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Message of peace replaces anti-US billboards in Tehran

City hall pulls anti-American posters shortly after conservative media outlets kick off ‘Down With America’ contest

Iranian demonstrators, one holding a caricature of President Barack Obama next to a poster of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, attend an annual state-backed rally in front of the former US Embassy in Tehran, Iran, Friday, Nov. 2, 2012. (photo credit: AP)
Iranian demonstrators, one holding a caricature of President Barack Obama next to a poster of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, attend an annual state-backed rally in front of the former US Embassy in Tehran, Iran, Friday, Nov. 2, 2012. (photo credit: AP)

Officials in Iran’s capital have ordered that anti-American billboards be taken down, and in their place a message of peace was plastered over a major Tehran thoroughfare.

In a possible sign of thawing ties between Iran and the West, the state-run news agency IRNA on Saturday quoted a Tehran city hall spokesman saying the municipality ordered the removal of the posters because the organization responsible didn’t get approval for the advertisements.

An Iranian cultural institute was responsible for the banned billboards, one of which showed a hand in a Western suit reaching out toward an eagle’s claw, with the words “The US Government Styles Honesty,” according to IRNA. Another poster circulating around the city showed American and Iranian diplomats at the negotiating table, with the American wearing combat fatigues and holding a shotgun beneath the table.

Shortly after their removal, a Tehran resident on Twitter published a photo of the replacement billboard in downtown Tehran, which carried a conciliatory message promoting tolerance.

“In a world that is filled with oppression, we don’t oppress, nor do we allow oppression,” read the billboard in Persian and English, with a stylized hamsa in the shape of a dove.

The report came soon after an Iranian news outlet announced the kickoff of a “Down with the USA” photo, video and essay contest. Contestants were asked to respond to topics including “Why it is said: ‘Down with America’?,” “Why US is not reliable?,” “US & Breaking Promises,” “US & Global Zionism” and “US & Dictatorship.”

The contest, sponsored by Iranian conservative news outlets including the Tasnim News Agency, offered a first place prize of €2,500 ($3,450). The site was down at the time of publication.

The seemingly conflicting messages from Tehran come ahead of a second round of talks between Iran and the P5+1 world powers — the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany — over Tehran’s nuclear program in Geneva on November 5 and 6. Ties between Iran and Western powers, most notably the United States, have warmed recently as the Islamic Republic has come to be perceived as being more amenable to negotiations over its controversial program — which it insists is for peaceful purposes.

Some in the West, and especially Israel, remain skeptical.

The talks were launched after the election to the presidency of Hassan Rouhani this summer, a relative moderate who campaigned on outreach to the West, partly as a means of relieving crippling sanctions.

Rouhani says he is ready to make Iran’s nuclear program more transparent, but he has ruled out any permanent end to enrichment.

Still, harsh anti-American rhetoric remains a staple of Iranian political life. Hard-line factions, including Revolutionary Guard commanders, have pledged to stage a major anti-US rally November 4, the anniversary of the takeover of the US Embassy in 1979 in the wake of the Islamic Revolution. The date is marked each year by gatherings outside the former embassy’s brick walls, which are covered with anti-American murals. But the fervor has waned in recent years, with authorities bringing schoolchildren by bus to help fill out the crowds.

Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, a senior Guard commander, said a “death to the US committee” will be set up to organize next month’s rally, promising chants of “death to America” louder than any previous years.

It’s a direct response to appeals this month by Rouhani’s political mentor, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, to drop the familiar slogan from events such as Friday prayers at Tehran University. In a speech recently in the western city of Kermanshah, Rafsanjani repeatedly was interrupted by opponents bellowing anti-American chants.

AP and JTA contributed to this report. 

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