Arab Media Reports on Iran-U.S. Relationship
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
More details are emerging of the letter the president of Iran sent to President Bush this week. The letter takes up many of the issues and accusations being circulated in political blogs. For instance, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; the allegations of secret prisons; the pressure on American troops away from loved ones. But in 18 pages of talk about recent and long ago history, the letter touches only briefly on the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.
The U.S. State Department says it contained nothing relevant to the international concerns over Iran's nuclear ambitions. For a look at how the growing tensions between the U.S. and Iran are playing out in the Arab world, we turn to Ramez Maluf, Professor of Journalism at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, Lebanon. Hello.
Professor RAMEZ MALUF (Professor of Journalism, Lebanese American University, Beirut Lebanon): Yes, hello there.
MONTAGNE: Is this letter getting much attention in the Arab press?
Prof. MALUF: I think the reactions to the letter have been of two kinds. And newspapers that appear in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia or are funded by these governments, such as pan-Arab newspapers like al-Hayat, have been very critical of the letter.
The Kuwaiti newspaper has equated Ahmadinejad to Saddam Hussein when he was ruling Iraq, speaking about the region as if he owns it. In the letter he asks Bush not to interfere in our region, and the columnists derided him for that, saying, you know, this is not your region to decide who should be involved in it or not. Another example is a columnist, which is funded by Saudi Arabia, in which he says that it's very frightening that this man, who does not yet have a nuclear bomb, speaks as if he's a world leader with ambitions for what the world should look like and what the region should look like. And the columnist says, how will he speak once he has the atomic bomb? And so he thinks that's very frightening, indeed.
And today, in that same publication there's a cartoon of an Iranian mullah holding the Middle East hostage and pointing a gun at his head; and Uncle Sam is on the other side of the cartoon holding a gun, but with question marks implying that the United States doesn't know what to do about the situation.
So, on the whole, I would say that newspapers in the Gulf are very worried about Ahmadinejad. Ah, it's…
MONTAGNE: So, it sounds like, at least the newspapers controlled by the governments there, it sounds as if Iran is seen as a threat, and there is concern about its nuclear program.
Prof. MALUF: Well, yeah. Remember, though, that the media in the Gulf is really, you know, not the official media, either directly controlled by the government or owned by people close to the government who have an invested interest in the government. So I cannot tell you that I have a real sense of what the average Saudi or Kuwaiti feels.
But I wouldn't be surprised if that's exactly how they feel, as well. I mean, we're talking about a religious divide between Shia and the Sunni, and the traditional competition for a controlled region between the Saudis and the Iranians.
But the media is different in other parts of the Arab world. You know, let me give you an example here in Lebanon: The English-language newspaper, The Daily Star, which is really read by the Lebanese, yesterday had an editorial that was a bit of a surprise for me, because it says that finally there's hope for a peaceful solution in the region for the fist time in years. There's cause for hope now that Ahmadinejad has sent a letter to Bush--and with solutions. So far, I think this editorial was written before they actually saw the letter, but it's a bit surprising that they would say that.
MONTAGNE: What about this push, finally, for sanctions against Iran by the United States and several European nations? How's that being received there?
Prof. MALUF: Well, I mean we're talking about a wide region there; let's keep this in mind. There's a very underlying concern here about the fact that the United States is worried about nuclear weapons in Iran and not in Israel. This is something that really underpins a lot of attitude among the Arabs.
I'll give you an example of that. Al-Jazeera, on their website, has a question where they ask, how serious do you think is the nuclear threat in Iran? And 27 percent only said that they thought it was a danger to the region; 73 percent said they didn't think it was. So these people would not be looking favorably at sanctions.
The word sanctions in the Arab world doesn't resonate very well, because it seems to be applied to the Arab world a bit too much. I mean, the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Iranians, Iraqis. The word--the idea of sanctions doesn't really go well in the region.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for talking with us.
Prof. MALUF: My pleasure.
MONTAGNE: Ramez Maluf is Professor of Journalism at the Lebanese-American University in Beirut.
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