Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week

Washington, DC – June 9, 2008 . . . Major stories this week included the FAO hunger summit in Rome and the withdrawal of the credentials of VOA/PNN’s reporter in Rome, allegedly because Iran didn’t like his coverage; anti-Ahmadinejad protests in Italy; the IAEA meeting in Vienna, which raised new questions on Iran’s nuclear program; Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki beginning a three-day visit to Iran; Senator Barack Obama becoming the Democratic Party’s nominee for President – the first African-American to be the presidential candidate of a major party; the tough positions on Iran taken by both Senator Obama and Senator John McCain in public addresses; Iran’s categorization as having one of the worst records fighting human trafficking; housing prices in Iran rising through the roof; pipeline explosion in southwestern Iran killing five and wounding more than 20; and Iran’s play in qualifying rounds for the 2010 World Cup. Interviews were conducted with the US Ambassador to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte; with the top US naval commander in the Middle East, Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff; with the governor of Montana Brian Schweitzer; with political activist Hassan Shariatmadari; with film critic Mohammad Haghighat; with author Sir Salman Rushdie; with CBS journalist Kimberly Dozier; with Ambassador Mark Logan, Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

 

               

 


VOA/PNN reporter Ahmad Rafat (right) filed reports from Rome previewing a food summit convened June 3-5 by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, but was then forced to file reports on his being barred from covering the conference – allegedly because of pressure

from the Islamic Republic of Iran. Mr. Rafat, who lives in Rome and is now an Italian citizen, was accredited for the three-day summit, but officials withdrew his credentials, telling him he was considered “a person not desired by Iranian authorities.” Mr. Rafat’s reports in advance of the summit highlighted criticism of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit and the refusal of many top Italian officials and the Pope to meet with him. VOA and others expressed concern over the incident. The International Federation of Journalists said, “UN agencies must not be used as the battleground for member states to victimize journalists they don’t like…. The UN should be providing models of pluralism and respect for media freedom.” RFE/RL, for whom Mr. Rafat also works, said, “We are disappointed at the designation of any professional, accredited journalist anywhere as persona non grata. We are particularly concerned that this could be possible at a UN-sponsored conference.” FAO spokesman Nick Parsons formally apologized to Mr. Rafat June 4, saying, “I hope Ahmad Rafat will accept the apologies of the organization and myself following this incident.” He also said Mr. Rafat’s credentials were restored. The opening speeches at the summit included an attack by President Ahmadinejad on the West over its handling of the global food crisis, accusing certain “big powers” of acting with sometimes “devilish” motives.” Mr. Rafat reported live on the summit, his credentials problem, the FAO’s apology, and on the remainder of the summit. He said his being banned from covering the summit shows “how the Iranian regime will do anything it can to prevent the Iranian people from freely getting information from VOA.” Mr. Rafat also said the withdrawal of his credentials generated more than 100 requests for interviews from other news organizations.

News and Views June 8 reported that VOA/PNN correspondent Ahmad Rafat received one of Italy’s top journalism rewards over the weekend. The surprise presentation of the Ilaria Alpi Television Journalism Award for freedom of the press came after Mr. Rafat’s credentials were temporarily revoked by the FAO because of Iranian government pressure. Mr. Rafat told VOA/PNN, “I cannot take a break from my responsibilities. My job is to provide a voice to those who have no voice.” In addition to reporting for VOA, Mr. Rafat reports for the largest private news agency in Italy, ADN-Kronos International, and for El Tiempo, an influential Spanish news magazine.

