Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week

Washington, DC – June 30, 2008 . . . Major stories this week included the US House of Representatives introducing a resolution condemning the Iranian government’s repression of religious minorities; reports that the State Department may open a US Interests Section in Iran; EU nations approving new sanctions against Iran; Tehran’s mismanagement of increased revenue from oil; the US presidential campaign; problems in the Iranian Football Federation; the incarceration of many young Iranian men because they can’t pay the dowry, a part of the prenuptial agreement; Iranian performers and athletes visiting the US; the closure of Tehran Emrooz newspaper for criticizing President Ahmadinejad’s policies; and interviews with Deputy Assistant Secretary Jeffrey Feltman on bilateral relations and UN sanctions on Iran; Assistant Secretary of State Goli Ameri on bilateral exchanges with Iran; with Robert Satloff, the Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, on ways the US and Israel can work together to change Iran’s behavior on the nuclear issue; with journalist and blogger Roozbeh Mirebrahimi on the early days of the Islamic Revolution; and for a special edition of Late Edition focusing on the documentary Come Walk in My Shoes, interviews with filmmaker Robin Smith, Congressman John R. Lewis (D-GA), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO), prominent civil rights activist Robert Zellner, Rev. Cletus Kiley, President and CEO of the Faith and Politics Institute, and Sayyid Syeed, National Director of the Islamic Society of North America.

Late Edition June 27 announced that VOA/PNN is launching a giveaway of gray silicone wristbands – symbolic bracelets as a gift for Persian News Network viewers. Within one hour of the announcement, VOA/PNN had received over 200 e-mails from audience members around the globe embracing the idea. Late Edition also received e-mails from almost every major city of every province in Iran as well as small towns far removed from Tehran. Some viewers requested more than one wristband, saying they needed more for family members and friends. The VOA/PNN awareness bracelet is based on the LIVESTRONG wristband of the Lance Armstrong Foundation. One viewer from Tehran wrote, “Thank you for creating a gift for your viewers. It is a very good idea that all your viewers connect and find each other through this symbolic bracelet. Please send me one. Thank you.” VOA/PNN will begin mailing the bracelets in July.


News and Views June 28 reported that the US House of Representatives has introduced a resolution condemning human rights abuses in Iran. HR1310 says the Government of Iran’s lack of protection for internationally recognized human rights creates poor conditions for religious freedom in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The resolution calls for the release of all religious prisoners in Iran. It asks the United Nations Human Rights Council to monitor and demand compliance with the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion or Expression. Further, the resolution encourages the UN Human Rights Council to continue to use its procedures to maintain oversight conditions for freedom of religion or belief in Iran. The resolution singled out the especially harsh treatment of Baha’is, Sufi Muslims and evangelical Christians. This bill, which was introduced by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) is in the first stage of the legislative process. It has been referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee for further action.

News and Views June 25 reported that Iran’s official IRNA news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry Official as saying Tehran would consider a US request to establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran. State Department officials have neither confirmed nor denied the possibility of opening a US Interests Section in Iran. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the US has established several Iranian watcher posts, including one in Dubai. “We want to try and give ourselves a greater insight into what’s occurring in Iran and to try, of course, to also find ways to get more Iranian people to have some exposure or some experience in the United States.” Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, told VOA/PNN this is not the first time the possibility of opening direct communications has been discussed at the State Department. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany have been insisting Iran halt its nuclear enrichment program for 1½ years. Ambassador Feltman said P5+1 cannot wait forever for Iran’s response to its incentives package and should it be negative, Chapter 7 of the UN Charter provides the guideline for further action: increased pressure on Iran. He described the incentives as beneficial to Iran and stressed the benefits the Iranian people would enjoy should their government accept the package. Mr. Feltman reiterated the US is not opposed to Iran having a peaceful nuclear program, adding that it is Iran’s right provided it is in accordance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. He said Iran’s earlier proposal had interesting elements but was more a propaganda tool for the non-aligned movement and other regional blocs. He said it did not seriously address the one issue at the core of the dispute: suspension of uranium enrichment. Mr. Feltman stressed suspension is the key to opening talks, adding that he hoped hints in Iranian media reports that the door to negotiations is open reflect the Iranian government’s position.

 

Roundtable with You June 24 featured Assistant Secretary of State for Cultural and Educational Affairs Goli Ameri on US-Iranian cultural ties. Ms. Ameri said her office recently facilitated a three-week training opportunity for Iranian athletes to come to Las Vegas. The group later competed in Colombia at the Junior World Weightlifting Championship and Iranian Saeed Shahedi June 19 won a bronze medal. Earlier, en route to Berlin, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States wants more Iranians to visit the US, adding that she particularly favors cultural exchanges such as visits by artists and athletes.

