Iran: Cosmetic Adjustments or Preparation for a Policy Shift?
From Reuters on Sunday morning:
A Tehran municipal official said some anti-American billboards had been put up illegally and had been taken down, state news agency IRNA said on Saturday.
“In an arbitrary move, without the knowledge or confirmation of the municipality, one of the cultural institutes installed advertising billboards,” said spokesman Hadi Ayyazi.
Ayyazi did not say which posters had been taken down. According to IRNA, new anti-American posters were put up in busy Tehran thoroughfares since last week, ahead of the November 4 anniversary of the 1979 seizure of hostages in the U.S. Embassy.
One depicted an Iranian negotiator sitting at a table with a U.S. official who is wearing a suit jacket but also army trousers and boots, with a caption that read: “American Honesty”.
Iran has repeatedly alleged that the real U.S. goal is to attack Iran rather than find a diplomatic solution in nuclear negotiations.
Ehsan Mohammad-Hassani, head of the Owj Cultural Organisation which produces anti-American material, said on Sunday his group had put up the posters with the permission of the municipality, the Fars news agency said.
This is all well and good, but as Jeff Goldberg noted on Twitter today:
The arguments about anti-American billboards in Tehran are interesting, but what matters is the regime's position on denuclearization.
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) October 28, 2013
It’s easy to dismiss this as a meaningless development, and I think if I were a betting man that’s exactly what I might do. But in the interest of contrarianism and thinking aloud, what if it’s not so meaningless?
No one (well, outside of Iran, anyway) knows just how much leeway the Supreme Leader has afforded Rohani in the ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.* But if Rohani has been given permission to do more than bluff, then there’s a chance he comes away from the P5+1 with something that hard-liners in Tehran (and, one imagines, at least some portion of the population which has been force-fed a steady diet of anti-Americanism over the past thirty years) aren’t going to like.
If, in the future, Rohani and the Supreme Leader do find themselves in such a situation, it doesn’t seem too implausible to imagine their position being bolstered by a preceding general toning-down of the Great Satan rhetoric. I don’t really expect this to be the case, but let’s hope that in a year or so we can look back and see this as an early sign of attempts to prepare the public for a deal with the devil.
*Probably nobody inside of Iran knows either. One wonders how decided Khamenei himself is on the nuclear issue