TEHRAN, Iran – A series of tweets by Iranian leaders last week has students of diplomatic semantics wondering whether a mere greeting is an opening to the country’s adversaries.
Both Iran’s new president, Hasan Rouhani, and the new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, sent Rosh Hashanah greetings via Twitter to Jews celebrating the new year.
Rouhani also announced Thursday that nuclear negotiations will be run by the Foreign Ministry headed by Zarif, a U.S.-educated diplomat and former long-serving Iranian ambassador to the United Nations who is familiar to many U.S. officials.
The tweets and Zarif’s portfolio represent an intriguing break with the tone and approach of former Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and come ahead of Rouhani’s international debut at the United Nations this month.
State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said the United States hopes that the move signals a willingness to “engage substantively,” and if so, she said, Iran “will find a willing partner in the United States.”
“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,” Psaki said.
Javier Solana, who led negotiations with Iran as the top European Union diplomat, took to Twitter on Thursday to praise Rouhani and Zarif for their messages: “Iran’s new pres & FM new to Twitter: Let’s hope they bring new policies, boosting chance of peace.”
Some analysts were more skeptical, noting that control of nuclear policy ultimately rests with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameni.
Wednesday evening, Rouhani or whoever handles his English-language Twitter account wished all Jews a happy Jewish new year.
He took special note of Iran’s anciently rooted Jewish community: “As the sun is about to set here in Tehran I wish all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah.”
A day later, as the message was analyzed abroad and in Iran, the semiofficial FARS news agency quoted a Rouhani aide as saying the account was no longer active.
That appeared to be a dodge, especially since the same account was also used Thursday to announce the change in Iran’s nuclear negotiating team.
The posting Thursday linked to the announcement on Rouhani’s website that the Foreign Ministry will conduct future talks over Iran’s nuclear program.
“Only way to interact w/ Iran is dialogue on equal footing, confidence-building & mutual respect as well as reducing antagonism & aggression,” the @HassanRouhani account added a short time later.
Zarif issued his new year’s greeting a short time after Rouhani and led to a polite and spirited back and forth with Christine Pelosi, a California author, political activist and daughter of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.
“Thanks. The New Year would be even sweeter if you would end Iran’s Holocaust denial, sir,” Christine Pelosi wrote.
“Iran never denied it,” Zarif replied Thursday. “The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year.”