Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. (February 16) – PNN reported live from Israel on the closely watched Israeli parliamentary elections and continued its special programming on the 30th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution this week. Other top stories included an interview with the “New York Times” Washington, D.C. bureau chief; a report on relations between Russia and Iran; and human rights updates.
PNN REPORTS ON THE LEAD UP TO ISRAELI ELECTIONS
News and Views February 15 – PNN reported from Israel over three days in the run-up to the country's parliamentary election. Ms. Beglari said that more than 5.3 million Israelis would be eligible to vote in the election. Many Israelis are of Iranian descent living in the Jewish state. In profiling each candidate, Ms. Beglari reported that many believe there would be a shift to the right. In total, 34 political and religious-based parties are competing for seats in the Israeli parliament. "No single party would be able to win enough seats to form a government on its own," she said. Mr. Ahmad Teibi, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament, said in an interview with Ms. Beglari that all major party leaders are hostile to the idea of a Palestinian homeland. Ms. Beglari said that most major parties have copied tactics from President Barack Obama's successful presidential campaign. "There is even one party that has adopted the same ‘Yes, we can’ slogan,” she added. Ms. Beglari also said that text messaging and the perceptive use of the Internet could be attributed to President Barack Obama's appeal to the youth in the United States. “A decade after being ousted by Israelis entranced with his rival's promise of peace accords and modest governance, Benjamin Netanyahu is poised to retake power in a country now in the throes of disaffection and war fears,” she said. Ms. Beglari added that, though his former aide Avigdor Lieberman has been pulling voters away to the right of Likud, Mr. Netanyahu goes into the ballot with a lead over the centrist Kadima Party of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and looks best placed to form a coalition in a Knesset destined to be among the most rightist in memory. Despite differences on how to bring about peace and prosperity to Israel, there is an unmistakable consensus among the candidates that Iran and its nuclear program represent a major threat to Israel's security. Some party officials said that Iran, by supporting both the Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas, could not be ignored by the next Israeli leader. After the election results were posted, Ms. Beglari reported that inconclusive election results sent Israel into political limbo yesterday with both Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and hard-line leader Benjamin Netanyahu claiming victory. She reported on what could be weeks of political uncertainty after an election that ended with clashing claims of victory by centrist Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and rival Benjamin Netanyahu. Defense Minister Ehud Barak's long-dominant, center-left Labor Party was cut down to fourth place behind Kadima, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, an upstart ultranationalist party catering mainly to immigrants from the former Soviet Union. It will be up to President Shimon Peres to decide, after hearing recommendations from political parties, whether to ask Livni (a relative newcomer to politics) or Netanyahu (a former prime minister) to try to put together a government. The overall rightward shift in the Knesset will, in any case, dent hopes in President Obama's administration for an Israeli coalition that can move towards peace with the Palestinians and other Arab neighbors after last month's war in the Gaza Strip. PNN also reported on the reaction from the Palestinians who said no matter who leads Israel’s new government, the Israelis will need to commit to a freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank before peace talks can resume.
FORMER PRESIDENT KHATAMI ANNOUNCES CANDIDACY IN IRAN
48 Hours February 15 – PNN reported that former President Mohammad Khatami has announced his intention to run for president in the upcoming elections in Iran. PNN aired a debate regarding pro-Khatami and anti-Khatami perspectives with guests Mandana Zand-Karimi and Mohammad Sahimi. Mandana Zand-Karimi is president of the Alliance of Iranian Women. Mohammad Sahimi is a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Southern California. Mrs. Mandana Zand-Karimi said most women and youth were disappointed in President Khatami and his failed agenda of reform. As such, she said many would not flock to the polls to throw their support behind him. "He represents a choice between bad and worse. He does not have any credibility with the vast majority of Iranians any longer because they know he doesn't have the authority to deliver on what he promises," Mrs. Mandana Zand-Karimi said. Professor Mohammad Sahimi responded by saying Khatami’s possible return to office would be a huge improvement over President Ahmadinejad. "The Iranian economy was in much better shape, we experienced a Prague spring and the government and its spending were much more transparent," he added. Professor Sahimi said that the ruler of Saudi Arabia is now pursuing President Khatami’s call for a dialogue of civilizations. "If you ask me if he played a positive role, I'd definitely say ‘yes’. Nevertheless, did he accomplish major and structural changes? I do not think so. He did not become president to carry out major reforms," he added. Mrs. Karimi-Zand said that during President Khatami's two-terms he did not respond in a constructive way to Washington's overtures for better relations. "Instead, he tried to flare up conflicts between Israel and Arab countries by aiding and abetting Hamas and Hezbollah. Khatami concealed from the world community that Iran was working on an illicit nuclear program. He also enjoyed a majority in parliament, which he will not have if he becomes president again," Ms. Karimi-Zand said.
