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Week of October 21, 2003

Program 0342


Chechen Election Results | Transcript | MP3

Global Citizen Madeleine Albright | Transcript | MP3

Somaliland Recognition | Transcript | MP3

India Soda Wars | Transcript | MP3

Iran-Dubai Divide | Transcript | MP3

UN Wire | Transcript | MP3

Beirut Museum | Transcript | MP3

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

AKHMAD KADYROV: [via a translator] I know there’s a lot to be done, and we have to do it together with the people. Without the people, no leader can do anything. Of course, the team is important, but the people’s trust is very important, too.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, Chechens vote for a president.

KEITH PORTER: Plus, Madeleine Albright discusses her life in the political spotlight.

FORMER US SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: My European roots are essential in my make-up, and it makes me realize the importance of US-European relationships. I’m kind of the epitome of it.

PORTER: And India’s soft drink controversy.

SUNITA NARAYAN: I think what the government is clearly telling you is that of the 12 samples they checked, in seven of them they found pesticide residues above the EU norms. They’re saying they found them lower than what we found, but they found the pesticides.

MCHUGH: These stories—coming up next.

[Musical interlude]

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Chechen Election Results

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MCHUGH: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. On October 5th, a new president was elected in Chechnya. The elections, which were part of Russia’s peace plan for the war-torn, breakaway republic, brought victory to the Kremlin’s appointee Akhmad Kadyrov. The outcome was widely expected—after several other top contenders left the race, the voters didn’t really have much of a choice. Anya Ardayeva reports.

[The sound of a Mr. Kadyrov’s victory being announced]

ANYA ARDAYEVA: The results of the presidential vote in Chechnya hardly surprised anyone. Akhmad Kadyrov, the man appointed by the Kremlin as the top civilian in Chechnya three years ago, won the race with overwhelming majority of the votes. Shortly after the first results were announced, Mr. Kadyov gave his first press-conference as the new Chechen president:

AKHMAD KADYROV: [via a translator] I know there’s a lot to be done, and we have to do it together with the people. Without the people, no leader can do anything. Of course, the team is important, but the people’s trust is very important, too.

ARDAYEVA: And however odd it may seem, trust is something that Akhmad Kadyrov does not enjoy in Chechnya.

ANNA NEISTAT: Any witness that we interviewed throughout the year said that Kadyrov is extremely unpopular and that he does not have any respect amongst the Chechen population.

ARDAYEVA: Anna Neistat, director of Moscow’s office of Human Rights Watch.

NEISTAT: Interestingly enough, there was no effort on the part of federal authorities, Chechen authorities to explain the sharp discrepancy between the opinion polls that showed in July that the support for Kadyrov in Chechnya was between 5 and 12 percent and the outcome of the elections. I think that clearly should be explained, at least an effort should be made to explain it.

ARDAYEVA: Once allied with the rebels, Mr. Kadyrov is regarded by many Chechens as a turncoat. His personal security force, numbering in the thousands of gunmen, is headed by his son Ramzan and is widely feared for its cruelty. Human rights activists said that the force was likely used to pressure civilians during the election campaign and raised doubts about the vote being free and fair. There are also concerns that the election structure was heavily tilted in favor of Mr. Kadyrov, the Kremlin’s favorite. Shortly before the election, the main competitors to Mr. Kadyrov left the race, Two of them withdrew during the campaign and a third, Malik Saidullayev, a wealthy businessman and former prime minister, was disqualified from running by the Chechen Supreme Court. Seven candidates were eventually left on the ballot—and six of them were virtually unknown to the voters. The voting follows a March referendum on the Chechen constitution, the results of which, according to the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, proved that the people of Chechnya want to remain part of Russia. Since then, at least 143 people have been killed in several suicide bombings in Chechnya and Moscow. And even the new president of Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov, said that there will be no peace in the province any time soon. “We have a long time still to fight with the bandits,” he said. “In five years, I don’t think we’ll be going out for walks at night.” For Common Ground, I am Anya Ardayeva in Moscow.

[Musical interlude]

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Global Citizen Madeleine Albright

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MCHUGH: Madeleine Albright is the highest-ranking woman in the history of the United States government. From 1993 to 1997 she served as America’s ambassador to the United Nations. In 1997 she became US Secretary of State under the Clinton administration. And this week, she is our Global Citizen profile. Madeleine Albright was born in Prague, and emigrated from Czechoslovakia to America with her family after the Communist takeover in 1948. Her recently published memoir, Madam Secretary sets the story of her own life against the international stage. Nina-Maria Potts spoke with Madeleine Albright in Washington, DC about the notion of global citizenship and her search for self-identity.