Stay Tuned for Ping-Pong Diplomacy: VOA/PNN July 2-5 will report live from Las Vegas on the 2008 US Open Table Tennis Championship. Iran is sending a nine-member team, made up of men and women, to compete in the international field. VOA/PNN is sending both a male and a female reporter so that gender won’t impact coverage.
lyrics, composes, sings, produces and mixes his music in Iran. Homay and The Mastan Group will perform in the Washington, DC area at Strathmore Concert Hall on July 20. Tickets for the tour are selling briskly, with some shows already sold out. The group’s newest CD, Forbidden Journey, will be released July 22.

Late Edition June 28 reported that Homay and The Mastan Group will perform for the first time outside of Iran at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles on July 3. Musician Saied Jafarzadeh, also known as Homay, founded The Mastan Group in 2005. His ensemble, which consists of eight highly proficient musicians, is one of Iran’s prominent traditional Persian music groups. Homay, who is in his 20’s, writes his own


News and Views June 24 reported that the European Union’s sanctions against Iran go into effect today. The sanctions, based on UN Security Resolution 1803, add individuals, companies and institutions to the EU sanctions list. The EU also approved the freezing of assets in the three European branches of the Melli Bank of Iran in London, Paris and Hamburg. EU entities also are not allowed to transact with any Bank Melli branches within Iran nor with the branch in Moscow. In other developments, both the Washington Post and the Washington Times newspapers are reporting that the State Department has been debating opening a liaison office in Tehran to facilitate the issuance of visas for Iranians wanting to travel to the United States. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she will not comment on what is considered an internal matter. But she pointed to the US consular office in Dubai which issues visas for Iranians, noting that she is aware that traveling to Dubai is difficult for some Iranians. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Switzerland has been looking after US interests in Iran since the 1979 hostage taking in Tehran, and said he doesn’t expect anything to be decided any differently in the near future.

 

Panelists on NewsTalk June 27 debated whether President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s claim that someone wanted to kidnap or kill him was real or an imaginary threat for political purposes. Mr. Ahmadinejad made the claim while in Rome to attend the UN hunger conference earlier this month. VOA/PNN’s reporter in Rome, Ahmad Raafat, said the Food and Agriculture Organization had no information on the matter, while the Italian Interior Ministry said it didn’t consider this claim credible or worthy of comment. However, the story had enough merit to become the brunt of jokes in Italian news and entertainment. From Irbil, PNN reporter Ali Javanmardi said Iraqi forces have arrested 190 insurgents in southeastern Maysan province, 87 of whom came from Iran or trained in Iran. He said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has granted insurgents a 10-day reprieve in which to lay down their weapons. Critics say the reprieve is a mistake because it halts the military operation, giving the insurgents the time to hide or leave the country. VOA/PNN sports correspondent Ali Emadi reported that archer Najmeh Abtin has been named the third Iranian woman who will participate in the Olympics. To date, Iran has 52 athletes attending the games, the highest since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. 

News and Views
June 23 reported that European Union nations approved new sanctions against Iran on
Monday, including an assets freeze of the country’s biggest bank. The EU said it will also be announcing additional financial and travel sanctions – effective immediately – on several Iranian companies and “senior experts” linked to Tehran’s nuclear program. Washington
welcomed the EU decision, and a State Department spokesman said these sanctions are another indicator that the Iranian government is increasingly being isolated, adding that the UN and EU are both serious about increasing pressure. Der Spiegel reported that Damascus and Pyongyang helped Iran to develop its nuclear program through the construction of a suspected nuclear site in Syria that Israel destroyed last September. But the German newsweekly also is reporting that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is considering withdrawing his support for the Iranian program, Der Spiegal says that German intelligence reports indicate a joint plan by Syria, North Korea and Iran for a nuclear reactor for military use was to have been developed at the Al-Kibar site in eastern of Syria.

