Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, DC – June 23, 2008 . . . Major stories this week included Iran’s rejection of a P5+1 incentives package; Israel’s reported simulation of an attack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility; President Bush welcoming Britain’s pledge to tighten sanctions against Iran; thousands of students protesting at Zanjan University over a professor’s sexual harassment of a student; that student’s subsequent arrest, apparently for publicizing the harassment; a series on Iranian Kurds – their politics, their leaders, their goals;; the US Congress approving $162 billion in new funding for US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan; Israel and Hamas agreeing to a ceasefire in Gaza; Secretary Condoleezza Rice meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials as well as stopping in Lebanon to meet with the country’s new president; and interviews with Abdolmalek Rigi, the leader of Jundollah; with former British Foreign Secretary David Owen; with AEI scholar Michael Ledeen on US-Iran relations; with former Attorney-General Ramsey Clark and former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy; with British Foreign Office spokesman Barry Marston; with Assistant Secretary of State Goli Ameri on US-Iranian exchanges; and with Mohammad Reza Shajarian, a world renowned singer of traditional Persian music.
Stay Tuned: VOA/PNN correspondent Siamak Deghanpour will host a Late Edition special on June 26 focusing on the documentary Come Walk in My Shoes, made by filmmaker Robin Smith. In the film, Congressman John R. Lewis (D-GA) leads colleagues from the House and Senate on an emotional pilgrimage to sacred sites of the Civil Rights Movement. According to Ms. Smith, “Lewis was 15-years-old when he first heard Martin Luther King’s voice on the radio” and from then on, Rep. Lewis worked side by side with Dr. King during the Civil Rights Movement.
News and Views June 19 interviewed Abdolmalek Rigi, the leader of Jundollah, or the People’s Resistance Movement of Iran. Mr. Rigi said contrary to accusations leveled by the Islamic regime that Jundollah is supported by Washington or London, or that it is based in neighboring Pakistan, he said he and his comrades are Iranian Sunnis and that they operate as Baluchis from [Sistan and] Baluchistan. “I have never received any kind of help from any foreign country and I believe that relying on foreigners to bring us freedom would be futile. I believe in empowering our youth to carry us forward. Tehran levels this kind of accusation against us because they want to deflect attention away from their miserable military performance here. They skillfully try to portray that we’re proxies for foreign powers and that we get our marching orders from them. They cannot acknowledge the fact that our movement is made up of average local people: students and young people…. Our movement is home-grown and totally reliant on the power of the Baluchi people. If foreigners were behind these military skirmishes in Baluchistan, then this would spread much more quickly to other parts of Iran. Tehran knows that our only shortcoming is that we don’t have unlimited resources available to us.” Mr. Rigi said Jundollah has not launched any offensives against regime forces in two years because the group doesn’t have unlimited resources. However, he said Jundollah’s goal is the downfall of the Islamic regime. “We are interested in uniting with other groups in and outside Iran, which are actively involved in the destruction of the Islamic regime. Our greatest military accomplishment, however, has been to bring some of the mountainous areas in Baluchistan under our control…We are hopeful that we can gradually lay the groundwork for a popular uprising that would lead to the downfall of the regime.” He confirmed Jundollah had assassinated Judge Ebrahim Karimi because he sent 12 of their men to the gallows. Mr. Rigi also said Jundollah has called on the Islamic regime to release 15 members of his movement from prison as well as all Sunni religious scholars who are in jail. He said Jundollah, in return, would release “their captives who are in our custody.” On June 12, at a checkpoint near the border, Mr. Rigi’s men kidnapped 16 Iranian security personnel – this, after Iran announced that Pakistan had turned over a group of rebels, including Mr. Rigi’s brother, to Iran. News and Views ran a disclaimer after the interview saying that views expressed by the guest were solely his personal views and did not necessarily reflect those of the Voice of America. [Editor’s Note: VOA/PNN’s interview was broadcast one day before Jundollah reportedly executed two of the 16 hostages.
