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Heard This Week - 08/24/2006

Heard in Iran This Week
on Radio Farda

(Prague, Czech Republic -- August 24, 2006) Major stories for Radio Farda this week were developments in the ongoing nuclear crisis and on the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, the start of major military exercises in Iran, the plight of imprisoned writer Ramin Jahanbegloo, unrest in Iran's Kurdish regions, and unemployed Iranian doctors.

>> Reaction to Iran's ambiguous response to a U.S.-backed incentives package dominated Radio Farda news programs all week.
* On August 23, Radio Farda provided listeners extensive coverage of U.S. State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos' statement that Tehran's reply "falls short" of the UN conditions that have to be met to avoid sanctions. Radio Farda also prominently aired Gallegos' comment that the UN Security Council requires full and verifiable suspension of all uranium-enrichment activity, and that Washington is consulting with UNSC members on how to proceed. A series of exclusive interviews informed Radio Farda listeners of options available to Iran and the likely consequences of its decision.

* On August 20, Radio Farda interviewed Washington-based economist Mohammad Eghtedari, who told listeners that, if Iran refuses to halt its uranium enrichment program as demanded by the UN Security Council, the sanctions that may follow will hurt the Iranian people and Iran's economy. He said sanctions would put more pressure on individual Iranians than on their government and that the government's refusal to halt enrichment could backfire on the Iranian people.

* A comprehensive 10-minute program on Iran's reaction to the international community's package of incentives aired on August 24. The program featured an interview with Shahram Chubin, director of the Centre for Strategic Studies in Geneva, who said China and Russia may block UN agreement on sanctions and it is likely that the US and European powers will act independently of the UN "to take firm action" against Iran. In the same program, Dr. Mohammed Zaney of the Centre for Global Energy Studies in London spoke about Iran's earlier threat to withhold oil supplies to European countries. Zaney said this is a game of "bluff," because OPEC has more than enough production capacity to bridge any shortfall and Iran would risk being pushed out of international markets and losing vital revenue.

* In an exclusive interview August 23, Mark Fitzpatrick of the London-based Institute for Strategic Studies told Radio Farda listeners that Iran has not yet explicitly rejected the incentives package and warned that "Washington believes time is running out." He said if Iran does not suspend enrichment activities, he believes the UN Security Council will move quickly on a sanctions resolution.

* A London-based spokesman the environmental organization "Greenpeace," Malik Tanzali warned in an interview aired August 23 that Iran acquired its nuclear equipment from the black markets of Pakistan, Russia and China, and therefore " the environmental and human dangers of Iran's nuclear facilities are greater than anywhere else, particularly as Iran does not let IAEA inspectors look over the facilities and register their whole activities."

* On August 22, Radio Farda spoke with Alex Vatanka, Eurasia editor for Jane's Information Group, about Iranian policy and motives. Vatanka said the Iranian government is trying to play "this balancing act," showing they have done nicely without the West for 27 years and can continue. Vatanka added, "On the other hand, if you look at every other major Iranian overture toward the U.S., obviously what they are hoping to do is remove those sanctions. It is the (existing) sanctions that have been the biggest obstacle to a genuine expansion in the Iranian economy. It is the sanctions and U.S. policies vis-a-vis Iran that have, for instance, kept Iran from joining the World Bank. It is sanctions and so on that have made the Iranian oil industry have such a tough time in bringing investment into the strategic oil and gas sectors... Sanctions are quite important to the Iranians, but at the same time what they are trying to say is, 'Don't assume that we are going to fall off our chair just because you mentioned the sanctions card.' It is part of a kind of diplomatic chess game going on by Tehran."

* During Radio Farda's weekly "Viewpoints" talk show on August 22, Toronto-based political analyst Alireza Haghighi said Iranian elites have not yet reached a consensus on the incentives package and are concerned some ambiguities in the wording may turn out to be detrimental to Iran. He also said if new sanctions were imposed by the UN Security Council, they would likely be limited and that the most effective penalty would be a restriction on oil, the mainstay of Iran's economy.

>> Radio Farda's Moscow correspondent reported August 23 on the visit of a high-level Iranian delegation to Russia, to tour the Kalinskaya nuclear power plant in the city of Udomlia. A Kalinskaya spokeswoman said the plant is of interest to the Iranians, because Iran's nuclear power plant in Bushehr is being built on the same lines. The Radio Farda report said the timing of the visit, on the date of Iran's deadline to accept or reject talks on the incentives package, underscored Russia's independent policy towards Iran.