Roundtable with You June 27 focused on soccer in Iran – and how corruption, cronyism, nepotism and religious fanaticism have wreaked havoc with one of the country’s most prized passions and pastimes. Sports commentators/analysts Ali Sarshar in Washington and Iraj Adibzadeh in Paris reviewed the successes enjoyed by Iranian soccer in the past, providing insight into the lack of planning and the mixture of politics and religion in sports in Iran today, particularly soccer. They said the Iranian government is afraid of international success for Iran’s soccer team because victory will lead to mass celebrations, and mass celebrations could lead to civil unrest, which in turn could jeopardize the government’s hold on power. Mr. Sarshar said, “Soccer in Iran need not worry about foreign rivals. It should fear the daily barrage from within against its success and legitimacy.” In response to a caller who asked what the Iranian national soccer team needs to do in order to succeed in the 2010 World Cup games, Mr. Sarshar said the Iranian national team has an abundance of talented and capable players. He said what the team is missing is serious, legitimate and powerful leadership at the helm of the Iranian Football Federation.


On June 28 and 29, PNN reported that dozens of demonstrators were arrested Friday by riot police in Mashad and Tehran during major protests over Iran's deteriorating economy.


Roundtable with You
June 23 focused on Iranian-Canadians with Manoo Missaghi, a founder and member of the Board of Directors of the Iranian-Canadian Congress. The ICC is a not-for-profit, non-partisan and non-religious organization that is committed to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He said there are three groups of Iranians the international community experiences with regard to Iran: Iranians who live in Iran, the Government of Iran, and Iranians who live abroad. Mr. Missaghi said the ICC’s mission is to uphold the interests of the Iranian Canadian community and their well being in social, economic, political and cultural spheres. He said one the benefits of having an organization with ICC’s outreach is that he was able to have a meeting with Canada’s Immigration Minister to discuss ways of making it easier for Iranians to travel to Canada. Mr. Missaghi suggested Canada increase its staff at the Canadian Embassy in Tehran so that Iranians won’t have to wait so long for visitor, work and study visas. He also suggested the expanded staff handle permanent resident visas, so that Iranians won’t have to travel to Syria to process their immigrant visas.


Roundtable with You June 26 focused on how Iran has chosen to distribute the revenue from its windfall in the current oil market. Economist Jamshid Asadi, who teaches at the American University of Paris, provided an overview of oil revenue management, and the fact that in many countries, oil revenue is used to pay for economic forecasting while in Iran, oil revenue is performed using a portion of revenues, whereas in Iran, oil revenue is spent on today’s budget as opposed to future interests. Mr. Asadi said that even with oil revenue included in Iran’s budget, “economic expansion there has only been 5%. In contrast, China and India, which trailed Iran for many years, have now surpassed it.” Mr. Asadi said though crude oil prices are soaring on a daily basis, in Iran – the world’s second largest oil producer – a worker’s salary only meets 45% of his monthly expenses. One caller identified himself as an employee of the Iranian Oil Ministry
and stated that for the past four months, he has not been paid. He said the reason given to him was that “the Ministry is unable to pay you because of the economic sanctions against Iran.”

Roundtable with You June 25 focused on the Mahrieh, or dowry. This prenuptial agreement has become another reason many young Iranian men are incarcerated. It also destroys marriages in Iran. A member of the Iranian parliament recently stated that “throughout her life, a woman depreciates, and therefore, ought not to receive a hefty dowry, because she is not as valuable as she was once the agreement was put in place with her husband.” Roundtable’s guest, Mehdi Haeri, is a cleric and expert on Islamic law. He unequivocally rejected the legislator’s comment, saying such a notion is “shameful” and “inhumane.” Mr. Haeri pointed out that thousands of men are in jail for not paying the dowry. He said the mixture of today’s civil laws combined with fanatic ancient traditions has created a mess which is good for neither men nor women. In response to a series of questions from Iranian callers, both men and women, Mr. Haeri said although a dowry is an ancient part of marriage in Iran, it is not be used as a measure of “value” or putting a “price tag” on a woman. In the past, Mr. Haeri said, a dowry was given to the woman because she did not earn money outside of the home and the dowry was her safety net in case of divorce. “A marriage is a civil agreement between two individuals,” Mr. Haeri said. “Yet, in Islamic law, if a man knows that he will never be able to fulfill his part of the deal to pay the dowry, and still signs that agreement, that marriage is null and void.”


News and Views
June 24 interviewed Robert Satloff, the Executive Director of the Washington Institute
for Near East Policy, which is recommending the United States and Israel set up a high-level forum to coordinate strategy and policy on ways to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. Mr. Satloff, who served as a co-convenor of the Institute’s Presidential Task Force on the Future of US-Israel Relations, said “the United States needs to see the Iranian nuclear problem in its totality and the threat it poses not only to Israeli and US interests but also to the prevention of nuclear weapons proliferation.” Mr. Satloff said the task force’s proposal has been endorsed by key policy advisors of Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the presidential candidates of the two major political parties. Former Middle East peace envoy Dennis Ross, who is currently a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, also served as a task force co-convenor. The Task Force says the first item on the agenda of the forum should be a discussion of each side’s views regarding current and potential efforts to compel a change in Iranian behavior on the nuclear issue. This covers the entire range of policy options, and preventive military action. In its final report the Task Force said, “The central argument is that preventing Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear-weapons capability is not special pleading for America’s ally Israel – it is vital to America’s own security.”


