Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week

Washington, DC – June 16, 2008 . . . Major stories this week included heads of state from the US and European Union agreeing to consider new sanctions against Iran because of its controversial nuclear program; President Bush visiting Europe and participating with European Union leaders at a summit in Slovenia; massive corruption exposed by a whistleblower close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – and his subsequent arrest; the visit to Tehran by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; the execution of eight inmates at Tehran’s Evin prison; Iran’s economic problems; soaring gasoline prices worldwide; child labor in Iran; the number of homeless children in Iran reaching one-half million; the status of the women’s movement in Iran; and interviews with former Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns; with nuclear weapons expert Jacqueline Shire on the IAEA and Iran; with renowned women’s rights activists Fariba Mohajer Davoodi and Parvin Ardalan; and with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi on her new book, Refugee Rights in Iran.

VOA/PNN premiered a new show this past weekend called 48 Hours.  Hosted by Ali Farhoodi, 48 Hours will air during Roundtable with You’s weekday time slot.  The show’s first guest on June 14 was Hamid Ghodse, President of the London-based International Narcotics Control Board, the UN body that monitor compliance with drug control treaties.  The show’s second guest on June 15 was Parviz Ghelichkhani, captain of Iran’s national soccer team in the early 1970’s.

News and Views June 14 had an exclusive interview with Nicholas Burns, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs until March 2008.   Although retired from the State Department, Mr. Burns continues to serve in an advisory capacity at the White House, serving as a special envoy in finalizing the US-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act.  On why US authorities are emphasizing US-Iranian cultural exchanges, Mr. Burns said it is important for Americans to know the citizens of Iran are different from their government, “I wish Iranian authorities would be open to issuing visas to Americans. Iran is reluctant to issue visa to members of Congress and ordinary American citizens.  One of the tragedies of this 30-year [break in] Iran-US relations is the fact that the citizens of the two countries are no longer familiar with each other’s culture because they cannot travel between the two countries.  That’s why Congress decided to assign a budget for Iranian experts to travel to US.”  Mr. Burns acknowledged that UN sanctions are not intended to hurt the Iranian people, adding that the US knows many Iranians are dissatisfied with the Islamic Republic.  He noted that the US administration and Congress support Voice of America so that the people of Iran have access to factual information.  Asked why the US – along with Russia, China and Israel – boycotted the recent convention on prevention of cluster bombs while opposing Iran’s and North Korea’s’ nuclear program, Mr. Burns said nuclear proliferation and the nuclear armament issue in Iran and North Korea “is very important for the world.”

News and Views June 15, 2008 reported that President Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have warned that a nuclear armed Iran would pose a threat to global peace and security.  The two leaders held talks Saturday in Paris, after Tehran said that Iran will not consider any offer that demands the country halt its uranium enrichment program.  Mr. Sarkozy said Iran obtaining nuclear weapons would be “unacceptable,” while Mr. Bush warned that a nuclear armed Iran would be, in his words, “a major threat to world peace.”  Mr. Bush heads to London Sunday for talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. In an interview with the London Observer ahead of his arrival, Mr. Bush warned against British plans to set a timetable for withdrawing British troops from Iraq.  He said that troop withdrawals should be, in his words, “based on success” rather than on fixed schedules.

 

News and Views June 12 reported that President Bush is meeting Thursday with Italian leaders for talks expected to focus on Iran’s nuclear program and Italy's military role in Afghanistan.  Mr. Bush first met with President Giorgio Napolitano, ahead of talks with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.  Earlier, President Bush stressed the value of international exchange programs, telling Italian entrepreneurs the programs help foreigners learn the truth about America. About 1,000 anti-war activists and demonstrators protested in central Rome as Mr. Bush arrived on Wednesday and more protests were planned for Thursday.  Mr. Bush’s European tour has been dominated by talks about the nuclear standoff with Iran.  Italy has been pushing to become part of a group of negotiators with Tehran that includes the five permanent United Nations Security Council members plus Germany.  The United States and its allies believe Iran is planning to build nuclear weapons – a charge Iran strongly denies.  Mr. Bush is on a week-long European trip, which also will take him to France, Britain and Northern Ireland.  He attended the annual US-European Union summit in Slovenia Monday.

