeting in Egypt, says Israel must make tough sacrifices, and the Palestinians must fight terrorism, in order to reach a peace deal this year. Mr. Bush used his speech at the political and business forum to criticize Arab states for political repression of government critics and opponents. He urged Arab states to release what he called “prisoners of conscience” and open themselves up to political debate. But he also praised democratic reforms in countries such as Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, Algeria, Morocco and Jordan. The gathering, which was opened by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, focused on rising food prices and peace prospects in the region. President Mubarak said in his speech that the Palestinian problem is the region’s chief issue. “The gap between the poor and the rich and the lack of democracy, as people seem to think, is not the main reason for an increase in terrorism. The main reason for the increase of terror is due to issues which were not resolved fairly for a long time and the Palestinian issue is the one of the main ones.”

News and Views May 19 reported that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to reporters en route back to Washington from the Middle East, where she accompanied President Bush on a five-day visit in the region. She said Mr. Bush did not really want to dwell on the last 60 years, but wanted to really talk about laying the foundation for the next 60 years. She said the Middle East could find itself in a very different situation with if regional powers support the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, particularly in providing financial and other support for the Palestinians, if they talk about the situation in Lebanon and how best to support Lebanon’s democratic government, and if they talk about Iraq. Ms. Rice said the perfect conditions for peace will never come. “I know how seriously they're negotiating. But they're not going to come out and talk in front of the cameras about what it is they’re doing. And if they did, the negotiations would be dead on that day. We’re five months after Annapolis. We are not at the end of the year. And the parties, five months before Annapolis, were not even willing to talk about the core issues.” On Iran, Secretary Rice the Islamic Republic is meddling in Iraqi affairs with Shi’ia splinter groups and in Lebanon with Hezbollah. “Iran has vulnerabilities,” she said, “because everybody in the region resents their efforts to aggressively interject themselves into Arab and Gulf affairs.” Ms. Rice also pointed out geographic vulnerabilities. She said Iran has a democratic Iraq with an American presence in the west, a democratic Afghanistan with an American and NATO presence in the east, and a strengthened strategic cooperation between America and its traditional allies in the south on the Gulf: Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain.

News and Views May 25 reported that Lebanon’s parliament has elected the country’s new president, filling a post left vacant since November by a volatile political crisis. The election of the consensus candidate, army chief General Michel Suleiman, is part of an Arab-brokered deal to ease an 18-month-long political stalemate. Lebanon’s parliament had tried 19 times to elect a new head of state after pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud stepped down in November. But each vote was postponed by political bickering between Lebanon’s western-backed ruling coalition and pro-Syrian, Hezbollah-backed opposition. The disagreement over the composition of a new government spiraled into deadly street fighting earlier this month, when Hezbollah fighters took over parts of Beirut. Arab mediators helped the political rivals reach an agreement last week on the election of a new president, electoral law and unity government. The agreement gives the opposition veto power in the government and does not require Hezbollah fighters to disarm.

News and Views May 21 reported that Lebanon’s rival political factions have agreed on plans for a new president and unity government, breaking a volatile 18-month-long crisis. Representatives of the Hezbollah-led opposition and the pro-Western government signed the deal Wednesday in Doha, Qatar, after five days of negotiations. Officials say the deal will see parliament convene Sunday to elect army chief General Michel Suleiman as president. He will fill the post that has sat empty since November. The agreement calls for a new government with 30 ministers. The ruling party will be allocated 16 ministers; the opposition will have 11; and the president will assign three. The deal requires the government to use the 1960 electoral law to redefine voting districts throughout Lebanon. It also demands that all parties refrain from accusing each other of treason, and from using violence and weapons to achieve political goals. The deal gives the opposition the veto power it had long sought, but does not address the government’s demand for Hezbollah’s disarmament. The Arab League intervened in the political crisis last week, after Hezbollah fighters attacked government supporters in and around Beirut. At least 67 people were killed.