In an interview June 18 with VOA/PNN, Michael Ledeen, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, talked about an article he wrote in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month. In it, Mr. Ledeen drew a parallel between the fascist movement in Europe in the 1930s and the states that sponsor international terrorism. “Their common ground,” he said, “is that both mistreat their citizens and this should be a warning sign that if a regime brutally treats its own people, it’s willing to export terror outside its own borders.” Mr. Ledeen said, “The world is now simmering in the familiar rhetoric and actions of movements and regimes – from Hezbollah and al Qaeda to the Iranian Khomeinists and the Saudi Wahabis – who swear to destroy us and others like us. Like their 20th-century predecessors, they openly proclaim their intentions, and carry them out whenever and wherever they can. Like our own 20th-century predecessors, we rarely take them seriously or act accordingly.” Mr. Ledeen then referred to Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s praise of martyrdom and suicide bombing. “For people like Ahmadinejad, dying for one’s cause is something that should be regarded as holy and sacred. There are people who are being brainwashed with this kind ideology,” he said. Mr. Ledeen said that what propels terrorism are states that sponsor these acts of violence in order to intimidate innocent civilians. “It’s a myth that injustice and legitimate grievances cause terrorist acts,” he added. He said the most effective way to confront Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism outside its borders is to support the aspirations of Iran’s freedom-loving people. He believes that once Iran has a democratic government, there will be a remarkable drop in the number of terrorist incidents the world over. Mr. Ledeen said Washington’s broadcasts to Iran should be expanded as a way to raise public awareness among Iranians on how non-violent uprisings have succeeded in toppling despotic regimes. But, he concluded, “I’m the father of two Marines so I do not favor war with Iran as the first option to remove the clerical regime in Iran.” The anchor challenged Mr. Ledeen when she quoted from his National Review articles in 2006 where he called for military attacks on Iran. Mr. Ledeen said, “Don’t invent things about me.” The anchor then cited specific quotes from the articles. Mr. Ledeen responded, “I’m misquoted all the time; I only meant attacking the nuclear sites,” he said.
Former British Foreign Secretary David Owen, who is the author of In Sick and in Power, gave VOA/PNN an in-depth interview which was broadcast in four parts, June 15-18. In Part One, Mr. Owen said he traveled three times to Iran and loves the country. From his first visit as a young student, to his third in 1977 as Foreign Secretary, he said Iran had changed a lot and that the Iranian people were becoming prosperous. However, because the West’s focus was on trade, he said, the Shah’s sickness and public unrest went unnoticed.
“By 1978, it was clear that there was considerable unrest in Iran. The Shah’s reforms affected Iranians in different ways. Inflation unduly impacted the working class, a lack of faith upset the mullahs, and a lack of democracy provoked students. “When the Shah, much like many other reformists, made fundamental reforms and alienated people, he had to expect radical reactions and animosity. If we had known the Shah was ill, we could have helped him to transfer his constitutional role to his son. In this way, he could, much like Spain, keep the kingdom and his dynasty in Iran.” Mr. Owen said sickness affected the Shah’s judgment and made him a very indecisive leader. His speeches at this time provoked the opposition and particularly angered the mullahs, more than at any time before.
In Part Two, Mr. Owen said that Britain, unlike the French, did not play games with the Shah. “If we’d known sooner that the Shah was sick, we could have helped him to have a democratic transition, and we could have had a militarily strong Iran that could not be attacked by Iraq. We wouldn’t have had the Iran-Iraq War. Iraq would not have attacked Kuwait. And there wouldn’t be al Qaeda. The collapse of the Shah’s regime was a terrible tragedy. It was a profound mistake on the West’s part to effectively perpetrate the Iran-Iraq War. We lost a lot of credibility by doing so. It was an outrageous attack by Saddam Hussein, backed by the UK and the US. We should never have allowed it, but rather condemned it…. We tried to undermine the Islamic revolution. Our reputation and influence were deteriorated so much that now, because of that, the Islamic Republic of Iran is suspicious of the West and we cannot use our influence to halt Iran’s nuclear program. We have a long way to go before being trusted again by the Iranians. However, it is not in the Islamic Republic’s short-term, mid-term or long-term interests to become a state with nuclear weapons.” He said Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger persuaded the Shah that Iran shouldn’t become a nuclear weapon state. “As long as the US wants to build military bases in Iraq and keep its forces in the region, Iran is not going to give up its nuclear program. “The international community’s policy toward Iran’s nuclear activity is not going to be clear until the United States has a new president.”
In Part Three, Mr. Owen said he is disconsolate about sanctions as a whole. “I don’t believe in sanctions against Iran. I don’t believe sanctions work.” He said former French Prime Minister Francois Mitterrand used to say for sanctions to work, they must be put into action quickly and with strength. Mr. Owen said the long build-up of sanctions against Iran hasn’t worked and people are getting around them. “Western leaders are very practical. If they see sanctions working, they will support them. As long as Russia sees Germany not engaged in sanctions, they won’t be ready to sign up for them.” He said Russia doesn’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons, but Moscow believes Iran will eventually be a nuclear weapon state. Mr. Owen said he thought both Senators McCain and Obama would bring change to US policy toward Iran. The former British Foreign Secretary said Israel has the nerve to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, but said it is a difficult target because it is far away and its weapons are already sophisticated. “Israel gets rid of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapon, by attacking Iran. Its nuclear facilities are spread out and are built underground.” Mr. Owen said he didn’t think Iran’s nuclear program can be stopped militarily, and that if it is to be influenced successfully it will be an argument vis-à-vis regional stability. He said, “The IAEA’s recent report, which is based on solid information, says the Islamic Republic of Iran is lying and has made changes in the warhead designs on their Chinese missiles. Their missiles are capable of carrying nuclear weapons.”