 

News and Views June 11 reported that President George Bush says diplomacy is the first choice in dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions but all options remain open.  Speaking in Germany after talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr. Bush stressed that the international community will work together to resolve the issue and warned of additional sanctions.  Chancellor Merkel said that diplomatic pressure has produced results, but she stressed that new sanctions will be necessary if Iran fails to suspend its uranium enrichment work.  Their comments followed wide-ranging discussions on such issues as global trade and climate change.  Mr. Bush traveled to Italy earlier Wednesday as he continues his week-long European trip, which will also take him to France, Britain and Northern Ireland.

 

News and Views June 10 reported that President Bush is meeting with European leaders in Slovenia to discuss a broad range of issues, including Iran’s nuclear program.  President Bush has said he wants to discuss joint action to tackle high energy costs, including the need to cut dependence on fossil fuels.  He also plans to ask for European help in Afghanistan and to put more pressure on Iran to give up its nuclear program.  Ahead of the summit, Mr. Bush met with Slovenian President Danilo Turk and the country’s prime minister, Janez Jansa, at Brdo Castle in Kranj.  The president’s visit there coincides with the 60th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, which provided US reconstruction aid to Europe after World War Two.

News and Views June 9 reported on the kick-off of President Bush’s final visit to major European capitals, where he is expected to call for more help from Europeans on Iraq and Afghanistan as well as on Washington’s attempts to halt Iran’s nuclear program.  Speaking on the White House lawn before his departure, Mr. Bush said he was looking forward to the trip and to talking about the freedom agenda with “our friends and allies.”   The President said, “We’ve got a lot of work to do in Afghanistan, and the countries I’m going to visit have committed troops to Afghanistan, and of course I want to thank them and remind them there’s a lot of work to be done.”  Mr. Bush also mentioned the Afghanistan donors conference in Paris this week, which will be attended by his wife, Laura, who has just been to Afghanistan, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  Of his wife’s current trip to Afghanistan, he said “she saw progress, but she also saw….there’s a lot of work to be done.”  The President begins his trip in Slovenia, where he will attend his final US-European Union summit.  He also will travel to Germany, Italy, France, England and Northern Ireland.  During his visits, the President is expected to push for stronger penalties against Iran to discourage Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.  His talks with leaders also would cover climate change, the world food crisis, Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and Lebanon.

News and Views June 9 reported that Iranian officials advocated a close defense relationship with Iraq during meetings Sunday in Tehran with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his subordinates.  The talks came as Tehran grows increasingly concerned that a proposed long-term security agreement between the United States and Iraq would pose a threat to Iran.  Iraq’s Prime Minister sought to ease Iranian fears over a proposed security deal with the US, saying his government will not allow Iraq to become a launching pad for an attack on its neighbor. 

News and Views June 15 reported on the possibility of a long-term security agreement between Iraq and the United States with Kurdish journalist Rivar Karim Valy.  He said almost all members of the Iraqi Security Council believe a long-term security agreement must accept the Iraqi government’s sovereignty.  He noted that the Iraqi people have a dark history, with British colonial rule during the first half of the 20th century.  The Iraqi people see US troops as a liberation army following Saddam Hussein’s regime.  But Mr. Valy said this agreement could damage the US image in Iraq.  He said pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian groups are the strongest opponents of a US-Iraqi long-term security agreement.  Kurds and Kurdish groups, on the other hand, including the semi-independent Kurdistan government, support such an agreement.   Supporters of the agreement believe it will protect Iraq’s Shiite-led government from becoming a satellite of Shiite-dominated Iran as the American military role in the country fades.  Opponents say the agreement will lock in US domination of Iraq.

News and Views June 15 aired the first segment of an eight part series on the main Iranian-Kurdish political parties.  VOA/PNN talked with the Deputy Secretary-General of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (DPIK), Hassan Sharafi; with the First Secretary of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (DPK), Khaled Azizi; and with the General Secretary of the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KPIK), Abdollah Mohtadi.  Mr. Mohtadi said, “We believe the most suitable political system in which the basic rights of all ethnic Iranian minorities are respected is federalism.”  All three parties have the same slogan: “Federalism for Iran.”