Roundtable with You May 20 focused on religious intolerance with historian Bahram Moshiri. The six leaders of Iran’s Bahai community who were arrested last week in Iran are now facing charges such as working against the national security. But the international Bahai community believes these charges are fabricated, and that the real reason for their prosecution is nothing but their religious beliefs. Mr. Moshiri, who is based in Los Angeles, talked about religious intolerance in the Islamic Republic as a serious breach of the principles of human rights. He pointed out the irony that over 2000 years ago, Cyrus the Great – the emperor of Old Persia – declared freedom of religion as one o the principles governing the Persian Empire. “And now the same country is moving backward regarding this essential human right. Mr. Moshiri said what “makes it worse in the case of the Islamic Republic is the hidden political agenda mixed in with the fanatic religious intolerance.”

Today’s Woman May 21 focused on the work of Reporters without Borders, in particular the attention it pays to women’s rights. The show displayed the organization’s URL – www.rsf-persan.org – and talked with Reza Moeein, who heads the division handling Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Mr. Moeein said, “Human rights are women’s rights. However, in the past three years, we have paid more attention to the status of women journalists.” Mr. Moeein has worked with Reporters without Borders for 13 years. He said the organization, which was founded in 1985, has the goal of preserving freedom of speech around the world. The organization does this by defending imprisoned reporters, combating censorship, providing financial assistance to journalists in difficult situations, and seeking to improve the safety of journalists. The Iran division of Reporters without Borders has been active for 10 years. When President Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University in September 2007, a representative of Reporters without Borders asked if the organization could open an office in Iran. President Ahmadinejad agreed, even though he acknowledged he wasn’t familiar with the group. Reporters without Borders has sent a formal request to Iran seeking permission to open an office, but Mr. Moeein says no answer has yet been received. He said journalists who want assistance from Reporters without Borders can take the first step online at the group’s website.

Late Edition May 21 reported on the announcement that Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, one of the nation’s most influential lawmakers, has a malignant brain tumor. Medical correspondent Vahid Behravan, a physician, explained that the senator suffered a seizure over the weekend and that his doctors stated he has a tumor in his left parietal lobe. Dr. Behravan said Senator Kennedy’s physicians said treatment, which usually entails combinations of radiation and chemotherapy, will be determined following more testing. Dr. Behravan talked about symptoms of brain tumors, how first reports said the Senator seemed to have suffered a stroke, and that the Senator’s tumor – a malignant glioma – was quite serious, with only 25%-30% of patients surviving more than two or three years after such a diagnosis.

News and Views covered the Democratic presidential primaries May 20 in Oregon and Kentucky and their aftermath daily. After handily winning Oregon, Senator Barack Obama addressed a crowd in Des Moines, Iowa, saying, “And tonight, Iowa, in the fullness of spring, with the help of those who stood up from Portland to Louisville, we have returned to Iowa with a majority of delegates elected by the American people, and you have put us within reach of the Democratic nomination for President of the United States of America.” Despite Senator Obama being all-but-unbeatable, Senator Hillary Clinton won a big victory in the day’s other primary, in Kentucky. Speaking at a victory party in Louisville, Senator Clinton said, “Tonight we’ve achieved an important victory. It’s not just Kentucky bluegrass that’s music to my ears; it’s the sound of your overwhelming vote of confidence even in the face of some pretty tough odds. Some have said your votes didn’t matter, that this campaign was over, that allowing everyone to vote and every vote to count would somehow be a mistake, but that didn’t stop you. You’ve never given up on me because you know I’ll never give up on you.” Senator Obama warned of a tough campaign ahead against the Republicans, turning his focus on the general election campaign by attacking the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain. The only primaries remaining are Puerto Rico, on June 1, followed two days later by South Dakota and Montana.

Meanwhile, presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain accused Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama of “inexperience and reckless judgment” for saying he would meet with the president of Iran without pre-set conditions. “These are very serious deficiencies for an American president to possess,” Senator McCain said. At the heart of the dispute is Senator Obama’s assertion that, as president, he would meet with leaders of nations such as Iran, Cuba and Venezuela without preconditions. Senator Obama insists that direct engagement with the Soviets helped prevent nuclear war and, over time, helped to bring down the Berlin Wall. Senator McCain strongly disagrees with Senator Obama’s position; he argues such a meeting would lend international prestige to US foes. Senator Obama likened his willingness to meet with Iran’s president to that of former US presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan who met with the Soviet leadership for talks during the Cold War. Senator Obama said the Iranian threat has grown as a result of US policies in the Middle East. “The reason Iran is so much more powerful now than it was a few years ago is because of the Bush-McCain policy of fighting an endless war in Iraq and refusing to pursue direct diplomacy with Iran… they're the ones who have not dealt with Iran wisely… thanks to George Bush’s politics, Iran is now the greatest threat to the United States and Israel and the Middle East for a generation. And John McCain wants to double down on that failed policy.”

