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What to Read on Iran this Week: Geneva Negotiations, Internet Freedom, and Culture

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As we look to coverage of Iran from the past week, all eyes are on Geneva, where the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 are in their second day, and the arrival of Secretary of State John Kerry and reports that the talks may continue tomorrow are raising hopes that an interim deal will be signed before the negotiating teams return to their home nations.  The situation is rapidly developing (and will be discussed here in the coming days), but in very recent coverage, Lesley Wroughton and Fredrik Dahl of Reuters highlighted Kerry’s remarks urging patience and emphasizing the long road ahead.  Ian Black of the Guardian discussed the chorus of opposition to the still hypothetical interim deal, coming not only from the Israeli and Saudi leadership but also from hardliners in Tehran and hawks in Washington, with Crispian Balmer of Reuters examining Israeli comments rejecting what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees as a “very bad deal.” Ivo Daalder wrote in the Financial Times  that with progress being made in negotiations, the existence of Iranian and American opponents to a deal mean that the real work toward peace will have to be done at home.  Meanwhile, Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor interviewed Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif  (who also sat down for a discussion with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last night) on the work that is going into the text being prepared by negotiators.  All in all, the unprecedented progress has led some, like James Blitz of the Financial Times, to write that the end is in sight.

Elsewhere this week, analysis of the talks was varied.  Ray Takeyh wrote in the Washington Post that the U.S. must remember that it has the upper hand in the talks, and should remain calm and avoid desperately panicking its way to a suboptimal deal.  This piece prompted fierce dissent from Paul Pillar in the National Interest, who said such arguments could lead to the U.S. trying to “win big” and “run up the score,” when humiliating Iran has no benefit for U.S. interests.

The Saban Center’s own Kenneth Pollack was interviewed in the National Interest, arguing (among other things) that the experience of Iraq shows that sanctions cannot be expected to remain effective forever, and that the Obama administration’s decision not to attack Syria did not necessarily have any relevance to Washington’s dispute with Tehran.   In Foreign Policy, Yochi Dreazen examined the methods the Treasury Department has used to overwhelm Iran’s international transportation industry with sanctions. 

Internet freedom was much discussed this week, with Nima Nazeri and Collin Anderson releasing a report on Iranian government filtering of Persian Wikipedia, via the Center for Global Communication Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.  In Bloomberg, Ladane Nasseri reported on remarks by Iranian Culture Minister Ali Jannati indicating his desire to see bans on social media lifted.  UN Special Human Rights Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed also chimed in on the issue, noting the positive remarks but calling on Iranian officials to go beyond rhetoric and put their thoughts into action.

Also on the human rights front, Bloomberg devoted an editorial to the detention of Green Movement leaders Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who will spend their 1,000th day under house arrest this weekend, calling for Iran’s new government to show its commitment to change by engineering their release.  On a tangentially related note, BBC Persian posted a video segment (in Persian) looking at the extensive artistic career of Mousavi, a prolific painter.

In Iran Pulse, Arash Karami reported on the severe pollution and acid rain problem in Ahvaz, which has reportedly sent thousands to the hospital. 

On the lighter side, Muhammad Lila reported for ABC on the leaders of Tehran’s skateboarder culture, who want to spread the sport throughout Iran and build skater exchanges with counterparts around the world. FSHN Magazine launched what it called the first ever fashion editorial shot in Iran, with settings including Tehran’s Tajrish Bazaar and in the picturesque city of Kashan.  And Al Jazeera English highlighted the Instagram photos of Holly Dagres, taken this past summer in Iran, as its “Stream of the Week.”  And for those interested in traveling to Iran to see some picturesque local scenes for themselves, Reza Sayah wrote in CNN about plans to relax tourism visa requirements to help accommodate growing interest in Iran from the outside world.

Enjoy the weekend!