What to Read on Iran This Week: Geneva, Sanctions, and Culture

Mehrun Etebari
Mehrun Etebari Senior Research Assistant

October 18, 2013

Any list of Iran articles from this week would have to start with the Geneva nuclear talks.  Coverage of the talks was largely positive, drawing on the tone of the meeting which, as reported by Michael Gordon of the New York Times, an American official called “intense, detailed, straightforward, [and] candid.”  Just to give you a sampling of analyses,  the Washington Post wrote in an editorial that America should be happy with the seriousness of the Geneva talks but not satisfied, as there remains much that Iran is not willing to concede.  Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor  wrote that the scant attention paid to the bilateral meeting of Iranian diplomat Abbas Araghchi and the State Department’s Wendy Sherman shows how quickly direct interaction between Iran and the United States has become somewhat normal, after years of being taboo. Against the backdrop of the talks, Robin Wright wrote in Time of the pressure on the shoulders of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in many ways the symbol of Iran’s newfound diplomatic push.

In Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Golnaz Esfandiari wrote that Zarif’s back pain provided an unexpected icebreaker at the talks, a topic also covered by Yeganeh Torbati in Reuters.

Congress remains a question mark, however, as Geoff Dyer of the Financial Times gave a rundown on Congressional efforts to push forward with further sanctions, while noting the claims by some sanctions advocates, like Gary Samore, that now is not the right time for such measures.  Matt Duss wrote in the American Prospect that it appears many in Congress are indeed bent on scuttling any current progress toward a deal with Iran. 

Israel remains another question; former head of military intelligence Amos Yadlin wrote with Avner Golov in the Wall Street Journal that a deal between Iran and the West could take four basic forms, but the only one that would truly satisfy Israel would be one that allows no uranium enrichment.  Also regarding Israeli-Iranian relations – adding in Turkey as well – was David Ignatius’s column which reported that the Erdogan government blew the cover of Mossad agents who had been gathering intelligence inside Iran. 

 Joy Gordon wrote in the Middle East Channel that the sanctions are already too severe due to the innumerable unintended human costs.  But Mark Landler wrote in the New York Times of a potential plan to offer Iran access to frozen funds in exchange for concessions as part of an interim deal, which would allow Iran economic relief without dismantling the complex sanctions regime. 

In Real Clear World, Fabio Rafael Fiallo argued that Obama’s diplomacy on Syria showed Iran it must make a deal to avoid attacks, just as Bashar al-Assad had to give up his chemical weapons.

In the Washington Post, Max Fisher reminded us that the shooting down of Iran Air Flight 655 by the USS Vincennes in 1988, which killed 290 civilians, remains indelible in the Iranian memory, even if many America have never heard of the incident.  This meshes well with Michael Crowley’s piece in Time noting four reasons for what he sees as justified Iranian mistrust for America.

Among other sources, the BBC wrote up the strange tale of Naimeh Eshraqi, the granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini, who allegedly posted a joke reportedly made by Khomeini himself about war widows onto her Facebook page – drawing much criticism, as would be expected.

In human rights, many sources including the New York Times wrote up the graphic tale of Alireza M., a convicted drug dealer who was sentenced to death, found to have survived his hanging after being pronounced dead, and yet faces the prospect of a second hanging upon his recovery, prompting an outcry by opponents of capital punishment worldwide. 

In culture and society, Tehran Bureau ran an interesting piece on how dog ownership and press freedom are just two of the areas that seem to be in the gray area of Iranian law, where the levels of permission seem to fluctuate based on the political environment.

In art, Shadi Harouni of Tehran Bureau wrote a review of the Asia Society’s ongoing exhibition of Iranian art of the 1950s through 1970s, worth a look if you’re in New York before year’s end.  And Saeed Kamali Dehghan of the Guardian spoke to Iran’s tourism head, Mohammad-Ali Najafi, to discuss Iran’s hope to open the country up to more foreign visitors; the article comes complete with a slideshow of the author’s selection of top Iranian tourist destination.  Check to see if your favorite bazaar or meydan made the list, and enjoy the weekend!