TIME Iran

Iranians Hope for Prosperity and Liberalisation From Nuclear Deal

Foreign investment and tourism could galvanise Iran's economy

On the evening of the historic nuclear deal reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna on Tuesday, Iranians took to the streets in their thousands to celebrate what they hope will be the end of the country’s international isolation and the beginning of economic prosperity.

With crippling international sanctions long blamed for the ruinous economy, many now hope that the lifting of those sanctions coupled with great interest by Western companies in investing in Iran will turn the page on the bleak outlook that faces most of the youth here when they enter the job market.

“Even buying a car is beyond my reach, but the deal has opened up new paths, this can be a springboard for our economy,” says 29-year-old Yahya Akhlaghi, who works in an IT company. “I’ve heard already Boing and Mercedes are trying to get contracts here and with all the extra tourists that will come this deal will stabilize the economy for sure.”

One of the main hurdles to businesses in Iran has been acquiring Western, especially American products. Navid Navidi, a 28-year-old fitness instructor says that his first preference for diet supplements are American ones, but they are rarely available and when they are it is at many times the real price. “We have to settle for lower quality supplements, which can have side effects. The same goes for exercise equipment like treadmills or elliptical, you cannot find high quality Western ones here. I’m happy there was a deal, because at least I know setting up my own gym now will be much easier.”

Apart from foreign investment and access to Western products, the hoped for economic stability will also allow many Iranian businesses to think beyond just surviving. Roozbeh Nouri, who runs an interior design company specializing in offices and exhibition stalls, says that until now most firms spend money on decorating only when they have to, and even then they just want the cheapest option, “But if the economy picks up they can spend more, especially if they have to compete with foreign companies.”

The economy aside, this deal can provide much needed momentum for reformists as the country heads into the upcoming parliamentary elections in six months’ time. Many hope that Iran will become more politically and socially open. “If the reformists take the parliament, then we can take control of the country’s politics, and that will help to transform Iran much faster. There will be more political freedom, harsh laws can be changed, not only a better livelihood but also a better life will be in reach then,” says Akhlaghi.

However not everyone is overjoyed by the deal, Reza Moravjej, who has a goods distribution business in the central town of Kashan, near the enrichment facility at Natanz, says that he is filled with pride whenever he passes the nuclear site, but he’s dismayed that from now on there will be less centrifuges there, “There are two kinds of people in Iran, those who care more for their material wellbeing, and those like me who prefer to go hungry but not tolerate bullying. I just can’t stand countries that have tens of thousands of atomic bombs forcing us to have less centrifuges because they think we might build one.”

Moravej also has a hard time trusting Western powers, pointing to a spate of assassinations of Iranian scientists related to the nuclear development in past years as an example of how the International Atomic Energy Agency inspections were abused to harm Iran’s progress. “America has shown time and again it is untrustworthy, but that’s also why I’m not worried about the deal in Vienna, I’m certain they will go back on their word, somehow or other the Americans will themselves kill the deal.”

TIME Iran

This Is the Surprising Way the Iranian Military Responded to the Nuclear Deal

Screengrab from Amir Tataloo's music video.

The Iranian military are not renowned for their love of rap, rhythm and blues music and social media but Iranian generals decided they needed a novel response to this week’s nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers.

They helped a controversial Iranian singer, Amir Tataloo, produce a video with the Iranian army and navy, which endorses the deal but upholds Iran’s right to self defense and to patrol the Persian Gulf.

Tataloo, whose real name is Amir Hossein Maghsoodloo, is one of Iran’s most famous rappers with a 1.4 million following on Instagram and 1.2 million on Facebook but none of his songs can be broadcast on Iranian TV channels or radio stations because he is not approved by the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance. He has been critical of the government for banning his albums, which they deem as Western, non-Iranian and immoral. In 2013, Tatalou was arrested by Iran’s morality police and later released.

This did not disturb the Iranian military who gave Tataloo unprecdented access for the video for the song Energy Hasteei or Nuclear Energy.

The clip, which has English subtitles and features signs in English, begins with a stark message: “No power can deny peaceful nuclear energy from the Iranian nation” and goes on to show Tataloo singing with a squad of Iranian marines marching behind him. “I’m an honest Iranian/ Against all violence/ But if it’s gonna be by force/ Then I stay in this path with all my being/ A firearm can either kill you or make your homeland safer,” he sings.

