Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, upon his arrival in Tehran from his October trip to New York, appeared on a state TV channel and briefed the Iranian people. When Zarif broached the subject of his 30-minute talk with John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, on the sidelines of the U.N. conference, Zarif had a funny story to tell, and did so with a smile.
Zarif relayed that Kerry thought the U.S.’s relations with Iran had been suspended for more than 40 years. “I told him it’s 34-years and we calculated the years together,” a smiling Zarif said to two different TV channels that evening.
The anecdote, which at first glance is indicative of nothing but the harsh reality that many years have passed without rapprochement, actually shows that Iranians are very mindful of counting the years since diplomacy faltered.
Americans simply forgot the number of years, while Iranians count carefully. Iranians mark key events, like the occupation of the U.S. embassy, with celebrations, in this case “Students day,” each year.
Nov. 4 each year is not a happy day for many Iranians. This day is considered a day on which Iranians got themselves into trouble for occupying the U.S. embassy and holding U.S. diplomats hostage for 444 days.
Ups and downs
During these past three decades, the national event to mark the embassy’s occupation has faded and Iranians today don’t celebrate it as vivaciously as they did 30 years ago.
Rowhani’s phone call with President Obama was a phenomenal move. But, at the same time, it was an outrage to Iran’s ultra-conservativesCamelia Entekhabi-Fard
Suddenly, this year, in light of the possible restoration of diplomatic ties between Iran and the U.S. and a few days before an important meeting between Iran and the P5+1 group, conservatives are planning an anti-U.S. march and other such events.
During this Friday’s prayer in Tehran, Ahmad Khatami, a conservative preacher full of hatred, chanted “death to America” aloud. So emotional was he that his eyes were about to pop out of their sockets. Khatami, upset about the negotiations with the P5+1, was questioning the real aim of the negotiators.
Foreign Minister Zarif, who is leading the negotiations for Iran, was put under enormous pressure by conservatives who disagree with all talks and negotiations with the West or the United States.
Rowhani’s phone call with President Obama was a phenomenal move. But, at the same time, it was an outrage to Iran’s ultra-conservatives.
All of this happened because of Ayatollah Khamenei, it’s important for him to seize the opportunity before the next U.S. presidential election.
For President Rowhani, the priority is lifting Western-imposed sanctions and nursing Iran’s paralyzed economy while he still enjoys support from the supreme leader.
Marking the anniversary of the U.S. embassy’s occupation would ruin all the effort Iran has made regarding the negotiations with the P5+1 group and the upcoming negotiations in Geneva on Nov. 7 and 8.
An unusual turn
In a very unusual event on Sunday, Ayatollah Khamenei, who met with students to mark Student’s Day, criticized the conservatives and asked them to keep quiet.
“No one should consider our negotiators as compromisers, they are our own children and the children of the Revolution.” Khamenei said. Also, in a very rare statement of support, Khamenei said the negotiators were undertaking a difficult task and no one should weaken a government agent who is doing his work.
His remarks came in response to Ahmad Khatami’s Friday prayer sermon, during which he questioned the negotiators’ credibility.
On the eve of the anniversary of the U.S. embassy occupation, Khamenei showed his support for the talks with the U.S.. He repeat that, “I am not optimistic but I am not against the talk either.”
If Khamenei is sincere in his attempt to make Iran’s nuclear program transparent and solve the issue with West, then no matter how loud the conservatives chant “death to America” on Monday, the reality will be “talk to America!”
In Turkey, journalists asked Zarif about the U.S. Congress and the senators whom are against the talks with Iran. In reply, Zarif diplomatically said: “I do not interfere in American domestic politics.” I believe both sides have agreed to ignore their conservatives, or better to say domestic politics, for the time being and just concentrate on talking. Let them chant loud!
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard