Iran's quieting of rhetoric toward U.S. sparks debate

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TEHRAN, Iran --Supporters of hard-line conservative policies faced a rare public rebuke last week as authorities ordered that anti-American billboards be removed just days after they went up, sparking a fresh round of debate over relations between Tehran and Washington.

Since the relatively moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani took office as president in August, he and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, have made several unprecedented gestures toward the United States, including a phone call between Mr. Rouhani and President Barack Obama. It was the first direct contact between presidents of the two countries since Iran's 1979 revolution ousted the shah.

Such diplomatic outreach and the new government's apparent attempts to quiet anti-U.S. rhetoric have confused and angered supporters of hard-line conservatives who call the United States the "Great Satan" and see any overture to Washington as a betrayal of the principles of the revolution.

The billboards, carrying the English-language slogan "The U.S. Government Styles Honesty," depict a goateed Iranian official (presumably meant to resemble Mr. Zarif) sitting across from a U.S. counterpart who, under the table, conceals symbols of perceived American aggression.

In one, the American is accompanied by an attack dog; in another, he is wearing military fatigues under the table and a coat and tie above it.

There's nothing particularly unusual about the messages, considering that U.S. flags and effigies of American presidents have been regularly burned in the streets of Tehran during the past 34 years.

But with the anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran just a week away, the decision by Tehran's municipal government to order the removal of the billboards is shocking to some vocal supporters of the nation's long and proud history of public displays of anti-Americanism. City officials said only that the organization that put up the billboards hadn't sought permission.

Hossein Shariatmadari, editor in chief of the hard-line daily Kayhan, published an editorial Sunday expressing disbelief at the decision to remove the billboards.

For those still eager to express their hatred toward America, there is another option, and this one comes with the possibility of cash prizes.

A competition called the "First Major International Award of 'Down with America' " is accepting submissions of anti-American art.

All prize money is paid in euros.


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