Saturday, April 18, 2009

Iran Sentences U.S. Journalist to 8 Years

TEHRAN — Iran has sentenced an Iranian-American journalist, Roxana Saberi, to eight years in prison after convicting her of spying for the United States, her lawyer said Saturday.

The State Department has called the charges against Ms. Saberi, 31, baseless and has asked for her release.

On Saturday, a White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said President Obama was “deeply disappointed” by the sentencing. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a statement saying, “We will continue to vigorously raise our concerns to the Iranian government.”

The sentencing could complicate political maneuvering between Iranian and American leaders over Iran’s nuclear program, an issue that kept relations icy during much of the Bush administration. Mr. Obama recently made overtures to Tehran about starting a dialogue over the nuclear program, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran responded positively.

When asked how the case might affect relations with Iran, Mr. Gibbs said, “What we think is important is that the situation be remedied.”

Ms. Saberi’s sentencing sets the case apart from other recent detentions of people with dual citizenship. Two Iranian-American scholars, Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, were arrested in 2007 and accused of trying to overthrow the government, but they were released on bail before their trials began.

The verdict came after an unusually swift trial, which started last Monday and was conducted behind closed doors.

Ms. Saberi’s lawyer, Abdolsamad Khoramshahi, told the official Iranian news agency, IRNA, that he had been told he could appeal the case, and said he would.

It is difficult to judge how politics may have affected the case.

Abbas Milani, director of Iranian studies at Stanford University, said Ms. Saberi’s trial and sentence might reflect an attempt by hard-line elements in Iran to poison any efforts to draw closer with the new United States administration.

“The radical wing, opposed to the idea of rapprochement with the U.S., and influential in the judiciary, is using the case to make such a change in U.S.-Iran relations more difficult,” Mr. Milani said. “It is part of a pattern. Every time the two countries come close to the moment of truth, radicals manufacture a crisis that renders negotiations more difficult.”

The other possibility, he said, is that Tehran is trying to increase its leverage heading into any eventual negotiations with Washington.

Saeed Leylaz, a political analyst in Iran, said he believed that his country wanted to use Ms. Saberi in negotiations with the United States, but would not keep her for long because it would tarnish its human rights record.

Iran has also been pressing for the release of three Iranian officials whom the United States took into custody in 2007 in Iraq. The men, who Iran says are diplomats, were arrested at Iran’s consulate in northern Iraq. United States forces have said the men had links to the Revolutionary Guards.

Some diplomats have suggested that another American who many believe is being held in Iran, Robert Levinson, a former F.B.I. agent, may be viewed as a high-value chip in a possible prisoner swap. Mr. Levinson traveled to Iran in 2007 on what his family said was a business trip and has been missing since then.

Ms. Saberi was arrested in January on the charge of buying alcohol. The Foreign Ministry said later that she was accused of working as a reporter without press credentials, but the prosecutor’s office said this month that she was put on trial for spying. She is being held in Evin Prison in Tehran.

She grew up in Fargo, N.D., and has lived in Iran for six years. She has worked for National Public Radio and the BBC. Iranian authorities revoked her press card in 2006.

In a statement released Saturday, Vivian Schiller, the president and chief executive of NPR, said, “We are deeply distressed by this harsh and unwarranted sentence.”

In an interview with NPR, Ms. Saberi’s father, Reza Saberi, who was in Iran but not allowed into the courtroom, said his daughter was coerced into making incriminating statements. “They told her if she made the statements they would free her,” according to a transcript on the NPR Web site. “It was a trick.”

He also said that his daughter wanted to go on a hunger strike, but he added that she was weak and that he feared it would be dangerous to her health.

Both Democratic senators from North Dakota, which is where Ms. Saberi’s parents live, expressed outrage over the sentencing, A.F.P. reported.

“This is a shocking miscarriage of justice,” Senator Byron Dorgan said in a statement. “The Iranian government has held a secret trial, will not make public any evidence, and sentenced an American citizen to eight years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit.

“I call on the Iranian government to show compassion,” Senator Dorgan said, adding that he would continue to work with the Saberi family, State Department officials and the international community to gain her release.

