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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Iran’s Online Diplomacy Discomfits Israel

As Sweden’s foreign minister, Carl Bildt, noted in the wake of the interim deal on Iran’s nuclear program reached in Geneva on Saturday, the effort by Tehran’s negotiating team to explain and justify the country’s push for atomic energy behind closed doors was accompanied by a public diplomacy campaign conducted online.

That effort has included, most obviously, the embrace of social networks by Iran’s new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and president, Hassan Rouhani, but also a new website, Nuclearenergy.ir, which aims to explain the history and motives of Iran’s program.

Hours after the deal was struck, the @nuclearenergyir Twitter feed passed on images of the enthusiastic reception for Mr. Zarif at the airport in Tehran as he returned home from Geneva.

(The feed did not, however, point to YouTube video said to have been recorded from the crowd, which appeared to show that cheers for the foreign minister were mixed with chants in memory of the jailed opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi.)

The digital diplomats later translated a message to his supporters posted on Facebook by Mr. Zarif.

Another part of the campaign associated with Mr. Zarif’s foreign ministry is the @MeetIran Twitter feed, which drew attention on Sunday to subtitled YouTube video of the country’s chief nuclear negotiator defending the deal on state television.

Video of Iran’s American-educated foreign minister discussing the agreement at length in English was also broadcast and posted online by Press TV, a government-owned satellite channel whose access to YouTube recently has been curtailed by American sanctions on Iran.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, discussing the nuclear deal in English on the state-run Press TV.

The effort to portray the talks from Iran’s perspective also included a stream of tweeted updates from Iranian journalists who covered the negotiations from the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel in real time, with occasional flashes of humor at how little there was to report for much of the time.

As the expatriate Iranian journalist Negar Mortazavi reported, some of her contacts in Iran said that they spent a long Saturday night compulsively checking their phones for updates as the talks ground on until early morning.

In a marked departure from the atmosphere under Iran’s last president, the Iranian delegation also allowed Ali Araghchi, a nephew of the deputy foreign minister, to tweet backstage images of the team’s work throughout the negotiations. One of Mr. Araghchi’s last photographs, of the Persian carpet the diplomats gathered on to announce the agreement, struck a particular chord back home.

This new embrace of public diplomacy by Iran has closed a previously wide gap to Israel, whose leader remains the most outspoken opponent of the new deal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office replied to the diplomatic salvo from Tehran on Sunday by posting video of the Israeli leader denouncing the agreement in Hebrew and English on YouTube, and using Twitter to reiterate his contention that the deal is a “mistake.”

Video of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, denouncing the nuclear deal with Iran on Sunday.

As the Iranian expatriate journalists Hooman Majd and Saeed Kamali Dehghan explained though, Mr. Netanyahu’s very public objections to the deal perhaps helped Mr. Zarif sell the agreement to hardline factions back home, whose staunch support of Iran’s nuclear “rights” is only outstripped by their implacable hatred of Israel.