What to Read on Iran this Week: Phone Diplomacy and Israel’s Take on Iran

Mehrun Etebari
Mehrun Etebari Senior Research Assistant

October 5, 2013

In the aftermath of President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to New York and his historic phone call with Barack Obama, there have been plenty of opinions and analyses of what transpired, and what it means for the future of negotiations.   New Iranian vice president and head of environmental protection Massoumeh Ebtekar – still famous for her role in the hostage crisis – wrote in the Guardian that Iran hopes for a peaceful resolution with the United States, and that environmental concerns underpin the need for peace In the New York Times, Vali Nasr wrote that the US would be naive to assume from Rouhani’s outreach that Iran is negotiating from a position of weakness.  Former ambassadors William Luers and Thomas Pickering wrote another in their series of op-eds on Iran, urging the US to recognize the likely framework of a nuclear deal in order to make negotiations more fruitful. Chiming in with a Christian Science Monitor op-ed to say the economic pain of sanctions make a nuclear deal likely but will not bring about normalized US-Iran relations was the controversial first president of the Islamic Republic, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, in exile since he fell out of favor and was impeached in 1981.  And today, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei broke his silence on Rouhani’s trip, saying he supported the diplomatic outreach of the president but mentioning that some parts were “inappropriate,” a possible reference to the direct phone conversation.

Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor reported on the relatively muted nature of the expected backlash against Rouhani’s engagement with America, and questioned whether the days of the “Death to America” chant may be coming to an end. Tehran Bureau also covered the mixed reactions in Iran, highlighting the anger that Kayhan editor Hossein Shariatmadari directed at Rouhani’s phone call with Obama (which I alluded to yesterday in my roundup of press coverage of the call).

This week also saw remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, both at the UN and in a meeting with Obama, urging the world not to ease the pressure on Tehran.  Roger Cohen of the New York Times talked of Netanyahu presenting tired lines with his alarmist talk on Iran, suggesting the Israeli PM looks like the boy who cried wolf (in sheep’s clothing).  David Harris of the American Jewish Committee warned in Haaretz that Israel needs to change the way it presents its concerns about Iran unless if it wants to be a 21st Century Cassandra whose calls get perpetually ridiculed.  Jeffrey Goldberg insisted in Bloomberg that the US and Israel are simply not on the same page on Iran, even if they believe they are, and this will ultimately lead to a showdown between the two allies over the Islamic Republic.  Against the backdrop of Netanyahu’s talks, Jason Rezaian profiled the complicated relationship between Iran’s Jews and the state of Israel.

Thomas Erdbrink of the New York Times has written a fascinating profile of Babak Zanjani, an Iranian who amassed a fortune engaging in deals to circumvent sanctions, but who now has found himself the target of law enforcement in the US and Europe and with enemies at home.  Also on sanctions, Josh Rogin and Eli Lake wrote in the Daily Beast about a side effect of the federal shutdown – the furloughing of most of the staff of the Office of Foreign Assets Control – and how the lack of enforcement of Iran sanctions has become another political football in the shutdown blame game.

Elsewhere, in the human rights field, this week saw the release from prison of the ailing dissident journalist Issa Saharkiz, as discussed by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

In culture, Sara Afzal wrote in Tehran Bureau of the rise of underground fashion boutiques in Iran, run primarily by and for women. And in film, Iran has submitted Le Passé, shot in France by the Oscar-winning director of A Separation Asghar Farhadi, as its entry for the best foreign film Oscar, to the derision of conservatives who may find it too French.

And in sports (and possibly sports diplomacy) news, according to Italy’s premier sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport (by way of Stars and Stripes FC), it appears there is a tentative agreement for the US and Iran to play a friendly soccer match. It may be a tune-up for next summer’s World Cup, for which both teams have already qualified.  (The teams have only played twice before, including their classic, much-hyped showdown in the group stage of the 1998 World Cup.)

Enjoy the reads!