News and Views June 9 interviewed Jacqueline Shire, a Senior Analyst at the Institute for Science and International Security, about last week’s IAEA meeting and its report on Iran’s nuclear program.  The Institute provides research and analysis on Iran’s nuclear program as well as proliferation challenges posed by North Korea and other countries.  Ms. Shire appeared live from Trenton, New Jersey, offering a detailed analysis of the report and its findings.  She clarified the differences between this report and previous ones, stating that what was found in the new report is that Iran has started using new centrifuges with higher capacities.  “The main achievement in Iran’s nuclear program,” she said, “is that the capacity of its centrifuges recently went up from 20% to 50%.”  Ms. Shire said the IAEA submitted documents in this new report that also raise concerns about Iran getting closer to having the capacity to develop nuclear weapons. This being said, Ms Shire asserted that she still thinks “diplomacy is still the first and best option for dealing with Iran.”

 

NewsTalk June 11 reported on the man at the center of the biggest case of corruption in post-revolutionary Iran with exclusive videotape.  Close to $35 billion in oil income from the 2006-07 fiscal year is missing, and authorities Wednesday arrested Abbas Palizdar – an associate of President Ahmadinejad and a member of the Iranian parliament’s Judicial Inquiry and Review Committee – and charged him with embezzlement.  In a videotape obtained by NewsTalk, Mr. Palizdar detailed how the theft really worked, including one case where an original allocation of $126 million for one group turned into a $600 million cost over-run, saying “No one knows where all the money went.  Panelists said the government was so shocked by the allegations that it took them two days to respond – which they did by arresting Mr. Palizdar.  London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh said, “The government is shocked by this information since Palizdar is part of the government and anything he says is true, so all they can do is arrest him.”  Panelist Mohsen Sazegara noted, “When I was in Iran, I saw two examples of this fraud, including one at a factory.  I believe Palizdar because if you look carefully at a lot of Islamic foundations, you see a lot of fraud.”  As another example of the kind of corruption cited by Mr. Palizdar, panelists pointed out the Nahjolbalagheh Foundation which gave 500 cars to powerful people close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.  They also noted the trip taken by former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to Saudi Arabia, ostensibly to improve bilateral relations; he was accompanied by 126 people, many of them family members.
 

News and Views
June 10 reported that on the controversy generated by a member of the
Iranian parliament’s Judicial Inquiry and Review Committee.  Abbas Palizdar publicly accused some 40 prominent ayatollahs and leading members of parliament of pilfering state funds and obtaining favorable business arrangements for their relatives.  Among those he claimed were corrupt was former President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who chairs the Assembly of Experts and the Expediency Council.  Political analyst Issa Saharkhiz told VOA/PNN that Mr. Palizdar’s accusations ignited a maelstrom.  “This kind of rhetoric is considered a challenge to fight among the gladiators,” he said.  Despite being a supporter of President Ahmadinejad, authorities arrested Mr. Palizdar for “spreading rumors” and “causing public distress.”   Mr. Palizdar, who lobbed his charges two weeks ago, had already singled out the leader of Friday prayers in Tehran, Mohammad Emami Kashani, and the head of the Imam Reza Shrine Foundation, Ayatollah Vaez Tabbasi.  He was arrested before being able to carry out his threat of naming additional officials.   Mr. Saharkhiz said the only way to get at the root of this controversy is the resignation of President Ahmadinejad followed by a move toward democracy.

News and Views June 12 reported that the rivalry between political parties and factions in Iran is reaching a breaking point.  Political analyst Hassan Daei said the arrest of Abbas Palizdar two days ago opened a curtain on the illegal activities of numerous leaders of the Islamic regime – leaders with the exception of Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, chairman of the Guardian Council, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, or Sepah.     Mr. Daei said this exception shows where Mr. Palizdar’s support comes from, adding that the reason Mr. Palizdar spoke out was to derail frontline critics of President Ahmadinejad.  He noted that Mr. Palizdar was relatively anonymous before making his combustible speech at Hamedan University last week.

News and Views June 10 reported that Behnood Shojaee, convicted of murder as a minor, is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday.  Mr. Shojaee was 17-years-old when he killed another boy in a street brawl in 2005 at a Tehran park.  Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, the head of the Iranian Judiciary, said the execution would go on as scheduled for June 11 despite pressure from members of the European Union and international human rights organizations to revoke the death sentence.  [Editor’s Note: Ayatollah Shahroudi decided, after all, to postpone the execution at least one month to see if a settlement of some sort can be reached with the victim’s family.]

