In Iran, reformers must battle the ‘Death to America’ crowd

The World
An Iranian woman walks past an anti-U.S. poster during a visit to a war museum in the city of Khorramshahr, southwest of Tehran in 2007.

It's difficult, at best, to peer into the revolutionary mindset of Iran's leaders.

New, more pragmatic officials like President Hassan Rouhani seem to present a more friendly face to the west. But the "Death to America" crowd still holds sway with a segment of the population, as the billboards that lined Tehran's busiest thoroughfares last week can attest.

The anti-US posters — part of a campaign called " American Honesty" — appeared just as Iranian officials were sitting down with US officials in Geneva. The billboards included a US negotiator accompanied by an attack dog, and a hand reaching out and being met by a claw.

The Iranian government says the ads went up without their knowledge or consent. And the posters and billboards were taken down over the weekend.

The duelling images of America are also present in another place in Tehran that hasn't changed since the US hostage crisis, says Thomas Erdbrink, the Tehran bureau chief of The New York Times.

"The American Embassy lies like a sort of rotten tooth in the center of Tehran," Erdbrink says. "When you walk past it you see [a lot] of Lady Liberty with a skull, and variations on that theme. … Only now it is not called the US Embassy but 'The Great Den of Espionage.' "

Erdbrink says while disturbing images of America are highly visible in most Iranian cities, a true image of the country's perception of the US can be found at its airports.

"You just need to go to the airport in Tehran and see how many Iranians are actually arriving from the United States, visiting their family members here, and travelling to the US from Iran to understand that, for normal people, relations have never stopped," Erdbrink says.

Murals in Iran denounce America, in part for its support of Israel. Photo by Aaron Schachter.

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