As part of its series on the US presidential election, Roundtable with You May 21 featured VOA/PNN political correspondent Siamak Dehghanpour, who reported live from Portland, Oregon. Mr. Dehghanpour talked about latest developments in the campaign, and talked about the series of exclusive interviews he conducted with Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Congressman David Wu (D-OR), Meredith Wood Smith, Chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Oregon, Frank Dixon, Vice Chair of the Democratic Party in Oregon, and Oregonian blogger Sara Gilbert.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a strong Obama supporter, predicted – correctly – that the Illinois senator would win Oregon despite its small number of African-Americans. “Oregon actually has a smaller minority population than Kentucky and you are going to see that he is going to win here across the board. He was in Iowa where he won and Iowa is a state that speaks to the middle-class heartland....I think that the positions articulated by Senator Obama in terms of being confident of talking to people we don’t like as part of negotiating, part of diplomacy, not talking out of fear, is part of America’s finest tradition. President Kennedy did it. President Nixon did it. President Regan did it. And President Obama will not be afraid to do it as well.”

Congressman David Wu (D-OR), who also was an early Obama supporter, said Senator Obama is a transformative candidate. “He is probably the only presidential candidate other than Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt who has spent a significant part of his youth outside of the United States. That helped Theodore Roosevelt to lead America’s role at the beginning of the 20th century, and in the 1940’s with Franklin Roosevelt, who brought the US out of isolation. Obama is really turning a page, both in terms of how he proposes to deal with the rest of the world and in terms of how the rest of the world sees America if he is elected president of the United States.”

Meredith Wood Smith, Chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Oregon, is one of the much-talked-about undecided superdelegates whose vote Senators Obama and Clinton are campaigning for so vigorously. “You take vote-by-mail and then you combine that with the uptake in voter registration,” she said, “and we have over 150,000 new registered democrats in the state of Oregon. And that’s a big increase.....We actually get to choose the next president of the US, and out of the primary comes 52 delegates. In other words, the vote will determine how those 52 delegates are proportioned out to Senator Clinton and Senator Obama.” Ms. Smith said Democrats will unite with the party has a nominee, whether the Democratic nominee is Senator Clinton or Senator Obama.

Frank Dixon, Vice Chair of the Democratic Party in Oregon, who also is an undecided superdelegate, said “Certainly, there is a time-period between tomorrow’s result and June 3 when we will still have people voting for the President and we will still have superdelegates making up their minds. If there is one thing I’ve learned in politics, it’s that it is very volatile and anything can happen. So you don’t presume a result just based on what you know today… If one candidate has more pledged delegates and one has more popular votes, whatever the mix is, both of those are points to consider. I think people are looking to see who will make the best president, the best Democratic nominee. There is just more than pledged delegates to consider but those are two major pieces… I would give great weight to what the voters of Oregon would have to say. I think it is important because we are elected as party officers of the voters of Oregon, so in some ways we want to reflect what their wishes are.”

Oregonian blogger Sara Gilbert is a Clinton supporter. “I really do believe that Clinton and Obama have a lot of similar characteristics that I would value and support in a president. So you have your general Democratic leanings, you know your liberal hope for change and your basic charisma and your ability to be elected. These things you have to have in order to beat the Republican contender. Clinton ironically has a better opportunity to beat McCain than Obama despite the fact that the Democratic Party as a whole has started to shift toward Obama. I'll support her even though it doesn’t look like she’ll get the nomination. I’m still going to work as hard as I can to fight those last few days. And I think there are some issues where I generally agree more with Hillary than Obama – mostly on health care, which is a huge concern for me and most of the moms I talk to.”