When the chorus kicks in, Tataloo is standing defiantly on the deck of the warship Damavand. “This is our absolute right/To have an armed Persian Gulf, ” he sings in Farsi.

Amir Hossein Rasael, the deputy editor of the Iranian monthly Shabake Aftab said he was surprised to see Tataloo on board a naval ship because his music was previously considered by the government “to be part of satanic cults.”

Part of the impetus could be the realisation that the only way for the military to get its message to an increasingly modern Iranian youth is to use social media and popular culture. “State institutions such as the military have realized that a part of the Iranian society, especially the youth are not hearing their voice. They are not getting their message on why some things have to be done. The fastest way to get that message across was to allow a rapper with so many fans to sing about it. They were successful, amazingly so, I’ve seen teenagers who don’t know what the Vienna deal was about, watching Tataloo’s clip on their smartphones,” says Rasael.

 

TIME

Iranians See Nuclear Deal as National Victory

“Iran is now at its peak of power in centuries, Iran’s sphere of influence stretches from the Mediterranean to the Indian peninsula, from Kazakhstan to Yemen"

Iranians have welcomed the long-anticipated but often-delayed nuclear deal warmly with hopes that it could lead to an end to the country’s international isolation and an improvement in economic fortunes.

Iranians have been told that a nuclear deal would be a sign of national strength and would lead to an increase in Iran’s standing in the world.

Iran’s nuclear program first came into the world’s spotlight 12 years ago and it seemed that a deal between the 5+1 world powers and Iran in Vienna, Austria to prevent Iran building nuclear weapons in return for the lifting of international sanctions, would never be reached.

While details of the deal are not yet clear Iran is already declaring this as a victory for what it calls its policy of resistance and a sign of its rising strength. Veteran Iranian diplomat Sadegh Kharrazi told state TV on Tuesday: “Iran is now at its peak of power in centuries, Iran’s sphere of influence stretches from the Mediterranean to the Indian peninsula, from Kazakhstan to Yemen. This is why the world superpowers have been negotiating with us for so long, that’s why we were able to reach a deal which guarantees our interests.”

Iran’s state TV, which has been hosting a non-stop talk show with the latest updates from Vienna and analysts discussing the latest news for some days, has begun broadcasting patriotic video clips. President Hassan Rouhani is set to make a special speech to the nation on the deal later Tuesday. Plans for nationwide celebrations have been prepared with rallying points set in major cities and the usually strict police force officially stating that they will be standing alongside the public in these celebrations.

People here from all walks of life are overjoyed at the impending end of the sanctions and end to Iran’s pariah status among world nations. “I’m thrilled, I’m very, very happy,” says Mazdak Jafari, an engineer, “with the lifting of sanctions and the coming of foreign companies into Iran there will be major development.”

Others are lauding Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif for being able to conclude the talks successfully. “I’m glad that diplomacy at last showed it can work,” says Meisam Allahdad, a steel merchant in Tehran’s bazaar, “everything was solved by talks, without anyone being killed.”

Analysts believe this deal could in time lead to more cooperation between Iran and the United States in the future. “This deal can be the first point of a chain of events that will drastically change the region. It shows that rational Islamic movements such as the Islamic Republic of Iran can coexist with the world, new cases can now be opened between Iran and the United States and Europe where joint action can be taken,” says Amir Mohebbian, a political analyst close to Iranian leaders.

The nuclear talks, while a divisive topic for some time in Iran, have gradually turned into a focal point of unity for the nation that inspires hopes of national power and a better future. “Iran has a great potential, but it has been kept in check by the sanctions. With the lifting of these sanctions this potential will kick into action like a coiled spring,” says Mohebbian.

Jafari, the engineer, also wants to see the effect of the deal, “Rouhani promised in his campaign that both the centrifuges and the wheels of people’s livelihood should spin, well now that the centrifuges will spin I want to see the effect of the deal on my life and the economy.”

TIME Iran

Iranian ‘Tinder’ Seeks to Encourage Marriage But Not Dating

Iran woman
Abedin Taherkenareh—EPA A woman walks a street of the capital Tehran, on July 1, 2015.

Young Iranians, especially women, see marriage as a barrier to independence

Iran has launched its first official matchmaking website to try to encourage more young people to marry.

