Ayatollah Rouhollah Mousavi Khomeini (Imam Khomeini), the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, told his followers once that the day “US sycophants” came out in support of the Iranian Islamic revolution would be the day of mourning. The prospects for restoration of the relationship between the United States and Iran is only a prospect to take shape as yet, still they are tangible signs the issue has hit the agenda of Iranian ruling circles and the country’s grassroots… Every step aimed at rapprochement with Washington, be it the phone call to connect the leaders of the countries or the decision on restoration of direct air links between Tehran and New York, stokes further confrontation. November 4, 2013 is the date the US embassy in Tehran was seized in 1979. The way the date is to be marked has become an issue to stoke fierce internal bickering.
There is a sector of Iranian society that refuses to see any logic in the policy of new leadership aimed at normalization of relations with the United States. It is going to mark the date hitting the streets en masse as usual without looking back at the ongoing thaw in the bilateral ties. At that, before the processions start, President Rouhani ordered to remove the anti-US posters that have been ubiquitous in the Tehran streets for the recent 34 years. The measure was followed by the ban on the "Marg bar Amrika" (“Death to America!” in Farsi) chant. In response the Rouhani opponents launched an anti-America prize contest. The supporters of rapprochement with the United States say the “Death to America!” is not a verse in the holy book of Koran and could be removed from political gatherings. The hardliners insist the slogan is the ayatollah Khomeini legacy and must endure because it meets the realities of the day.
The situation before the attack against the US embassy in October 1979 had been disastrous. Those days public discontent with the after-Shah era reforms was expanding to reach its peak. The opposition resolutely opposed the religious rule, the struggle for power spilled over across the whole country, foreign aid poured to bolster the forces opposing the Islamic revolution and over two million Iranians left homeland. Back then the US embassy surrounded by high fence with barbed wire and bristling with dozens of hostile looking antennas looked more like a CIA residence than a diplomatic office.
Ayatollah Khomeini addressed a message to the people saying there was no place for the foreign embassies involved in spying activities on the Iranian soil. His words were like God-sent for young believers, it was rather easy to stage the embassy’s capture, the action supported by power agencies. In two hours 400 students supported by multiple protesters at the Tehran University building seized the embassy compound. 52 out of 70 embassy employees were held captive. The threat of military rescue operation was not expected as ayatollah Khamenei noted the Americans valued human life too much to make their citizens face the prospect of death. The Islamic Republic held its first victory in the standoff with the USA and the hostages became a long duration controversy between Tehran and Washington.
In 1980 the US made an attempt to free the captives, but the operation Eagle Claw failed. Then President elect Ronal Reagan made a pledge to use force and free the hostages. On January 20, 1981 in a few minutes after he took the office the hostages were freed and transferred to US authorities after 444 days of captivity. The talks on hostages release actually got boiled down to money. At first Iran asked 200 billion dollars. Finally the parties agreed to $8 billion to be paid from the Shah’s frozen assets, not from the US budget. The Reagan administration gave its word not to interfere into internal affairs of the Islamic Republic. Khomeini had solid ground for stating it was more of a revolution even compared to the overthrow of Shah.
Now as over thirty years have passed, the Iranian leadership abruptly decided to turn the tide and move from hostility to the restoration of ties with the United States, though Iran is still striving to defend the Islamic revolution. This time the issue at the table is the nuclear program while Iran itself has become a US hostage or, to be exact, a state to great extent vulnerable to the US-led sanctions.
Rouhani openly talks about hard economic plight; the protection of the people with low-income is a priority for the government. The inflation hit 44% since the beginning of 2013, the economic growth in the same period went down by 5, 4%. The prices go up almost daily, meat, milk, fruits are becoming luxury items for the majority of population. Over 5 million Iranians need foreign medicaments to fight for their lives, but they are not available in the country. 30-40% of adult population in big cities have lost jobs, the number of unemployed may hike to 8, 5 million soon, predominantly the youth. The next year’s budget does not include allocations to subsidize the public goods with 22 million of adults becoming destitute of state support. The voters supported Rouhani expecting changes; people are tired of constant threat of military conflict flaring up as well as of economic hardships. The majority of Iranians link the recession, inflation and unemployment with the West-supported economic sanctions. To great extent the issue of sanctions being lifted or remaining in force depends on the United States.
Under the conditions the country's spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei does not risk to further endanger the future of the regime no matter there are many anti-American hardliners in his retinue, so he gave President Rouhani complete freedom to hold talks and tackle the issue of nuclear program in order to make the sanctions lifted. He called on the opponents of new policy to closely follow political processes but stay away from interference. First of all it was addressed to the country’s military leadership that sees more evil than good in the new political course. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards don’t interfere with the President’s activities Okayed by the supreme leader. Still they are closely watching the way the US policy is being shaped, including the nuclear issue. The Guards call on the President not to fall into the trap set by cynical and intricate conspiracies plotted by the White House. At that, the military sector of Iranian elite starts to realize the country is on the brink of economic collapse, having the sanctions lifted is the only way to avoid the outcome. The real question is the extent of concessions to the West that the country is ready is ready to make. The talk on the phone with President Obama was not perceived by the Guards’ leadership as the right step in the right direction at the times of Iranian diplomatic golden autumn, according to it, it was too soon to launch a dialogue at top level.
The Guards top brass did not like the idea of Foreign Affairs Ministry to hide under a shroud of secrecy the results of the Geneva meeting between Iran and the “big six” held in the middle of October. It’s not an occasion that thousands took to the streets in anti-US protests opposing the refusal of the nuclear program. The protesters held “Death to America!” posters; they burnt a US flag and stomped on the Barack Obama’s portrait. The wave of protests was started as soon as the policy aimed at thaw with the United States was launched. Many common Iranians doubt the expediency of making significant concessions on the nuclear program being apprehensive of possible deceit on the part of Americans. The Iran’s foreign ideological ally holds the same opinion. Hussein Allah Karam, the head of Hezbollah Coordination Council, says the Rouhani government is moving too fast veering away from the confrontation with the White House. Rouhani is risking to lose respect in the Shiite world without reaching the goal of lifting the sanctions.
Whatever, the process of finding a way to lift the sanctions is underway. The next round of talks with the ‘big six” on November 7-8 will show if the way out of the deadlock is possible. A few days before that the new policy will go through the test when the date of the 1979 hostage taking will be marked countrywide. Political intransigence displayed by supporters and opponents of the rapprochement with the United States may lead to the destabilization inside the country. Many see the start of dialogue with the United States as national treachery. Not just tangible, but rather strategic changes are required to change the public sentiment. Rouhani was not the ayatollah Rouhani’s favorite son, but he got the support from almost 51% of voters who want more openness towards the West as well as internal reforms. Is Iran ready for that?