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Iran Press Report: Zarif and Friends vs. Kayhan

On Tuesday, the premier Iranian hardline newspaper Kayhan ran as its banner headline, “Zarif: Rouhani’s Talk With Obama and My Long Meeting with Kerry Were Inappropriate.”  The paper was reporting that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had made the “honest” admission during a closed-door meeting with the Majlis.  Zarif, however, was not pleased with the headline. That evening, he wrote an impassioned denial via his Facebook page, and said that reading the headline make him take ill with back and leg pain, sending him to the hospital.   He was dumbfounded by the coverage, lamenting, “It is dismaying that an hour and a half of serious, earnest, and private discussion with the esteemed members of the Majlis, which had frankly been agreed would remain confidential and not open for quotation, was summarized in a few sentences that had no relation to what I articulated…Even worse, some individuals who consider themselves to be the judges of my honesty and in a smaller headline praised my honesty, published a headline in the biggest possible font claiming a direct quotation from me which has no correspondence to what I said.”

This quickly became a factional struggle, with many reformists and centrists expressing outrage at the hardline Kayhan.  Former foreign ministry official Javid Ghorban-Oghli argued in a Shargh commentary that there were clear political motives at play and implied the Kayhan story was an attempt to derail the new administration’s diplomatic push.  “It is improper that someone who, over eight years, beat the drums of support for an administration and its negotiators whose work brought the nation to the situation it faces today, to now slanderously question the work of a new government just a few weeks in.” He added, “Let Zarif and his team enter the fight without smear campaigns.”  He expressed further anger in a follow-up commentary, which appeared yesterday in Bahar.  He suggested that Kayhan was derelict in its legal duty as a publisher and should be held accountable: “How can the Culture Ministry, which in the last administration would close down a newspaper for a single caricature, article, or headline choice, remain silent in the face of law-breaking actions by a newspaper which, with financing from the Treasury and unlimited assistance proceeds to criticize the very policies of the supreme leader?”  This suggestion that legal action should be taken was seconded elsewhere.  Citing the legal basis in the penal code for those who spread libel to the press (or via the press) to be punished, sometimes with jail or lashes, Bahman Keshavarz wrote in Arman, “Regardless of which news outlet or person it is (who is accused), it is necessary that the Majlis, or Mr. Zarif himself, take legal action,” with the promise that there will be no punishment if the record shows the Kayhan to be correct.

Perhaps Zarif’s most interesting comment in his Facebook response was aimed at the ideological nature of Kayhan’s actions.  In a direct jab at what he seems to see as the extremism of Kayhan, he wrote, “It’s interesting that some who consider themselves followers of the supreme leader go beyond his actions and example…” In his Bahar piece, Ghorban-Oghli agreed: “I believe that Kayhan’s biggest sin is not inaccurately reporting the words of the foreign minister, but in presupposing the viewpoint of the supreme leader.  The supreme leader opened a new era for the nation’s foreign policy and strategy with the ‘heroic flexibility’ plan, aimed at changing the nation’s circumstances and reversing the effects of the policies of the Ahmadinejad administration, particularly through negotiations. What Rouhani and his team did in New York was entirely in line with this strategic framework of the supreme leader…” 

Not all on the reformist side were as defiant in their support of Zarif.  In a Bahar commentary, Amir Abbas Nakhai wrote that the foreign minister was making good steps forward in his job but needed to consider that transparency was crucial to his public service, and that this saga was based on an opaque meeting that lent itself to controversy.  “A professional diplomat is one who is always diplomatic and defends his and the people’s shared right to transparency, so statements like ‘Who said that?’ ‘What did he say?’ and ‘It wasn’t me!’ never come up.”

Meanwhile, Kayhan, as expected, did not back down in response to the criticism by Zarif and his supporters.  Continuing to describe Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani as having been “trapped” by the “forces of compromise” into being too friendly with the United States during the New York trip, Mohammad Imani wrote in yesterday’s lead editorial that Zarif indeed knows himself what mistakes he made.  He argued that Zarif has said in interviews with CNN and Iranian state broadcasting that the Americans are untrustworthy, and uses these comments as evidence that the friendly aspects of Rouhani and Zarif’s outreach, such as the Rouhani-Obama phone call and the meeting between Zarif and John Kerry, only served to hurt Iran’s interests, as witnessed in Obama’s subsequent comments after his meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu that the military option remained on the table.  He didn’t completely disparage the new administration, but gently chastised them as having gone through a learning experience – if nothing else, he writes, the actions taken by Rouhani and Zarif in New York were useful in that they confirmed to all that “Satan cannot become human, even if he appears for a few minutes in human form.”


APPENDIX: Translated Summaries of Selected Opinion Pieces (Newest to Oldest)



“How Did the House of Compromise Collapse?” Mohammad Imani, Kayhan, 18 Mehr 1392 / 10 October 2013.

