On Nov. 4, Iran commemorated the 39th anniversary of the day some 400 militant Islamist students seized the U.S. Embassy in downtown Tehran. The United States marked the date, too: On Nov. 5, it imposed a new round of sanctions on Iran, which President Donald Trump’s administration has termed part of a “maximum pressure” campaign to bring the country back to the negotiating table.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif quickly responded with a video message in which he told Trump to “dream on.” Zarif mused that Trump, like his six presidential predecessors whose main policy toward Iran was “bravado,” will see his efforts Tehran fail. And yet, whispers in Tehran about the need to break the stalemate and talk to Trump are becoming louder.
Even if negotiating with Trump is impossible—and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has said it is—the leadership in Tehran can still look at his presidency as an opportunity to prepare the ground to talk to his successor. As Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has put it, America is much bigger than just Trump. He’s right, and it will fall to the rest of the Iranian leadership to soberly admit to this reality and ease its demonization of the United States. If that sounds implausible, Tehran need only to look back to the birth of the Islamic Republic in 1979. It was in those early days that the question of relations with Washington almost by chance became contentious.
There’s some irony in the way Zarif responded to the sanctions. On the one hand, Iranian officials bemoan Washington’s bravado and alleged Iranophobia. And yet, since 1979, Iranian political orthodoxy has been Americaphobic on a grand scale.
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