Nearly half of all Iranians from 18 to 35 are unmarried, around 11 million people but the Tebyan Cultural and Information Center, a government affiliated organisation has launched a website, to combat the rising trend among Iranian youth to marry later or even forego marriage completely.

“The median marriage age in the capital Tehran has already reached 30 for men and 28 for women. This greatly increases the chance of an individual never marrying and alarm bells are ringing,” says Zohreh Hosseini, the website project manager at Tebyan. “The drop in marriage rates is one of the most important challenges facing the country today. Issues such as unemployment, economic means and housing have all contributed to this. Here in Tebyan we are focusing on one aspect, finding an appropriate spouse,” she explains.

It may be the closest thing to Tinder in Iran but young people in the West would find the restrictions suffocating. In Iran, dating is frowned upon by traditional and religious families and forbidden by the state, so finding the person to share one’s life with can be tricky. Online matchmaking has expanded swiftly in recent years with an estimated 350 unofficial websites active at present. Since some young Iranians use these websites for dating and not necessarily marrying, the state regularly closes the sites.

At Tebyan, they have come up with a solution to prevent what they call sexual relations out of wedlock. “We have combined traditional methods with modern ones. Until some years ago many marriages in Iran were arranged between families with the help of matchmakers. What we have done is to connect these matchmakers or mediators as we call them into a network and place a databank of young people seeking to marry and who have registered on our website at their disposal. The mediator will then choose suitable matches from the databank with the help of our website software and introduce their families to each other so that everything will be supervised by the family” Hosseini says.

Everyone who registers on Tebyan’s website has to fill in a number of questionnaires. They then have to take two psychoanalysis tests drawn up by experts at Iran’s Sports and Youth Ministry. Afterwards they are invited to an interview at the headquarters of Tebyan’s matchmaking website where further evaluation as well as verification is conducted. From then on it’s up to the software and the mediators to find suitable matches for each registrant.

Poverty or being unable to find the right partner are only part of the reason why marriage rates have dropped. Many young Iranians, especially women no longer consider setting up a family as their priority.

“Even when I was a kid I didn’t want to grow up to be a housewife, I wanted to get a degree, I wanted to have a career,” says Fereshteh Abbasi, a drafter who works in an oil and gas engineering company. “I wanted to be independent, and for myself to be my number one priority in life. That’s hard to do when one has a husband and kids especially with some Iranian men whose ideal wife is someone who takes care of them like their mothers.”

Abbasi, 34, admits that it might have been easier if she had married when she was in her mid-twenties, “At that age both husband and wife can adapt easier, they can adjust themselves to each other but it’s a different story as you grow older. I do want to marry but I can’t give up my independence. I’m too used to it and the man I marry will have to respect that.” Abbasi is not alone in demanding more equality in marriage; of the eight women working at her company, five are single and are not prepared to give up their careers for marriage. “We’ve worked too hard in this male-dominated society to reach where we are,”says Abbasi, “but looking back, if marriage was my main goal, I should have done so when I was 25.”

Iranian women like Abbasi have done much more than their previous generation; there are nearly twice as many female students as males in Iranian universities and colleges, and the presence of women in the workforce has also greatly increased in the last two decades despite resistance from traditional sectors of society. But being single after the age of 30 is still stigmatized by most of the society. “It’s not just that I want to marry, it’s also that I’m expected to do so. If I don’t marry everyone will think there’s something wrong with me. My society doesn’t understand that someone might just like to remain single,” Abbasi says, although she has registered on the Tebyan website.

TIME Middle East

Iran Challenges U.S. and Saudi Arabia by Sending Aid Ship to Rebels in Yemen

A Saudi border guard watches as he stands in a boat off the coast of the Red Sea on Saudi Arabia's maritime border with Yemen, near Jizan April 8, 2015.
Faisal Nasser—Reuters A Saudi border guard watches as he stands in a boat off the coast of the Red Sea on Saudi Arabia's maritime border with Yemen, near Jizan April 8, 2015.

A Saudi-led coalition is trying to defeat an insurrection against the Yemeni government that they believe is partly funded by Iran

An Iranian aid ship has entered the Gulf of Aden in a direct challenge to Saudi Arabia and the United State’s blockade of Yemeni ports, Iranian media has reported.

