Among those alleged concessions are recent Treasury Department communications announcing that Iran would be permitted access to the US dollar through banks based outside the US, and that Western businesses would be permitted to do business with Iranian entities whose investors are still under sanctions, provided that those investors are only minority partners. In addition, the White House remains under fire from the Republican-led Congress for the January “ransom payment,” a 1.7 billion dollar debt settlement that was timed to directly coincide with a January prisoner exchange.
The Examiner notes that Republicans were quick to suggest that the apparent exchange of cash for hostages would embolden the Islamic Republic to continue targeting US nationals. This targeting has indeed continued, although its motives are likely every bit as ideological as they an effort to exert leverage over Western governments. The arrests and trials of figures like Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi simultaneously highlight two trends: the regime’s crackdown on pro-Western or reformist sentiment in the wake of the JCPOA, and the dangerous climate that faces business travelers in Iran who have any connections to the West.
Siamak Namazi and his father Baquer Namazi were arrested last October and in February, respectively, and were held virtually in isolation until their convictions on charges of cooperating with the US. The reasons for their arrests and the nature of the evidence against them have never been made clear, but now each has been sentenced to 10 years in prison. This raises the distinct possibility that the 80-year-old Baquer, also a dual citizen of Iran and the US, will die under the harsh conditions of Iranian jails.
The convictions are easily viewed as some of the latest examples of deliberate disrespect for the US, especially in light of a propaganda video that was released via hardline media just prior to the announcement of their convictions. An editorial that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, authored by a former Iranian political prisoner, pointed out that that video included images of the younger Namazi’s US passport, featuring it in such a way as to imply that the mere ownership of such a document was a crime.
Given such flimsy justifications for the Namazis’ arrests and convictions, the State Department has predictably called for their release. Toner’s comments on a lack of Iranian respect coincided with his release of a statement calling for their release and the release of all other US citizens that are “unjustly detained” in Iran. This includes Robin Shahini, a recent San Diego State College graduate who was apprehended by authorities while visiting his sick mother in Iran. Agence-France Presse also names three other dual nationals – Farhad Abd-Saleh, Kamran Ghaderi and Alireza Omidvar – who were reportedly given the same sentence for the same charges, alongside the Namazis. And the Examiner points out that the whereabouts of former FBI agent Robert Levinson remain unknown following his disappearance and probable abduction in Iran, despite past assurances that the Iranian government would help to locate him.
In light of the apparent increase in Iran’s anti-Western propaganda following the conclusion of JCPOA negotiations, it comes as little surprise that Iranian officials have rejected the State Department’s calls for the Namazis’ release. It is also little surprise that Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bahram Qassemi declared, “The American threats only add to the wall of mistrust Iranians have regarding the United States.”
In fact, Iran’s young and well-educated population is understood to largely possess positive views of Western culture and to be in favor of improved relations between the two countries. It is this that the regime’s leadership is apparently reacting to as it attempts to diminish expectations of post-JCPOA rapprochement, while also legitimizing its own claims of mistrust.
Toward that end, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei took to Twitter on Wednesday to condemn the US and especially its government for a “lack of spirituality and faith,” according to The Hill. Khamenei also took a swipe at American media, implying that a spiritually bankrupt federal government will wield influence over a media infrastructure that has truly global reach, including considerable reach in Iran.
Although the internet is heavily restricted and popular social media networks are banned (including, ironically, Twitter), many Iranians are adept at circumventing these restrictions and maintaining their own exposure to Western culture. On one hand Iranian hardliners are still attempting to combat this through sting operations and arrests, such as Operation Spider II, which led to criminal charges against dozens of Iranians accused of participating in a Western-style modeling network online.
But on the other hand, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Iran’s state media had also taken to utilizing the population’s taste for Western media, in an attempt to present selective examples thereof, in the interest of mocking American politics. Specifically, state media has taken to airing the Netflix political drama “House of Cards,” leading one Iranian student to tell the Associated Press that he believed it was an accurate depiction of Washington corruption. “They do anything to reach power,” he said.
It is perhaps in hopes of reinforcing both Khamenei’s moral narrative and his regime’s political narrative about the propaganda that state media also elected to air the second US presidential debate. The move was reportedly unprecedented, with Iran having never before aired such a debate in its entirety. That particular debate came in the immediate aftermath of allegations about Republican nominee Donald Trump’s former behavior toward women. But the media’s treatment of that topic also led to Trump intimating during the debate that the system had been rigged against him.
According to the Post, this talking point was eagerly taken up by Iran’s English-language propaganda network Press TV. The network frequently features conspiracy theories about the United States, including allegations that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were an “inside job.” In keeping with this tone, Press TV quoted one writer as saying that American elections have been subject to manipulation “for nearly 200 years.”