Omid Memarian

Monday, July 28, 2008

7 Tips for Brian Williams for His Interview with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
(First published on HuffingtonPost)

1- Ahmadinejad is a populist politician, highly educated and obsessed with media. Unlike many other leaders, he rarely loses his control and enjoys embarrassing foreign journalists by leading the conversation in the direction he chooses, as seen in his interview with Mike Wallace two years ago. Remember your interview with him last year; you need to do more research on your interviewee in order to not be surprised like you were before.

2- Watch your past interview with President Ahmadinejad again and again. Don't use a rude tone in order to appear aggressive. Your aggressiveness as a journalist will be apparent through smart, clear, challenging questions that force him to give clear and concise answers.

3- It's his answers, not your questions, that are important. If he starts responding to your questions with his own questions, it indicates that he does not take you seriously; you have already lost control over the interview. Watch his other interviews and see how he responded to similar questions in the past. It will help you to sharpen your questions.

4- Research Iranian cultural codes. For example, They do not wear tie. For Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials, a tie is a symbol of Western imperialism and arrogance. (Watch what MSNBC anchor says about it....)

5- Don't ask cliché questions. He is not like President Sarkosy and will not leave the interview. As long as you are not rude, he will respond to whatever you ask -- he actually enjoys it.

6- Do not forget that you are a journalist, not a government offical like Condoleezza Rice or Robert Gates. Ahmadinejad may have made so many controversial remarks that millions of Iranians question what he says, but he still has some factual arguments. He might be tough and/or unjustifiable, but he is not stupid.

7- Remember that you are not just interviewing a person. He is the president of a country with a rich, historic culture and 70 million proud citizens. He is also a popular leader of Muslim world. Many people might enjoy it if you corner him with a sharp question, but no one will appreciate it if you interview him with a disrespectful tone. Remember, the interview is in Tehran; you should find a way to differentiate between Ahmadinejad the person and Ahmadinejad the President of Iran. This is the most difficult task for you tomorrow.

Labels: , , , , ,

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Susan Sarandon's Double Standards
(First published on Hiffington Post)

Susan Sarandon has expressed surprising unwillingness to denounce her support for the Israeli Billionaire, Lev Leviv, who is has been criticized by a variety of NGOs for his involvement in building settlements in the Palestinian-occupied West Bank.
In 2004, the ICJ declared both current Israeli settlements and the wall Israel is building inside the West Bank to facilitate future settlements inside the West Bank to be illegal under international law.

UNICEF has recently rejected all offers of partnerships and financial support from him. Lev Leviev had previously sponsored UNICEF fundraising events in France, and his support of UNICEF is featured in several places on his company's website.

But it seems that Susan Sarandon, a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, has decided not to follow UNICEF's lead and cut all ties with Leviev. As recently as Nov. 13th, 2007, Sarandon appeared as a guest at Leviev's New York jewelry store gala.

Last week while working on a story, I send an email to her spokesman. He responded:
"She is not a spokesperson for any jewelry company nor is she an expert on this matter. She has read information from various sources about both sides of the issue. Beyond this Ms. Sarandon does not feel qualified to make any further comment."
I've always admired Ms. Sarandon's good will and aspirations, but I was amazed by her response to this particular situation and especially her use of the phrase "reading information from both sides." Christopher de Bono, UNICEF's chief of media, told me that, "UNICEF's decision was made after they undertook an internal screening process [and] concluded that donations from him would not be appropriate, because of the nature of some of his business activities."

But was Ms. Sarandon an expert on Iraq, WMD, etc? How about when she spoke out against the U.S. war on Iraq? The fact is one doesn't need to be an expert on agriculture or food to talk about the taste of egg or tomato. Regarding the international law, Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are morally wrong. Any participation and involvement in the creation of such settlements violates international law and presents an obstacle to peace.