News and Views reported live on the week-long meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. IAEA Director-General Mohammad El-Baradei reported on the Agency’s projects, including a joint project with the World Health Organization on cancer treatment, a planned radiation emergency exercise in Mexico, implementation of a data system, an operations financial monitoring system, a nuclear thermal experimental project, etc. The IAEA chief also reported on implementation of safeguards in Syria, North Korea and Iran. He announced that IAEA inspectors will be visiting Syria at the end of June to investigate three more alleged nuclear facilities. On North Korea, Mr. El-Baradei asked that it be clarified whether the country is still a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Later, the Board of Governors issued a statement saying Pyongyang had not exited the Treaty through the proper procedures and that it should engage in talks with the IAEA in this regard, so the Agency would be able to verify the dismantling of the facilities at the end of the 6-party process. With regard to Iran, Mr. El-Baradei had submitted his report 10 days in advance, enabling 24 Board member-countries to provide reaction from their respective governments. A majority expressed concern about the IAEA’s revelation that Iran was likely engaged in weaponization studies in the past. Inspectors had earlier expressed alarm that Iran has a document that describes the process for making what could be the core of a nuclear weapon. The 15-page document, referred to as the uranium metal document, describes the process of “machining uranium metal into two hemispheres of the kind used in nuclear warheads.” A statement from the Non-Aligned Movement, read by Cuba’s Ambassador to the IAEA, sided with Iran and said the allegations were baseless. Cuba said it believed Iran had fulfilled all of its obligations and accused some countries of pressuring Iran unnecessarily.

News and Views reported that the Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, gave a press conference after speaking to the IAEA. He repeatedly said the US had politicized the issue. He said Iran had fully cooperated with the IAEA, would not stop enrichment, and that if certain countries pursue the same policy, Iran would retaliate. Mr. Soltanieh said he had earlier in the day delivered a 30-page confidential report to each member of the Board on the alleged studies. In response to a question, asked in Farsi, from VOA/PNN on whether Iran would implement the safeguards fully, Mr. Soltanieh asked which organization the reporter represented, also in Farsi. When she responded, in Farsi, Mr. Soltanieh switched into English. He at first refused to answer the question, and then said Iran’s parliament had banned implementation of the safeguards, and that only when the UN Security Council stops interfering and allows the matter to be handled by the IAEA will Iran reconsider the matter.

In an exclusive interview with VOA/PNN, the US Ambassador to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte, said Iran has repeatedly denied any activity, and only admitted to it under pressure by the Agency. Iran has called the intelligence supporting the alleged studies at “fabrications and forged.” Ambassador Schulte said this response is not sufficient and that Iran should provide real answers. He said the intelligence came from about ten countries, adding that the Agency found the reports consistent and credible enough to discuss with Iran. He said the Iranian people are paying the price for their leaders’ decisions. The Ambassador said the West insists that Iran stop enriching uranium and come to the table, noting that a Russian proposal is still on the table that would allow Iran to obtain enriched uranium for its civilian nuclear power needs directly from Russia.

News and Views June 8 reported Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki arriving in Tehran for a three-day visit. Mr. Maliki was scheduled to meet with President Ahmadinejad later in the day. Among other things, the two leaders are expected to discuss Iranian concerns about a planned US military agreement with Iraq. The agreement would allow the US to establish a number of permanent bases in Iraq and would give American forces autonomy to conduct offensive actions without consultations with Baghdad. The Iraqi leader also is expected to repeat his government’s wish to see Tehran discontinue its role in Iraq’s violence and to resume a dialogue with Washington over security in his country. Well-known commentator and former cultural minister Sami Shoresh said Iran’s problem with Iraq is really with Washington. “Iran could promise the Iraqi government to stop providing support to Shi’ia militants and to cooperate with the central government. But Tehran has a problem with Washington and therefore cannot cut its support of the militants. I think Mr. Al-Maliki will go home empty-handed.” Mr. Shoresh said Iran has four major disputes with the United States: Iran’s nuclear program, support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, and Iran’s security in the Persian Gulf. “Without a resolution to these problems, stability in Iraq is a dream.”