NINA-MARIA POTTS: What does global citizenship mean to you, and to what extent do you consider yourself a global citizen?

FORMER US SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think global citizenship is understanding the interdependence that we all are a part of, and how one part of the world depends on the other, whether it is for food or climate or peace. And that we all have responsibilities towards each other, and especially the United States as the world’s most powerful country, has the opportunity and the responsibility to try and shape a more peaceful future.

POTTS: You write in your memoir that your father would sometimes return your handwritten letters in Czech, corrected in red ink, and how you rebelled against that, how in your early days in college you were sometimes teased for still being an alien required to register. And you talk also of your transition from Madlenka to Madeleine. How important is your “Czech-ness” to your sense of self?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I wanted very much to grow up to be an American. When I got here it was at a certain period in the fifties, when this country was very much a melting pot, and I think people were much less into what is now known as roots, and much more of a sense of ethnic identity with their former ethnic group than with America, and I was of that generation that wanted more than anything to be an American. And yet I grew up speaking Czech, not writing Czech particularly well, but speaking it. And then as I became older, of doing a lot of very important research for me on various parts of Czechoslovak history and wrote my dissertation on the role of the Czechoslovak press in 1968 and started visiting Czechoslovakia more often, under the auspices of the USIA, and meeting people. And I kept always asking myself, “What about me as Czech, and what about me as American?” And clearly my European roots are essential in my make-up, and it makes me realize the importance of US-European relationships. I’m kind of the epitome of it—of the fact that we are strongest in the world when we are partners with Europe.

POTTS: Is being global necessarily a good thing? Does it mean just not being insular? Why is the United Nations, as some have said , morally superior to the United States, just because it’s a global body?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that the United Nations is the only forum where all the nations of the world can speak on an equal footing. And it is a very useful, I found anyway, for my four years there, of knowing what the views of other countries are on a whole host of issues and trying to develop policies that don’t pit one part of the world against the other, or beggar the poor countries at the expense of the rich countries. And it has an awful lot of very valuable roles that it can play. It cannot do more than the nation states allow it to do. And I am a great believer in the United Nations. I do think that it needs to have a lot of reform. It’s grown from an organization that had 51 countries and to now having over, 190 I guess at this point. So a lot of the internal aspects of it have to be adjusted to the size. I don’t think it’s morally superior. I think that it is very important and very useful.

POTTS: Is there an irony that on the one hand, there’s the liberal, utopian idea of universal brotherhood, the brotherhood of man, but actually it’s the militant Islamic world that has reinforced a fascistic notion of “you’re either with us or against us”? But yet it’s Washington which gets accused of acting unilaterally. Is there an irony in that?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think we are a long way from the global brotherhood aspect of it, because it goes back to what I said earlier, there’s just this sense of the need to identify with your own that sometimes goes overboard. I’ve often said this: it’s one thing to be proud of your own group, it’s another thing to have your pride turn into hate of the other group. And I think that we are in a peculiar period where pride in oneself, i.e., some of the extremist Islamic groups, has turned into the opposite of “we versus us” that comes out of the United States at this point. And neither of those sentiments I think are very useful. Because what I would like to see is, clearly there are extremists everywhere, and they need to be marginalized by those who see the greater commonality of our goals than those who try to make choices between one side and another. I’ve just written an article in Foreign Affairs, which really begins with quotes that show that quotes by President Bush and by an Imam are kind of mirror images of each other in terms of “us versus them.” And then another quote by Foreign Minister de Villepin that sees a completely different approach. And I think we need to focus more on what we have in common, a dialogue rather than this setting apart from each other, in, in what is increasingly a more threatening way.

POTTS: You’ve been making news for a long time. Can I ask you where you get your news?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I get my news in a variety of places. Obviously from—now from the public media. I listen to public radio all the time. I read all the newspapers and I read a lot of the journals. When I was in government I got my news through very detailed intelligence briefings. Which, there was so much, that I always used to say to myself, “Read every word, because you’re gonna be so sorry when you can’t read it anymore.” But I get my information in a way that I think I would recommend to people, which is that you should not ever rely on just one source of information, that it’s very important to weigh the various pieces of information and then compare them to each other, and distill out of it something. Because if you get hooked, even on public radio, you, you can’t have just one source.