Opposing Israeli settlements is one of the clearest morally "correct" positions to take on an Israel-Palestine issue. Many Israelis and even Zionists agree that it is wrong. Secretary of State Condi Rice regularly has warned the Israelis against settlements expansion. Leviev's companies are among those responsible for expanding the settlements.
"Our position on settlements, I think, has been very consistent, very clear. The secretary expressed it not too long ago. He said settlement activity has severely undermined Palestinian trust and hope, preempts and prejudges the outcome of negotiations, and in doing so, cripples chances for real peace and prosperity. The U.S. has long opposed settlement activity and, consistent with the report of the Mitchell Committee, settlement activity must stop." Mr. Richard Boucher, U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing -- November 25, 2002
In denouncing settlements and those who build them, Sarandon does not need expertise to follow the lead of UNICEF, Oxfam International, the UN, all leading human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B'Tselem (Israeli) and almost all governments worldwide. If she is concerned about her expertise, she or her assistants can get on the phone and talk to any of those organizations..

Sarandon appears to be employing a double standard with respect to human rights in Palestine.,. She may be doing this due to personal beliefs or out of fear that publically defending Palestinian rights will hurt her standing to speak out on issues in Iraq. Or, perhaps she might even fear that supporting Palestinian rights and criticizing Israel could hurt her position in Hollywood. Whatever the reason is, Sarandon seems to have forgotten that beyond the names of countries and influential people there are some universal rules we all should respect, and those are international laws.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

DEVELOPMENT: Progress on Water, Less on Sanitation
(My piece about the latest report released by WHO and UNICEF on ...)

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 17 (IPS) - The number of people globally who lack access to an improved drinking water source has fallen below one billion for the first time since data was compiled in 1990, according to a report released Thursday by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF.

The Joint Monitoring Programme for Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) report, titled "Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation - Special Focus on Sanitation," comes halfway through the International Year of Sanitation.

The report assesses -- for the first time ever -- global, regional and country progress using an innovative "ladder" concept. This shows sanitation practices in greater detail, enabling experts to highlight trends in using improved, shared and unimproved sanitation facilities, as well as trends in the problematic practice of open-air defecation....

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Q&A:"Iran Won't Wait for Obama to Talk to U.S."
Interview with Hooshang Amirahmadi, President of the American Iranian Council

My interview with Dr. Amirahmadi published in IPS News Agency, also, is reprinted in Asia Times and CASMII.

NEW YORK, Jul 16 (IPS) - Despite opposition from some hardline factions in Iran, the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has responded positively to a proposal by the United States that it open a U.S. Interests Section in Tehran -- its first formal diplomatic presence since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Hooshang Amirahmadi, who is currently visiting Iran and meeting with high-ranking officials in Ahmadinejad's administration to discuss bilateral relations, told IPS correspondent Omid Memarian by telephone from Tehran that he has sensed a new willingness to seek a thaw between the two countries.

"It is not true that they will not negotiate with [George W.] Bush and are waiting for [Barack] Obama," said Amirahmadi, president of the American Iranian Council, a research and policy think-tank devoted to improving dialogue and understanding between the peoples of Iran and the United States. "This is not how Tehran is thinking and if they receive a proposal from the Bush government tomorrow, they are willing to consider it."

Amirahmadi also heads the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University, and is well known for his work to normalise U.S.-Iran relations during the period of Iran's pragmatic president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-1997) and reformist President Mohammad Khatami (1998-2005).

Because Amirahmadi is highly unpopular among radical conservatives, the government has provided high security during his stay in Tehran that will end later this month.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

IPS: Why should the Iranian authorities agree to the proposal for a U.S. Interests Sections?

HA: It is no longer fashionable in Iran to say we don't talk or negotiate with the U.S. or that the U.S. is our enemy. Such an attitude does not exist in the country anymore. Ever since the topic of a U.S. Interests Section in Tehran has emerged, I notice a lot of excitement among people. They feel like something is happening. They become happy when they hear positive news about any improvement in Iran-U.S. relations. They become deeply sad when they hear about a war or alienation.

IPS: Is there a will among Iranian conservatives to extensively discuss the concerns existing between the two countries?