News and Views June 7 reported that the Iranian government has temporarily closed the semi-official Fars News Agency. Authorities ordered the agency closed for three days for “false reporting and disturbing public opinion.” A spokesman for the Iranian Committee for the Defense of Freedom of the Press, Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, told VOA/PNN, “The closure of the Fars News Agency is a clear interference by the government. They shut down the News Agency for three days because it predicted the resignation of the head of Iran’s Central Bank. But the fact of the matter is that the press’s job should be and is these kinds of predictions.”

Roundtable with You June 2 focused on ethnic groups and religious minorities in Iran with journalist Hossein Faraji, the former editor of German Radio’s Persian service. Reports from Iran indicate that authorities in Iran have arrested more Bahais in Iran, without formally charging them. These arrests raise the total to 14 of the number of Bahais arrested in the most recent wave, which has now expanded to 11 cities, with the latest being Yazd. Amnesty International’s most recent annual report said members of ethnic groups continue to be deprived of basic human rights in Iran, citing discrimination, arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment and torture. Historically, the terms Iran and Persia have referred to a confederation of all groups native to the Iranian plateau. Mr. Faraji said all of these “unjust and inhumane treatments” are taking place because of the system established by Ayatollah Khomeini. Though Mr. Khomeini died 19 years ago, the abuses continue unabated. Mr. Faraji said it is in the nature of authoritarian regimes such as Iran’s to violate the rights of the majority for the sake of a ruling minority. In Iran’s case, the violence and discrimination was started and promoted by Ayatollah Khomeini himself – something in direct opposition to the image of sainthood the country’s leaders are trying to create for him. One caller from Tehran said discrimination and mistreatment of people in Iran is not limited to minorities. “Discrimination in Iran is against the Iranian people,” the caller said. “All of them.”

News and Views June 6 reported that Pentagon officials concealed from US intelligence agencies potentially useful tips from Iranian agents in 2001 and 2002, including one that Tehran allegedly sent hit teams to Afghanistan to kill Americans. A Senate Committee reported Thursday that the Iranians also told two Pentagon employees at a December 2001 meeting in Rome of a purported tunnel complex used to store weapons and covertly move personnel out of Iran after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York and Washington. Then-Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith sent two Pentagon employees to the Rome meetings with Manouchehr Ghorbanifar, an Iranian dissident already dismissed by the CIA as untrustworthy, and several Iranians who were former and current members of the security service. Ghorbanifar used one of those meetings to press for regime change in Iran, and outlined a plan for it on a napkin, according to the report, saying it would cost about $5 million to start. The Senate Committee report suggests the information was questionable, adding that then-Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley failed to fully inform then-CIA Director George Tenet and other senior officials about the meeting, either before or after it occurred. Despite these revelations, Committee Republicans, in a dissent, said the report would be a “disappointment” to people looking for evidence of Pentagon wrongdoing.

News and Views June 6 reported that a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee held a hearing on Iran called “More Than Just Enrichment: Iranian Strategic Aspirations and the Future of the Middle East.” Subcommittee Chairman, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) said, “The threat from Iran to our vital national security interests is real. It is real, but I am absolutely convinced it is manageable.” Ray Takeyh, a Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations said if the purpose of engagement is to get Iran, “to stop wanting to have influence in the Arab East, to stop developing a nuclear infrastructure of some capability, to stop being a power in the Gulf, then I actually wouldn’t recommend diplomatic negotiations, because what you’re trying to do is get through diplomacy what we couldn’t get through coercion.” From the National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies, Judith Yaphe said she didn’t think the US has much to lose. “It’s hard to see how things could worse, in many ways, than they are now. But we do have commonalities, and anytime you want to get into saying what can we gain from this, both sides are going to have to come away with gaining something, or you’ll only have had a one-off experience. But I think of the issues, Iraq, clearly, is a big one, because we share the same concerns. Neither one of us wants to see it fail.” Jon Alterman, Director and Senior Fellow of the Middle East Program t the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the core issue that people are missing is that the bar shouldn’t be set too high. “Can we manage the Iranians better if we have some contact, if we have a way to escalate up? I think it gives us another management tool to deal with very disturbing Iranian behavior. You can be in a room with somebody, and it doesn't mean you’re making concessions to that person. I think we need to take that under advisement.”