The Iran Shahed is carrying 2,500 tons of aid and is bound for the port of Hodeidah, which is controlled by the Shiite Houthi rebels. The ship was chartered by the Red Crescent Society of Iran and its passengers include a medical team, journalists and anti-war activists. Saudi Arabia has vowed that it will not allow Iranian ships to dock in any of Yemen’s ports to prevent the supply of arms to the Houthis.

In April, a convoy of Iranian ships that Iran claimed contained aid turned back from Yemen after their route was blocked by the American aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. A few days later an Iranian aid plane was forced to turn back when Saudi jets bombed the airport in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a’s airport to prevent it from landing.

Saudi Arabia is worried about the increasing influence of Iran in the Middle East. Iran wields great influence in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq with the help of proxies such as Hizballah.

This time Iran has asked its navy, which has a small convoy on an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden, to provide special protection for the ship. The Iranian military has warned it will retaliate if the Iran Shahed is prevented from reaching Yemen. “Both the new rulers of Saudi Arabia and the United States should pay attention, if they keep on hindering the Islamic Republic of Iran from sending aid, an inferno will arise that they will most certainly not be able to extinguish,” Masoud Jazayeri, a General in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, told Iranian TV last week. “I am distinctly stating that the patience of Iran has limits, if the Iranian aid ship is prevented from reaching Yemen then they [Saudi Arabians/United States] should expect actions from us.”

The ship is due to meet the Iranian convoy and then head into the Red Sea before arriving in Hoedeidah on May 21. However the ship’s passengers do not seem worried about future conflict. “During the day we all have something to do, in my case send in reports when I can with the unreliable internet we’ve got, but in the evenings we all gather up and play games and have fun. The crew says they can hear our laughter throughout the ship,” said Mehdi Bakhtiari, a journalist with Iran’s Fars News Agency.

Bakhtiari, who was speaking via satellite phone from the deck of the ship, said their vessel was approached by a ship on Sunday morning, which requested information by radio. “It kept a 6-mile distance and asked our port of origin and destination and followed us for some time. But when our ship’s captain asked it to identify itself it just said it is part of the coalition and didn’t say whether it was the anti-piracy coalition or the Saudi-led coalition.”

Bakhtiari said he had seen no arms on board the ship “We asked to be shown the cargo as soon as we got onboard. We went over all of the containers, we even took pictures and film, and it’s just rice, grain, bottled water and antibiotics, there are no weapons on board this ship.”

TIME Iran

U.S. Cannot Be Trusted, Iran’s Supreme Leader Says

Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, Iran, April 9, 2015.
AP Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, Iran, April 9, 2015.

But Ayatullah Khamenei said he would support a nuclear deal that upholds Iranian interests

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatullah Khamenei warned Iranian diplomats on Thursday not to trust the United States as they try to finalize the nuclear agreement that was reached in Lausanne, Switzerland last week.

In his first speech since the agreement, Khamenei said: “I have told the officials to not trust the opposing side, to not be fooled by their smiles, to not trust their promises because when they have achieved their objectives they will laugh at you…. After every round of talks they make public comments that they then tell us in private was meant to save face in their own country and to counter their opponents, but this is their own problem and has nothing to do with us.”

Khamenei said that he would support an agreement that “upholds the interests and honor of the [Iranian] nation,” but would prefer no deal to one that endangers those interests. Stressing his belief that the U.S. cannot be trusted, he said he had serious concerns. “Everything is in the details. It is possible that the deceitful opposing side might try to restrain our nation in the details,” he said.

Iran and the U.S., Russia, China, U.K, France and Germany agreed on a framework deal last Thursday although Khamenei singled out the U.S. in his comments. The deal is supposed to limit Iran’s ability to make a nuclear bomb but allow it to develop nuclear energy. In return, Iran will be allowed to access bank accounts, oil markets and financial assets that have been closed to it by international sanctions.

The deal says that sanctions will be lifted once international monitors have verified that Iran is abiding by its commitments under the deal.

Khamenei’s comments came the same day as President Hassan Rouhani demanded that all sanctions on Iran be lifted immediately when the deal is concluded. “We will not sign any agreement, unless all economic sanctions are totally lifted on the first day of the implementation of the deal,” he said.