HA: Ahmadinejad is not the most radical Iranian conservative. There are others more radical and more conservative than him. Those groups may not be interested in dialogue, but they are not in power at this time. They can only complain, grumble, insult others, and accuse them. They can't, however, stop this movement. In fact, the only group capable of pushing this idea forward is in power.

IPS: You tried very hard to improve the relations between the U.S. and Iran during the Rafsanjani and Khatami presidencies. Considering the animosity the Ahmadinejad cabinet seems to harbour toward both former presidents, how is it that when you go to Tehran, you are well received and asked to provide counsel?

HA: Times have changed. The Islamic Republic is turning 30, and has gained experience over the past three decades: the pragmatic management style of Hashemi Rafsanjani after the Iran-Iraq War, the reformist movement, and now the conservatives in power. The regime has reached a point now where the best thing for it to do is to return to the pragmatic style of governance. They can see it is no longer possible to chant slogans and argue and struggle with the rest of the world and the U.S.

IPS: How do you interpret the Iranians' political rhetoric and their missile tests, Israel's military manoeuvres, and U.S. threats alongside talks about a U.S. Interests Section in Tehran?

HA: Normally, when two countries that have been in disputes and disagreements for years are preparing to sit at a table to negotiate, they take steps to show their strengths and power to each other. Neither of the two sides would be willing to sit at the table when they feel weaker than the other. The Iranian missile tests should only be evaluated in this light, not because Iran wishes to act in a militarily offensive way or to threaten anyone.

IPS: Is the president personally aware of your trip?

HA: Definitely. He was questioned yesterday about what I am doing in Tehran and he responded that he supports my presence in Tehran. They do their thing and I do mine.

IPS: Considering the negotiations you had, what do you think the next steps should be for Iranian conservatives?

AH: Two parallel movements might take shape. One is within the framework of 5+1 [China, Russia, France, Britain, the United States and Germany] where Iran has shown its willingness to negotiate. The U.S. will also join these negotiations. We hope these negotiations would start as soon as possible, deciding the fate of uranium enrichment within a mutually acceptable framework. The other movement is the U.S. Interests Section that is also a mutual activity. If they can reach an agreement with Iran to establish an American Interests Section in Tehran, they will definitely reach an agreement over the nuclear negotiations as well. If I were in the U.S.'s shoes, I would make a formal, balanced, and realistic proposal to Iranian authorities. Such a move can create a better atmosphere for the 5+1 negotiations.

IPS: What do you think about Mr. Ahmadinejad?

HA: Most people, especially the ones outside Iran, always see the empty half of the glass. We might say that most of Mr. Ahmadinejad's glass is empty -- this might be true, but the glass is not entirely empty. The innovative approach Mr. Ahmadinejad has adopted vis-a-vis Iran's relationship with the U.S. is a lot more serious than any actions others may have suggested.

IPS: Considering the contacts you have had with him and the knowledge you are gaining through your recent trips, where do you think the root of this problem lies?

HA: Mr. Ahmadinejad has no knowledge about the economy and has a very weak way of thinking about it. His staff couldn't convince him or they couldn't take the right actions. In the end, the economy is Mr. Ahmadinejad's Achilles' heel and he hasn't performed well there. But he has done well with respect to relations with the U.S. and Iranians abroad.

IPS: What kind of politician is he?

HA: Despite what is being said about him, Mr. Ahmadinejad is a very intelligent man. He comprehends things very quickly, but his knowledge of world affairs is somewhat limited. He has not performed on a national level. Though he knows Iran very well, he doesn't have a good grasp of Iran's strategic issues. On a macro level, he has advisors who are not very strong. On a small township and village level, street smarts might work, but on a strategic level, street smarts don't work. This is an area where a leader needs knowledge and science and strategy but he didn't have good advisors in this area.

IPS: Does it make any difference to Iranian authorities who the next U.S. president will be?

HA: The issue with relations with Iran is not about the Republican or Democratic parties. I believe they are even ready to reach agreement with Mr. Bush's outgoing cabinet over the next few months. [Although] usually the incoming governments are more willing to negotiate than outgoing governments.

IPS: Do you believe that a military attack on Iran would eliminate this opportunity?

