TOPICS > Politics

NewsHour Correspondent Ordered to Leave Iran

September 4, 2006 at 6:30 PM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: Margaret, welcome. I know you were supposed to be reporting from Iran until the end of the week, but you are headed home now.

What happened?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Ray, yesterday, late afternoon, I got a call from the — it’s called the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, which sort of oversees all the foreign press in — whoever is coming into Iran.

And a very nice woman said she’d had a call from the police, saying that I and my crew had to leave by Tuesday at midnight. I asked why. And she said she didn’t know, and that she would check with other people, but it
seemed to be pretty firm.

My surmise is that it was connected to a possible interview that I was thinking of doing with the parents of a young man who died in prison here in Tehran,

Evin prison, on July 30. And he had been in prison since the 1999 student demonstrations, off and on. And the condition of the body, according to letters that his father had written his father and mother to the U.N. and so on, was pretty — suggested that he had certainly been tortured and abused.

Efforts to derail reporting?

RAY SUAREZ: Well, until this communication asking you toleave the country, had there been any attempts to interfere or influence whoyou were talking to and what you were talking to them about in Iran?

MARGARET WARNER: Not on the topic, but definitely on who.

The way it works here is, you have to register with anagency that is in turn licensed by this Ministry of Islamic Guidance. And youare assigned a translator. And, basically, most reporters here think they're,you know, they're tracked pretty closely. And the translator, whenever you talkto somebody in Farsi, is obviously there.

So, and then, you have to make your requests through themfor anyone who is official. So, for instance, I'm here doing a nuclear story,but we couldn't possibly get to any nuclear installation, any kind of evennuclear research lab, or talk to any nuclear scientists.

And you can't really go around them. Now, you certainly canmake private appointments with people who aren't in government. And all of usdo that. But it's pretty tightly, at least, monitored. Veteran reporters whohave been here several times say the atmosphere is definitely more restrictiveand more tense than it has been, say, in years past.

RAY SUAREZ: Do you think you were followed during last week,when you were out and about and doing your work?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, the joke is, they don't need tofollow you, because you always have these cars or cabs. And, you know, theyknow exactly where you are.

So, no, I never thought I saw someone tailing me, thoughthere was an experience. Actually, we were at a cemetery, and I wasinterviewing people there. The next day, in a completely different location,the same plainclothes guy was hanging around. So, you know, you can draw yourown conclusions.

Heightened tensions in Iran

RAY SUAREZ: You mentioned that people find things tighter,the controls more strict, than they had been before. What do Iranians say aboutthat?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, they say it's true, also, forIranians.

And the paradox is that the conservatives actually now havea complete grip on the government, the presidency and the parliament in thehands of hard-liners. People here in Tehran,at least, that we have spoken with, say there is definitely a difference. It isdefinitely more restrictive. They definitely feel they have to be more cautiousin what they say.

I mean, there is still healthy debate here. And there areopposition papers. But they think it is related, perhaps, to the tension overthe nuclear controversy. You know, and others think it's related to theregime's desire to be sure it remains in control. Why that's worse now isunclear.

RAY SUAREZ: The nuclear controversy is certainly one of theissues that brought you to Iranin the first place. Could it be that any foreign reporter in the country is nowsimply a headache to the regime, now that the deadline is passed, now thatPresident Ahmadinejad has held his news conference, and expressed Iran'sintention to continue enriching uranium?

MARGARET WARNER: I'm the only journalist, I and my crew,that I know has been expelled.

But other journalists here have had difficulty, for instance,getting their visas extended, which they had thought they would be able to. So,little by little, the numbers are dwindling. And, you know, again, you are kindof left wondering, because, when you ask officialdom, they kind of shrug orsay, oh, there is no problem.

So, you don't really know why. But there are too manysimilar situations, at least with the visas, to be a complete coincidence.

Iran's firm resolve

RAY SUAREZ: Was much accomplished during Kofi Annan's tripto Iran?

MARGARET WARNER: Not apparently. What we are told is thatPresident Ahmadinejad just gave no quarter, just basically repeated theposition of the Iranian regime, which is, they do want to talk about thenuclear program, but they are not going to agree to any preconditions that the United States and Europehave asked them to do about freezing enrichment.

What was apparently striking to Annan was Ahmadinejad'salmost in-your-face attitude. He was not at all diplomatic. And he was sort ofbrash, a little bit cocky. He likes to joust with people. And he's veryassertive and aggressive. But it was not a diplomatic conversation, from what Iunderstand.

And, certainly, there seemed to be no apparent movement. Thereis a meeting in Europe tomorrow between Larijani, the chief nuclear negotiatorfor Iran, and Javier Solana,the foreign minister of the E.U. in Europe.

And it's anyone's guess what is going to happen there. Butthe betting among people in the know here is, if Iran is going to indicate anyflexibility and any desire to search for a workable compromise, that it shouldcome in that meeting.

RAY SUAREZ: Margaret Warner, joining us from Tehran shortly before herexpulsion by the authorities there -- Margaret, thanks a lot.