“I will not rest until Roxana is given her freedom and arrives home,” he said.

The other senator, Kent Conrad, described her sentence as “preposterous” and a “travesty of justice,” adding that Iran “is doing enormous damage to their credibility on the world stage with behavior like this.”

Chavez's gesture turns obscure book into bestseller

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gave President Obama a book on Friday
Title: "Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent"
In just hours, Eduardo Galeano's work was a bestseller on
Obama jokes he thought book was Chavez's: "I was going to give him one of mine" The big winner out of this week's Summit of the Americas in Trinidad may be a decades-old book about the exploitation of Latin American people throughout history.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose anti-U.S. rhetoric has included calling former President George W. Bush the devil, approached Obama Friday and handed him a copy of "Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent."
In just hours, the book, by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, rocketed to bestseller status on online book store English version was at No. 11 on the site's list of top sellers Saturday night. On Friday, it had been No. 60,280.
The book topped Amazon's "Movers and Shakers" list on Saturday -- with a reported 466,378-percent increase in popularity on the site.It was at least the second time Obama and Chavez spoke at a summit during which Obama made overtures to improve U.S. relations with many of its Latin American neighbors.
After receiving the gift, Obama jokingly said he thought it was a book Chavez had written.
"I was going to give him one of mine," he quipped.

Asked if the encounters with Chavez were paving the way for a meeting, Obama simply responded, "I think we're making progress at the summit.However, former U.S. ambassador Jeffrey Davidow, an advisor to the president, noted that "a shake and a smile does not constitute a new relationship.""The president was in a meeting with 33 other heads of state," he said. "He shook hands and smiled, I think, with all of them."Written in the early '70s and reissued in several new editions since then, the book is an "analysis of the effects and causes of capitalist underdevelopment in Latin America," according to one reviewer, who called it a "passionate account of 500 years of Latin American history, written with drama, humor, and compassion."

US Envoy Outlines Need to Stabilize Pakistan and Afghanistan

An international donors' conference in Japan has raised $5 billion to help Pakistan rebuild its economy and confront militant groups.
The United States and Japan each pledged $1 billion, but Washington's special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, says large donations from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Iran send a clear message that stabilizing Pakistan is a global concern.
"It demonstrates the international support that Pakistan is now receiving. And I hope that the people of Pakistan understand the huge significance of such a outpouring of support of countries of such diversity," he said.
Holbrooke underscored the dangers that a resurgent Taliban and terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, who have a stronghold in western Pakistan, pose to the international community.
"These are the men who committed the atrocities of 9/11 in the United States, who attacked Mumbai, who planned the attacks in Spain and Britain, who killed Benazir Bhutto, and who have attacked inside Pakistan," he said. "I have no doubt whatsoever that they are planning attacks as we sit here in Tokyo on other capitols and other opportunities around the world."
The envoy says what happens in Pakistan also has a direct impact on the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Militants continue to launch attacks on U.S. and coalition forces using the frontier region as their base.
And this issue is of special interest to many in Japan. During the administration of former U.S. president George W. Bush, Washington asked Tokyo to commit ground forces in addition to the naval support it had already dispatched.
Holbrooke says he will not press Japan on this matter.
" I'm not going to tell Japan what to do with its self defense forces, that's for them to decide and I would never come to Japan and tell them to send troops unless they wish to. There are many other ways to assist. I think the naval deployment in the Indian Ocean is very important, particularly with the new piracy problems," he said.
Holbrooke adds that Japan has been a key partner in Afghanistan's agricultural development.
In August, Afghanistan will hold its second presidential election since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. Holbrooke says Washington is neither supporting nor opposing any candidate who chooses to run.

Suicide car-bomber kills at least 20 in Kohat

KOHAT :A suicide car-bomber attacked a military convoy on Saturday killing at least 20 people, police said."The bomber was driving a pick-up truck which he rammed into a convoy passing by a security checkpost," said senior police officer Fareed Khan in the northwestern town of Kohat."At the moment, I can say at least 20 people, including soldiers and policemen, were killed," he said.