Today’s Woman June 23 reported that the Press Oversight Committee of Iran’s Ministry of Islamic Guidance closed the Tehran Emrooz newspaper. Journalist Isa Saharkhiz, who is a member of the Committee for Protecting Journalist Freedoms in Iran, told VOA/PNN that Iranian authorities shut down the newspaper because of a recent article, published on the third anniversary of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency that criticized the president’s policies. Mr. Saharkhiz also noted that the closure of the newspaper was processed illegitimately, that it was constitutionally illegal, and that the paper’s editor has been summoned to court. The main difference now compared to past media censorship, Mr. Saharkhiz suggested, is that publications used to get banned for a period of time but now authorities are going further and permanently closing the media property. He said the closure of Tehran Emrooz also resulted in 150 people losing their jobs.


Roundtable with You
June 29 focused on the week’s top stories with London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh. He dismissed a story in this week’s New Yorker magazine by Seymour Hersh, saying it is not credible. He also accused Mr. Hersh of exaggerating. According
to Mr. Hersh, the Bush administration has launched a “significant escalation” of covert operations in Iran, sending US commandos to spy on the country’s nuclear facilities and undermine the Islamic republic’s government. The New Yorker story said that the US Congress had authorized up to $400 million to fund the secret campaign, which involves US Special Operations troops and Iranian dissidents. Moving on, Mr. Nourizadeh said that Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani made a serious error by threatening to leave the Non-Proliferation Treaty if P5+1 countries don’t reach some sort of accommodation with Iran. He added that Iranian leaders are following the US presidential campaign very closely. “Iranian leaders had been leaning toward Senator Obama, but after he spoke at AIPAC’s annual conference and gave his unconditional support to Israel, they have reconsidered their favorable view of [the Democratic candidate].

News and Views
June 24 reported that Republican presidential candidate John McCain is defending his position to end a ban on offshore oil drilling as he seeks votes in environmentally conscious California. In appearances in coastal Santa Barbara and inland Fresno, Senator McCain said the change in his position is the right decision at a time of record-high gasoline prices, and that this proposal would add one million to two million barrels a day to global oil supplies. Some 21 billion barrels of proven oil reserves are left untouched in the United States because of a federal moratorium on offshore exploration and production. His rival, Democratic Senator Barack Obama, opposes lifting the ban, saying development of the new wells could take 10 years, by which time global demand is expected to be at least 100 million barrels per day, about 15 million bpd above current levels. Recent polls by Zogby International indicate that 74% of Americans support Senator McCain’s position on this issue.


VOA/PNN correspondent Siamak Deghanpour hosted 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. Ms. Smith, who joined Mr. Deghanpour in studio for the one hour special, talked about different aspects of the film such as the nature of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, the philosophy behind non-violence, legislative challenges in getting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 adopted, the role of the media and the influence of Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson. They aired clips from the film as well as interviews conducted with congressional leaders. Congressman Lewis said, “I was very moved to see this work come alive….If I had to go back and relive my participation in the movement, I would do the same thing all over again.” His only regret was not spending more time with Martin Luther King, Jr. “I thought Dr. King would be with us much longer and I feel when I see him in the film and hear his voice or see him in action I only feel so sorry for myself and for others and for our nation and for our world because of what we lost.” Mr. Lewis appealed to people around the world to “take a lesson from the civil rights movement; take a page out of the book of actions of Martin Luther King, Jr. – the way of peace, the way of love, the way of non-violence. As I said in the movie, hate is too heavy a burden.” Congressman Lewis said, “Without the civil rights movement and without Martin Luther King, Jr. there would be no Barack Obama.” The Majority Leader of the US Senate, Harry Reid (D-NV), Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), who is House Majority Leader, and House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) all had effusive praise for Congressman Lewis, telling PNN he lived the message of non-violence despite being beaten over and over again in the pursuit of equal rights. PNN also talked with Robert Zellner, a prominent white civil rights activist who was the first white to work at the Southern Christian Education Fund; Rev. Cletus Kiley, President and CEO of the Faith and Politics Institute; and Sayyid Syeed, National Director of the Islamic Society of North America.