“NEW YORK TIMES” D.C. BUREAU CHIEF DISCUSSES NEW BOOK ON PNN
News and Views February 12 – PNN interviewed David Sanger, the author of the best- selling book “The Inheritance.” The book discusses a list of intractable problems that the Bush Administration has left for President Obama. Mr. Sanger said, “One of the main critiques of the Bush Administration is that it never made clear to the Iranian people what the economic benefits of setting aside the nuclear program would be.” He added that a major shift from the Bush Administration is represented by both President Obama's call for direct talks with Tehran and the response by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asking for these talks to be based on mutual respect. Mr. Sanger speculated that the Obama Administration would drop its precondition that Iran freeze uranium enrichment for talks to start, but he doubts that the administration would accept Iran having total control over its uranium enrichment program. Mr. Sanger surmised that most intelligence analysts believe that Iran is enriching uranium at its main facility outside Natanz and stated that Washington is paying more attention to this capability now that Iran has launched a satellite into orbit. "At the end of this negotiating process with Iran, President Obama has to decide whether it can live with an Iran that has nuclear capability, which would be different than having nuclear weapons," Mr. Sanger said. He added that the Obama Administration also has decisions to make on how it will handle the nuclear issue in relation to other issues it has with Iran such as Iran’s support for Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah, which the U.S. has labeled as terrorist organizations. On the question of human rights and whether it occupies a place on the U.S. foreign policy agenda vis-a-vis Iran, Mr. Sanger said, "Washington only makes a token gesture toward respect for human rights. The human rights situations in China and Burma are terrible, but all Washington can do is to include them in an annual report on human rights issued by the State Department.”
IRANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SET TO VISIT MOSCOW
NewsTalk February 15 – NewsTalk was joined by Mehrdad Khonsari of the Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies and Paris-based journalist Cyrus Amouzgar. Discussion centered on the upcoming trip of Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar. Mr. Najjar, who is set to arrive in the Russian capital on February 16, will discuss bilateral military-technical cooperation with Russia. According to the defense ministry of the Islamic Republic, "During his trip to Russia, the Iranian Defense Minister will hold talks with Russian officials and visit a number of defense industry companies." Mr. Khonsari commented on the common interests of Iran and Russia, some of which run counter to American interests. American military bases in some Arab countries are a concern to both Russia and Iran. Mr. Khonsari added, "Iran has not attacked any Arab countries in the southern Persian Gulf but these countries cannot trust Iran because of its nuclear plans." Mr. Khonsari was not overly concerned because "Russia's interest in having a deep relationship with Iran is not overshadowed by its long term relationship with the U.S." Mr. Amouzgar contributed to the discussion by describing how Iran became a bridge for Russia to expand its influence in the region. Mr. Amouzgar addressed the concern shared by many Arab states regarding Iran's interest in exporting the Islamic revolution. "The only hope for Arab countries to counter the danger of Iran's nuclear plan is to have friendly relations with the U.S.," he added. Recent media speculation surrounded possible negotiations between Moscow and Tehran on the delivery of S-300 air defense systems to the Islamic Republic. Russia has consistently dismissed these rumors. Reports indicate that the advanced version of the S-300 missile system, called S-300PMU1 (SA-20 Gargoyle), has a range of over 100 miles. The system can intercept ballistic missiles and aircraft at low and high altitudes, making the system an effective tool for warding off possible air strikes. Israel and the U.S. are concerned about the possible delivery of S-300 air defense systems to Iran. The systems could be a large improvement to Iranian defenses against any air strike on strategically important sites, which includes nuclear facilities. Iran recently received a delivery of 29 Russian-made Tor-M1 air defense missile systems under a $700-million contract signed in late 2005.