In Part Four, Mr. Owen said the presence of US and British military forces in Iraq and the region are a massive strategic threat to Iran. He said Iran’s nuclear program can be halted through negotiations, but it would likely require US and British forces to leave Iraq and the region as a whole. He also suggested Iran might follow the Israeli model and just not claim to be a nuclear weapon state. “This would help us to continue our access to oil in the region,” he said. The alternative to this scenario, he said, is to build more military bases in the region, which in turn will generate more hostility in the region – by the governments and by the people. Mr. Owen said, “We cannot do much about human rights abuses in Iran other than to point out the abuses when they take place. We should not challenge the Islamic Revolution – whether we like it or not.” He said the West, of course, wants a more secular government in Iran, less religious interference in politics, and a more technical and democratic government. “When Iran’s Supreme Leader dies, the new leader should have more of a religious role and much less of a political one.” Mr. Owen said in order to understand Iran, we need to put ourselves in Iran’s position. “Nuclear weapons do give any country stability,” he said. “We should stop putting military pressure on Afghanistan. Britain tried it twice and was not successful. The Soviet Union had the same experience and ultimately collapsed because of Afghanistan. Forget about a military victory in Afghanistan. This is not a country that you can conquer.”
News and Views interviewed former Attorney-General Ramsey Clark and former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy. Mr. Clark said he believes President Bush will soon strike Iran’s nuclear sites. He said his claims were supported by President Bush’s comments in Israel and Europe earlier this month where he said if the US does not stop Iran’s nuclear programs, future generations will suffer. Mr. Clark said that President Bush wants his legacy to be that he was the stone to stop an evil empire from accessing nuclear weapons. Mr. Murphy, who served as the US ambassador to both Syria and Saudi Arabia, said he disagreed, and doubted the US would strike Iran because of the situation in Iraq. Ambassador Murphy said an attack might delay Iran’s access to the nuclear bomb for two or five years, but in the short-term would help the Islamic Republic’s leadership to gain public support. Mr. Clark said he believes Iran would retaliate if its nuclear sites are attacked, perhaps by sending troops to Iraq in order to increase violence against US troops deployed there. Mr. Clark said the US might prefer Israel attack Iran, but Ambassador Murphy said Israel has shown it cannot attack Iran by itself. Both men agreed on one issue. They said the hostage crisis in Iran in 1979 wounded America’s pride and left a bitter historical memory in the collective mind of Americans. Both also expressed optimism that in spite of all the political mines, there will be fresh opportunities for the two countries to mend their relations.
News and Views June 21 reported that Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran is continuing with its nuclear program despite a multi-nation offer of an incentives package if Tehran stops atomic activity. IAEA envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh said Saturday the Islamic Republic will continue its nuclear enrichment program, reiterating the country’s claim that it is for peaceful purposes. Iran says it is ready to negotiate an incentives package offered by P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) but has ruled out halting enrichment. The Director-General of the IAEA, Mohamed El-Baradei, warned that a military attack on Iran would encourage the country to rapidly seek a nuclear weapon. In an interview with al Arabiya television, Mr. El-Baradei said such a development would turn the region into a “fireball.” His remarks followed a US media report that Israel conducted a simulated attack on Iran’s atomic facilities. A New York Times report quoted US officials as saying Israel conducted a long-range exercise earlier this month that appeared to be practice for a potential attack on Iran. The report said the Israeli military practiced
maneuvers involving more than 100 fighter jets over the Mediterranean and Greece. It said the jets flew more than 1,400 kilometers – the approximate distance between Israel and Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday the Bush administration continues to pursue diplomacy and believes it can work – although it rules out no options for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.
