Iran offers journalists rare tour of former US embassy


Iran recently invited some reporters to visit the former US embassy grounds in Tehran, ostensibly to promote new tours being offered of former front line sites in the Iran-Iraq war.

“The other day I was invited in the former US embassy in Tehran, Iran,” Thomas Erdbrink, the New York Times’ Iran correspondent, wrote on Twitter Monday, in the first of several posts showing his photos of the visit. The occasion was a press conference by a Baseej military commander on tours being offered of former fronts in the eight year war. The organizing committee for the tours now has its headquarters on the former US embassy grounds, Edbrink explained.

But to some the tours’ timing may suggest it’s part of an Iranian response to the recent Hollywood film “Argo,” which several Iranian officials have complained is insulting to Iran, and unfairly depicted Iran’s 1979 seizure of hostages from the US embassy, which led to the over thirty year breach in US-Iranian relations. The Baseej commander, for instance, gave his press conference promoting the new tours in the former US Ambassador’s office.

China’s Xinhua news agency on Monday also published several photos of the former US embassy, which it said were taken by an Iranian journalist for the agency on March 10th:

“An Iranian Journalist visits inside the former U.S. embassy in downtown Tehran, Iran, March 10, 2013,” Xinhua said in a caption:

“Pictures and equipment of Americans are seen inside the former U.S. embassy in downtown Tehran, Iran, March 10, 2013,” the caption to the photograph, below, published by Xinhua said.

The New York Times’ Erdbrink posted his photo, below, of a Baseej commander giving “a press conference on tours to the former [Iran/Iraq] war in the former US Ambassador’s office,” he wrote:

“The Baseej that now control the grounds of the [former] US embassy… have built pavilions for picnics,” Erdbrink noted. A select few of the visitors were invited to walk over the American and Israeli flags painted on the grounds at the site, Erdbrink wrote, posting his photograph:

A diplomat with Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately explain the reason for the tour of the former grounds at this time. Nor did the State Department immediately respond to a query from the Back Channel about the tour.

But Britain’s Daily Mail opined the Baseej tours showing the US embassy almost frozen in the time of the hostage crisis, seemed to be an Iranian response to “Argo.”

Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations Mohammad Khazaee, speaking to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria March 3rd, said Argo was ‘insulting” to Iran and did not deserve to win the Oscar award for best film.

“From the technical point of view, to be honest with you, if I was a judge, the movie is a very weak movie,” the Iranian envoy told CNN.

Khazaee also extended an invitation to Argo’s producer George Clooney and director Ben Aflleck to travel to Iran.

“When they travel to Iran, the day after they will apologize from the big nation of Iran for producing such a weak film,” Khazaee said.

(Top two photographs, China’s Xinhua agency. Bottom two photographs, posted by Thomas Erdbrink, New York Times, to Twitter.)