>> Radio Farda coverage of the Middle East crisis this week focused on President Bush's press conference and announcement of an aid package for Lebanon, terms of the Israeli-Hezbollah cease-fire, and international efforts to assemble a viable UN peace-keeping force in Lebanon. Radio Farda correspondents in Jerusalem and Cairo continued to file news updates several times a day and provide daily Arab and Israeli press reviews for a balanced perspective of each side's position. Washington and Prague components of Radio Farda reported extensively on Bush's August 21 press conference, maintaining a 24-hour cycle of news updates and audio cuts of the President's statements. A major part of the reporting was Bush's announcement of an aid package to help rebuild Lebanon, his criticism of the role of Iran and Syria in instigating violence in the region and his call for speedy action on forming the UN force. Radio Farda gave special attention in several reports on the press conference to Bush's statements on Iran's role and support for Hezbollah in the conflict with Israel, as well as his defense of the U.S. presence in Iraq.

>> Radio Farda gave wide coverage to reports on August 24 that leading Iranian writer and philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo, imprisoned since April, had confessed to plotting revolution and apologized for his mistakes. Human rights activists have long expected Jahanbegloo would be coerced into a confession, in the familiar pattern adopted by the authorities to silence critics. Hadi Ghaemi of Human Rights Watch told Radio Farda that "the goal is to create fear among intellectuals in Iran, so that they know that even someone like Jahanbegloo -- who was not involved in political issues -- can be charged with instigating a velvet revolution." The program included an interview with journalist Omid Memarian, who was arrested in 2004 and also made a false confession which he later retracted. He spoke about the suffering a prisoner endures in solitary confinement, until he reaches a state where he would say anything to better his conditions. Memarian said that "until Jahanbegloo is freed in a normal situation, whatever he says has no legal value" (

>> Iran announced on August 19 that large-scale military exercises had started that could last as long as five weeks and be conducted in 14 of the country's 30 provinces, with the aim of introducing a new defensive doctrine in preparation for attack. Radio Farda is following the event and asking analysts for their assessment.
Alex Vatanka, Eurasia editor for Jane's Information Group, told Radio Farda listeners on August 22 that Iran's message is it can face any foreign attack. He said the current exercise is related to the threat of new sanctions over Iran's nuclear enrichment program and that "it is disingenuous of some senior Iranian leaders to pretend that Iran has experienced comprehensive sanctions in the past and would not be hurt by new sanctions." Vatanka said comprehensive, UN-backed sanctions would have a serious impact on Iranian society and economy.

>> Radio Farda reported on continuing unrest in Iran's northwestern Kurdish region, in the wake of a security crackdown that is generating new protests. In an exclusive interview on August 22, Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand of the Organization to Defend Human Rights in Iran's Kordestan province told Radio Farda about a clash between protesters and police, in which a young man in his 20s was shot dead and three women were injured. He said security forces in the town of Piranshahr were raiding houses and confiscating property, in a campaign to halt the smuggling of electronics, alcohol and other consumer goods into Iraq. The shooting occurred when people gathered to protest a raid and arrest of the house owner. Kabudvand said police then used teargas to disperse the crowd.

>> On the occasion of Doctors Day in Iran on August 23, Radio Farda aired a program about the uneven provision of medical treatment to Iranians and high levels of unemployment among doctors, particularly newly qualified physicians. Dr. Akbar Karami from the city of Qom gave an exclusive interview to Radio Farda, in which he criticized government policy for ignoring an urgent need for doctors in remote parts of the country and lacking a program for new graduates. He said thousands of Iranian doctors can't find work in existing medical facilities. Many, he said, forget the six to ten years they spent studying and training to become a doctor and turn to another profession to make a living. Karami said there is a limited government program, based on the Cuban model, for sending doctors abroad to work, but only a handful can benefit. Karami himself has a private practice, but he said this is an expensive undertaking and most young physicians starting out do not have the means to set up in private practice.

For more on these and other stories about Iran, please visit: -- Radio Farda's Persian-language website -- "Focus on Farda" bi-weekly review -- "RFE/RL Iran Report" weekly analysis -- RFE/RL English-language coverage of Iran

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