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Heard This Week - 03/29/2007




Heard in Iran This Week
on Radio Farda

(Washington, DC -- March 29, 2007) Radio Farda provided its listeners and website visitors in Iran coverage of the disputed Iranian seizure of British sailors and marines on the Persian Gulf; U.S. naval maneuvers off Iran; the latest developments in the standoff over Iran's nuclear program; suspicions of corruption within the highest levels of the Iranian establishment; and continued repression of Iranian journalists.

>> Radio Farda provided extensive coverage of Iran's seizure of 15 British sailors and marines on March 23, including an interview broadcast on March 27 with Rear Admiral Richard Cobbold, director of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies (RUSE) in London. During the interview, Admiral Cobbold compared the current incident to a similar one in 2004, when a group of eight British marines and sailors were held for three days after being seized by Iranian forces in the Shatt al-Arab waterway. Cobbold told Radio Farda, "I think this crisis is more severe and it does seem from the circumstances that it was properly pre-planned." Further, he pointed out that there is reason to believe that Iranian leaders might perceive the seizure of the British sailors and marines as giving Iran leverage in its relations with Western governments, no matter if any real political leverage exists.
Radio Farda also interviewed, on March 28, the Foreign Affairs Spokesman for the United Kingdom Conservative delegation in the European Parliament Dr. Charles Tannock, who described the incident as a play for power within the Iranian regime, which may wish to bargain for the release of five Iranians currently detained by U.S. forces. Tannock also noted that the British government will expose the lies of the Iranian government, by proving beyond doubt that the sailors and marines were in Iraqi territorial waters when they were apprehended: "If the Iranian government lies about the location and detention of these service men, how can we trust this government regarding uranium enrichment?" (http://tinyurl.com/yvhvnt).

>> Radio Farda reported that the U.S. began its largest military maneuvers in the Persian Gulf since the start of the war in Iraq on March 27. That same day, Radio Farda interviewed Alex Vatanka, U.S. security editor at Jane's Information Group who considers the maneuvers to be a show of strength by the U.S., and not a part of preparations to attack Iran. Moreover, Vatanka said, the maneuvers are a response to statements by various members of the Iranian regime, including the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC): "Washington intends to convey the message to Iran that under no circumstances will the U.S. leave the Persian Gulf, despite problems it is now facing in Iraq" (http://tinyurl.com/2g9eah).

>> On March 25, the Iranian government decided to "suspend code 1-3 of minor arrangements of [the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA's] safeguards" agreement, which specifies that countries should inform the agency of any new steps and decisions made in its nuclear program. Radio Farda presented an interview with former UN weapons inspector and Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) President David Albright, who told Radio Farda the reason Iran was asked to sign this agreement was because Iran was the last country to accept these voluntary provisions. Albright also told listeners that, unfortunately, this decision will increase doubts about Iran's nuclear program. If Iran is seeking a peaceful nuclear program, Albright said, it should halt uranium enrichment for several months (http://tinyurl.com/2g9eah)
On March 26, Radio Farda interviewed Mark Fitzpatrick, a nuclear energy expert with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, about Iran's decision to limit its cooperation with the IAEA after the passage of new UN sanctions. Fitzpatrick told Radio Farda listeners that, "I think this is a very dangerous step, for Iran to be breaking parts of its safeguard agreement." Fitzpatrick also said that Iran has two alternatives -- to pursue its current policy, which will lead to more sanctions and isolation for the country or to halt uranium enrichment, which would bring many benefits to the country.

>> Radio Farda, citing AFP, reported on March 24 that the names of former Iranian President Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his son, Mehdi, had been mentioned as "possible partners in bribery" in the context of a French investigation into actions by Total Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie and four other executives involving Total's 1997 contract for a project in Iran's off-shore South Pars oilfield. According to the same report, sources close to the matter indicated that the secretary to Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani was suspected of being the alleged middleman. This is not the first time that Mehdi Hashemi's name has been mentioned in a corruption case; he has also been accused by Norwegian authorities of receiving a bribe from the Norwegian oil company Statoil (http://tinyurl.com/2dd4u6).

>> Radio Farda reported on March 27 that journalist Ali Farahbakhsh, who was arrested in December 2006 at Mehrabad Airport after returning from a conference on economics in Thailand, has been sentenced to 3 years in prison by the 6th Branch of Iran's Revolutionary Court, on charges of "espionage" and "receiving money from foreigners" (http://tinyurl.com/yorunr).
On March 28, Radio Farda presented an interview with Farahbakhsh's mother, who asked human rights organizations such as Amnesty International for help in securing the release of her son (http://tinyurl.com/2ft7xf).

For more on these and other stories about Iran, please visit:

http://www.radiofarda.com -- Radio Farda's Persian-language website
http://www.rferl.org/reviews/farda.aspx -- "Focus on Farda" bi-weekly review
http://www.rferl.org/reports/iran-report/default.asp -- "RFE/RL Iran Report" weekly analysis
http://www.rferl.org/featuresarchive/country/iran.html -- RFE/RL English-language coverage of Iran

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