The Comment That Offended Iranians More Than a Nuclear Threat

Iran's leaders don't worry we'll nuke them. They worry we'll never trust them.

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Fabrice Coffrini / Reuters

U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman in Geneva on October 15, 2013.

Octogenarian billionaire and GOP megdaonor Sheldon Adelson caused a ruckus Wednesday by suggesting that the U.S. lob a nuclear missile into the Iranian desert. The idea, as Adelson described it, was to issue a warning shot that would show Tehran “we mean business” in nuclear negotiations. American media outlets hyped Adelson’s characteristically hawkish fantasy. But Iran appeared unperturbed by his talk of a nuclear first strike.

That’s because the real furor in Tehran now is over another provocative remark, this one from Wendy Sherman, a senior State Department official who is America’s lead negotiator in talks with Iran. In recent testimony to Congress, Sherman said that the U.S. had to be cautious about cutting a deal with Tehran, because recent experience with the Iranians over their nuclear program—which Iran has repeatedly concealed—shows that “deception is part of the DNA.”

“Sherman’s DNA comment has created a big stir in Iran,” says Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Adelson not so much.”

How could a diplomatic slight like Sherman’s outweigh Adelson’s talk of a nuclear first strike?

One reason has to do with the messengers. Adelson may bankroll Republicans, but he’s not setting American policy. And no one takes seriously his fantasy of a nuclear shot across Tehran’s bow.

Sherman, by contrast, speaks directly for the U.S. government. That’s why conservative leaders and media outlets in Iran are lashing out at what they call Sherman’s insult, uttered at a Senate hearing earlier this month. One hard-line paper is calling for a boycott of the talks if she’s present. A cartoon published by Iran’s Fars news agency depicts Sherman as a broom-riding witch.

To some degree, the fuss over Sherman’s words is a function of internal politics in Iran, where conservatives are looking for reasons to undermine talks with America. (The three-week delay in seizing on Sherman’s words suggests orchestrated outrage.)

Sheldon Adelson, a donor to Republican presidential nominee Romney, points at the end of the first presidential debate between Romney and President Obama in Denver

Jason Reed / Reuters

But the flap also goes to a core problem with the nuclear talks: mutual distrust. The U.S. worries that Iran is feigning flexibility to win relief from sanctions, with no real intent to halt its nuclear program. Iran thinks America sees the nuclear issue as a stalking horse for regime change. The parallel suspicions could make a deal impossible.

This is why Sherman trumps Adelson in Tehran. Iran’s leaders are smart enough to know America’s not going to nuke them. They’re also smart enough to know that suspicion of them may be, well, in our DNA.

At a press briefing earlier this week, a State Department spokeswoman downplayed the anti-Sherman campaign, saying the U.S. and Iran have a three-decade history of mistrust that both are now trying to overcome. “This mistrust has deep roots, and we don’t think it can be overcome overnight,” said spokeswoman Marie Harf.

“Maybe,” asked a reporter, “this is something that stem cells can fix?”

Or maybe it simply can’t be fixed.

11 comments
Matt5311
Matt5311

If this comment was made by an ordinary person you can simply chuckle and ignore it. The problem is a senior US official makes a comment that she should be accountable for that. Were is your DNA test proof. 

That is similar to Nazi racist comments against Jews before world war 2. Shame on you.


AndreaOstrovLetania
AndreaOstrovLetania

"Iran's leaders don't worry we'll nuke them. They worry we'll never trust them."

American Jews talk and act like Nazis--calling for first nuclear strike and saying Iranians are innately wicked--, but Slime magazine isn't outraged in the least. Instead, it chooses to mock Iran and crack jokes. 


daveinboca
daveinboca

Look at Bret Stephan's wsj column on Wendy Sherman and "failing up."

daridekas
daridekas

this comment is not very far from truth.we have to double check everything they are saying before believing it.

admin2:invetrics

Bayraam
Bayraam

Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.

William Shakespeare

grape_crush
grape_crush

> But the flap also goes to a core problem with the nuclear talks: mutual distrust.

Well, at least it's out in the open. Now both parties need to figure out how to not let that stand in the way...or, better, how to build a more trusting relationship.

It's possible, but it's not going to be easy...especially considering the nature of American government; our approach to foreign policy can change whenever an election occurs. History aside, it's hard for the Iranians* to make commitments on their end when they know that the next administration that comes in may just ignore any prior agreement.

(or any country, for that matter)

jmac
jmac

"To some degree, the fuss over Sherman’s words is a function of internal politics in Iran, where conservatives are looking for reasons to undermine talks with America."

To a great deal of degree, conservatives in America are looking for reasons to undermine talks with Iran.   They will do just about anything to stop a peace agreement.     That gang listening to Sheldon clapped when he made his statement.   They don't want another feather in Obama's cap.  

It's a two-way street and our conservatives are just as bad as their conservatives .   


drudown
drudown

Actually, the Ice Berg Theory in modern population genetics reveals that gene pools (e.g., "races") have much, much more genetic diversity WITHIN themselves than BETWEEN them.

Eugenics is unfounded. Humanity is one race. 

The notion we would "nuke" Iran for the terrorist sins of its neighbor that sent the 9/11 attackers? 

A disgrace.

"Logic is like the sword- those who appeal to it shall perish by it." - Samuel Butler

vetramon
vetramon

What is the big threat that Iran nuclear program causes to the USA? NONE. What is the big problem that Iran as country causes to the USA? NONE. So why the big fuss that the USA makes about this topic? The answer is quite simple and is in front of the eyes of every rational person not fooled by the Zionist propaganda; The USA acts this way because is owned by the Zionist agenda. The Zionists want no country in the middle east that threatens its hegemony in order to fulfil its agenda. In spite of all the harm the Zionists have done to the USA, SPYING, MURDER, ETC. THE CONGRESS OF THE USA IS BETRAYING IS INDEPENDENCE TO BACK THIS CRIMINAL ENTITY CALLED ISRAEL. PERIOD.

AndreaOstrovLetania
AndreaOstrovLetania

"They worry we will never trust them." 

This is such a misleading lie. Iranians know and understand the US doesn't trust them and vice versa. They have NO PROBLEM  with that. What they have a problem is the 'racist' remark that Iranians are innately(by nature) a wicked people. Surely, Crowley knows that's how Nazis used to demean Jews in general. 

Jews now talk and act like Nazis, but Crowley is only too happy to play the role of Goebbels to Zionist interests.

Disgusting. 

vetramon
vetramon

I forgot the funniest part of the columnist opinion at the beginning. Mr Michael crawley writes "... They worry "We'll' never trust them". So jocose, so funny, so arrogant to say that they worry about the poor USA not trusting the horrible Iranis. Are you kidding me and the rest of the people who know the history of the USA with respect to Iran?  What has the Irani done to the USA? The hostages?  The hostages was a collective answer for the way the USA has meddle in the IRANI HISTORY WITH SO MANY OF THESE PEOPLE JAILED, KILLED, TORTURED AND DISAPPEARED BECAUSE OF THE IMPOSED DICTATOR IN THEIR LIVES.

  What are you mr crawley, a fiction writer, or just a plain liar.