Iran’s Rouhani using Twitter diplomacy

The National reports: Western social media sites are outlawed for ordinary Iranians, but Iran’s new government is using them keenly in a concerted drive to improve the Islamic republic’s image.

Spearheading the cyber charm offensive is the president, Hassan Rouhani, and his US-educated foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who garnered global attention last week when he used his new English-language Twitter account to wish Jews a happy new year and to proclaim that his country does not deny the Holocaust.

A day earlier, a tweet from an account in Mr Rouhani’s name wished “all Jews” a “blessed” new year on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

Iran’s entire cabinet has also opened Facebook pages in recent weeks.

The public diplomacy drive is preparing the ground for key events. Tehran is due in coming weeks to resume talks on its nuclear programme with six world powers, including the United States.

Mr Rouhani, who is regarded as a moderate pragmatist, transferred the handling of those negotiations last week to Mr Zarif’s foreign ministry, taking the portfolio away from hardline officials.

And later this month, Mr Rouhani will make his debut on the international stage when he addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The Jewish new year greetings were clearly aimed at distancing his administration from that of his predecessor. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s denials of the Holocaust made him toxic to western public opinion, fuelled fears over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and embarrassed many Iranians.

“The Rouhani team is eager to quickly undo the eight years of damage that the Ahmadinejad government did to Iran’s standing and image,” said Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, an advocacy group. “In this new age, you can at times reach more people through a tweet than through a press release, and Rouhani and Zarif have shown that they know that.” [Continue reading…]

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