Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week

Washington, DC – June 2, 2008 . . . Major stories this week included the International Atomic Energy Agency releasing its latest report on Iran’s nuclear program and the country’s compliance with UN resolutions; intensified fighting in northern Iraq between Kurdish rebels and Iranian security forces; the ongoing presidential campaign in the United States; the international conference in Stockholm to rebuild Iraq; VOA/PNN conducted interviews with Gregory Schulte, the US Ambassador to the IAEA, on the IAEA’s newest report on Iran just hours after its release; with former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski on US policy toward Iran and its nuclear program; with lawyer Mehrangiz Kar on Amnesty International’s latest report on Iran; with Erik Ullenhag, leader of the Liberal Party in Sweden’s parliament, on Europe and human rights in Iran; with journalist Erfan Qaneifard who has written a biography of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani; with sociologist Mohammad Borghei on the nomination of Ali Larijani as Speaker of Iran’s Parliament; with Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books; and with Tehran-based lawyer Nasrin Sotudeh, author Shahla Shafiq and political sociologist Azadeh Kian-thiebaut on women’s rights activists and the women's movement in Iran. PNN broke new ground with its first ever-live broadcast from Washington’s newly-opened Newseum.

Hours after the IAEA released its report on Iran’s nuclear program May 26, NewsTalk featured an exclusive live interview with the US Ambassador to the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog, Gregory Schulte. Ambassador Schulte told show host Siamak Deghanpour how much Iran needs to explain and how little it has done thus far in disclosing details of its nuclear activities. He said the report was a strong indictment of Iran’s defiance of the international community’s efforts to get answers about troubling parts of its nuclear program. “This report is the end of discussions and efforts for negotiations with Iran. The new report indicates that Iran has not cooperated with the IAEA inspectors.” Last month, IAEA chief Mohamed El-Baradei sounded optimistic when announcing Iran’s willingness to review the intelligence gathered by the agency only weeks after having said the door was closed on any attempt to look into its alleged nuclear arms programs. Describing Tehran’s apparent change of heart as a “positive step,” Mr. El-Baradei said he hoped the IAEA would be in a position to get an explanation and clarification from Iran about the allegations by the end of May. Mr. Schulte told PNN that “the IAEA is not in that position and Mr. El-Baradei’s optimism was unfortunately, not realistic.”

Intelligence sources say Iran has begun experimenting with a new, more efficient type of uranium-enriching centrifuge at its main nuclear plant in Natanz. And on April 8, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Iran was working to install 6,000 more centrifuges in Natanz, but Mr. Schulte told VOA/PNN that Tehran’s progress in enrichment may be less advanced than officials claim, saying “the report noted Iran now had only 3,500 centrifuges and the few advanced machines actually running were only in a testing phase. Iran is having technical difficulties.” Ambassador Schulte said the United States wants to see readiness on Tehran’s part to implement the Additional Protocol, the crucial part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that gives IAEA inspectors the right to carry out unannounced checks at nuclear sites, emphasizing that “Iran has shown no readiness.” In response to questions from Iranians who posted their comments online, Mr. Schulte – who has his own blog in Farsi – said, “It is in everyone's interest and particularly Iran's, in order to come out of isolation, to negotiate and get the issue resolved peacefully… the negotiation table is ready and there is an empty chair for [Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr] Mottaki at the table and Secretary Rice is ready to begin the discussions.”

News and Views May 29 reported that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Iran has a lot of explaining to do about the IAEA’s latest report, which essentially says Tehran is not cooperating on some very important “dark” questions. Speaking to reporters en route to Stockholm, Ms. Rice said she wondered how they are going to answer this charge. At the same time, she said the US will pursue the same two-track policy of sanctions and incentives. Meanwhile, US intelligence officials said they believe there are at least three more nuclear facilities in Syria, in addition to the one Israel bombed last September. CIA director, Michael Hayden, says US knowledge of Syria’s nuclear activities has deepened since the Israeli attack.