News and Views covered a day-long conference on Iran sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute May 19. As US policymakers and presidential candidates debate policy toward the Islamic Republic, AEI said it is worthwhile to assess and debate the extent to which human rights and democracy have deteriorated in Iran. One panelist was Patrick Clawson, deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is the author or editor of 24 books and monographs, including Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos and Getting Ready for a Nuclear Ready Iran. Mr. Clawson said he is concerned by two characteristics of President Ahmadinejad: “his ignorance of the world (he sees the outside world as unrestrained by realities) and his arrogance (he claims Iran is the most powerful country in the world). Mr. Clawson said Mr. Ahmadinejad actually believes the clock is already ticking on the destruction of the West. AEI resident scholar Michel Rubin was another panelist. He said with oil at $130 per barrel, Iran is in a much better position to use its soft and hard power. Mr. Rubin added Iran is pursuing a strategic policy in which it sees itself not as a regional power, but as the leader of the Persian Gulf, greater Middle East and South Asia. Kenneth Katzman was another panelist. He is a specialist in Middle East affairs for the Congressional Research Service where he provides analysis on Persian Gulf political, military and diplomatic affairs. Mr. Katzman said Iran is sounding too much like the great white shark in the international waters of the Persian Gulf to the point that “this shark may bite!”

Late Edition’s “Youth Factor” May 25 reported on Iran’s recent crackdown on student activist Amir Yaghob Ali, a student at Allameh Tabataba’i University, to one year in prison for “acting against national security.” He was arrested in July 2007 for collecting signatures for the One Million Signatures Campaign in Tehran, but was released after a month. Authorities have also sentenced Ali Nikonesbati, head of public relations for the largest student group in Iran, Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat (the Office for the Consolidation of Unity) to five months in jail and ten lashes. Late Edition reported that the status of student activist Habib-Allah Latifi, who was arrested in Sanandaj eight months ago, is unclear as he has been imprisoned without charge, and that authorities have detained several student activists in Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, hundreds of students at Kerman University have demonstrated to protest the food poisoning of 700 students. This was the second such incident students at Kerman have faced. At Lorestan University, over 1,000 students staged a demonstration to demand the dismissal of the University president and the head of a student dormitory following the death of a female student named Parvaneh Khalili. They also demanded to know more about the circumstances of her death. One positive development was the release of Heshmat Tabarzadi, secretary-general of the Iran Democratic Front. Mr. Tabarzadi, a well-known journalist, spent the past 10 years in prison. He had a major role in student demonstrations before being imprisoned.

News and Views May 25 interviewed Mehdi Khalaji , a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute, where his work focuses on the role of politics in contemporary Shiite clericalism in Iran and Iraq. The interview centered on what Mr. Khalaji has described as the inherent contradiction between official Islam in Iran and democracy. He said he believes recent disagreements between President Ahmadinejad and some of Iran’s ruling mullahs have been brewing since Mr. Ahmadinejad came to power. “Although he was a fundamentalist,” Mr. Khalaji said, “his religious claims were somehow threatening to mullahs and their authority because they considered themselves as the only interpreters of religious material.” Mr. Khalaji said in the Islamic Republic, the Supreme Leader, who is jurisprudence himself, controls religious seminaries. “In other words, there is no effective independent religious voice in Iran. It is important to note that the religious system has lost its legitimacy, especially for the younger generation. I believe the most important issue for Islamic countries is democracy not secularism and what is happening in Iran is a direct result of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Constitution.”

News and Views May 24 looked at the use of temporary employment contracts in Iran with Tehran-based economist Fariborz Raisdana. Iranian workers believe that the temporary employment contracts have endangered their livelihoods. According to these workers, they have no job security, and because of this insecurity, they basically comply with any and all requests made by their employers, resulting in widespread exploitation. Mr. Raisdana said in countries that have economic growth, such temporary employment contracts would create employment. But he said in Iran, because of its economic crisis and because of rising unemployment, such contracts trigger lay-offs and firings of workers.

Roundtable with You May 19 focused on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s existence with Menasheh Amir, former chief of Radio Israel’s Persian Service. Mr. Amir, now