 

The premier guest on 48 Hours June 14 was Hamid Ghodse, President of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), Professor of Psychiatry and International Drug Policy at the University of London and Director of the International Centre for Drug Policy at London’s St. George's University.  The inaugural show began with a tribute to NBC’s Tim Russert, who died June 14 after suffering a massive heart attack at his office.  He was introduced to Iranian viewers as one of the most influential journalists in Washington who was known for grilling politicians with his tough but fair questions.  Mr. Ghodse said that the ICNB is an independent and quasi-judicial monitoring body for the implementation of UN international drug. On Iran, he said although the practice of smoking opium is not a novel issue and has been present in this country for centuries, it has currently turned into a malignant social phenomenon with widespread social, psychological and economic consequences.  Mr. Ghodse said the emergence of intravenous drug use in Iran, along with the transmission of infectious diseases including HIV and HCV, has added further to the burden.  When asked about whether he knew of news reports accusing Iranian officials of being complicit in the easy availability of narcotics in Iran, he said, “It’s inconceivable to me that the Iranian government readily makes drugs available and at affordable prices in order to ensnare its own population into addiction.”   Most callers and e-mailers accused the Islamic government of not only turning a blind eye toward this social plight but encouraging it in the younger population.

 

The premier guest on 48 Hours June 14 was Hamid Ghodse, President of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), Professor of Psychiatry and International Drug Policy at the University of London and Director of the International Centre for Drug Policy at London’s St. George's University.  The inaugural show began with a tribute to NBC’s Tim Russert, who died June 14 after suffering a massive heart attack at his office.  He was introduced to Iranian viewers as one of the most influential journalists in Washington who was known for grilling politicians with his tough but fair questions.  Mr. Ghodse said that the ICNB is an independent and quasi-judicial monitoring body for the implementation of UN international drug. On Iran, he said although the practice of smoking opium is not a novel issue and has been present in this country for centuries, it has currently turned into a malignant social phenomenon with widespread social, psychological and economic consequences.  Mr. Ghodse said the emergence of intravenous drug use in Iran, along with the transmission of infectious diseases including HIV and HCV, has added further to the burden.  When asked about whether he knew of news reports accusing Iranian officials of being complicit in the easy availability of narcotics in Iran, he said, “It’s inconceivable to me that the Iranian government readily makes drugs available and at affordable prices in order to ensnare its own population into addiction.”   Most callers and e-mailers accused the Islamic government of not only turning a blind eye toward this social plight but encouraging it in the younger population.


Roundtable with You
June 13, 2008 focused on Iran in crisis – domestically and abroad – with London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh.  Mr. Nourizadeh said President Bush, speaking in Rome Thursday, repeated the position taken by the US and Europe toward Iran’s nuclear program.  “All of us P5+1 (five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) are sending the same message to the Iranians, which is – verifiably suspend your enrichment program or else you will face further sanctions and further isolation.”  Mr. Nourizadeh also talked about what has become a big scandal in Iran: the vast corruption reported among the highest ranking officials and clergy in the country, as revealed by a mid-level government official.   One viewer sent in an e-mail saying, “What is even more shocking than the corruption of these mullahs who openly rob the Iranian people of all their wealth is the chaotic system that allows this corruption to take place with no accountability.”

 

News and Views June 14 talked with international consultant Bahman Aghaii about world news affecting Iran this week.  On Iran’s reported rejection of the latest incentive package from the P5+1 – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany – Mr. Diba said the next step is likely new sanctions from the UN.  “Europe will intensify sanctions, especially on Iranian Banks in Europe.  The US will do more to prevent investments in Iran, especially in the oil and natural gas sectors.  Mr. Diba said the US and European attitudes toward Iran have differed in large part because some European countries have deep economic ties with Iran.  For instance, Mr. Diba says Italy’s membership in the P5+1 would be more beneficial to Iran because of their bilateral ties.  On another topic, Mr. Diba said countries attending the oil and natural gas conference in Baku focused on transferring oil and gas through the Caspian Sea.  He noted that Iran was not present during that discussion.  He also said Russia and Iran proposed buying gas from Azerbaijan, adding that Azerbaijan has not yet responded.

News and Views June 8 talked with economic analyst Hadi Zamani about the recent  increase in world oil prices.  Mr. Zamani said that world demand for oil is greater than the supply.  “But a $10.37 increase in one day (on Friday, June 6) was 8% of the current price of oil.  The huge jump is basically caused by one thing: the big impact of speculators in the US market.”  Mr. Zamani said another influencing factor was the comment made last week by Israel’s Minister of Transportation Shaul Mafaz.  Mr. Mafaz said that a military attack on Iran seems “inevitable” given Tehran’s ongoing refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.