POTTS: Do you feel more depressed about the state of the world today, than you did say 30 years ago?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I am a perpetual optimist. I have to say it’s the one thing that, that I really is consistent with me. But I actually, 30 years ago, things were pretty bad. I think that we’re talking the 1970s and the great concern about our highly dangerous and adversary relationship with the Soviet Union, and the fact that so many people were stuck behind the Iron Curtain. And, and that is all very hopeful now. I am depressed by some of the policies that are going on now because I think that they don’t add to what I thought the 21st century was going to be about, which was a greater openness, a support for democracy, not the imposition of democracy—the support for democracy—and greater free trade and more interdependence and the building of a variety of alliance structures. But I am hoping very much that we will be able to move forward- I think the scourge of terrorism is something that has cast a huge shadow on the beginning of this century and it’s something that will unfortunately I think be with us for the foreseeable future. So even for an inveterate optimist I think that’s a very hard part to deal with.

MCHUGH: Nina-Maria Potts spoke with this week’s global citizen, Madeleine Albright in Washington, DC.

[Musical interlude]

PORTER: The self-declared Republic of Somaliland seeks recognition, next on Common Ground.

[Musical interlude]

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Somaliland Recognition

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PORTER: Somalia is arguably most well-known today for the chaos and violence which has continued to wrack the country ever since the fall of the Siad Barré dictatorship at the end of the Cold War in 1991. Yet, in the intervening 12 years, the self-declared Republic of Somaliland in the north of the country has managed to establish a functioning and democratically elected government which has also declared its independence from Somalia proper. Yet, Somaliland remains in limbo, with no formal international recognition of its independent status. Rupert Cook reports in the first of his two-part series on Somaliland.

[The sound of a vehicle traveling down a road]

RUPERT COOK: [reporting with the sounds of traffic in the background] Well, I’m in central Hargeisa in Somaliland. The roads are fairly potholed and cratered. Most of the city was destroyed in 1991 when government forces bombed the city, almost leveled it. And pictures from that period are remarkable. Tens of thousands of people died. Many, many more were displaced, forced to leave Hargeisa. Much of the city has since been rebuilt over the following decade, although much of the basic infrastructure is still lacking, partly because there hasn’t been recognition for the state of Somaliland. And that’s meant that inward investments hasn’t come into the country. The government doesn’t access to loans from international institutions or foreign banks. There isn’t much of a banking system here, again because of recognition. But in the center of Hargeisa it really does seem like a fully functioning state. There are policeman directing traffic, traffic lights. It’s a fairly ordered place.

[Mr. Cook continues his narration but without the city background noises]

The notion of Somalia as a unified nation state is relatively recent, born out of the decolonization process in 1960, when the people of British Somaliland voted to unite with what had been the Italian colony of Somalia. In the following three decades a democratically elected government was replaced by the Siad Barre dictatorship, based in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. Following a rebel victory in 1991, the breakaway Republic of Somaliland has enjoyed de facto independence for more than a decade. Many Somalilanders are perplexed by the international community’s insistence that the country formally negotiate its secession with the barely-functioning authorities in war-torn Mogadishu. However, most African nations only came into being at the end of the colonial period, often more the product of sleight of hand in the chanceries of European capitals than based on any long-standing history of national affinity. The potential for conflict and secession was, and remains, considerable. Many observers see the international community’s reluctance to recognize Somaliland as a consequence of an anxiety about setting a dangerous precedent. Sam Ibok is director of Political Affairs with the African Union, or AU.

SAM IBOK: What stops, say for instance, Zanzibar, tomorrow, what stops a part of Nigeria tomorrow, what stops a part of South Africa tomorrow, from saying, “Now we want to be”—and if you look at, within our countries, there are elements of Somaliland in every country in Africa today. And if you say to me that because when a group of people in a region, in a country, have grievances against the central government they should feel free to break away from that country, I think we are going to have chaos on the continent. We have not recognized Somaliland not because we do not recognize the relative peace and stability that has existed in Somaliland since its unilateral declaration of independence. We have not done so because we think that if a part of the country needs to break away from the other part of the country, when there is the rest of Somalia, when we can have peace there, that the Somalis can come together and they can negotiate what kind of disposition they want for their country.

COOK: While the African Union remains wary about the risk of setting secessionist precedents, many in Somaliland see the main opposition against recognition as coming from the Arab League, a voluntary association of states whose peoples are mainly Arab-speaking. Hussein Bulhan is the director of the Academy for Peace and Development in Hargeisa.