News and Views June 19 reported that the Senate Finance Committee has approved legislation to strengthen US sanctions on Iran, including a proposed ban on the export of US-made aircraft parts to Iran and the import of Iranian carpets, caviar, nuts and dried fruit to the US. The House of Representatives passed similar legislation last year. In provisions likely to displease the White House, both House and Senate bills would press Russia to stop helping Iran’s nuclear program by barring the US from entering into a civilian nuclear agreement with Moscow until that country suspends such assistance. While President Bush favors tougher international sanctions on Iran, he also wants a civilian nuclear accord with Moscow and has sent such a pact to Congress. It will go into force later this year unless both chambers of Congress vote to block it. Mr. Bush, along with many lawmakers, initially criticized Russia for delivering nuclear fuel to Iran. But he recently has taken the position that such a move shows Russia can be a dependable supplier so that Iran itself has no need to enrich uranium. Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) said, “The richness of the American market makes sanctioning rogue states a powerful weapon without having to resort to force.... For pressing issues like Iran’s nuclear program, I would rather withhold dollars and euros than spend bullets and lives. I am pleased the committee adopted several of my bill’s provisions, placing us on a path to preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.”
News and Views June 17 interviewed Barry Marston, spokesman for the British Foreign Office, on policy developments toward Iran following the latest flurry of diplomatic activity. Speaking in Farsi from London, Mr. Marston said Iran has a choice: “Accept the West’s offer or be isolated.” Commenting on the talks between President Bush and Prime Minister Gordon Brown over the weekend, Mr. Marston said the US and Britain’s view on several subjects, including Iran, are very close. Mr. Marston made a point of saying the West has always tried to make sure that sanctions do not harm the people of Iran. He also said the visit to Tehran by the foreign policy chief of the European Union, Javier Solana, was “not all negative because we always favor diplomacy over any other options.” Mr. Solana met with Iranian officials to present a new and upgraded incentives package from the P5+1 (five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) to persuade the Islamic Republic to abandon uranium enrichment.
News and Views June 17 reported the European Union said it is “not in a crisis” just because Irish voters rejected a treaty seeking major EU reforms, adding that it is working to overcome the situation. Voters in Ireland – the only EU nation to put the reform treaty to a referendum – voted “no” last week regarding a document seeking to streamline EU decision-making. It needs ratification from all 27 members before it can go into effect. The EU’s Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said that they would “reflect how to go forward in its internal reform.” EU nations Monday agreed on the need for a new round of sanctions on Iran that target the oil and gas sectors. It would be the strongest punishment yet to discourage Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said, “no decision has been taken today. That is the answer to your question: no decision has been taken today.” These sanctions targeting Iran’s oil and gas industries could severely affect the country’s already-fragile economy.
News and Views June 21 talked with London-based political analyst Mehrdad Khansari about the latest news developments in Iran. Mr. Khansari said Iran is risking much with its nuclear program, especially if – as the regime claims – it is not aimed at manufacturing nuclear weapons. “This could cause lots of casualties and damage. It seems the regime does not know what it is doing.” Mr. Khansari suggested there was a link between news of the Israeli Air Force’s military exercise last month and Iran’s rejection of the latest incentives package of the P5+1. He said IAEA Director-General Muhammad El-Baradei believes an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would create a chain reaction in the region, and that tensions would expand. Mr. Khansari said if Israel were to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iran’s reaction would be through its allies in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, adding that the US would have to get involved eventually.
Roundtable with You June 19 focused on World Refugee Day, which is commemorated on June 20. According to a report released earlier in the day by the US Committee on Refugees and Immigrants, the violation of refugees’ human rights is widespread, and in some host countries, refugees encounter rape, domestic violence and even slavery. Bahman Malizadeh, the founder of Nowrooz, an organization that helps Iranian refugees worldwide, and PNN correspondent Ali Javanmardi, who himself was once a refugee in Turkey, talked about the painful plight of thousands of Iranians who risk their lives to flee their homeland to face a life of unknowns. Roundtable also talked with an Iranian woman who now lives in Switzerland. Marjan Azizi was tortured and raped by prison guards in Iran and shared her painful story with VOA/PNN’s audience. “I am repeating this story for the whole world to be able to listen. Because the shame is not for me who went through this to defend my human rights. The shame is theirs who committed this shameful crime in the name of law and religion.” One viewer in Iran sent an e-mail after the show was over: “I watched your show with intense sympathy, to say the least. Just as you were left nearly speechless, I too was moved to tears as I listened to the Iranian woman’s account of her horrific ordeal at the hands of those criminals in our beloved country. Had it not been for your professional experience, I doubt if you’d been able to continue your program. But continue you did, and your being overwhelmed by sorrow only displayed your sense of humanity and affection for your fellow countrymen and women. I wish you success in the good work you are doing.”