HA: Iran regards the possibility of a military attack very seriously, but Iran is not living in fear. I am in Tehran right now. People say there is a probability -- but it is more probable there won't be a war. They are worried but their daily lives haven't been disrupted. Nobody is hoarding rice and eggs. The city is colourful and no signs of preparedness for an attack are apparent. However, on the other side, I know that the army, Sepaah, the Basij and the police are on call. Iran opposes a war and will do its best for this not to happen, saying that if it does happen, we will defend ourselves.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

McCain's Cigarette Gaffe: A Cold Blood Commander-In-Chief?

"Maybe that's a way of killing them," responded Republican presidential candidate John McCain when was asked about an Associated Press report on the $158 million of cigarettes shipped to Iran during George W. Bush's presidency, despite restrictions on U.S. exports to that country.

Senator McCain's prescription for killing Iranian people, beyond a gross joke, is a reflection of a sad reality: a foreign policy that suffers from severe miscalculations and lack of principles.

Just a few weeks ago, in his latest article for the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh revealed that the United States funds and supports terrorist groups responsible for killing innocent Iranians. Simply young soldiers, doing mandatory military service and fight against drug traffickers.
"The C.I.A. and Special Operations communities also have long-standing ties to two other dissident groups in Iran: the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, known in the West as the M.E.K., and a Kurdish separatist group, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK.
The M.E.K. has been on the State Department's terrorist list for more than a decade, yet in recent years the group has received arms and intelligence, directly or indirectly, from the United States. Some of the newly authorized covert funds, the Pentagon consultant told me, may well end up in M.E.K. coffers."
No surprise. Tradition in the U.S.'s unofficial foreign policy is to use all means -- unjust, immoral, and inhumane -- to defeat the enemy, regardless of the harmful, long-term consequences. One such consequence is endangering the life of ordinary people. For instance, during the war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan, it was the United States who fed raised Islamist groups to fight against Russia. One of these groups later became Al-Qaeda, causing harm and terror for millions of people around the world and killing thousands of innocent people in the United States.

Senator McCain's disdain for ordinary people when talking about killing Iranian people reminds many people of the U.S.'s support of one of the most brutal dictators of the 20th century, Saddam Hussein. Iraq's war against Iran from 1980-1988 that left one million dead, innocent people on both sides and many more injured.

McCain's cold-blooded when his jokes about killing people and bombing other countries is reminder of Reagan administration's green light to Saddam Hussein when he used chemical mass destruction weapons against his own people and the Iranians. This disastrous criminal act twenty years later is still the main cause of the death among veterans and civilians who lived in the polluted areas.

Unlike most of veterans who respect human lives due to their profound and extraordinary experiences at wars, Senator McCain matter of fact to joke about people's lives is a disastrous trait for a commander-in-chief.

There are ways of talking to U.S. adversaries rather than asking for "bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran." The United States' policy toward Iran is intended to change Iranian government's behavior, not to kill Iranian people.

Sen. McCain's obsession of cold-blooded, gross jokes about killing people is not an image the United States seeks for itself beyond its borders. During the last years, the Bush administration has done enough to damage the image of the country, encouraging anti-Americanism not only in the Middle East but also in many Asian, European and Latin American countries. McCain's tone is disrespectful, cruel and reminder of the cold-blooded people in Abu-Ghraib and Guantanamo, whose behavior brought embarrassment and shame for America, not proud, people who are not, unquestionably, representative of United States of America.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

ZIMBABWE: Fears Grow that Sanctions Could Derail Mediation
(My piece on the security council meeting and the efforts behind adopting a resolution on....)

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 8 (IPS) - U.S. and European efforts to achieve unanimity among the 15-member U.N. Security Council to adopt a sanctions resolution against Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his top aides has run into opposition from African leaders who argue that it will only increase tensions there and in neighbouring countries.

"There isn't any unanimity in the Council on this," conceded British Ambassador John Sawers after the Security Council met on Zimbabwe Tuesday. "My delegation supports that resolution and likes to see it adopted as soon as possible."