HUSSEIN BULHAN: Somalis are not Arabs by any stretch of the imagination. You know, we are Muslim people, universally, but Islam is not Arab. It’s not Arab politics. Islam is a faith and like Indonesia, elsewhere in the world, we have that conviction. And so now mixing religion with politics and regional issues is really not appropriate. The Arab world, there are different degrees, particularly Egypt, that has been, for it’s own concern. And people talk about the Nile and Nile is Egypt, Egypt is the Nile, and all those kinds of stories, for all types of reasons, has been obsessed about the politics of the region. And Saudi Arabia for it’s own different reasons has also concerns about that area. The Arab influence has not worked very well for Somali people in my opinion. It has not worked very well.

COOK: The Nile and its potential uses, have been a long-standing fault-line in Ethio-Egyptian relations, and one frequently hears claims of alleged Egyptian destabilization in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. In the last decade, relations between Somaliland and Ethiopia have grown increasingly close. Ethiopia’s current government is also constitutionally committed to the principle of self-determination and a people’s right to secession. Yet, Ethiopia remains reluctant to recognize Somaliland. Meles Zenawi is Prime Minister of Ethiopia.

MELES ZENAWI: The reason is we carry historical baggage. We do not want to be seen as continuing the same old imperial policy of Ethiopia vis-à-vis Somalia. So irrespective of our feelings as to the achievements of the people in Somaliland we cannot be the first government to recognize Somaliland. The dilemma here is that those parts of Somalia which are doing the most in terms of establishing governance are being penalized for failures to establish seminal government structures in the rest of Somalia. Because short of formal recognition they do not have access to European Union money, they do not have access to World Bank money, IMF money, and all the rest. And this undermines the stability that they have achieved so far. But that’s that tragic situation we find ourselves in and there isn’t much that Ethiopia can do about it.

COOK: After years of waiting in vain for international recognition, some Somalilanders have become increasingly wary of the whole process and its consequences. Hussein Bulhan, Director of the Academy for Peace and Development in Hargeisa.

BULHAN: Much as we like recognition we also dread it in many ways because of the implications that it has. Kenya is recognized. Ethiopia is recognized. So many countries are. What do they have to show for it? In many instances just debt. So at some level probably at least I would argue—personally I would argue—be careful. What you pray for may not be as good as it is. Just go on, do your work, you know, make peace with your compatriots, with your neighbors, and invest the best of your energy and mind on your own effort and not wait for this sort of international help. Because a lot comes with it that is very negative.

COOK: Regardless of recognition, with international help, and the support of the country’s extensive Diaspora, Somaliland will probably continue to develop as an independent nation, retaining its hard-won security and stability. Yet, in Hargeisa’s main livestock market, the overwhelming opinion is that recognition can’t come soon enough. Assa Hassan is a small-scale sheep-farmer and a single mother of six children.

[With sounds of the market in the background]

ASSA HASSAN: [summarized by a translator] She said, “If our country is recognized our country will develop and our situation will be changed to a good situation.”

COOK: For Common Ground, I’m Rupert Cook, in Hargeisa, Somaliland.

PORTER: Next week, Rupert Cook will tour a new maternity hospital as he concludes his series on Somaliland.

[Musical interlude]

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India Soda Wars

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MCHUGH: Earlier this year, soft drink makers Pepsi and Coca-Cola were in hot water in India. An environmental organization there claimed to have found high levels of pesticides in the drinks manufactured in the companies’ Indian plants. According to the group’s research, the drinks would be unacceptable, for example, under European Union safety standards. Public outrage over the report led to a government study of Coke and Pepsi products. But exactly what those tests proved depends on whom you ask. Judith Smelser has the story.

JUDITH SMELSER: Soft drinks should have been doing their best business at the height of the Indian summer.

[The sound of a soft drink can being opened and the drink being poured into a glass]

SMELSER: But when alarm bells went off about the safety of soda the fizzy drinks suddenly seemed a lot less refreshing and a lot more confusing. Just look at the headlines that came out around that time. “India says Coke, Pepsi meet Domestic Safety Norms” said one news service. “India says Coke, Pepsi Fail EU Standards” claimed another. In fact, both headlines were correct. The Indian government announced that all the soft drink samples they tested met Indian safety standards for bottled water. They used that standard because there is no national norm for soft drinks. But several of the samples were indeed found to contain pesticide levels above the European Union limit. Sanjeev Gupta, the CEO of Coca-Cola India, called the results a success.

SANJEEV GUPTA: I think we’re delighted because the whole issue was raised on the safety of our drinks, the quality of our drinks, and that has been very unequivocally stated that these drinks are perfectly safe.

SMELSER: But the environmental group that touched off the controversy, the Center for Science and Environment, says the government tests proved their case. Sunita Narayan is the group’s director.

