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Persian Letters

U.S. nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman

In an October 23 keynote speech on the status of nuclear negotiations with Iran, U.S. chief nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman cited a verse by the great Persian poet Saadi.

“Have patience; all things are difficult before they become easy,” Sherman, U.S. under secretary of state for political affairs, said in remarks that came a month before the November 24 deadline for Iran and major world powers to reach a lasting nuclear deal.

The citation appeared to be an attempt by Sherman to reach out to Iranians by showing respect for their culture and love of poetry, an approach employed earlier by other U.S. officials as well, including the American leader.

U.S. President Barack Obama has recited Persian poetry in his efforts to engage Iran, as has State Department Persian language spokesman Alan Eyre, who frequently uses poetry in his media appearances and video messages to Iranians.

In his 2011 message for Nowruz, the Persian New Year, Obama recited a verse from Simin Behbahani, a poet known as “The Lady of Iran’s Ghazal” who passed away in August and repeatedly faced pressure from Iranian authorities.

“Old, I may be, but, given the chance, I will learn. I will begin a second youth alongside my progeny. I will recite the Hadith of love of country with such fervor as to make each word bear life,” Obama said in his citation of Behbahani.

Behbahani later told VOA’s Persian Service that she appreciated the gesture.

For Obama’s 2013 Nowruz message, his speechwriters included a verse by the 14th century poet Hafez, whose book of poetry is part of almost every household in Iran.

“Plant the tree of friendship that bears the fruit of fulfillment; uproot the sapling of enmity that bears endless suffering," Obama said in the video message.

There have been few public acknowledgements of this poetry diplomacy from Iranian leaders, who have called on Washington to recognize “Iran’s rights to uranium enrichment” and give up its “hostile” policies.

As Sherman noted in her speech, despite progress in the nuclear negotiations, there is still a “forest of distrust” on both sides.

“Given what has happened in past decades, how could there not be? But I can affirm to you this afternoon that the United States will not accept any arrangement we can’t verify, and that we won’t make any promises we can’t keep. Just as we will demand good faith, so will we demonstrate good faith,” she said.

Sherman said the remaining time before next month’s deadline for a final nuclear deal should be used “wisely and with a sense of urgency and purpose.”

“We hope the leaders in Tehran will agree to the steps necessary to assure the world that this program will be exclusively peaceful and thereby end Iran’s economic and diplomatic isolation and improve further the lives of their people,” she said. “If that does not happen, the responsibility will be seen by all to rest with Iran.”

Sherman warned that a failure of the talks could lead to an “escalation” on all sides.

That could also mean an end to poetry diplomacy.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

Hundreds are estimated to have turned out for the protests in Tehran and Isfahan.

Large crowds numbering in the hundreds have demonstrated in Tehran and Isfahan against several recent acid attacks on women that apparently occurred because they were not properly veiled.

Hundreds gathered in front of the parliament building in Tehran on October 22, while eyewitnesses said hundreds came to the Justice Ministry building in Isfahan, the central-western city where the acid attacks took place.

Demonstrators carried signs against the vicious attacks while calling on the state to protect women against violence.

"Where is my face," read a sign held up by a woman. While another sign said: "A secure street is my right."

"Don't allow crimes against women to become legal in the name of religion and Islam," said another sign, which also called for an end to violence against women.

"Acid attacks are a crime, security, security," chanted protesters, including many men.

WATCH: Protests Against Acid Attacks In Isfahan

Other chants and slogans targeted extremists and religious zealots who are believed to be behind the violent attacks.

"Death to the Daesh [Islamic State] School of Thought," some chanted.

Some also called on the parliament to drop a proposed bill that provides protection for religious zealots who attempt to enforce Islamic codes and take action against men and women who they believe violates those rules.

ALSO READ: Iran's Isfahan Outraged Over Acid Attacks

A deputy governor in Isfahan Province declared the rally there illegal, and there was a large police presence at the protest.

At least two survivors of acid attacks attended the demonstration in Tehran, as did leading human rights advocate Nasrin Sotoudeh, dissident Mohammad Nourizad, and human rights activist Narges Mohammadi.

Leading Iranian rights activists Nasrin Sotoudeh (far left) and Mohammad Nourizad (far right) attend a rally in Tehran to protest recent spate of acid attacks on women.
Leading Iranian rights activists Nasrin Sotoudeh (far left) and Mohammad Nourizad (far right) attend a rally in Tehran to protest recent spate of acid attacks on women.

One of the protesters, activist Peyman Aref, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that Nourizad was beaten up and detained by the police.

Officials from Iran's Interior ministry have said that "three to four" people were arrested in connection with the attacks in Isfahan.

Authorities say four women have been targeted in the attacks in Isfahan. However, local media have said that between six to eight women have become victims of the attacks.

These incidents have led to outrage among many Iranians who have accused hard-liners of instigating the attacks by spreading hatred against women.

PHOTO GALLERY: Acid Attack Protests In Tehran (ISNA)

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About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.

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