News and Views June 19 reported that a powerful rival of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has again slammed the government’s policies of “trial and error,” pledging to supervise what the government is doing more closely. Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was president of the Islamic Republic from 1989-1997, says a series of new regulations on Iran’s administrative system would give the people the power to govern themselves if the regime would implement Article 44 of the Islamic Republic’s constitution. The Article speaks of private ownership in industry, agriculture and services. Political analyst Dariush Homayoun dismissed Mr. Rafsanjani’s comments, saying the former president is in “no position to offer now what he was unable to deliver during his term in office.”
News and Views June 16 reported that President George Bush is welcoming Britain’s pledge to tighten sanctions against Iran and to send more troops to battle the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Mr. Bush and Prime Minister Gordon Brown voiced solidarity on Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan at a joint news conference Monday in London. Mr. Gordon also said his government remains committed to keeping troops in Iraq, ending speculation he might announce a troop withdrawal later this year. He said all of Europe is prepared to increase sanctions on Iran if Tehran fails to work with Western countries on differences over its controversial nuclear program. President Bush had on Saturday said that he will pursue implementation of the UN Security Council’s resolutions requiring Iran to suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities.
News and Views June 16 interviewed Goli Ameri, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. Mrs. Ameri, an Iranian-American who was sworn in three months ago, says the goal of her office “is to foster mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries around the world, including Iran.” She said cultural, educational and sports-related programs with Iran have been very successful and well-received by the people of both countries. “Iranians who came here received a very warm welcome by Americans,” Mrs. Ameri said. “Some of these Americans opened their homes to the Iranian visitors. We are hoping that the people of Iran would do the same and we are confident they would because of their culture, history, warmth and their acceptance of other countries and people.” Mrs. Ameri said these contacts are profitable because of the exchange of information that takes place. “Iranians like to have contacts with the US and these programs increase their level of knowledge. It also conveys to Iranians the reasons behind the success of Iranian-Americans in this country. They can see how Iranian women, students and business leaders have been successful in a free and democratic society, and how it is possible to grow in such an environment.”
News and Views June 16 reported on a sexual scandal that erupted over the weekend on the campus of Zanjan University in western Iran, causing thousands of students to protest. VOA/PNN talked with Navid Nourifar, a student spokesman, who explained that the trouble started when a student sought help from a professor. The student – a female – was about to be dismissed because of academic problems. She spoke about her concerns with a university administrator that the spokesman identified as the director of the university’s Education Department, Ebrahim Madadi. The spokesman said Mr. Madadi offered the girl his help in exchange for sexual favors. He said she accepted the offer and told her friends about having been propositioned. Her classmates decided to record and film the professor’s advances. After she entered the administrator’s office, the classmates broke in, capturing him on videotape. The girl fled while the classmates escorted Mr. Madadi to the university security office. Students demanded his resignation, particularly galled at his and other university officials’ hypocrisy. Iran’s Etemad newspaper said Mr. Madadi – unnamed in the article – “had tried to shut down a student association on campus because its ‘members have moral problems and do not have an Islamic behavior.’ [Editor’s Note: An excerpt of the videotape can be seen at http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2008/06/iran-sex-scanda.html.]
Today’s Woman June 21 opened with news of the arrest of the young woman student at Zanjan University who leveled sexual harassment charges against the university’s vice chancellor. Her offense is publicizing a video of the incident and she reportedly is being held in solitary confinement at Evin Prison. News reports say the alleged perpetrator also is in custody and quote a local prosecutor as saying that publicizing certain crimes is worse than the crimes themselves.
Today’s Woman June 17 opened with a news brief on Iranian authorities cracking down more harshly on violations of the Islamic dress code: shutting down 32 clothing stores and hair salons deemed too western. They also are stopping drivers and pedestrians who are not “properly attired.” Meanwhile, thousands of students at Zanjan University continued a sit-in. Their protest resulted from the sexual harassment of a female student by a senior university official. Student leader Bahareh Hedayet told VOA/PNN the incident that took place at Zanjan University is not the first instance of such sexual harassment. “What’s new is that we can publicize the offense internationally within minutes on the Internet. Now we can gain recognition of our problems.” Ms. Hedayet said student organizations in Iran are supportive of the Zanjan University protestors, several of whom have been arrested. She said the students are demanding the resignations of the University administrator and the Minister of Education. They also want an apology. The program’s second segment focused on the outcome of the 22 Khordad (June 11) women’s rights protest in Iran. Joining the show via telephone from Iran was lawyer Nasrin Sotudeh, who participated in the protest. Ms. Sotudeh, who represents the One Million Signatures Campaign, said authorities arrested many of the demonstrators, but said, “These arrests were made illegally, and we have filed official complaints.”
Today’s Woman June 21 focused on Turkey’s recent passage of a law that prohibits women from wearing the hejab, or headscarf, in public