[Marxism] Billboards in Iran Say ‘Death to America,’ but Officials Say ‘Let’s Make a Deal’

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Apr 20 09:23:57 MDT 2015


(The article mentions how a Tehran restaurant was playing "Happy", the 
very song that got young people dancing to it on a Youtube video on a 
Tehran rooftop arrested.)

NY Times, Apr. 20 2015
Billboards in Iran Say ‘Death to America,’ but Officials Say ‘Let’s Make 
a Deal’
By THOMAS ERDBRINK

TEHRAN — Wearing business suits set off with sneakers, the American 
executives trailed a young guide along the narrow sidewalks of the 
capital of Iran, once branded by the United States as part of the “Axis 
of Evil.”

Their destination was one of Tehran’s most luxurious restaurants, where 
Iranian officials and business consultants greeted the visitors with 
open arms and the Pharrell Williams song “Happy” blasted from the sound 
system.

“Everybody loves us here,” said Ned Lamont, a digital services 
entrepreneur and former politician, holding a glass of carrot juice 
offered by one of his hosts.

Just as the Obama administration and Congress were wrangling over 
details of a nuclear agreement with Iran last week, the group of 24 
executives were touring the country on a fact-finding mission.

Of course, the organizers rushed to explain, this was by no means a 
business delegation.

“We are tourists,” said Dick Simon, a co-founder of the Young 
Presidents’ Organization, a network of business executives. “But 
naturally many in our company have the potential of getting involved 
here, as they lead some very significant businesses,” he said, referring 
to his fellow travelers.

With the United States and Iran currently negotiating a nuclear deal 
under which those sanctions would eventually be lifted, some American 
companies are now hoping for new business opportunities in a country 
that has long been off limits.

The visit to Iran by the American group, which included venture 
capitalists and business executives from a range of industries, 
including real estate, health care and insurance, was organized by 
individual members of the Young Presidents’ Organization. Last week’s 
trip was the group’s third to the Islamic republic.

“There was a waiting list. The prospect of a changing Iran is very 
interesting,” Mr. Simon said.

At the function Thursday night, the delegates sat at tables decorated 
with cards marked with topics of conversation: “Real Estate,” 
“Diplomacy,” “Luxury” and “ICT,” for information and communications 
technology. The women in the group wore head scarves, as is obligatory 
in Iran.

“I should be at ‘ICT,’ I think,” said Mr. Lamont, whose 
Connecticut-based company provides video and data services to college 
campuses, “but I think the ‘Diplomacy’ table will be more interesting 
for now.”

Mr. Lamont and the others in the group arrived in Tehran last week after 
touring ancient sites near Shiraz, a city in the south, under the 
watchful eyes of government minders.

“They don’t want us to get in any sorts of trouble, or have an incident, 
but we have been mostly free to go around,” said Mr. Lamont, who like 
other members of the group was bubbling with enthusiasm over the 
hospitality of their Iranian hosts.

In the Shiite holy city of Qum, the group sat down with a reform-minded 
ayatollah who told them that Iran was on the verge of major change.

“I asked, what about the ‘Death to America’ slogan?” Mr. Lamont said, 
referring to the phrase that appears on many banners across the country 
and has long been shouted at public demonstrations. But the cleric 
responded that the slogan was from a different era. “He told us, ‘This 
is the new Iran,’ ” Mr. Lamont said. “Such messages are hopeful and 
different.”

At the restaurant on Thursday, Cyrus Razzaghi, a prominent Iranian 
business consultant, and other speakers extolled the potential of the 
Iranian economy for adventurous American investors.

“In the end these are not normal tourists of course, they are wealthy, 
powerful and influential Americans,” Mr. Razzaghi said. “Besides from 
giving them a taste of Iranian culture, I felt they would also be 
interested in Iran’s huge market.”

Iran’s deputy minister of telecommunications, Nasrollah Jahangard, 
peppered the audience with statistics, saying Iran was one of the most 
connected countries in the region.

“The number of smartphones is expected to be doubled to 40 million on a 
population of nearly 80 million,” he said. “We have 3G running and 4G 
networks under development; we are moving forward fast,” Mr. Jahangard 
said in English.

His words seemed to pique the interest of some of the executives. 
Christopher Schroeder, a venture capitalist, said he saw some promise in 
the country’s technology sector. “I have met with young women who are 
running Iran’s versions of Amazon and Groupon. They could really get 
somewhere in the future.”

However, it was clear from the questions about the economy and the 
influence of hard-liners that many obstacles remain.

“When I look out of that window,” said Richard Cohen, a New York-based 
real estate developer, pointing at the Tehran skyline, “I see 18 cranes. 
Only one is working. I have never seen so many unfinished high-rises in 
my life. What does that symbolize?”

Since 1995, sanctions have barred Americans from doing business in Iran, 
where a substantial middle class represents a potentially lucrative 
market for foreign companies. Hopes that the nuclear framework agreement 
made on April 2 might lead to a broader deal by the end of June have 
raised expectations of an opening of the Iranian market. Still, most 
companies are waiting for a final deal before seriously considering 
investing here.

“Fact is, now we are not even allowed to,” Mr. Simon said.

Despite the recent talks between Iran and the United States and the 
prospect of better relations, Iran’s revolutionary ardor was still visible.

In Shiraz, at the tomb of King Cyrus, a major tourist destination, the 
group passed a billboard bearing a quote by Iran’s first supreme leader, 
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

“The world should know that all Iran and Muslims’ problems are due to 
the politics of aliens and of the USA. Muslims generally hate aliens and 
specially the USA,” it reads in English.

The executives, however, said they were struck by the warm reception 
they had received in Iran.

“All in all it seems to me the Iranians really want to reconnect with 
the world,” said Jennifer Adams Baldock, a former executive in the 
printing industry. “They want to move on.”



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