News and Views May 28 interviewed Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser in the Carter administration, who co-wrote an opinion column in The Washington Post the previous day. In the column, Mr. Brzezinski wrote, “Current policy toward the regime in Tehran will almost certainly result in an Iran with nuclear weapons. The seemingly clever combination of the use of ‘sticks’ and ‘carrots,’ including the frequent official hints of an American military option ‘remaining on the table,’ intensifies Iran’s desire to have its own nuclear arsenal. Mr. Brzezinski, who is now an advisor Senator Barack Obama, told VOA/PNN he believed another approach is needed to address Iran’s nuclear issues, one that would involve not only dialogue, but would also accommodate both Iran’s and the US’s security concerns. Mr. Brzezinski also discussed the war on terror, the spread of democracy in the Middle East and the reasons behind his support for Senator Obama.

PNN broke new ground on May 29 with its first ever-live broadcast from Washington’s newly-opened Newseum. Before a live audience, the special broadcast of Late Edition featured a tour of the Newseum with well-known Iranian war photographer Reza Deghati and conversations with former prisoner and journalist Arash Sigarchi, Elnaz Ansari (a journalist inside Iran), student leaders and former political prisoners inside and outside of Iran. The anchors explained the First Amendment to the US Constitution which protects the right to freedom of expression without government interference as well as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. The Newseum’s main theme is freedom of expression, thus making it a symbolic place to discuss the issue. The program also featured freedom of expression through music with interviews with some cutting edge musicians who are trying to break free of political repression in Iran. Members of the audience asked questions of the guests, and were entertained by a live performance.

Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi was the guest on NewsTalk’s Face-to-Face May 30, opening a window into his private life for VOA/PNN viewers that was unprecedented in its personal revelations. Pahlavi talked about his life before the revolution and how he and his family have coped with the Islamic Revolution of 1979 with the exile and uncertainty that followed. He said that it was at elementary school when he it dawned on him that he was being treated differently from his classmates because of his status as crown prince of Iran. “At times, however, they were stricter with me just to demonstrate that there was no favoritism involved,” he said. As the country was going through upheaval, he was sent to the United States to get training as a pilot. Asked whether he learned of Western media reports about political repression under his father and that Iran was depicted negatively because of its human rights records, he said, “I have no recollection of discussing Iran’s current events with my father when I was in Iran,” he said. “After we started a new life in exile, occasionally we spoke about the causes of the revolution and what the shortcomings were of my father’s rule that led the people to rise up against him.” The Crown Prince said he was in touch with his siblings in Iran while living in the United States and they reported to him what was going on Iran and the level of unrest that was developing in the country. “I traveled a great deal in order to be exposed to other cultures as part of my preparation to lead the country,” he said. Mr. Pahlavi said he left Iran with two suitcases, and that one of his greatest regrets was having to leave behind to many personal mementos such as photo albums and scrapbooks. “We took life on a day-to-day basis and never thought about whether we could go back to the country or not,” he said. “While in exile,” he concluded, “we were shocked to hear of the summary executions of former officials who served the country. We could understand political differences the [Islamic Republic] had with my father, but we couldn’t digest the level of savagery. It was totally incomprehensible to us.

News and Views May 28-30 reported from Stockholm on the international conference to rebuild Iraq with VOA/PNN correspondent Nazzy Beglari, who said participants at the end of the conference approved the Stockholm Statement, affirming countries’ support of the Iraqi government’s efforts. Iraq’s plea for debt relief – made before nearly 500 delegates at this UN conference to assess Iraq’s reconstruction – was echoed at the highest diplomatic levels including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. However, though he received strong US and EU support, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki did not walk away with any firm new commitments for debt relief or investment. On the security front, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran was interested in playing a major role in the reconstruction of Iraq, noting that Iraq’s “occupiers” had only made the situation there worse. Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said he was concerned about what he characterized as Iran’s interference in Iraq. Ms. Beglari reported there were no plans for any bilateral meetings for the US and Iran, despite both Mr. Mottaki and Secretary Rice in attendance. She also said participants at the conference talked about the plight of Iraqi refugees. The conference in Sweden was the first annual review of the International Compact with Iraq, a five-year economic and political reform package that the UN Secretary-General helped broker. Mr. Al-Maliki offered to host next year’s conference in Baghdad, to show that Iraq has emerged from the chaos of war.

