In May 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent out a cable to the Department's Iran experts around the world about "a report regarding an Iranian Government decision to remove anti-American slogans and art from Tehran's buildings":
WHAT, IF ANY, ANTI-AMERICAN SLOGANS AND MURALS ARE CURRENTLY BEING REPLACED IN TEHRAN, INCLUDING THOSE IN AZADI SQUARE AND THE "DOWN WITH AMERICA" MURAL ON KARIM KHAN AVENUE?
WHAT, IF ANY, PLANS ARE THERE TO REPLACE SUCH MURALS?* IF THERE ARE PLANS TO REPLACE THE MURALS, WHO AUTHORIZED THEM? WHAT ARE THE REASONS FOR THE MURAL REPLACEMENT PLAN?
Clinton's questions pointed to the possibility of a major, policy-changing decision at the highest levels of the Iranian regime:
WHAT, IF ANY, ROLE HAS TEHRAN MAYOR QALIBAF PLAYED IN THIS DECISION? TEHRAN CITY COUNCIL CHAIRMAN CHAMRAN? PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD? SUPREME LEADER KHAMENEI? RELIGIOUS LEADERS IN QOM?
Alas, it appears that Clinton's staff, in pursuit of a historic moment in Iran-US relations, may not have read their source --- an article from Agence France Presse, re-presented by the American publication Iran Times --- very carefully.
AFP's article noted that the driving force for the change in graffiti was not international relations but the initiative of "city officials" for "a beautification drive to put up new murals that reflect Iranian culture and spread messages of peace and hope".
The noted Iranian artist Mehdi Qadyanloo was indeed replacing his "Down with America" mural, depicting a US flags with skulls and bombs, at Karim Khan Avenue in central Tehran with "a new painting symbolising peace". However, new murals already produced by Qadyanloo were not necessarily favourable to America: one large painting across several buildings commemorates not only Iran-Iraq war heroes but also the 290 passengers of an Iranian airliner killed when the plane was shot down by the warship USS Vincennes in 1988.
Qadyanloo explained to AFP that he was interested in themes of martyrdom but he also wanted to work with themes of hope: "I want to make people happy. I mostly try to tell a short story through my paintings, stories about life."
THE ORIGINAL AMERICAN CABLE
R 082009Z MAY 09
FM SECSTATE WASHDC
TO IRAN COLLECTIVE
S E C R E T STATE 047326
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/08/2034
TAGS: PINR IR
SUBJECT: (SBU) QUESTIONS ON REMOVAL OF ANTI-AMERICAN SLOGANS AND ART FROM TEHRAN'S BUILDINGS (C-NE9-00993)
Classified By: SUZANNE MCCORMICK, DIR., INR/OPS. REASON: 1.4(C).
¶1. (C/NF) WASHINGTON ANALYSTS ARE HIGHLY INTERESTED IN CONFIRMING A REPORT REGARDING AN IRANIAN GOVERNMENT DECISION TO REMOVE ANTI-AMERICAN SLOGANS AND ART FROM TEHRAN'S BUILDINGS. THIS DECISION WAS REPORTED IN AN AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE (AFP) ARTICLE ON 7 APRIL AND THE US-BASED IRAN TIMES ON 17 APRIL 2009. THESE CHANGES COULD REPRESENT AN IMPORTANT INDICATOR ON TEHRAN'S VIEWS TOWARDS ENGAGEMENT WITH THE US AND FURTHER INFORMATION ON THE EFFORT AND GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS INVOLVED IN THE DECISION, POSTS' TIME AND RESOURCES PERMITTING, WOULD BE VERY VALUABLE.
¶A. (U) WHAT, IF ANY, ANTI-AMERICAN SLOGANS AND MURALS ARE CURRENTLY BEING REPLACED IN TEHRAN, INCLUDING THOSE IN AZADI SQUARE AND THE "DOWN WITH AMERICA" MURAL ON KARIM KHAN AVENUE? WHAT, IF ANY, PLANS ARE THERE TO REPLACE SUCH MURALS?
¶B. (U) IF THERE ARE PLANS TO REPLACE THE MURALS, WHO AUTHORIZED THEM? WHAT ARE THE REASONS FOR THE MURAL REPLACEMENT PLAN?
1) (U) THE AFP ARTICLE MENTIONS MOHAMMAD REZA SHARIF KAZEMI AS THE CITY OFFICIAL IN CHARGE OF THE PROJECT, WHAT IS HIS POSITION IN THE GOVERNMENT?
2) (U) HOW MANY MURALS WILL BE REPLACED?
¶C. (U) WHAT, IF ANY, PLANS ARE THERE TO EXTEND THE MURAL REPLACEMENT TO CITIES BESIDES TEHRAN?
¶D. (U) HOW WIDELY HAS THE DECISION TO REMOVE THE ART BEEN PUBLISHED IN IRANIAN PRESS?
¶E. (U) WHAT HAS BEEN THE REACTION OF THE IRANIAN PUBLIC/PRESS TO THE DECISION?
¶F. (U) WHAT, IF ANY, ROLE HAS TEHRAN MAYOR QALIBAF PLAYED IN THIS DECISION? TEHRAN CITY COUNCIL CHAIRMAN CHAMRAN? PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD? SUPREME LEADER KHAMENEI? RELIGIOUS LEADERS IN QOM?
¶G. (U) WHAT, IF ANY, DEBATE IS THERE AMONG GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS ON THIS EFFORT? WHAT ARE THE ARGUMENTS OF INDIVIDUAL LEADERS (PLEASE IDENTIFY) EITHER FOR OR AGAINST THE PLAN?
¶2. (U) PLEASE CITE C-NE9-00993 IN THE SUBJECT LINE OF REPORTING IN RESPONSE TO THE ABOVE QUESTIONS.