to Show Iran a Little Disrespect
By Eli Lake
April 26, 2016
Many Western journalists, diplomats and others seem
desperate to believe that Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, is a moderate in
a sea of hardliners, a rare Iranian with whom the West can and has done
Take Secretary of State John Kerry. It seems that every
other day he is in contact with Zarif, implementing the spirit of the nuclear
deal the two men have been negotiating since 2013. Zarif himself told the New
an interview published Monday that they are usually talking at least
two to three times a week, sometimes two to three times a day.
If only Zarif were worthy of Kerry's attentiveness. He is
not. Kerry is sincere in his desire to resolve past differences between the U.S.
and Iran and place the relationship on a sounder footing.
Zarif has a very different mission. The Iranian foreign
minister's job is not to change Iran's behavior, but to pretend that Iran is no
different from any other Western country, with hardliners and moderates,
national interests and diplomatic imperatives.
If Zarif were foreign minister of Belgium, he wouldn't have
to work so hard at getting people to believe him. But he is the top diplomat for
the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, whose security services marked
the completion of the nuclear deal by arresting an Iranian-American dual
national businessman a couple months later. So Zarif has to engage in the
ancient art of lying, to put it undiplomatically.
Consider Zarif's New Yorker interview. He complains that
the U.S. is not holding up its part of the Iran deal because it is not
guaranteeing that any bank or company that invests in Iran will have no problems
with the U.S. Treasury down the road. And yet, Zarif must know that the nuclear
deal lifted only the sanctions levied for Iran's nuclear program, but left in
place U.S. sanctions for Iran's support for terrorism and human rights abuses.
Zarif is most brazen when he is asked about Iran's upcoming
Holocaust cartoon contest. His first answer is that the government of Iran is
not hosting the contest. "Itís an N.G.O. that is not controlled by the
Iranian government. Nor is it endorsed by the Iranian government," he said.
Zarif then went onto compare the contest's organizers to the presence of the Ku
Klux Klan in the U.S. "Why does the United States have the Ku Klux
Klan?" he asked. "Is the government of the United States responsible
for the fact that there are racially hateful organizations in the United States?
Donít consider Iran a monolith. The Iranian government does not support, nor
does it organize, any cartoon festival of the nature that youíre talking
about. When you stop your own organizations from doing things, then you can ask
others to do likewise."
For good measure, Zarif acknowledged that the government
granted visas to the Holocaust-mocking cartoonists coming to Iran in June. But
don't worry, he assured: "We take into consideration that people who have
preached racial hatred and violence will not be invited."
Zarif is counting on readers to not scrutinize his claims.
the organization hosting the contest for example says it was founded in 1998 and
is sponsored by "municipality of Tehran," the capital of Iran.
Nik Kowsar, an Iranian cartoonist who fled Iran in 2003
under death threats for his anti-government cartoons, told me that the Cartoon
House also must receive permission from Iran's interior ministry to host its
Zarif's attempt to draw a Klan parallel also fails. He's
pretending Iran has free speech protections like the U.S. does. The First
Amendment makes the Klan possible, the logic goes, and so Iran's society allows
a few Holocaust deniers, he says. But this is nonsense. Iran arrests cartoonists
for drawings that do not please the state, while its supreme leader is an avid
Take Atena Farghadani. She was initially imprisoned for
drawing a cartoon that depicted Iranian officials as monkeys and goats, in
protest of legislation to restrict access to birth control. She was later
sentenced to 12 years in prison for shaking hands with her male lawyer. She
would be free today if only she had mocked the Nazi genocide against European
Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO and national director of the
Anti-Defamation League, told me that Zarif was the "master of
double-speak." When asked for his reaction to Zarif's claims about the
Holocaust cartoon contest, he said: "The idea that they don't control this
contest is farcical. This is a country where you can be put in prison for liking
something of Facebook, where the intelligence ministry monitors every tweet and
One can hope that Kerry is raising these issues with Zarif
in his many phone calls and meetings. But if he is, the Iranian foreign minister
does not seem to be getting the message. Perhaps the time has come to try a
different approach and to begin treating Zarif with the same lack of respect he
has shown his Western audiences.