News and Views May 26 interviewed sociologist Mohammad Borghei about the nomination of Iran’s former top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani – one of President Ahmadinejad’s rivals – as Speaker of the Parliament. “Larijani’s nomination by conservatives as Speaker of the Parliament doesn’t change anything since this Parliament is so dysfunctional,” Mr. Borghei said. “Tomorrow is the opening session of the new Majlis, but since people are aware it isn’t a legitimate entity, they don’t pay any attention to what it does.” Mr. Borghei said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is “faced with a bunch of uneducated, low-level conservative clerics. Even he isn’t happy with them. The situation now in Iran is more oppressive for women, activists and journalists politically, socially and culturally.”

News and Views May 31 reported that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plans to attend a summit of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) June 3-5 in Rome. In an interview with VOA/PNN, Italy’s former Justice Minister, Pierre Facino – who is the UN’s envoy to Burma – said the Iranian leader will not be holding any bilateral meetings with Italian officials. Mr. Facino said Mr. Ahmadinejad’s stated desire to see Israel “wiped off the map” is not acceptable in the view of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government. Mr. Facino said Iran’s role in supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon shows that Tehran supports terrorism. He said Iran must assure the international community that its nuclear program is not for military purposes and Iran must cooperate with the IAEA. Mr. Facino expressed dismay that the Iranian leader had even been invited to attend the FAO conference. Because so many heads of state have confirmed attendance and because of soaring food prices globally, it appears the conference will be a summit on world food security.

News and Views June 1 talked with veteran journalist Fiamma Nirenstein, Vice-Chairperson of the Foreign Policies Commission of the Italian Parliament, in advance of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Rome for an FAO summit. Ms. Nirenstein, who also is a Middle East political analyst for several Italian newspapers, said, “I am happy that neither the President and Prime Minister nor the people of Italy have responded to Iran’s invitation for a meeting with Ahmadinejad. The Government and the people of Italy hate the Iranian President and do not recognize his viewpoints on international affairs. This is not only because of Iran’s attempts to access nuclear weapons against the international community’s will, but other strategic issues such as Ahmadinejad’s weekly speeches in denial of the holocaust, his interest in obliterating Israel, and plans for exporting Islam to the West, all and all affect our people and government’s decision.” Ms. Nirenstein said other issues of concern are Iran’s violation of human rights and the increasing number of executions in Iran. She added that support for the opponents of the Iranian government will be on the European Parliament’s agenda. “Triple rounds of the UN Security Council boycotts against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program have proven to be of no use,” Ms. Nirenstein said. “Therefore, Europe should follow the United States in a unilateral boycott of Iran.”

News and Views June 1 reported that fighting has intensified fighting in northern Iraq between Kurdish rebels and Iranian security forces. Members of the Revolutionary Guards have begun what has become their routine bombardment of suspected Iranian Kurd positions in northern Iraq, and guerrillas have claimed incursions into northwestern Iran. One Kurdish radio station, which supports PEJAK, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, claimed Iranian Kurds have killed 12 Iranian soldiers in the past 24 hours. Kurdish journalist Javad Ghader, who is editor of the Globe newspaper in Irbil, told VOA/PNN that Iran has good political and economic relations with the semi-independent Kurdish government and than Iran opened a consulate in Irbil, the Kurdish capital. PEJAK, a shadowy group of mostly Iranian Kurd, has been fighting the Iranian regime from the Iraqi side of the border for five years. To visit PEJAK members, one has to drive up bone-jarring dirt roads, out of the Iraqi Kurdish zone of control, to a remote valley frequently shelled by Iran.