VOA/PNN correspondent Siamak Deghanpour interviewed the governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer, for the June 4 edition of NewsTalk, this as his state became the last contest in the Democratic presidential primary. Governor Schweitzer is a farmer and rancher who held no elected office prior to being elected as the first Democratic Governor to serve Montana in 20 years. But as Mr. Deghanpour reported, the governor has traveled to many countries in the Middle East and has familiarity with Middle Eastern countries. Mr. Deghanpour said Governor Schweitzer is on Senator Barack Obama’s list of possible Vice Presidential candidates. “People should know that choosing the Vice President is Senator Obama’s decision. We have not had an African-American president or a woman Vice President before. He might choose Senator Clinton.” With regard to US relations with Iran, Governor Schweitzer said, “We are a superpower, and there is no country that can match our military power. However, with this comes responsibility. When you have power, you can win any war. But can you win the heart of the people as well? Creating cultural and economical relationships with people you disagree with is the best way of handling problems. Not talking with Iran might open the door to more radical groups seizing power there.” Governor Schweitzer said as president, Senator Obama would substitute oil with other sources of energy, “which shouldn’t threaten oil-producing countries in the Middle East, because China and India are going to be their markets…. The world is looking at us to create new technologies.”

News and Views June 2 reported that Republican Senator John McCain, addressing a pro-Israel lobbying group, called for a worldwide campaign to isolate Iran and criticized Barack Obama for expressing willingness to meet with Iranian leaders. Senator McCain, his party’s presumptive presidential nominee, told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that private entities should join in pressuring Iran’s regime by divesting from companies that do business with the Persian Gulf nation. “The Iranians have spent years working toward a nuclear program,” the Senator said, “and the idea that they now seek nuclear weapons because we refuse to engage in presidential-level talks is a serious misreading of history.” Senator McCain called for a host of new sanctions against Iran, including an international campaign to restrict Iran’s import of refined oil and a private divestment campaign, similar to one imposed on South Africa to end its apartheid regime in the 1980’s. He reminded the audience of his support, along with independent Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, for designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. “Over three-quarters of the Senate supported this obvious step, but not Senator Obama,” he said. “He opposed this resolution because its support for countering Iranian influence in Iraq was, he said, a ‘wrong message not only to the world, but also to the region.’” .

News and Views June 3 reported on the last contests in the presidential primaries. VOA/PNN correspondent Siamak Dehghanpour, reporting from Helena, talked about the state of the races in South Dakota and Montana, explaining the reasons why polls show Senator Obama is ahead of Senator Clinton by double digits margin in Montana and why the race in South Dakota is close. Montana election is open to Independents and Republicans and South Dakota is restricted to just Democrats, and Senator Obama usually does better with Independent voters than Senator Clinton. Geographically, Senator Obama has won all neighboring states: North Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington and Idaho. He also has the advantage in terms of superdelegate support in both states. However, Senator Clinton said after South Dakota and Montana, she will lead in the popular vote and Senator Obama will lead in the delegate count. “The voters have voted and so the decision will fall to the delegates empowered to vote at the Democratic Convention and I will be spending the coming days making my case to those delegates.”

