This Iranian political cartoon nicely captures the country’s view of nuclear talks

November 14, 2013

Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency ran a two-part political cartoon this week satirizing the latest round of nuclear talks between Iran and global powers. The negotiations, in Geneva, did not result in a deal; some reporting suggests that French representatives had objected to the proposed agreement. Here's the cartoon:


Click to enlarge. (Fars News)

In case you don't know your foreign diplomats by sight, the left panel shows U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gesturing to E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The joke is pretty clear: that the United States, under the guise of good-faith negotiations, is actually pushing Iran (and maybe the European Union) toward disaster. It's a reminder that, just as many in the United States are skeptical of Iran's intentions, so, too, are many Iranians skeptical of the Americans.

The panel on the right is a joke about France's reported objections to the proposed agreement. We're meant to understand that the table represents Iranian and Western negotiators and that the man holding the Eiffel Tower represents Saudi Arabia; the implication is that the nefarious Saudis used France to block the deal. (Iranians tend to be highly suspicious of Saudi Arabia, a regional rival, and Iranian state media have suggested that the Saudis bought France's veto with an arms deal.)

The cartoon offers an interesting lens onto one Iranian perspective of the ongoing talks -- and a reminder that Iranian-Western mistrust remains a significant obstacle on both sides.

Hanif Zarrabi-Kashani, of the Wilson Center, an independent analytical forum, tweeted that the cartoon "basically summarize[s] the majority of reactions inside Iran on the P5+1 talks in Geneva."

I asked the Post's Tehran correspondent, Jason Rezaian, if he thought the cartoons accurately reflect Iranian views of the negotiation process. Jason, who's on vacation in New York, wrote back:

There's a growing number of people in Iran who's high hopes are being dashed by the hiccup in Geneva. I think we'll have to wait and see what happens next week to really understand how serious the P5+1 is about finalizing a deal. There was a long period of time when Iran hawks said the Iranians were having talks for talk's sake to give themselves for time. Whether that was true or not at the time, the same argument is being made by Iranians about the other side now, and I think we see some of that here.

[U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs] Wendy Sherman's thoughtless remark about deception being in the DNA of Iranians became an easy target and I think some critics in Iran are calling out America and other powers for what they see as hypocrisy. While I don't think talks are really threatened by what happened last week it makes getting a deal done harder, because they trust building everyone is talking about doesn't happen when the process breaks down, even if only marginally, and then finger pointing begins.

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