IRAN’S NUCLEAR ARMS INTENTION UNCLEAR TO THE U.S.
News and Views February 13 – News and Views reported on comments by Dennis Blair, the new director of national intelligence. Mr. Blair told Congress that the U.S. intelligence community does not know whether Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons, but it thinks that Tehran is at least keeping that option open. U.S. intelligence assesses that Iran has not restarted nuclear weapons design and “weaponization” work that it halted in late 2003. The assessment essentially reaffirmed a 2007 intelligence report that at the time was widely seen as a setback to international efforts to put pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear program. Blair's predecessor, retired Admiral Mike McConnell, later said it had been a mistake to make public the key judgments of the intelligence assessment because it suggested Iran was no longer pursuing nuclear weapons. Blair acknowledged that Iranian intelligence assessments are a difficult issue to address in a public setting. "I can say at this point that Iran is clearly developing all the components of a deliverable nuclear weapons program – fissionable material, nuclear weaponizing capability, and the means to deliver it," he said. “Iran has made significant progress over the past two years in installing and operating centrifuges at its main centrifuge enrichment plant in Natanz,” he added. "We judge that Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 timeframe," his report said. Nevertheless, it said the U.S. State Department intelligence office believes Iran is unlikely to be able to produce enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon before 2013 because of foreseeable technical problems. "Nobody in the international community wants to see a nuclear armed Iran, either. The question is ‘What are you going to do about it?" he added. The assessment comes at a time when the new U.S. administration and Tehran appear to be in a diplomatic dance over whether and how to engage in direct dialogue. Asked about Iran's launch last week of a domestically manufactured satellite into orbit, Blair said it demonstrated that the Iranians are mastering multi-stage missile technology that could be used for either peaceful or military purposes. "If they put resources on it, they can make a serious missile force," he said. Blair said the United States should not count on a change in policy in Iran even if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is voted out of office in the June presidential elections. "We expect (Supreme leader Ali) Khamenei will attempt to manipulate the presidential election, largely by limiting the range of candidates," his assessment said. The report adds that Ahmadinejad's re-election prospects are less certain because of his management of the economy. "The sharp fall in global oil prices will add to Iran's economic problems, but Tehran has a substantial cushion of foreign reserves to support social and other spending priorities," it said. "Less energy revenues may also help to dampen its foreign policy adventurism."
SHAH’S RESTRICTION ON REFORM CONTRIBUTED TO THE REVOLUTION
NewsTalk February 10 – Mehdi Khanbaba Tehrani, a founder of the Iranian Students Confederation that opposed the Shah’s regime, joined PNN from Frankfurt, Germany. PNN correspondent Nasser Mohammadi also joined from London to talk about the 30th anniversary of the Iranian revolution. Mr. Tehrani explained how the Iranian Students Confederation came about by saying, “When the Shah's regime closed all doors to political reform there was no other alternative but revolution.” In Mr. Tehrani’s opinion, the shah restricted dialogue with opposition members. “This problem caused new problems,” he added. The Iranian Students Confederation, which was shaped outside Iran, was not a political organization at the beginning. “Step by step, by closing down the political parties in Iran, this organization became the center for all political ideas,” stated Mr. Tehrani. Mr. Mohammadi did not agree. According to Mr. Mohammadi, “Opposition groups outside the country were exaggerating Iran's problems.” Mr. Mohammadi believed that there was a possibility back then to reach out to all political demands through reform, not a revolution – “When the leftist groups supported the first executions of the revolution, they did not think they were establishing an execution machine which would not differentiate between leftists and other opposition groups.” Mr. Tehrani expressed his opinion that the revolution was the result of mistakes on both the shah’s side and that of the opposition. Mr. Tehrani said, “The shah closed all doors to the opposition. The opposition, especially the leftist groups, made a mistake by choosing Khomeini for their leader.” In conclusion, Mr. Tehrani stated, “The leftist groups made a big mistake by supporting the executions during the revolution.”
DOES THE CONSTITUTION ENABLE THE VELAYAT-E FAQIH?