SUNITA NARAYAN: I think what the government is clearly telling you is that of the 12 samples they checked, in seven of them they found pesticide residues above the EU norms. They’re saying they found them lower than what we found, but they found the pesticides.

SMELSER: So how is it that a drink can be considered safe for one country but not safe for another? Theoretically, it shouldn’t be that way. In 1963, the World Health Organization and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization created a body that would set international standards for food safety and quality. It’s called the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

DR. GENARO GARCIA: According to the Codex Alimentarius, and all the countries, signatories of that process—there is, all countries have to comply with the safety requirements.

SMELSER: Genaro Garcia is with the Americas office of the World Health Organization in Washington, DC.

DR. GARCIA: In this case, European Union and India are members of Codex Alimentarius. So that means that it shouldn’t be one standard for one country and one standard for another country.

SMELSER: But there’s no enforcement mechanism in place to ensure compliance with the Codex standards. In most cases, Dr. Garcia says, countries have an economic incentive to comply. Most nations refuse to accept food imports that don’t meet Codex norms.

DR. GARCIA: If they do not comply, or let’s put it in the positive way—if they did comply with the requirements and regulations, norms, standards, then they will be able to trade.

SMELSER: Still, the Indian soft drink case seems to call into question the effectiveness of Codex Alimentarius standards. But Dr. Garcia believes that example is an exception rather than the rule. He says in most cases, the international norms have been respected—a fact that’s sparked a major upsurge in the trade of food products around the world.

DR. GARCIA: You look at the general food, international food market and the things like milk and, animal origin or the products of vegetable or plant origin, there has been an increase, a tremendous increase, and that has been due to the harmonization of legislation, regulation, norms, and standards. So, it’s not by any means that the countries have double standards or they are not complying.

SMELSER: And in India, the story didn’t end with the government tests. The Parliament launched its own investigation, as did other NGOs around the country. And the public outcry did elicit a pledge from India’s health minister to tighten safety standards for bottled water and soft drinks by January of next year. For Common Ground, I’m Judith Smelser.

PORTER: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

KEITH PORTER: I’m Keith Porter.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, Dubai’s Iranian immigrants.

UNIDENTIFIED IRANIAN IMMIGRANT: It’s been about 10 years since I left Shiraz for Dubai to do business. Life here is great and comfortable but I often go to Iran. One cannot forget his homeland.

MCHUGH: Plus, making headlines with the United Nations. And, Beirut’s rebuilt national museum.

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Iran-Dubai Divide

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PORTER: Visit modern Dubai, and you’ll find more than just skyscrapers and fancy hotels. You’ll run into high business aspirations and will hear languages from all over the world. Today nearly one million people live in this Middle Eastern city. Most are immigrants from other Persian Gulf states and from countries like India and Iran. In fact Dubai’s immigrant population, proportionate to the natives, is one of the highest in the world. As Roxana Saberi reports, many of the immigrants are Iranians, who have been flocking to Dubai in hopes of a better future.

[Sounds from a busy airport]

ROXANA SABERI: It takes only about an hour-and-a-half to fly from the capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Dubai—a city that offers many arrivals legal alcohol, Westernized shopping centers, and new business opportunities.

HAMID KESHMIRI: [via a translator] I and my family came here for business, and because my family needed recreation and wanted to buy some things.

SABERI: Hamid Keshmiri usually makes this trip every few weeks. He’s the director of a company that manufacturers and exports auto parts, with offices in Iran, Korea, and Dubai.

HAMID KESHMIRI: [via a translator] Here is a free zone, and everybody, including Iranians, likes to come here because it is a trade center.

SABERI: Dubai has been a regional trading hub for years, and in recent decades has attracted entrepreneurs from abroad with its liberal and low-tax regime. An estimated 100,000 to 150,000 Iranians live in the seven United Arab Emirate states. Many have chosen one of the emirates—Dubai—as a place of residence and business.

[Sounds of a busy shopping mall]

SABERI: Iranians have arrived in waves over the years, and for various reasons, as these Iranians working in a Dubai mall prove.

UNIDENTIFIED IRANIAN IMMIGRANT: [via a translator] Our ancestors came here around 100 years ago. We are from south of Shiraz, and farming there is not so good, so we came here to live.

UNIDENTIFIED IRANIAN IMMIGRANT: [via a translator] I am 20 years old and I have never seen Iran. I was born here and my family lives here. Business is good here.