News and Views June 4 reported that Senator Barack Obama secured the Democratic presidential nomination Tuesday evening, prevailing in an epic battle with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. “Because of you,” the Senator said from Minnesota, “tonight I can stand here and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for the President of the United States of America … I congratulate [Senator Clinton] on her victory in South Dakota and I congratulate her on the race that she has run throughout this contest … I honor, we honor the service of John McCain and I respect his many accomplishments even if he chooses to deny mine.” Senator Clinton refused to concede, despite the numbers. “This has been a long campaign, and I will be making no decisions tonight,” she said. “In the coming days, I’ll be consulting with supporters and party leaders to determine how to move forward, with the best interests of our party and our country guiding my way.” Senator John McCain said no matter who wins this election, “the direction of this country is going to change dramatically but the choice is between the right change and the wrong change, between going forward and going backward.” VOA/PNN correspondent Siamak Dehghanpour’s reportage included interviews from Dennis McDonald, Chairman of Democratic Party of Montana, and Ed Tinsley, Democratic National Committee member;

Roundtable with You June 4 reviewed primary elections over the past five months, from its start on January 3 in Iowa through its conclusion in Montana on June 3, and talked about the beginning of the general election campaign with Senators McCain and Obama both giving speeches to AIPAC focusing on their disagreement on Iran. Senator Obama said Wednesday that Iran posed a serious threat in the Middle East and vowed to stop it from acquiring a nuclear weapon. “The danger from Iran is grave, it is real and my goal will be to eliminate this threat,” he said to a conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby group. “I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon – everything,” he said to a standing ovation. Senator Obama told the audience that talks would be an essential part of his diplomacy. “We have no time to waste. We cannot unconditionally rule out an approach that could prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We have tried limited, piecemeal talks while we outsource the sustained work to our European allies. It is time for the United States to lead… there will be careful preparation. We will open up lines of communication, build an agenda, coordinate closely with our allies, and evaluate the potential for progress. Contrary to the claims of some, I have no interest in sitting down with our adversaries just for the sake of talking. But as President of the United States, I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place of my choosing – if and only if – it can advance the interests of the United States.” Senator McCain has criticized Senator Obama’s call for talks with Iran, a state Israeli leaders consider a threat to Israel’s security. John Calabrese, who teaches US Foreign Policy at American University, joined the show and reminded viewers that historically, every president after going to the White House tilts more toward the center. He noted that both Senators Obama and McCain agree that Israel is one of Washington’s closest friends and that Iran’s nuclear program is a threat. As Senator Obama himself pointed out, their views on a number of issues are not different. What differs is how they intend to deal with specific issues.

News and Views June 7 reported that Senator Hillary Clinton ended her presidential bid and endorsed Senator Barack Obama on Saturday, urging her supporters to unite behind his candidacy and help recapture the White House for Democrats in November. In the first step toward healing the wounds of a sometimes bitter five-month Democratic nominating battle, Senator Clinton told a cheering crowd at her final rally that she would work hard to put Senator Obama in the White House. She urged her supporters to unite behind the Illinois senator in his general election race against Republican John McCain. “I will work my heart out to make sure that Senator Obama is our next president,” Senator Clinton told a crowd of about 2,000 at the in Washington, DC. “I ask all of you to join me in working as hard for Barack Obama as you have for me.” With her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and her daughter, Chelsea, standing to the side of the stage, Senator Clinton said she and Senator Obama shared the same values and goals. “I endorse him and I throw my full support behind him,” she said. “We will make history together.”

Today’s Woman June 8 focused on Senator Hillary Clinton’s historic bid for the White House and her official exit as a candidate from the race. In a speech delivered in Washington, DC, Saturday, the Senator congratulated Senator Obama and endorsed his candidacy – seen by as observers as more than words as her 18 million supporters make her one of the country’s most powerful Democratic leaders. Senator Clinton pointed to the progress “we’ve already made that has led to female and African-American presidential candidates.” Referring to her support, Senator Clinton suggested that although “women have not yet broken the glass ceiling in politics, they have put 18 million cracks in it.” Senator Clinton’s team has said she wants to be Senator Obama’s running mate, and many are eager to find out the nature of her private talks with him at the end of the week. Her enthusiastic support could lend Senator Obama votes from the Latin American community and older women, which are considered key voting blocs in the general election.