The Ayatullah insisted that international inspectors would not be allowed to enter military areas nor would Iran be subject to any regime that was not applicable to other countries. He also warned that the three-month timetable could be extended. “They might say that we only have three months to reach a deal, well if three months becomes four months the sky won’t come falling down,” he said.

Though many Iranian officials, from the President to the head of the Revolution Guard have issued messages in support of the Lausanne agreement, Khamenei insisted no binding agreement has been reached, “What’s been done until now neither guarantees an agreement, nor that talks will even reach a conclusion,” he said.

While some observers had hailed the Lausanne talks as an opening between Iran and the U.S., Khamenei said: “All should know that we have nothing to negotiate with America on regional and international issues. However the nuclear negotiations will be an experience. If the other side refrains from its usual improper actions this will become an experience that we can negotiate on other issues, but if we see that once again they act improperly, our distrust of America will be only strengthened.”

Khamenei also singled out Saudi Arabia for criticism for its attacks in Yemen. “We have always had numerous differences with Saudi Arabia but until recently they always acted with dignity in foreign policy. Now a few inexperienced youth have taken over the affairs of the state and are replacing dignity with barbarity,” he said.

This week Iran sent warships to support Houthi rebels in Yemen who Saudi Arabia has been bombing. “But I warn them that this behavior will not be tolerated in the region and they must cease their crimes in Yemen. The Saudis have created a dangerous precedent in the region, they will be harmed and incur losses in this issue in which they will under no circumstances triumph. The Saudis’ face will be rubbed in the ground in Yemen,” Khamenei said.

TIME Iran

Iranians Rejoice in Nuclear Agreement, But Critics Worry Over Details

Iranians celebrate Iran's nuclear agreement with world powers on a street in northern Tehran, Iran, on Thursday, Apr. 2, 2015.
Ebrahim Noroozi—AP Iranians celebrate Iran's nuclear agreement with world powers on a street in northern Tehran, Iran, on Apr. 2, 2015.

“The most important thing is that both sides are reaching a conclusion that they can have discussions on their clash of interests"

Even as Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his negotiating team were boarding a plane to depart Lausanne, Switzerland, on Thursday, after announcing a major development in talks over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, some Iranians had already taken to the streets to celebrate.

Zarif had just unveiled an agreement with the U.S., European Union, Russia and China that aimed to open a path toward a final nuclear deal after grueling nine-day negotiations and 18 months of talks.

A small group of Tehran citizens had gathered in front of the Foreign Ministry to show their appreciation of Zarif, and on Vali-Asr Street, one of the capital’s main thoroughfares, spontaneous celebrations were held long into the night. There are calls for further nationwide celebration on the streets on Friday evening.

Many others, led by actors and artists, took to social media to show their approval of the talks in Lausanne. “Dear Mr. Zarif; Thank you. I congratulate the Iranian people,” said Peiman Moadi, who starred in the only Iranian film to win an Oscar, on his Facebook page. “I have just got the best new year gift,” said actress Niuosha Zeighami, calling Zarif one of the greats of Iranian history.

The Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who had already congratulated the Iranian team via Twitter, hailed the deal Friday afternoon as a “third path” between fighting and conceding to Western powers, and thanked his people for being patient with the negotiators. While there has been no official reaction from Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic who has final say on the nuclear case, Friday Prayer leaders around the country who are his representatives have praised the negotiating team and called the Lausanne talks a success for the country.

But opponents of the nuclear talks in Iran are already warning that a comprehensive agreement is far from certain, saying there could be sticking points in the details.

“In Iran everyone was happy when they read what the Iranian foreign ministry published as the main points of agreement in Lausanne, but when the U.S. State Department issued its parameters for a [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] it became clear there are fundamental differences between the two sides,” said Yasser Jebraily, a senior editor at the semi-official Fars news agency close to conservative factions. “Foreign Minister Zarif has already rejected the U.S. parameters, but if the Americans insist on their view then there will not be a comprehensive deal because the differences are too fundamental to be bridged.”

Zarif has already reacted to the fact sheet published by the U.S. State Department, tweeting that “The solutions are good for all, as they stand. There is no need to spin using “fact sheets” so early on.” Iranian journalists flying back with him to Tehran reported that he accused the Americans of lying and that he has already sent a strong worded email to the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry protesting the fact sheet.