UNIDENTIFIED IRANIAN IMMIGRANT: [via a translator] It’s been about 10 years since I left Shiraz for Dubai to do business. Life here is great and comfortable but I often go to Iran. One cannot forget his homeland. My family prefers to live in Iran because the weather here is not so good.

SABERI: Many Iranians who come here to work or play are supposed to leave when they finish. Some have been here a long time and have grown quite rich. More and more are born here. But strict laws prevent many from acquiring citizenship in this political system, which remains an autocracy. This isn’t stopping people like Mehdi Azari, who arrived in Dubai about six months ago, from setting up a new company.

MEHDI AZARI: [via a translator] The economic situation in Iran is not very promising, and the stagnation in the economy will affect business, especially for software and software designers.

SABERI: Mehdi has created a computer program called Naghsh Ahang.

[The sound of Persian music]

SABERI: Users can compose music using more than 30 traditional Persian instruments, simply by typing. But Mehdi has had problems selling his software in Iran, a country with no copyright law.

MEHDI AZARI: [via a translator] There is no law to support us in Iran, and the government also will not support us. For example, password crackers in Iran can unlock our software programs which cost us $2,000 to create. I hope we can register this software here and export it to US and other countries that support copyright laws.

SABERI: Indeed, Dubai is an ideal base for many companies trading in the Middle East. Iranians import and export American goods through Dubai despite Washington’s 1995 ban on US and their foreign subsidiaries doing business with Iran. And the city’s Jebel Ali Free Zone promises investors, exemption from import duties, no corporate taxes, and 100-percent foreign ownership. Mehdi Tagh?vi, an economics professor at Allame Tabatabaie University in Tehran, also says the risk of investing in Dubai is lower than in Iran.

PROFESSOR MEHDI TAGH?VI: So they like to transfer their money abroad. The other thing is when you invest in Iran, the return of investment is low. You have here a labor law which was awful. When you employed somebody, you couldn’t sack him. You had to pay the salary. Okay, it was very hard.

SABERI: But not everyone has come to Dubai solely for work.

[The sound of frying food]

SABERI: Seddigh Hosseini owns a hostel in Dubai that often hosts guests from Iran. She came here four years ago but still hasn’t been able to find a job in her field of civil engineering. Still, she’s happy to be here, for her family.

SEDDIGH HOSSEINI: [via a translator] I came here for my son because I wanted him to have a better education and to study abroad. It will also be easier now for him to apply for a US visa.

SABERI: While some Iranians hope Dubai is just a transition between Iran and another destination, others say they’re here to stay. Still others say they want to return home if or when the situation improves.

[The sound of Persian music]

SABERI: They hope some day they can invest in their native land, so instead of going abroad to realize their dreams, they can find what they’re searching for, at home. For Common Ground, I’m Roxana Saberi, Tehran.

[Musical interlude]

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UN Wire

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MCHUGH: The United Nations is garnering plenty of headlines across the world these days. And today, keeping track of the UN and its various agencies is easier than you might think. UNWire is an independent, internet news site dedicated to covering the United Nations. I recently spoke with UNWire’s Editor in Chief, Steve Hirsch.

STEVE HIRSCH: UNWire is a daily online news service that covers that United Nations and UN-related news. It is funded by the UN Foundation but it is produced independently by this company, the National Journal Group. We are also connected by ownership with the Atlantic Monthly. The content of UNWire is, it’s a mixture of what we call coverage of the coverage, which is a daily synopses, or synopses of daily news coverage from around the world on issues related to the UN, plus original coverage which comes from our people who are based here and in New York. We also have a weekly column by Barbara Crossette, who is the former UN Bureau Chief of The New York Times. And we’re free. That’s the important thing. Anybody can get us free by going to

MCHUGH: Now it does seem odd that you are doing coverage of the UN but you are based and we are talking today in Washington.

HIRSCH: In Washington. The reason is this; is when the original deal was made National Journal, because its core business is coverage of Washington—National Journal is here in Washington—as it happens also the UN Foundation is here in Washington—for the most part it, it doesn’t make a lot of difference so far. Because when we, we do about 20 stories a day. That means that we have a crew of writers who come in here starting at six o’clock in the morning reading papers and looking at Web sites from around the world. And they can do that from Washington or New York or Indianapolis or Moscow or, you know, anyplace where they had free access to the Web. And we have, we have a full-time correspondent in New York. And I’m in New York periodically. And Barbara is in New York periodically. We may in the future increase our presence in New York. And a lot of what we do is overseas. So it worked out that way.

MCHUGH: What would you say is the general level of knowledge among Americans about the UN?

