Friday, January 8, 2016

Deep distrust persists between Iran and U.S. despite nuclear deal

A protester wearing a large mask bearing the likeness of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

As Iran marks the anniversary of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, one could be forgiven for thinking relations were just as bad as ever between the Islamic Republic and America.
The arrests of U.S. citizens, hints of a Cold War-style prisoner swap, fears of Western infiltration and even the shutdown of a lookalike KFC restaurant show the suspicion still held by hard-liners after the nuclear deal with world powers.
In the short term, things may even get worse, analysts say, as Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei continues to warn about American influence, a crucial parliamentary election approaches and the country’s intelligence and military services try to hold onto their economic and political power.
The message to the Iranian-American community is: ‘Don’t think you’re going to use your connections to come in and take over economic profits ... in post-deal Iran, because you’re not.
On Wednesday, thousands demonstrated in front of the old U.S. Embassy, marking the 36th anniversary of students seizing 52 Americans hostage there after Washington refused to hand over the toppled U.S.-backed shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The protest came despite the deal that will see Tehran limit its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Meanwhile, four Iranian-Americans are known to be held by Iran.
Iranian media has raised the possibility of exchanging some Americans for 19 Iranians held in the U.S. While that potential swap may figure into the arrests, Cliff Kupchan, the chairman of the Eurasia Group said the detentions also signal that the Iranian “deep state” still has a “number of post-deal messages it wants to send,” including to Iranians living abroad.
“To me, the message to the Iranian-American community is: ‘Don’t think you’re going to use your connections to come in and take over economic profits ... in post-deal Iran, because you’re not,’“ he said.
Another message involves projecting Iran’s power in the region, like supporting Bashar al-Assad in his country’s long civil war. Images promoting Iran’s military prowess abound, whether it’s the recently televised Revolutionary Guard tour of an underground missile base or the announcement of newly designed weapons.
Anti-Americanism plays into that. As demonstrators burn American flags, a new Tehran billboard appropriates the famous Associated Press photo of the World War II flag-raising at Iwo Jima with blood-covered U.S. soldiers standing on a pile of corpses.
No to fast Starbucks?
Even facsimiles of American culture are targeted, as demonstrators on Wednesday carried signs that said no to U.S. fast-food chains like McDonald’s or Starbucks setting up franchises in the country. Authorities on Monday closed a newly opened lookalike KFC in Tehran, complete with images of founder Col. Harland Sanders, reportedly over licensing issues. Abbas Pazooki, the restaurant’s manager, said he hoped to reopen soon and claimed his eatery, “KFC Halal,” had nothing to do with the U.S. brand.
During the demonstrations, state prosecutor Ebrahim Raeisi announced that the intelligence department of the Revolutionary Guard had detained a number of writers and spies “hired by Americans.” He did not elaborate. In recent weeks, artists and journalists in Iran have been arrested or given harsh sentences in a series of trials.
“Under no circumstances will we allow penetration of Americans in economic, social and cultural areas,” Raeisi said, repeating a constant warning heard since the nuclear deal.

Rhetoric and arrests

So far, the nuclear deal seems secure in both countries despite Iran’s rhetoric and the recent arrests. U.S. President Barack Obama holds veto power over any effort by Congress to enact sanctions on Iran, while Iran’s government and Khamenei already have approved the terms of the deal. A parliamentary election in February also probably won’t endanger it, although hard-liners are eager to regain political power.

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