NewsTalk February 11 – PNN was joined by journalist Dr. Alireza Nourizadeh from London and PNN contributor Dr. Mohsen Sazgara in studio. Dr. Sazgara offered his insights on the role of the Velayat-e Faqih, or the Guardianship of Islamic Jurists in Iran, and its impact on politics. Dr. Sazgara believes the Iranian constitution strictly prevents freedom for political parties because of the constitution’s references to the Valy Faqih, or Spiritual Leader. He explained that this Spiritual Leader is above the law and is not responsible to anyone, neither the parliament nor the people. Scholars debate over the interpretation of the Velayat-e Faqih and whether this implies a limited or absolute form of rule. Iran was the first country to apply absolute Velayat-e Faqih in the government. Guardianship of Islamic Jurists in the Islamic Republic of Iran consists of a Supreme Leader, who must be a cleric. Other leading bodies such as the Assembly of Experts, whose members must be clerics, and the Council of Guardians, half of whom must be clerics, apply this more absolute interpretation of the Velayat-e Faqih. According to Dr. Sazgara, “Most of the Shia Ayatollahs are not in agreement with a Velayat-e Faqih that is to have a Faqih as a leader of the country.” Dr. Nourizadeh followed up on this thought by saying, “Political Islam was not a new idea but Khomeini led a revolution with this idea.” Dr. Nourizadeh remarked that later on Ayatollah Khomeini raised expectations for fundamentalists by encouraging revolutions in other countries. Many say the 1979 Islamic Revolution not only changed the face of Iran, but was also meant for export. The revolution succeeded in making political Islam a force to be reckoned with across the Muslim world and it has enhanced Iran's influence along the way. Even now, 30 years later, that influence continues to find fertile ground in Lebanon through the militant Shi'ite group Hezbollah and with the country's Shia population. According to Dr. Nourizadeh, “The Valy Faqih, or Spiritual Leader, was a role made just for Ayatollah Khomeini, but not for any other person after him.” The discussion turned to the effect of the Velayat-e Faqih on education. Dr. Nourizadeh spoke about Iranian universities and their loss of credibility after the revolution.
EXPLORING THE AFTER EFFECTS OF THE IRANIAN REVOLUTION
News and Views February 10 – PNN's continued coverage of the after effects of the Iranian revolution in 1979 included an interview with Iraj Mesdaghi. Mr. Mesdaghi was held as a prisoner of conscience in Iran. Today a writer, Mr. Mesdaghi described the role of youth in social justice movements and compared it with his own experiences growing up during the revolution. "I am from the generation that was part of the revolution, with hopes for freedom and justice." He explained how the promises of the revolutionists never came to fruition. "What we got instead was prison, torture, persecution, execution, things we never thought we would experience." Mr. Mesdaghi is dismayed at how little has changed after what he described as the great price that his generation was forced to pay. "The new generation is facing one of the highest unemployment rates in the region. There are no programs, no incentives for the youth in Iran," he stated.
Roundtable February 13 – As a follow-up to a series on the effects of censorship on the arts in Iran, PNN interviewed Iranian lyricist and playwright Iraj Jannati-Ataei. Mr. Iraj Jannati-Ataei outlined the development of lyric writing and composition in modern day Iran. He explained why musical composition has undergone a major re-alignment stating, "When I spoke of modern lyric writing, I meant that lyrics must have implications of the day, for the people who have lived those moments, who will be able to feel the needs, desires…the happiness as well as sadness of the time." In his opinion, in order for a song or a lyric to be successful, not just commercially, a song "must speak to the audience…make them [listeners] realize their dreams, let them cry at their fears, and empower them to see a future with hope". Mr. Jannati-Ataei expressed his belief that a song is only effective when it brings a message rather than "just a rhythm" to people. He said it is important for songwriters to realize who the target audience is and to understand their expectations. Mr. Jannati-Ataei spoke about the responsibility of the public and the artist in demanding social change. "It is a responsibility for those in the public-eye to deliver those messages, to accept their role, and not just be after commercialized gains," he stated. Mr. Jannati-Ataei spoke about his own efforts with other Iranian singers to create a website focused on "organizing youth against torture and preventing the silencing of the youth and students in Iran."
Roundtable February 10 – A former member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) told Roundtable that the Iranian military and the IRGC are on the side of the Iranian people. Davoud Beikzadeh said that aside from some top commanders and a few faithful members to the Shah of Iran, a large majority of the Iranian military joined the revolution. Mr. Beikzadeh described how the role of the military was diminished and structurally weakened in the months following the revolution. He stated that, as a result, the IRGC became stronger to the extent that it overshadowed and expanded the role of the military.