HIRSCH: Oh, I think it’s low. I think it’s very low. It’s not unique to Americans I don’t think. I mean, this is not an America bashing comment. But Americans I think because of the size of this country, because of a traditional insularity and because this country feels—and to some extent rightly—that it can act without consulting other people, Americans don’t, haven’t felt a need to know about the UN. And a lot of Americans are hostile to the UN. So, I think that, that Americans don’t know much about the UN and when they think of the UN they might think of, of UNICEF, you know, kids collecting for UNICEF at Halloween or they might think of the big building. Even people who are sympathetic to the UN. If you travel at all around the world as some of us do and you go to places where the UN is a force you discover that, that the UN, the UN is present in a lot of ways and does a lot of things around the world. And in some countries the UN is an extremely important institution. You know, they think, in a lot of places I think Kofi Annan, who is the Secretary General of the United Nations, is, is thought of us equal to a head of state. Whereas in this country I don’t think—there’s probably a lot of Americans who don’t even know who he is. When I was a kid—and I’m 51 years old, to put this in context—one of the people who, who was on the news fairly frequently was Richard C. Hotelet, who was UN Correspondent for CBS News. And if you were, if you were somebody who watched the news, you know, you would be as likely to know him almost as Eric Sevareid or Walker Cronkite. I think probably today 99 percent of Americans couldn’t name a single reporter covering the UN. And I think that’s an indication of, of the level of how concerned Americans are with the UN.

MCHUGH: So who is your audience then? Is it diplomats? Is it policymakers? Lobbyists? Or is it actually the American or world public?

HIRSCH: Well, it’s all of those plus more. We, we have a worldwide audience and it is, it is policymakers, it is, is diplomats, it is UN employees, it is UN officials, it’s students, it’s congressional people. It’s, it includes both people who for professional reasons need to follow the UN and need to know what’s going on and what the UN is doing and it is also people who because of reasons of, of, of personal political belief or personal concern—you know, activists—who want to know what the UN is doing. You know, the thing about UNWire is this, UNWire is, is a news service that covers a vast array of subjects that are of interest to huge numbers of people. I’m talking about things like peacekeeping, health, women’s issues, children’s issues, the environment. These are all issues that are, are of significant interest to huge numbers of people. It’s available online to anybody with a computer and it is also the only thing like it in the world. There’s no other news medium that is dedicated to covering the UN and world events.

MCHUGH: What is your traffic like? Have you been able to track your Web traffic?

HIRSCH: We are in the middle of a massive promotion of it right now. And it seems to me that it ought to be huge. I think that our product, the editorial product, is great. And I’ve never had a complaint about the product. And I’ve gotten e-mail from, from all the way from, from really pro-UN leaders of the UN Association-type organizations, to people who work for anti-UN members of Congress. And all of them, all of those people have said it’s good. But I think we need to get the word out more.

MCHUGH: Well, I wanted to ask what is the reaction to UNWire at the UN?

HIRSCH: It’s good at the UN. When I went up to get my UN press pass the first time the woman who was handing me the material, she said, “Who do you work for?” And I said, “National Journal Group.” And she just looked at me blankly. And my friend who is in the PR office whispered in my ear, “Say UNWire.” And I said—cause they’re both legitimate—I said, “UNWire.” She said, Oh! UNWire! Oh, that’s fine.” And they all turned, all the clerks and secretaries said, “Oh, that’s great. We all read UNWire every day.”

MCHUGH: And this is even though you don’t necessarily always give them favorable coverage.

HIRSCH: Oh, absolutely. We print the news. We are just as apt to report a story that reflects badly on the UN as one that reflects well on the UN.

MCHUGH: Well, final question—where do you see the UN in five years? Ten years?

HIRSCH: I don’t know. It depends who succeeds Kofi Annan as Secretary General and I’m not placing any bets. It may depend inordinately on what happens in the American government. I don’t know where the UN is gonna go. I, I think though—it may be that with the end of the Cold War that, that the UN will of necessity become more significant. But that, that may be exactly wrong. It could be exactly the opposite, too. It could be that other, you know, that—I mean, who can predict international relations. When Bush was elected President in 2000, you know, who would have predicted 9/11? And, and it’s consequences? So I don’t know. I’m not even sure where it’s going to be in a year.

MCHUGH: Steve Hirsch is Editor and Chief of I spoke with him in Washington, DC.