"The statement issued by the G8 today clearly sets out that they deplored the violence they have seen and support the mediation that is on the way and needs to be reinforced by a U.N. envoy," he added, referring to the Group of Eight most industrialised nations, which are meeting this week in Japan.

The Security Council is expected to vote on the U.S.-backed draft resolution some time this week. French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert told reporters Tuesday that proponents of the resolution had secured nine votes, although Russia, which holds veto power on the Council, is not one of them, and its ambassador has expressed reservations about the draft. 

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Iran's Positive Response and the High Possibility of a Military Strike

Seymore Hersh's recent article regarding preparations for war against Iran and John McCain's adviser's recent remark on how a national security threat "would be a big advantage to McCain," are just two examples hinting that, still, many people in Washington and Tel Aviv are planning to paralyze the Iranian government before the new American president enters office next January.
Unexpectedly, even as prospects of negotiation over Iran's nuclear program seem more promising, the possibility of attacking Iran remains strong. Many believe that Iran's nuclear program is not the only concern the country poses to the West.

Regarding the 5+1 negotiations with Iran, it does not appear to be the American way to speak equally to all countries. For instance, a few months ago, a neo-conservative scholar on Iran told me that he believes the U.S. should scare Iranians to death before agreeing to sit behind the negotiations table.

Limited options exist in order to scare Iran to death. The United States and some of its allies in the Middle East have repeatedly accused Iranians of meddling in Iraq and have suggested Iranian forces are responsible for the deaths of some American troops in Iraq. This is something the current administration and mainstream media, supposedly, can use to rally support for another military strike.

That's why understanding the complex dynamic of the EU-Iran exchange is crucial at this time, especially before the general elections, given the possibility of a US-supported, Israeli-led attack against Iran.

At a United Nations press conference last Wednesday, Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called the West's incentive package for stopping Iran's nuclear program "constructive" and called the atmosphere of the negotiations "respectful."

When I asked him if Iran would stop enriching uranium after a pre-negotiation phase, or after 40 days of freezing sanctions against Iran in response to Iran halting its enrichment program, Mottaki said in a positive tone that a response would soon be delivered to the Europeans.

The word "constructive" used by Iran's foreign minister shows that this time, the incentive package is not designed to fail. But any further unilateral action by any country that undermines the prospect of an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program and possibly other concerns of the West will lead the Middle East to hell. The region cannot withstand more reckless military action.

Based on what I heard in that press conference and what has been revealed in the past days, it appears that Iranians have agreed to not add to the current number of centrifuges in operation and to not inject any more centrifuges with hexafluoride gas an essential part of the uranium enrichment process. Spinning such a large number of centrifuges without gas supports the claims of Iranian authorities that the country intends to at least temporarily halt its nuclear program.
Iran's action fulfills the 5+1 countries' demand to stop enriching uranium and opens a door for further negotiations. It also allows Iran to save face among its people, who largely view the country's nuclear program as a matter of national pride.

Iranians have repeatedly said that halting enrichment would be a product of negotiation, not a pre-condition of it. Tehran's nuclear program has been a matter of national pride for many Iranians, and Tehran's "complicated response" to the EU package stems from a desire to compromise during the process, giving them more time to win popular domestic support for stopping the enrichment process.

That's why the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana described Tehran's response to the P5-plus-1 offer for halting uranium enrichment as a "complicated and difficult letter that must be thoroughly analyzed," (AFP). On Monday, three days after learning of Iran's response, Solana expressed a desire "to meet soon with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili."

European countries and the United States know that sanctions cannot destroy but only weaken Iran's vast economy, given that rising oil prices have tripled Iran's revenue during the past two years.

If negotiations do not work, it's not difficult to imagine how the end of adopting sanctions will lead to a military action against Tehran. No surprise when I asked Jean-Maurice Ripert, France's new ambassador to the United Nations, whether the EU would support military action against Iran, he replied: "It means all means that are decided by the Security Council," and repeated for emphasis a few more times, " I mean all means." Doesn't that sound familiar?