In addition to standing by its reporting on Zarif’s comments in the Majlis, Kayhan doubles down by referring to other remarks made by the foreign minister which would appear to back up the notion that reaching out to America is fruitless.  In an editorial, Mohammad Imani argues that Zarif himself has said in interviews with CNN and Iranian state broadcasting that the Americans are untrustworthy, and uses these comments as evidence that the friendly aspects of Rouhani and Zarif’s outreach, such as the Rouhani-Obama phone call and the meeting between Zarif and John Kerry, only served to hurt Iran’s interests.  Imani cites the affirmation of President Obama after meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu that all options, including the military option, remain on the table with respect to Iran, as evidence that America cannot be trusted to respect Iran.  He doesn’t entirely blame the president and foreign minister, suggesting instead that they were led into a trap by the “forces of compromise.”  If nothing else, he writes, the actions taken by Rouhani and Zarif in New York were useful in that they confirmed to all that “Satan cannot become human, even if he appears for a few minutes in human form.”  He adds, “The taboo and illusion that were broken were the same ones that confirmed that inappropriate flexibility toward tyrants will not only fail to soften their hearts, but will also increase their arrogance and greed.”


“If You Don’t Want to Walk with Crutches, Mr. Zarif…” Amir Abbas Nakhai, Bahar, 18 Mehr 1392 / 10 Oct 2013.

In the reformist Bahar, Amir Abbas Nakhai writes that some of the blame for the Zarif Kayhan controversy rests with the foreign minister himself, as he should avoid such misunderstandings by being more transparent.  He writes that Zarif has done much to put the nation on the path toward change in its foreign policy, but making mistakes internally can be costly when it has ramifications on the global stage, such as it does now with negotiations looming next week.  Nakhai tells Zarif to admit his mistakes so that he can go forward with a greater sense of transparency and retain confidence in his role as a trustee of the people.  He urges greater honesty by Zarif: “The more you are honest with others, the more they will be honest with you, and of course this is something you know, as you said yourself that this first mistake of yours taught you a lesson to build greater transparency for public opinion.”  He also tells Zarif to pursue more diplomatic behavior: “A professional diplomat is one who is always diplomatic and defends his and the people’s shared right to transparency, so statements like ‘Who said that?’ ‘What did he say?’ and ‘It wasn’t me!’ never come up.”



“Forces of Comprise or of Heroic Flexibility?” Javid Ghorban-Oghli, Bahar, 18 Mehr 1392 / 10 October 2013.

Former foreign ministry official Ghorban-Oghli writes in the reformist Bahar that the controversy over the story amounts to pure political manipulation by Kayhan that serves to create an internal distraction that will undermine Iranian efforts to conclude a nuclear deal.  “Zarif’s report to the Majlis National Security Committee and the report of its spokesman, Seyyed Hossein Naghavi, which, in a politically motivated case, has been, and apparently still is being, manipulated by a controversial newspaper, has become a matter detrimental to the national interest that undoubtedly will cast a heavy shadow over next week’s negotiations in Geneva,” he writes.  He suggests there should or could be some blame placed on Naghavi for the leak, but even then, the ultimate blame goes to Kayhan, which sought to sow controversy.  “Even if we accept the accidental speech of the spokesman, Kayhan’s controversial piece cannot be considered normal journalistic duties.”  He writes that Kayhan is abusing its position and trying to push its viewpoint on the nation and the Islamic Republic system, arguing, “I believe that Kayhan’s biggest sin is not inaccurately reporting the words of the foreign minister, but in presupposing the viewpoint of the supreme leader.  The supreme leader opened a new era for the nation’s foreign policy and strategy with the ‘heroic flexibility’ plan, aimed at changing the nation’s circumstances and reversing the effects of the policies of the Ahmadinejad administration, particularly through negotiations. What Rouhani and his team did in New York was entirely in line with this strategic framework of the supreme leader…”  In addition to criticizing the Kayhan’s apparent decision to brand Zarif’s actions as being under the influence of some collaborationist “forces of compromise,” he suggests Kayhan has broken laws and should not be allowed to remain untouchable.  “How can the Culture Ministry, which in the last administration would close down a newspaper for a single caricature, article, or headline choice, remain silent in the face of law-breaking actions by a newspaper which, with financing from the Treasury and unlimited assistance proceeds to criticize the very policies of the supreme leader?”

Author



“Zarif’s Reaction to Today’s Kayhan Headline.” Mohammad Javad Zarif, Tabnak (reprinting from Facebook), 16 Mehr 1392 / 8 October 2013.

In his Facebook reaction to the Kayhan report claiming he said the Rouhani-Obama phone call and his own meeting with John Kerry were inappropriate, Zarif writes an emphatic denial, telling of his shock at seeing the newspaper’s claims which he says sent him to the hospital.  “This morning, upon seeing a headline in a newspaper, I developed severe pain in my back and leg. I was even unable to walk…Thank God the MRI showed that my problem was more a nervous condition with muscular spasms and can be fixed with exercise.”  He continues, “In any case, it was a bitter day but it was very educational.  I learned that whatever I want to say, I have to say openly and in public – if not, the market for distortion is always hot.”  He writes of his dismay at the misuse of his words: “It is dismaying that an hour and a half of serious, earnest, and private discussion with the esteemed members of the Majlis, which had frankly been agreed would remain confidential and not open for quotation, was summarized in a few sentences that had no relation to what I articulated…Even worse, some individuals who consider themselves to be the judges of my honesty and in a smaller headline praised my honesty, published a headline in the biggest possible font claiming a direct quotation from me which has no correspondence to what I said.”  In a direct jab at what he seems to see as the ideological extremism of Kayhan, Zarif writes, “It’s interesting that some who consider themselves followers of the supreme leader go beyond his actions and example…”

 

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