MCHUGH: Coming up next, a visit to Beirut’s national museum. You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

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Beirut Museum

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PORTER: The national museum was in shambles, its offices looted, and precious ancient art missing. People thought that the museum staff had sold off the nation’s archeological patrimony to European art dealers. It wasn’t Baghdad in 2003; it was Beirut in 1975. Today, Beirut’s National Museum is a completely rebuilt, modern facility. Reese Erlich reports that Beirut holds some valuable lessons for Baghdad.

[The sound of Lebanese music]

REESE ERLICH: During Lebanon’s tumultuous 1975-1990 civil war, the Beirut National Museum lay in ruins. It was hit by artillery shells. Snipers fired from the upper floors, even boring a rifle hole into one of the ancient pieces of art. When Hareth Boustany, the former curator of the Beirut Museum, saw the looting in Baghdad, it was déjà vu.

HARETH BOUSTANY: I was depressed because I know what is the value of, you know, the civilization in Iraq is the first civilization in the world. All the cultural and intellectual heritage of the world comes from Mesopotamia, what we call Iraq.

ERLICH: While initial fears of damage to Baghdad’s National Museum may have been exaggerated, some 3,000 pieces of art remain missing. Countless ancient manuscripts and Korans were also destroyed at Iraq’s National Library. Boustany says the US should have prevented such destruction.

BOUSTANY: It’s a shame for the United States GIs and commanders that didn’t think to ask for one or two tanks to go to the National Museum. And the other treasure was the National Library with very, very valuable manuscript from the 9th century, 10th century, the first manuscripts Persian and in Arabic, old Arabic. I think that the importance of the National Library in Baghdad it’s equal to the importance of that Museum.

ERLICH: Back in 1975 the situation in Beirut looked bleak as well.

[The sound of Lebanese music]

ERLICH: Suzy Hakimian, the Beirut Museum’s current curator, notes that her building is located right on the infamous Green Line that separated the warring factions of east and west Beirut.

SUZY HAKIMIAN: This was the bad luck of the national museum, because it was located on the demarcation line. And that means that it was at the front line and received shelling. No, I don’t think they intentionally bombarded. But I mean, too bad, it was standing there.

ERLICH: Curators quickly realized they must do something to protect their collections dating as far back as 2000 BC. Hakimian says some pieces were too heavy to move, so they surrounded them with cement casings.

HAKIMIAN: The objects were preserved because the late director took the good decision to protect them with concrete boxes, although archeology and concrete do not go very well together. But I mean, this was a good protection against bombs and looting.

ERLICH: Then the small pieces were deposited in a hole dug in the basement. Hareth Boustany was only one of four people in all Lebanon who knew the location of the hidden art. He couldn’t reveal the location, even when accused of selling the museum’s art for personal gain.

BOUSTANY: A former prime minister said in the newspaper that I was responsible for taking out all the objects and I asked my advisor, an attorney, to sue him. He said to me, “Yes, you can sue him but the first question will be asked is, “So, where is these objects?” If you are not ready to tell where is these objects, I don’t advise you to sue.”

ERLICH: Within a few years after the Lebanese civil war ended in 1990, museum staff dug up the hidden art and began the arduous task of restoring it. Some stolen pieces were tracked down and recovered from art dealers in Europe. Today the Beirut National Museum stands rebuilt, a state of the art facility.

[The sound of people walking in the museum]

ERLICH: Three-thousand-year-old Phoenician statues are encased in climate-controlled, Plexiglass cases.

[Sounds from a museum video showing the museum’s restoration]

ERLICH: A museum video shows the ruined museum of 1990 and the painstaking reparation work. Vincent McCarthy, an Irish tourist, has just finished viewing the video.

VINCENT MCCARTHY: They’ve done a marvelous in reconstructing it. You look at the video, you can see it was practically destroyed during the civil war. So in the 10 years since the war it has been beautifully reconstructed.

ERLICH: So how did the Lebanese do it? The government provided funds to reconstruct the building itself. But private sponsors formed a non governmental organization to raise money for everything inside the museum. Former curator Boustany says the Iraqis—and Iraqi exiles—could do something similar.

BOUSTANY: The Iraqis themselves must create an NGO and from the Iraqis outside Iraq to help collect the objects from outside countries. And after that, they must create fund raising. If they want for the revenue from oil, they must wait for three or four years.

ERLICH: Boustany says the US must make a political commitment to rebuilding the Baghdad’s museum and National Library. Fortunately, he says, money shouldn’t be a major problem. The total cost so far for reconstructing the Beirut National Museum, including unearthing and restoring its treasures is $5.5 million. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Erlich in Beirut.

[The sound of Lebanese music]

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security

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