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Iran Nuclear Deal Likely to Bolster Iranian Liberals Ahead of Election

The preparations for burning American flags continue as normal, but the nuclear deal is already instigating changes in Iran.

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Iranian demonstrators burn a representation of the U.S. flag reading "down with America," in Arabic and Persian, in Tehran, Iran, July 10, 2015.Credit: AP

To burn or not to burn, that is the question bothering conservatives in Iran. They wonder whether there will still be a need to burn flags and shout “Death to America” after the nuclear deal signing ceremony, or if it would be better to change the protocol.

It’s an urgent problem because November 4 marks the anniversary of the 1979 takeover of the American embassy. The confusion is great. A few months ago it was reported that the slogans wishing death to America were erased from the walls of the former American embassy, but there was a new development last week. The Fars news agency, which is close to the Revolutionary Guards, quoted the head of a local branch of an Islamist organization saying that orders came down a year ago saying not to burn American flags anymore, only Israeli flags.

The quote, as expected, caused a storm. The Fars agency quickly deleted the report from its website, and replaced it with the response of the Islamist group, which is responsible for organizing state ceremonies, in which it declared that this year as well, cries of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” as well as “Death to conceit” would continue. “The United States continues to be the Great Satan,” the organization announced.

So, we can breathe a sigh of relief. Flags will burn and America will die. Apparently, refreshing the order to burn the American flag fits the consistent position of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who clarified during the nuclear negotiations that dialogue with the U.S. is limited to the nuclear issue alone.

Yet there is still a measure of flexibility to Khamenei’s finality. “I am a revolutionary and not a diplomat,” he declared two years ago. “I speak directly. When a diplomat speaks, he says one thing and means something else.”

This declaration did not prevent him from approving the diplomatic dialogue with the U.S. and the West, and it seems that it does not prevent Iran from holding talks with the Americans on the Syrian and Iraqi issues. After a meeting in Vienna on Friday, which included the Russian, American, Saudi and Turkish foreign ministers, it was hinted that Iran is likely to be invited for further discussions this Friday.

And while preparations to burn American flags proceed and the anti-American ideology is expected to receive its symbolic provisions, business deals are being cooked between Iran and American companies. One of them is Microsoft, which according to Iranian media reports already signed a deal with an Iranian company to represent it in Iran.

If there were Iranian spokesmen who warned during the nuclear negotiations of American companies taking control of the Iranian economy, or of them turning into American spy bases, it seems that now Iran is worried mainly about obtaining American technology to advance its own industry.

The Iranian fear of foreign culture penetrating its society should also be taken with a grain of salt. A fearful country does not lightly ease conditions for tourists to receive visas. Iran announced last week that it would give 30-day visas, as opposed to 15-day visas in the past, at its airports. The citizens of most European countries will be able to enjoy these changes, while citizens of Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Bolivia won’t need any visa. Only citizens of the U.S., Canada, Jordan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will still be required to receive a visa in advance in their own country. The goal of these changes is to increase the number of tourists and generate $30 billion in revenue by 2025.

The nuclear deal, which won parliamentary approval and the supreme leader’s blessing, apparently absorbed a minor blow when Khamenei formulated a few additional conditions for its implementation, among them forbidding the shipping of enriched uranium to Russia before receiving guarantees that would promise that Iran would receive nuclear fuel rods. However, the general interpretation in Iran is that these guidelines are not more than an additional effort to calm the radicals who oppose the deal.

The deal is already perceived as a fait accompli. From now it is likely to serve as political fuel for the parties and movements that are starting to prepare for the February 2016 parliamentary elections. If Khamenei will allow an electoral campaign without exceptional restrictions, it could be one of the most important elections held in Iran, creating in the wake of the deal new power centers, strengthening the liberal-reformist bloc and providing a vibrant political back rest for President Rohani, whose term ends in 2017.