Iran's Rosh Hashana Twitter diplomacy stirs amazement, disbelief

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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.

Separately, Rouhani on Thursday announced that the Iran nuclear negotiating file has been moved to the Foreign Ministry from the Supreme National Security Council.

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.

Christine Pelosi also tweeted about the exchange and posted a screen shot of it:

CNN's Christian Amanpour and journalist Robin Wright subsequently reported on Twitter that they had separately been in direct contact with Zarif and he confirmed that it is he himself tweeting:

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Iran FM says new nuclear talks Feb. 25

Iran’s Foreign Minister said Sunday that nuclear talks with six world powers will resume in Kazakhstan on February 25th. Western diplomats welcomed the remarks, but said they were still waiting for official confirmation from Iran’s nuclear negotiating team.

Ali Akbar Salehi, addressing the Munich Security Conference, said he’d heard the “good news” that agreement on the new P5+1 meeting date and location had been reached the day before.

A spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said they hoped Salehi’s encouraging comments are soon officially confirmed by her formal counterpart on Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, Dr. Saeed Jalili, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

“Our latest proposal had indeed been Kazakhstan in the week of February 25 after other proposals had not worked,” Michael Mann, a spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said by email Sunday. “So it is good to hear that the Foreign Minister finally confirmed now. We hope the negotiating team will also confirm.”

“We aren’t fully there yet,” another western official cautioned Sunday, saying negotiators hope to lock in confirmation over the next day.

Iran’s foreign ministry does not take the lead in Iran nuclear negotiations, and Salehi has often presented a more conciliatory Iranian stance on the international stage.

Salehi also offered mild support for US Vice President Joe Biden’s comments asserting US willingness to hold direct talks with Iran, but was not committal about whether Iran would take up the offer.

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Ambassador Rita: Iranian-Israeli superstar dazzles diplomatic crowd


Iranian-born Israeli singing superstar Rita Jahanforuz, on a US tour to promote her Persian language hit album, ‘My Joys,’ charmed guests at a performance at the Washington residence of Israeli Ambassador Michael and Sally Oren Monday night.

Several in the largely Iranian American audience had flown in from Los Angeles to see the Israeli Madonna, known universally just as Rita, sing the Persian hits of their youths. The crowd in the packed living room at times could hardly contain themselves from joining in, as Rita sang in Farsi and Hebrew, recalled her mother’s Persian lullabies, and cracked a couple political jokes. (“The last president I sang for went to prison,” she quipped in one such exchange, apparently referring to former Israeli president Moshe Katsav, who was also born in Iran.) Amb. Oren, who addressed Rita “as one ambassador to another,” joined the band for a final number, playing the Irish drums.

Talking about a message she had received from a fan in Iran, where Rita’s albums are reportedly an underground sensation played at weddings, Rita spoke of her hope that one day Iranians and Israelis can again be friends.

“‘Rita khoshgelee (beautiful), I so want to come see your concert, even if I would receive 3 years in jail and 20 lashes,'” she cited the message, adding, “So every concert, I keep a chair open, so that Israel and Iran can one day be open to each other.”

And then she and her band took the crowd into another joyful, Persian-Klezmir-gypsy-Polish wedding frenzy.

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