News and Views June 27 reported that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) said critical questions remain unanswered in North Korea’s nuclear declaration and that it is crucial for Congress to review it. In a statement, Senator Obama said US sanctions on
Pyongyang should only be lifted “based on North Korean performance.” He said their declaration was a step forward but other steps need to follow. His rival, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), was equally cautious, but also said that “obviously the six party talks have yielded some results here.” Meanwhile, several key members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee have expressed concern that the AQ Khan network in Pakistan might have transferred designs for smaller, more sophisticated nuclear warheads more widely than previously believed, allowing states like Iran to more easily produce smaller nuclear warheads for its ballistic missiles. They said this would significantly increase the potential nuclear threat from Iran to Israel and our European allies. These congressmen said an Iran with nuclear weapons capability is one of the gravest national security threats facing the United States and our friends and allies. Also, a group of Jewish congressional Democrats lambasted Senator McCain for voting against 2005 legislation that would have toughened sanctions against Iran. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) said, “McCain tries to give the impression that he’s tough on Iran, but when it came time to stand up to party leaders and big oil, John McCain stood down.” The Senate passed a $162 billion war spending plan, sending to President Bush legislation that will pay for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan until the next president takes office. The package, approved 92-6, includes a doubling of GI Bill college benefits for troops and veterans. Also, Senator Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) made their first joint public appearance since the divisive Democratic primary race ended, making a display of unity in a carefully staged rally in Unity, New Hampshire.

Today’s Woman June 26 focused on the close parallels between the worker, student and women’s rights movements in Iran. The program noted that half of all university students in Iran are women, so the overlap of interests between the student and women’s movement is a natural one. The interests of the women’s movement also coincide with those of workers, in large part because women workers in Iran are not paid the same wage for the same work as a man. The last segment acknowledged that overall, the worker, student, and women’s rights movements in Iran are part of a broader movement toward democracy and a demand for legitimacy from the government. Callers noted that women students from Mazandaran University are staging a sit-in to protest inadequate dormitory conditions in Iran. Another caller, from the University, said the participants are not political activists. They just want their problems – like the inadequate facilities – to be resolved.


News and Views June 26 interviewed the former head of the Iran University Press, Nasrollah Pourjavadi, while he was in Washington to deliver a lecture at the Library of Congress. Mr. Pourjavadi said Iran’s publishing industry has never compared particularly well to other countries because of its colonialist past, but he said there were some publishing houses which were independent and institutes which had quality research. He said one of the best examples of this would be Iranian submissions to the Journal of the Franklin Institute, a journal with a reputation for publishing high-quality papers in the field of engineering and interdisciplinary mathematics. Mr. Pourjavadi these limited pursuits continued after the Islamic Revolution, noting that the Franklin Institute has published 28 texts in various scientific fields under his supervision.


Today’s Woman June 27 focused on Kurdish women in Iran and Iraq with Iraqi lawyer and human right’s activist, Fatima Muhammad. Ms. Muhammad, who has lived in Irbil for seven years, discussed improvements in the lives of Kurdish women in Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein. She said many of the women who survived Saddam Hussein are now widows. “They continue their lives and are persevering even if they are alone. After the freedom of Iraq, Kurdish women have become much more liberated and active. New laws and budgets funded by non-governmental and governmental organizations are serving the Kurdish people of Iraq, and particularly serving the women with lawful protection against domestic violence.” Ms. Muhammad said more Kurdish women are attending universities and more universities are being built in Iraqi Kurdistan. “Classes are taught in English as well as Kurdish, and foreign professors
are coming to teach at the universities. The United States has been very instrumental in improving conditions for Kurdish people of Iraq.”

Roundtable with You June 28 talked with journalist and blogger Roozbeh Mirebrahimi about the series of interviews he conducted with Abbas Amirentezam, a key player in the early days of the Islamic Revolution. Mr. Amirentezam was the spokesman and Deputy Prime Minister in the interim cabinet of Mehdi Bazargan, the Islamic Republic’s first Prime Minister. Within two years, in 1981, Mr. Amirentezam was sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of spying for the United States, a charge critics suggest for retaliation against his early opposition to theocratic government
in Iran. He is now “the longest-held political prisoner in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Following the orders of Prime Minister Bazargan, Mr. Amirentezam set out to rebuild the relationship between the United States and post-revolutionary Iran. He established diplomatic contacts with the US embassy, advocating for normalization of bilateral relations. Mr. Amirentezam has always denied