Iranian media splits over diplomatic outreach

Tehran Bureau reports: Hossein Shariatmadari, the chief editor of Iran’s leading hardline newspaper, appears to be in quite a quandary. Long Kayhan’s primary editorial writer, he kept silent for weeks as Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, and his diplomatic team made a series of statements and gestures indicating their willingness to engage in substantive negotiations with the United States and its western allies. Then came the historic telephone exchange last week between Rouhani and Barack Obama, the first direct contact between the presidents of the Islamic republic of Iran and the United States since the 1979 revolution and the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran. On Sunday, Shariatmadari, faced with a choice between continued silence and condemnation, picked the latter.

“The last act of the New York trip, which should be considered most disheartening, and the largest advantage that our nation’s respectful president handed [our] opponent, was the phone conversation of his with the president of the US”, he said of Rouhani’s visit to address the UN General Assembly.

Rather than deal with the content of the conversation, Shariatmadari focused on the announcement by US national security advisor Susan Rice that the Iranian delegation had requested the call. “Based on what analysis and interpretation did his eminence, Mr Rouhani, and the meritorious entourage feel it necessary to trust the Americans and then present the United States’ trust-building efforts in such expansive and loud propaganda as one of the fruits of the New York trip? Furthermore, what kind of a ‘trust-building step’ is this, which neither side is willing to take responsibility for [initiating]?”

“Just take a look at the volume of reviews, analyses, and reports published by the American media, and by American and Zionist officials to see how they reframe the aforementioned telephone conversation in terms of the ‘capitulation of Islamic Iran’ and its weakness and despair due to the strain of the sanctions”, he wrote, without naming any specific media outlets.

Discussing the Kayhan editorial, a senior editor at an Iranian reformist publication told Tehran Bureau, “Shariatmadari is considered an icon in the principlist media realm. For about 20 years, his has been the first and last words among right-wing publications, and his first and last words have always been that under no circumstances should we negotiate with the United States.

“Undoubtedly, Rouhani did not converse with Obama without the consent of [supreme leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei. This has put Shariatmadari in a frightful predicament.”

The depth of that predicament was brought into clearer focus when the state-controlled Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, long a source of hardline views essentially identical to Kayhan’s, offered a very different perspective on the presidential phone call to its millions of viewers. In its Channel One news programming on Saturday, IRIB presented wall-to-wall coverage of Rouhani and his youthful entourage’s return to Iran. Even as it censored out any coverage of the protesters, including Basij militia members, who chanted anti-Rouhani slogans at the airport, the network’s reporters roamed the streets of Tehran asking apparently typical citizens for their opinions of the 15-minute conversation between Iran’s president and that of the nation which for years it had called “the Great Satan”.

Every single one of the people whose interviews were aired welcomed the event. [Continue reading…]

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