Roundtable with You May 30 reviewed current events with London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh, beginning with a brief description of the new tell-all book on the Bush administration – this one by former White House Press Secretary Scott McClelland. In the book, Mr. McClelland accused the administration of “waging a political propaganda campaign” that led the United States into an “unnecessary war.” Mr. Nourizadeh focused more on how the release of the book has been handled rather then the book’s content. Despite lobbing such harsh criticisms at a sitting president, he pointed out that Mr. McClelland has no fear of retaliation. “What would happen if someone from Ayatollah Khamenei’s inner circle decided to write a memoir in the same fashion?” he asked. Mr. Nourizadeh also touched on the election of a new Speaker of the House in Iran’s new session of parliament; on the Iraqi government’s control of Sadr City, the significance of Lebanon’s selection of a new president, and the recent trip to Tehran by the exiled leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashal. Mr. Nourizadeh also talked about the Israel-Syria peace talks held in Ankara, emphasizing that the “realistic approach of Syria and Israel regarding the peace process will soon have the Islamic Republic of Iran finding itself even more isolated, with only a few insignificant friends left.”

News and Views May 28 reported that Stephen Hadley, National Security Advisor to President Bush, was the speaker at an event commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Proliferation Security Initiative. Chaired by Acting Under Secretary for International Security and Proliferation John Rood, more than 80 senior officials of signatory countries attended the event. Mr. Hadley said the 21st century’s challenge in this field is managing the legacy of excess stockpiles and making sure that such material doesn’t end up on the black market. He elaborated on a six-step comprehensive approach to the threat of the millennium: terrorism. Mr. Hadley explained that the Proliferation Security Initiative is compatible and complementary to all international ratifications of the UN Security Council. He singled out North Korea and Iran as two states that need to be contained because of their nuclear programs. Mr. Hadley said the US, its allies and other countries will not betray future generations by allowing Iran to obtain nuclear weapons capability. He said the US will use diplomatic and financial pressure and UN Security Council resolutions to try to convince Iran to suspend uranium enrichment.

News and Views May 27 reported that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says his willingness to talk to leaders of adversarial countries such as Iran does not necessarily mean an audience with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Senator Obama said Iranian presidential elections in 2009 would be a factor in the timing of any meetings. “There’s no reason why we would necessarily meet with Ahmadinejad before we know that he was actually in power. He’s not the most powerful person in Iran,” the Senator pointed out to reporters while campaigning in New Mexico. The McCain campaign immediately accused Senator Obama of backtracking, saying his policy on talking to adversaries is inconsistent. In recent weeks, Senator Obama and his aides have emphasized that while there would be no “preconditions” for potential top-level meetings, there would be extensive staff-level preparations. In the case of Iran, Senator Obama said, “Preparation means that there are low-level talks in which there’s clarity about our concerns around the nuclear weapons program, but that we’re willing to listen to their perspective.” The Senator said his position has been consistent. “I’ve said that with sufficient preparation, I would be happy to meet leaders from other sovereign states including countries like Iran or North Korea or Venezuela,” he said. “I have said that it is important to make sure that it begins with low-level diplomatic engagement and that there’s a clear agenda so that any meetings would be constructive.”

News and Views May 29 reported that Senator Barack Obama expects to clinch the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination next week. Talking to reporters on his plane from Denver to Chicago, the Illinois senator, 46, was asked if the race for the November general election against Republican John McCain begins after Tuesday’s final primary votes. “Yes,” he responded. Asked if he will be the winner of the Democratic nomination at that point, he said, “I believe so.” On Saturday, Democratic officials will work on a compromise over disputed primaries in Michigan and Florida. After that, he said, “all the information will be in, and there will be no more questions unanswered. I suspect that whatever remaining superdelegates there are will be able to make their decisions quickly after that.” Senator Hillary Clinton has said she will not quit until the last votes are cast and counted. The Democratic nominee is likely to be decided by the nearly 800 superdelegates – members of Congress and other party insiders – who are free to vote for whomever they want. Senator Obama is leading in pledged delegates, and more and more superdelegates are announcing their plans to endorse him and help him surpass the number of delegates needed to secure the nomination. “We’re only a few days away,” he said. Senator Obama would be the first black US president.

News and Views May 28 reported that Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, favors extending arms control deals with Russia, opening strategic nuclear talks with China and pressing on multiple fronts to limit the spread of nuclear arms technologies. Senator McCain seemed to signal that stopping the illicit spread of nuclear arms technology would be more of a priority in his White House than it has under President Bush, calling it a “crisis” that cannot be ended by military action alone. In a clear reference to Senator Obama, Senator McCain said, “Many believe all we need to do to end the nuclear programs of hostile governments is have our president talk with leaders in Pyongyang and Tehran, as if we haven’t tried talking to these governments repeatedly over the past two decades. Others think military action alone can achieve our goals, as if military actions were not fraught with their own terrible risks. While the use of force may be necessary, it can only be as a last resort – not a first step.” The Arizona senator said, “We need to increase IAEA funding and enhance the intelligence support it receives. We also need to reverse the burden of proof when it comes to discovering whether a nation is cheating on its NPT commitments. The IAEA shouldn’t have to play cat-and-mouse games to prove a country is in compliance. It is for suspected violators to prove they are in compliance.” Senator Barack Obama commented, saying “On issue after issue, John McCain is offering more of the same policies that have failed for the last eight years. That is the agenda that he and President [Bush] are raising money to support later today.”

News and Views May 29 reported that the former US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, attending a literary festival in Wales, said military action against Iran should be a last resort, adding that allies have not done enough to promote other options. He said he believes regime change in Iran is in order. Earlier, activist and Guardian journalist George Monbiot had called for a citizen’s arrest of Ambassador Bolton as a war criminal for his role in the war on Iraq. Mr. Monbiot was dragged away by security as he tried to approach Mr. Bolton. Earlier, during a question and answer session at the event, Mr. Monbiot had asked Mr. Bolton what distinguished him from a Nazi war criminal. Mr. Bolton replied that in exchange for a ceasefire on the Gulf War, Iraq had been required to do a variety of things including a declaration of weapons of mass destruction and the elimination of those weapons. He said Iraq had shown numerous times that it was not in compliance with the ceasefire resolution.

News and Views May 30 reported that negotiators from North Korea and South Korea have held brief talks aimed at restarting the six-nation negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear activities. A spokesman for South Korea’s Foreign Ministry (Moon Tae-young) said Seoul’s chief representative in the talks, Kim Sook, held an hour-long meeting in Beijing with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye Kwan. The US envoy to the talks, Christopher Hill, also was in China. He met with his Chinese, North Korean and South Korean counterparts before traveling to Moscow for a meeting with his Russian counterpart. The subject of all the discussions was the North’s declaration of all its nuclear activities so the six parties can finalize the second stage of dismantling North Korea’s nuclear facilities. In Moscow, Mr. Hill said the progress in Beijing was good. Meanwhile, in an interview with the Washington Post, CIA Director Michael Hayden said that al-Qaeda is losing its influence in the Middle East and is on the defensive elsewhere in the world. He said the terror group has faced ideological setbacks as much of the Islamic world rejects its radical form of Islam. Admiral Hayden added that Iran is undermining progress in Iraq, saying it is, in his words, “the policy of the Iranian government, approved at the highest levels of that government, to facilitate the killing of American and other coalition forces.”

Roundtable with You May 25 focused on the Iran-Iraq War and why it was prosecuted by Iranian leaders six years after the liberation of Khorramshahr. Iran recaptured the port city of Khorramshahr from Iraq on May 24,1982, 1½ years after Iraq captured the city early in the war. The successful retaking of the city is perceived as a turning point in the war and the liberation is celebrated in Iran on its anniversary, May 24. Roundtable’s guest, veteran journalist Masoud Behnoud, said while some Iranian leaders thought it would be an opportune time to end the war, no one had the gumption to discuss the matter with Ayatollah Khomeini who was bent on taking Iranian forces to Baghdad and beyond. “Because Khomeini toppled the Shah of Iran with relative ease and humiliated the Carter administration by holding US diplomats for 444 days, Khomeini thought he could vanquish Iraq if he continued the war and ignore calls for a ceasefire,” he added. “But now, in retrospect, almost all Iranian leaders have to admit that when Iranian forces expelled every Iraqi soldier from the Iranian territory, it was a perfect opportunity to end the war and avoid further carnage and destruction.” Mr. Behnoud said the clerics took a big gamble when they decided to continue the war beyond what was necessary, and that they dragged on the war for six more years in the hope of scoring big victories. Mr. Behnoud said the gamble didn’t produce the hoped for dividends.

Panelists on NewsTalk this week talked about the official start of the 8th Majlis in Tehran, comparing its make-up to the 6th and 7th sessions, and issues parliamentarians are expected to address, including the state of Iran’s economy, foreign policy and political rhetoric; Iran’s nuclear program in light of the latest IAEA report, in which the agency was dissatisfied with Iran’s compliance; US insistence that Iran’s enrichment program be suspended before negotiations begin; and replacement of clerics in Iranian politics by former members of the Revolutionary Guards.

Roundtable with You May 29 focused on Amnesty International’s most recent report on Iran, in which it said human rights violations in the Islamic Republic were widespread in the past year. The report said authorities continued to suppress dissent, discriminate against women, torture prisoners, carry out executions – including minors – repress minorities, persecute Baha’is for their religious beliefs, treat other religious minorities poorly, and carry out sentences of stoning to death, amputation and flogging. Lawyer and human rights activist Mehrangiz Kar told Roundtable’s viewers that violations in the Islamic Republic not only didn’t stop, they increased and intensified over the last year. Ms. Kar, who was subjected to some of these violations before she left Iran, said thousands of women were arrested or treated harshly by authorities during a crackdown last summer. Additionally, she said, women activists for the One Million Signatures Campaign were subjected to harassment and repression all year long. “Bad laws, written vaguely, in the hands of dogmatic and fanatical minds that don’t belong in the 21st century . . . have brought the worse case scenario to the Iranian people.” She said, “The problem in Iran is that the current religion-inspired laws are in conflict with the principles of human rights.”

News and Views reported on drastic cuts in research funding at Tehran’s Allameh Tabatabaee University. The head of the university has reportedly returned the budget meant for research at his institution back to the government. Faculty members are deeply disturbed over this development, but maintain silence in public out of fear of losing their jobs. The professors say the university has reached a tipping point with the end of research monies, saying research is what gives a university respect and differentiates it from other institutions of higher learning.

Roundtable with You May 27 focused on Iran’s relations with Europe in an interview with parliamentarian Erik Ullenhag, the leader of Sweden’s Liberal Party. His party has paid special attention to human rights, particularly to the situation of Iranian women and religious minorities in the Islamic Republic. When many Iranians complain that Iran’s nuclear program has diverted the free world’s attention from their country’s human rights situation, Mr.Ullenhag – although sympathetic to their concerns – points to the fact that there are many organizations in Europe that are supporting Iranians in their struggle for freedom and liberty. One way in which this is illustrated, he said, was the Olof Palme Award given to Iranian journalist Parvin Ardalan for her efforts to promote women’s rights. Mr. Ullenhag said while the European are concerned about Iran’s nuclear policies, they should remember the principles of human rights as universal principles that every society should respect. He said the government of Iran, as a member of the United Nations, has an obligation to observe these principles and to not deprive Iranian citizens of their human rights. He also pointed out that the final decision is for the Iranian people to make.

News and Views May 29 reported that Washington has defended the United States’ recent human rights record after being criticized in Amnesty International’s annual report. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said, “This is a tough issue. We have people who are in Guantanamo Bay who have actively supported and actively participated in some of the worst terrorist acts against the United States in our history. You have people there who have been released and transferred back to their home countries or otherwise rele