by Boaz Bismuth
Some 360 kilometers (224 miles) southeast of Tehran sits the ancient city of Hamedan. I visited it twice after the revolution. The Jews of Iran identify it with the city of Shushan from the book of Esther, and believe Mordechai the Jew and Queen Esther are buried there.
Upon entering the city, visitors are greeted with giant murals featuring an Iranian boy and girl: They are helping a blind man cross the road; they are brushing their teeth; they are reading the Quran; they are burning the Israeli flag. In the Islamic republic, this sequence of images is only natural. The only thing missing was a boy and girl burning the American flag, so that we get a better sense of the perfect Iranian child in the era of the revolution.
But slogans against the great devil, America, are not lacking in Tehran. The copywriter that brought "Down with the U.S.A." to the Iranians is surely retired already and counting rials. On Monday, that slogan once again made a star appearance during national U.S. hate day. The telephone conversation between U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hasan Rouhani did not really affect America's image in Iran. As far as Iran is concerned, America is still the same.
Americans woke up on Monday with the harsh images from the rallies in Tehran. It is a little difficult for the average citizen in Nebraska, Illinois or Oregon to understand what is going on here: On the one hand, the media explained that there is a new Iran, open and smiling and believing in nuclear negotiations. On the other hand, suddenly they hear that this new and affable new Iranian president "isn't optimistic" at all and, moreover, American flags are still being burned ... so what else is new?
More nuclear talks will be held this weekend. The Iranians are now projecting pessimism after discovering that their charm offensive has not resulted in the desired results, the easing of sanctions, so easily. What to do then? Clearly, act offended and play hard to get. We must hope that this time as well the West does not let up, even if, as intimated by a European diplomat with knowledge of the talks, a breakthrough is not expected during this round of discussions either.
"The Iranians have changed their method: They are smiling and speaking in English. In the meantime, though, the centrifuges are spinning. The regime has not given up on acquiring a nuclear bomb." This quote is not from an Israeli source, rather from a senior French diplomat of all people, and it was printed in the daily French newspaper Le Figaro. Apparently not all is lost and Israel is not alone in being concerned.
On paper, things seem promising for the upcoming Geneva talks: The Nobel Peace Prize laureate (Obama) is on one side of the table, while his "liberal" and cheerful negotiating partner (Rouhani) is on the other. Indeed, talks should be a blast with this dynamite duo.
In actuality, however, we have the United States versus the Islamic Republic of Iran. And this is a very unnatural pairing for our two little cutie-pies from Hamedan.
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