Non-accreditation of NYT ‘man in Tehran’ older than paper claims: source

June 11, 2019

TEHRAN – Tehran refused an accreditation to the New York Times’ Tehran bureau chief long before what the American paper claims, a source says.

On Monday, the New York Times reported that Iran had revoked the press accreditation for Thomas Erdbrink back in February, with the paper trying not to make the status of its man in Tehran public so far.

The correspondent, a 43-year-old Dutch citizen, had reported for the NYT from the Islamic republic since 2012 but had been unable to work since late February when his credentials were revoked by Tehran, according to a report by the newspaper.

The NYT said it had decided to go public with his situation “after recent speculation and comments on social media”.

“Mr. Erdbrink’s absence from the news report has become increasingly conspicuous because of escalating tensions between the Iranian authorities and the United States,” the paper’s report said.

However, a source with links to the press department of the Iranian Ministry of Culture, which is in charge of issuing permits to foreign press representatives, said Erdbrink’s case dates back to much earlier than the NYT claims.

“It has been a year since they are not issuing him a [press] ID,” the source told the Tehran Times on condition of anonymity, adding that the NYT is making the public report probably to make Iran re-accredit Erdbrink.

Tensions between the United States and Iran have simmered in recent weeks after more than a year of increasingly fractious relations unleashed by President Donald Trump’s decision in May 2018 to withdraw from a landmark nuclear deal.

Thomas and his wife, Iranian photographer Newsha Tavakolian, in the NYT's 2018 documentary "Our Man in Tehran"

Under the 2015 agreement, Iran agreed to scale back its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Since pulling out of the nuclear deal, the White House has rolled out a “maximum pressure” policy against Iran. As part of that, Trump’s administration reimposed punitive sanctions and moved to cut the country’s oil exports to zero. 

The U.S. also blacklisted Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a “terrorist group”, which prompted a tit-for-tat response from Tehran. Last month, Washington bolstered its military presence in the Persian Gulf in response to an unspecified threat.

Since then, a war of words between the rivals has continued to escalate, with Tehran accusing the U.S. of waging “psychological warfare” and “economic terrorism” with its various moves.

‘Our man in Tehran’

Amid the high tensions, Michael Slackman, the paper’s international editor, was quoted as saying there were “some indications” the situation would be resolved in the near future.

“Officials of Iran’s Foreign Ministry have repeatedly assured The Times that Mr. Erdbrink’s credential would soon be restored but have offered no explanation for the delays or for why it was revoked,” he said.

There was no immediate response from Iranian state-run media or officials in Tehran.

Erdbrink, who previously worked as a correspondent in Iran for The Washington Post, is married to Iranian photographer Newsha Tavakolian, who is represented by the Magnum photo agency.

Both he and Tavakolian were the focus of “Our Man in Tehran,” a 2018 documentary about his work and life as a Western journalist in Iran. Tavakolian has also been denied permission to work by Tehran, the NYT said.

SP/PA

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