Regardless of the dispute over what exactly was agreed upon in Lausanne, some analysts say the fact that Iran and the U.S. are choosing to talk to resolve their differences is even more significant than the outcome of the nuclear talks. “The most important thing is that both sides are reaching a conclusion that they can have discussions on their clash of interests,” said Amir Mohebbian, a political analyst close to the leadership in Iran. “Previously any small issue quickly escalated into a crisis, but now both sides have concluded that even the most critical issues can be satisfactorily concluded with dialogue. In a sense this can be compared with Nixon going to China in 1972.”

TIME Iran

Iranians Await Outcome of Nuclear Talks With Nervous Anticipation

News of the talks in Lausanne, Switzerland are dominating the Iranian New Year holiday

As the talks in Lausanne between the international community and Iran over its nuclear program enter their final day, millions of Iranians await with bated breath the outcome to the long running dispute between their country and much of the rest of the world. After 12 years of negotiations, four U.N. Security Council resolutions and unprecedented international sanctions, Iranians feel that a peaceful resolution is at last within grasp, opening up the country to economic progress, and their lives to the promise of normal interaction with the world.

Iran is celebrating the Norouz holiday that marks the beginning of the Persian New Year, a time of the year when Iranians traditionally visit family and friends, but this year all of these visits have been dominated by the nuclear talks in Lausanne. “I’ve travelled to Kermanshah to visit family for Norouz, but in every house we’ve been until today everyone is watching either BBC or other satellite news channels all day long to see what’s happening at the talks, they even stay up far into the night to make sure they hear about an agreement if it happens in the midnight like the Geneva deal,” says Kianoosh Pedroud, a 30-year old civil engineer who has a construction company in Tehran. “They all hope, just as I do, that if there’s a deal and sanctions are lifted there will be much more investment in the country and the economy will bounce back. I know my company needs to get more contracts this year to survive,” Pedroud says, adding that only if he can make his business successful he can at last start a family.

Even though newspapers are not being published due to holidays, Iranian media, from the state run TV to news agencies and websites are reporting on the talks almost non-stop, and Iranians on social media from twitter and Facebook to Viber and other smartphone apps are in a constant discussion on the negotiations, posting the latest developments to each other as soon as they occur. “It’s almost impossible to escape the nuclear talks, everyone we visit or meet seems to be speaking about it all the time,” says Saeed Keshvardoost, a steel merchant in Tehran’s bazaar who has high hopes that if the sanctions are lifted his sales will increase significantly.

Anticipation of a deal has been building since the new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013 but if the two sides fail to reach an agreement it could cause widespread disillusionment in Iran, “Everyone is waiting for something to happen, and God knows we need it, these last years have been a disaster, everything has gone from bad to worse, if a deal happens at least things will start to get better again though it might take some years,” says Keshvardoost, “but if it doesn’t I think people will lose hope, they will be left bewildered about what will happen next.”

TIME isis

Why Iran Believes ISIS is a U.S. Creation

Army air force officers salute Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a ceremony in Tehran, Feb. 8, 2015.
Supreme Leader Official website/EPA Army air force officers salute Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a ceremony in Tehran, Feb. 8, 2015.

"We believe that the West has been influential in the creation of ISIS"

Iran has taken a lead role in defending the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and strengthening the Baghdad government in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). But that doesn’t mean Iran views the United States as an ally in that war, even if they share a common enemy in ISIS.

Abdullah Ganji, the managing-director of Javan newspaper, which is believed to closely reflect the views of the government and the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guards, says that U.S. support for ISIS is in fact a way of ensuring Israel’s security and disrupting the Muslim world in the cause of advancing Western interests.

“We believe that the West has been influential in the creation of ISIS for a number of reasons. First to engage Muslims against each other, to waste their energy and in this way Israel’s security would be guaranteed or at least enhanced,” says Ganji. “Secondly, an ugly, violent and homicidal face of Islam is presented to the world. And third, to create an inconvenience for Iran.”

READ MORE: Inside ISIS, a TIME Special Report

Iran’s relations with the U.S. have been strained since the 1979 Islamic Revolution ousted the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran and negotiations are currently underway between Iran and Western nations, including the U.S., to ensure the Islamic Republic does not produce nuclear weapons.

