Iran's new Foreign Minister Javad Zarif joined President Hassan Rouhani in tweeting “Happy Rosh Hashanah” greetings Thursday, on the occasion of the Jewish new year's holiday, setting off a new wave of amazement, and some disbelief, in both the social media and policy universes.
Happy Rosh Hashanah
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) September 5, 2013
Separately, Rouhani on Thursday announced that the Iran nuclear negotiating file has been moved to the Foreign Ministry from the Supreme National Security Council.
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) September 5, 2013
The State Department said Thursday that it had seen the reports on the nuclear file transfer to the foreign ministry, and reiterated its hope for swift, substantive engagement leading to a diplomatic resolution with Iran over its nuclear program. Nuclear negotiations are expected to be discussed in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly this month, that both Zarif and Rouhani will attend. Zarif is expected to hold meetings there with chief international nuclear negotiator, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, British Foreign Minister William Hague, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Iranian media reported Thursday.
The stunning exchange of direct Twitter diplomacy from Tehran that began Wednesday with Rouhani wishing Jews everywhere a blessed Rosh Hashanah has set off amazement in the social media universe. It has also revealed a deep vein of wariness and mistrust, that remain a legacy of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial and threats to Israel, and the avowed hostility between Israel and Iran.
The outreach from Rouhani and Zarif, particularly to the Jewish people, signals the “most significant public diplomacy outreach since the revolution,” journalist Robin Wright said Thursday on Twitter. “It signals intent for a serious [diplomatic[ effort, even if issues [are] no easier.”
Zarif's Rosh Hashana greetings–only his second tweet since opening an account (@JZarif) earlier this week that has still not been officially verified–soon led to a stunning Twitter exchange with Christine Pelosi (@sfpelosi), the daughter of ranking House Democrat Nancy Pelosi, about Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial.
@sfpelosi Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) September 5, 2013
Christine Pelosi also tweeted about the exchange and posted a screen shot of it:
— sfpelosi (@sfpelosi) September 5, 2013
Iran's FM told me his country has never denied Holocaust and the man “perceived to be denying it” [Ahmadinejad] is now gone. Happy New Year
— Christiane Amanpour (@camanpour) September 5, 2013
The rare and unusually direct Twitter diplomacy between Iranian leaders and western policy observers “will go down in history,” one Hill staffer, speaking not for attribution, said Thursday, expressing the wider sense of amazement heard from many veteran Iran watchers at the display of tolerance and public diplomacy initiative coming from Tehran.
The welcome change in atmospherics has added to hopes for a diplomatic opening created by Rouhani's election. But it must be accompanied by substantive progress in nuclear negotiations to lead to a broader easing of ties, western analysts and officials said.
“The inauguration of President Rouhani presents an opportunity for Iran to act quickly to resolve the international community’s deep concerns over Iran’s nuclear program,” State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said in a statement Thursday. “Should this new government choose to engage substantively and seriously to meet its international obligations and find a peaceful solution to this issue, it will find a willing partner in the United States.”
In Israel, the statements were also getting media attention, and may boost Rouhani's image as a moderate, Iranian-born Israeli analyst Meir Javedanfar said.
While “I don’t think [the statements] can interpreted as a sign of policy change from the Iranian government towards Israel,” Javedanfar wrote, they are “likely to have a positive impact, albeit a limited one on the way the Iranian regime is seen in Israel.”
“I think these two guys [Rouhani and Zarif] might honestly try to reflect a different Iran,” an Israeli official, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor Thursday. “The problem is that [Supreme Leader Ayatollah] Khamenei and The Revolutionary Guards are still in command and haven't showed any sign of changing their priorities,” including “nuclear weaponry, [and] supporting terror in the region.”
(Photo of a man praying at an Iranian synagogue and posted to Twitter by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accompanying a Rosh Hashanah greeting on Wednesday September 4, 2013.)