Roundtable February 9 – On the 30th Anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, hundreds of students from the all-female Al-Zahra University in Tehran visited the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini as part of a demonstration reemphasizing their commitment to revolutionary values. Female students from other high schools joined them. A few students expressed their devotion by saying, "We weren't there, but when we see the films and reports of the revolution, we become more enchanted with the words of Ayatollah Khomeini." Currently, over 70 percent of the Iranian population is comprised of youth who were born after the revolution. A former Iranian minister of information, Dr. Dariush Homayoun granted PNN an interview. In his remarks he noted, "We ought to differentiate between a revolutionary ideal… [and an actual] revolution." The former minister touched upon statements by the students who visited the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini, saying, "We have to carefully examine what were the sources for each of these students, how they got their information, and under what conditions those [sets of] information were interpreted." Also joining the discussion was Mehdi Sameh, defender of the revolution and a member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). In his remarks, Mr. Sameh stated that from the constitutional revolution in Iran, there have been three important movements – one of looking outside to foreign elements for help, one of looking to the past, and one democratic. In response to this statement, Dr. Homayoun noted that the group, which Mr. Sameh represents, "thought that the look to foreign ‘western’ elements was wrong, and they looked at other popular and social movements for perspective."
THE ISLAMIC REVOLUTION: IRAN’S IDEOLOGICAL EXPORT
News and Views February 15 – PNN interviewed Professor Mohsen Milani, chair of the Department of Government and International Studies at the University of South Florida. Dr. Milani said that the Islamic Revolution is typical of all successful revolutions in the important aspect of its exportation. "Exporting the ideology of the Islamic Revolution after 1979 was a serious project for the regime and was pursued vigorously, but the regime faced a serious obstacle in that its ideology was Shiite and most Islamic countries had Sunni majorities," he said. Dr. Milani contended that the effort by Tehran to export its revolution to Iraq was not a major root cause of the 8-year Iran-Iraq War, but he added, "Iranian leaders were hopeful that they could successfully export their revolution if they vanquished Saddam Hussein.” Dr. Milani claimed that the exporting of the Islamic Revolution could be judged neither as a success nor as a failure. "Before 1979, major political forces in the Islamic world were communists or nationalists, but now we have Islamists as a force to reckon with in most Muslim countries," he concluded.
SAEED RAZAVI FAGHIH ARRESTED BY IRANIAN POLICE
News and Views February 14 – PNN learned that, upon his return to Iran, police arrested a former member of Iran’s largest student group, the Daftare Tahkime Vahdat (Office for Fostering Student Unity). Saeed Razavi Faghih, who had spent the past few years in France continuing his education, was arrested and sent to the Evin Prison six days after returning to Iran. PNN spoke with Mr. Razavi Faghih’s lawyer, Dr. Nemat Ahmadi, who stated that security officers stationed at the airport claimed that Mr. Razavi Faghih was barred from traveling outside Iran based on a Revolutionary Court verdict issued last fall. He explained the likely reasons for his arrest, “His student activism and, in particular, his protest to the death verdict issued for Hashem Aghajeri, as well as his articles in Yase No newspaper, finally led to his arrest on 19 of Tir. He was transferred to the Evin Prison and spent about two-and-a-half months in solitary confinement.” According to Dr. Ahmadi, Mr. Faghih must report to Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court. In the past, he worked with several reformist publications, had been studying in France for the past five years, and had not encountered any problems with authorities during his previous three trips to Iran.
NEGOTIATIONS INTENSIFY ON FINAL STIMULUS PLAN
News and Views February 11 – U.S. congressional leaders are engaged in intense talks on a final economic stimulus bill as President Barack Obama continues pressuring lawmakers to have a deal ready for his signature by next week. “So we've got a little more work to do over the next couple of days, but it's a good start," said President Obama. Negotiators are trying to reach a compromise between the senate's $838 billion plan, which passed on Tuesday, and an $819 billion plan passed earlier by the House of Representatives. A key sticking point involves $40 billion in state aid that is included by the house but not the senate. Republicans in the democratic-controlled congress are pushing for a final bill that is more like the senate version, which includes less federal spending and more tax breaks. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “The president was right to call for a stimulus, but this bill misses the mark. It's full of waste." Leaders of both the house and senate said they expect a massive $800 billion package to be finalized by the end of this week.