Ganji went on to say that much of ISIS its propaganda, structure and weapons were all the work of the West. “A group that claims to be an Islamic one and has no sensitivity towards occupied Muslim lands in Palestine but is bent on killing Muslims as its first priority, it’s not a movement with roots in Islamic history. Not only many of its weapons but its methods of operation, its propaganda methods and many of its internal structures are Western, that’s why we are distrustful of the roots of ISIS,” he says.

“As the Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Khamenei] also said, [the coalition forces] have on a number of times even made weapon drops for ISIS. How is it that they have laser-guided precision munitions and bombs but drop weapons for the wrong people? And not only once but at least a number of times,” he says, referring to incidents when weapons dropped from U.S. aircraft landed in ISIS-controlled areas rather than the intended Kurdish-controlled areas.

“Iran cannot cooperate with the United States against ISIS because it doesn’t trust America, it doesn’t believe in their honesty in combatting ISIS. Iran can’t trust the U.S. to begin something and to continue to the end. It acts patronizingly and will change its path whenever it feels it is justified. We are also worried that the U.S. is using ISIS as a pretext to return its troops into Iraq,” Ganji says. “I believe that the U.S. prefers a weak ISIS that cannot be a major threat but will still cause inconvenience for Iran, Iraq and Syria and generally what they themselves called the Shiite crescent.”

TIME Iran

Why the Twitter Account Believed to Belong to Iran’s Supreme Leader Keeps Mentioning Ferguson

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a ceremony in Tehran, Nov. 25, 2014.
EPA Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a ceremony in Tehran, Nov. 25, 2014.

Account that bears the name of Ayatullah Khamenei accuses U.S. of hypocrisy

The Twitter account generally accepted to represent the views of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, tweets on a variety of subjects. Sometimes it attacks Israel, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and, often, the United States. At other times it details domestic meetings and events and on one occasion it exhorted boys and girls to play sports. But in the last two weeks a new subject has dominated the timeline of @khamenei_ir: #ferguson.

Iranians, Iran-watchers and journalists believe the Twitter account is managed by Khamenei’s office but it is not clear how directly involved the Supreme Leader is with its output. The account uses photos and video that only officials in the highest echelons of the Iranian government would have access to and in September it was used to post photos of Khamenei recovering from an operation in hospital. The Iranian government has never disputed the authenticity of the account.

Whoever is running it is watching events in Ferguson, Mo., with considerable interest. Exactly one week after a grand jury decided to not indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson on Aug.9, the Twitter account published a string of tweets accusing the U.S. government of “racial discrimination” and “subjugation of a great nation,” a nation with which “we have no problem.”

The account showed photos and videos showing alleged police brutality towards African-Americans with excerpts of a speech by Khamenei on Ferguson. “Racial discrimination is still a dilemma in a country that claims to support freedom and human rights. People are still deprived of living safely in the American society only for having dark skins, ” said Khamenei in the speech.

This is not the first time that Iran’s Supreme Leader has commented on social strife in the U.S. Observers in Iran believe that this is part of the ongoing propaganda battle between Iran and the U.S. that began at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which overthrew the U.S.-backed regime of Shah Reza Pahlavi. “The U.S. government has been accusing Iran of human rights violations throughout the last 35 years, so when there is an incident like Ferguson, Iranian officials take it as an opportunity to retaliate in kind,” says Hamidreza Jalaeipour, a sociologist who teaches at Tehran University. “Just as the U.S. claims that the Islamic Republic does not truly represent Iranians, Iran claims that the U.S. government is not legitimate.”

Other instances of social discord in the U.S., such as the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, also received prime coverage on state-controlled TV and were chronicled by countless articles in the Iranian press.

In spite of the historical animosity between the two governments, however, many American travellers to Iran say they have been surprised by the friendliness and hospitality Iranians show them. Many Iranians aspire to move to the U.S. for opportunities such as studying and work and the U.S. is home to the largest Iranian diaspora community, estimated to number more than one million people.

Observers of Iranian politics say that rhetoric from hardliners about specific domestic American news stories is not necessarily an accurate representation of the views of the majority. “Large swaths of Iranian society want to modernize the country and to interact with the world, but the hardliners fear that modernization will cause deviation from the revolution’s principles,” says Jalaeipour. “They believe that modernization is equal to becoming Americanized. That’s why they use any problem in American society to claim that modernization has bad results. All this interest on Ferguson is only in the official media. They want to show to Iranians that even though we are talking to them, the U.S. is still the Great Satan.”

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