Today’s Woman June 4 focused on the tough primary battle between Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton, and his cinching the Democratic nomination. VOA/PNN correspondent Siamak Deghanpour, who has been on the road every week for the past five months covering the campaigns, said, “Two women voters stated they voted for Hillary because she is woman and because she would make a better candidate.” Approximately 35 million people voted in the Democratic primaries, and nearly half of those votes went to Senator Clinton. Senator Obama needed 40 more delegates going into the last two primaries, and secured the magic number when he secured 71 superdelegate votes in less than 24 hours. Panelists discussed whether or not media coverage was more critical of Senator Clinton because of her gender, and also talked about the likelihood of Senator Obama asking Mrs. Clinton to be his running mate. The last segment of the program focused on Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, who has had a three-month head start in the general election campaign. Panelists debated whether this would give him an advantage in the race for the White House.

Panelists on NewsTalk this week talked about human rights abuses in Iran; in an interview from Tehran, the wife of Arjang Davoodi said her husband is being tortured in prison and that there is no justice for him, “none at all. My husband has been in jail for more than 19 years and it is still not clear what the charges are against him.” Panelists also talked about Ayatollah Boroujerdi, the Muslim cleric jailed the past two years for advocating the separation of religion and government; about demonstrations at Iranian universities, including a major protest at Tarbiat Moallem University in Karaj; how mismanagement in Iran’s oil industry has prevented the Iranian people from any benefits of the country’s oil income; how Iran is supporting terrorism and trying to export Islamic revolution 30 years after its own revolution and 19 years after the death of Ayatollah Khomeini; protests in Italy against President Ahmadinejad while he was in Rome to attend the FAO hunger summit; and Iran coming under fire at an IAEA for deliberately stalling the UN agency’s investigation into its nuclear program.

News and Views June 4 interviewed Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, Commander of the United States 5th Fleet, about wanting improved communication between the US and Iranian navies. The top US naval commander in the Middle East said he hopes for more communication between the US and Iranian navies in the Persian Gulf. He said he was not involved in the political fray regarding “engagement” between the two countries, adding that he will “leave that to the diplomats.” However, Vice Admiral Cosgriff did say that more formalized methods of contact with Revolutionary Guard naval commanders in the Gulf might prevent mistakes and accidents from escalating into larger conflicts. The Admiral said that though the US has “routine” communications with the regular Iranian navy, rogue elements of the Revolutionary Guard sometimes make “high speed” maneuvers against US ships. Vice Admiral Cosgriff said, “We will not let our ships be successfully attacked by small boats.” The commander said US operations are transparent. “We’ve been here for decades and plan to be here for decades to come to conduct operations in this part of the world on behalf of our friends and US interests.”

Late Edition June 4 interviewed Harold Lee Wise, Adjunct History Professor at Elizabeth City State University about his new book, Inside the Danger Zone: the US Military in the Persian Gulf, 1987-1988. Mr. Wise says the danger zone was a period 20 years ago when the US and Iranian navies engaged in a series of underreported military operations on each other’s warships, tankers and installations. Though the conflict did not escalate into a full-blown war, it nonetheless entailed the largest US military deployment in the region at that time and resulted in the some of the largest naval engagements since World War Two. Mr. Wise not only talked about particular battles, he also compared and contrasted US policy toward the Middle East then and now, drawing parallels in what is still a danger zone in the Gulf.

News and Views June 7 talked with London-based economist Hasan Mansour on the decision by Barclays Bank to use the US Patriot Act, a controversial American anti-terrorism law, to shut down the personal bank accounts of British citizens who work for Iranian-owned businesses. The Times newspaper reported June 6 that, “The bank has unilaterally enforced anti- Iran sanctions drawn up by the Bush Administration under the US Patriot Act against companies that operate completely legally in Britain. Those affected by the account closures are not directors of the companies but ordinary staff members, including clerical officers, computer engineers and bank tellers.” Mr. Mansour said British citizen