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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Iran’s Foreign Minister Opens a Twitter Channel to the West

Iran’s new foreign minister, the veteran diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif, formally took charge of the country’s nuclear negotiations on Thursday, but still managed to find time to reach out to the West through a more informal channel â€" his new Twitter account.

Plunging head first into public diplomacy, Mr. Zarif chose to open his dialogue with fellow users of the social network by extending greetings for the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah.

Later in the day, when his tweet was challenged by one skeptical reader â€" Representative Nancy Pelosi’s daughter Christine â€" the American-educated diplomat, who lived in the United States for three decades, made his message that the Ahmadinejad era is over even more explicit, insisting that the nation of Iran had never denied the Holocaust and “The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone.”

Iran’s chief diplomat subsequently confirmed in conversations with Christiane Amanpour of CNN and the journalist Robin Wright that the comments posted on the @JZarif account were his own and he was aware that he had engaged in conversation with the daughter of a prominent American politician.

Having started with an attempt to undo the damage to Iran’s international reputation caused by the former president’s anti-Semitism, Mr. Zarif quickly moved on to the issue of chemical weapons, posting a link to thoughts on the “recent abhorrent developments in Syria,” on his Facebook page.

When a Texan carpenter challenged Mr. Zarif’s message repudiating the use of chemical weapons and militarism, asking, “Does that include nuking Israel?” the diplomat replied: “We do not have nukes. They do.”

On Facebook, Mr. Zarif suggested that rebel forces might have used chemical agents and noted that the American government was less concerned by the use of chemical weapons in the 1980s, when Iranians were gassed by Iraq’s military.

Any use of chemical weapons must be condemned, regardless of its victims or culprits. This is Iran’s unambiguous position as a victim of chemical warfare. But has it always been the position of those who are now talking about punishing their presumed culprit? How did they react when civilians in Iran and Iraq were victims of independently established massive and systematic use of advanced chemical weapons by their then-friend Saddam Hussein?

Although Mr. Zarif refrained from commenting Thursday on whether President Bashar al-Assad’s forces were guilty of poison gas attacks, earlier in the week, as The Washington Post reported, he did tell an Iranian newspaper: “We believe that the government in Syria has made grave mistakes that have, unfortunately, paved the way for the situation in the country to be abused.”

The foreign minister’s Twitter outreach came one day after an account maintained in the name of Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, posted similar warm wishes for the Jewish New Year.

The conservative Iranian news agency Fars quickly posted a comment from an adviser to the president denying that the account was an official one. “Mr. Rouhani does not have a tweeter account,” Fars quoted the adviser, Mohammad Reza Sadeq, saying on Thursday.

CNN reported, however, that another Rouhani aide told Ms. Amanpour “that while the president does not tweet from his account, people in his office do, so it is semi-official.”

Reporting was contributed by Dan Bilefsky.