ANALYSIS: Iran's moderates worry about Trump's impact on 38th anniversary of US embassy takeover
President Donald Trump’s hostile tone toward Iran and the Iranian nuclear deal could be helping to bolster Tehran’s anti-American hardliners, moderates in the country worry.
The concern among Iran’s middle-class moderates is notable considering that today marks the 38th anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by a group of American students, which began a 444-day hostage crisis in which 58 Americans were held captive.
The anniversary is celebrated each year by those in Iran who want to continue a hard line against the U.S.
And, reflecting that anti-American view, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei at an event earlier this week thousands of students implicitly criticized Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s agreeing to the nuclear deal with the West.
“Americans show no mercy even toward those who have pinned their hopes on them,” Khamenei said.
The past is present
During the lead-up to the nuclear agreement signed in 2015, many reformists in Iran who supported such a deal compared the man heading their negotiating team, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, with a figure from their country’s past.
Mohammad Mosaddegh was the democratically elected prime minister of Iran from 1951 to 1953, when his government was overthrown in a U.S.-supported coup that led to the strengthening of power of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Iran’s reformists saw Zarif as advocating for the nation’s interests against big international powers in the same way as Mosaddegh had done before the coup.
But hardliners in Iran like neither Mosaddegh, whom they accuse of not cooperating with religious leaders at the time, nor Zarif, whom they say compromised the country’s nuclear rights.
‘Puppets, pushovers and yes-men’
Trump’s harsh rhetoric about the Iran deal is leading hardliners in Tehran to warn of a U.S. plan for regime change in their country.
“They want puppets, pushovers and yes-men, so that they may rule the important and profitable country of Iran,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in the meeting with the students, according to his official website. Iranians suffered during the years of sanctions imposed by the West prior to the nuclear deal, which lifted the economic penalties in exchange for the Tehran government’s stopping its nuclear program. But Trump’s threat that the U.S. could pull out of the nuclear agreement worries Iran’s moderates and reformists for more than economic reasons.
They are alarmed that the American president’s warnings give the country’s anti-Western extremists more political power in domestic affairs.
These are the same supporters of reform who just months ago re-elected President Hassan Rouhani with the hope that he will help expand social and political freedom in the nation.
To them, the danger from Trump is that reformers like Rouhani will be defeated in the future in favor of hardliners like former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The peaceful voice of the majority in Iran was reflected in their election vote in May. But today the West will hear more from the hardliners shouting anti-American slogans and burning U.S. flags in the streets.