News and Views February 9 – U.S. President Barack Obama will try to boost public support for his economic stimulus plan today with a campaign-style event and a national television appearance. The president began his day by speaking to residents of Elkhart, Indiana, at a town-hall meeting. Elkhart is a manufacturing city that has seen its unemployment rate surge to 15 percent from five percent a year ago. Later, the president held his first prime-time news conference at the White House, giving him an opportunity to promote his $800 billion spending and tax cut plan to a national audience.
TREASURY SECRETARY GEITHNER ANNOUNCES BAILOUT REFORMS
News and Views February 11 – The U.S. Senate is seeking details from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner about his plan to reform the bailout program. Mr. Geithner unveiled a new plan Tuesday to inject up to $2 trillion into the financial sector to help improve credit markets. He said, “In a system this fragile, in an economy this fragile today, it's very important that we act effectively to help stabilize our system and to prevent the kind of broad-based catastrophic damage we have seen when the market or the government is unwilling or unable to prevent that kind of failure.” The plan was greeted with skepticism by lawmakers and investors, and stocks around the world plummeted after the announcement. The chief executives of eight leading U.S. banks are also facing tough questioning from lawmakers about how they have spent emergency funding from the government. In other news, U.S.-based automaker General Motors is announcing that it will lay off 10,000 salaried workers worldwide. This figure includes 12 percent of its U.S. workforce. It will also cut the salaries of its remaining workers. The changes are part of a restructuring plan GM submitted to Congress last year.
WILL GREEN ENERGY SPUR JOB GROWTH IN THE UNITED STATES?
48 Hours February 14 – Politicians are advocating green energy projects as a means of stimulating the U.S. economy. PNN was joined by Hamid Arabzadeh to discuss the topic. Mr. Arabzadeh works at the University of California, Irvine, Office of Environmental Health and Safety. He has taught at both UCLA and UCI extension programs on a wide array of environmental health and safety related issues. Mr. Arabzadeh said that he had a very positive view of the energy provisions contained in President Obama’s stimulus plan. "The energy portion of the stimulus roughly doubles the money for a range of programs, including weatherizing homes and upgrading the nation's electricity grid," he said. According to Mr. Arabzadeh, "This level of support for green technology and developing alternative sources of energy has been unprecedented from government." Commenting on why alternative energy is so desirable, Mr. Arabzadeh said that alternative energy normally does not pollute air or drinking water. "It also doesn't contribute to climate change," he added. “Air pollution in U.S. cities cannot be compared with their counterparts in third world countries. Cancer rates and pulmonary diseases have reached epidemic rates in Iran,” he added. "Green technology cannot be separated from the basic tenets of economics. If the price of oil stays low, then it does not make any economic sense to develop alternative sources of energy such as from wind or solar. Upgrading America's electrical grid is critical because a lot of power is wasted while being transmitted," he said. On nuclear power, Mr. Arabzadeh said that this form of energy is not popular nor does it have a large constituency in the United States, although we have come a long way on safety issues and 90 percent of expenditure on nuclear power plants is spent on ensuring its safety." In closing, he spoke about the cost of alternative energy programs – “There is no dichotomy between economic growth and preserving the environment."
News and Views February 13 – PNN reported that Richard Holbrook, the special envoy for Afghanistan, met with American military commanders at Bagram airbase and Afghan officials in Kabul. His exact schedule was kept under wraps due to security concerns. In other news, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit in Washington. The visiting diplomats said they look forward to working with Secretary Clinton, who will travel to Asia on Sunday to discuss regional and international issues with officials in Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China. Today, in a speech at the Asia Society in New York, she outlined U.S. policy towards the region. Yesterday, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg spoke to a group of non-governmental organizations in Washington. He said if North Korea lives up to its commitments on disabling its nuclear facilities and accepts the verification proposal, there would be progress ahead. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns was in Moscow this week to discuss a range of bilateral issues. The Russian foreign minister welcomed the "positive" ideas coming from Washington. The Russian president said his country would cooperate with NATO.