Iran’s Foreign Minister has taken to the Clubhouse social media forum to answer questions in front of 8,000 people, in a measure that some consider shows an unprecedented degree of openness, but others denounce as a solution that does not they allowed unwanted queries.
Javad Zarif is the latest in a line of politicians to test a medium that is proving increasingly popular in Iran amid a growing demand for political debate and discussion.
Although observers saw Zarif’s presence as yet another sign that he is testing the water ahead of a possible run in the June presidential elections, he again vowed that he had no intention of running and insisted that he did not have the required personal capabilities.
The session had been announced to focus on the controversial 25-year Iran-China deal signed at the weekend, but the questions were broader and the foreign minister would stay until after midnight, despite admitting that her bedtime used to be 10pm
Zarif revealed that he didn’t have an iPhone and said, “I’m not rich like the rest of you and I only managed to get the beta software that allows Androids to use Clubhouse two hours ago.” The software has been downloaded 20,000 times in Iran, as iPhones are out of reach for most Iranians.
Subsequently, a lively debate took place on social media about the degree to which the discussion had been manipulated to give an artificial sense of democratic participation.
Some claimed that Zarif answered challenging questions, including about Iran’s power structure, while others said that those who participated had been carefully vetted in advance. There was particular anger that Farsi-speaking journalists working for overseas media were not allowed to ask questions.
Advocates for the event noted that the New York Times and the US-based host of a well-regarded podcast on Iran questioned Zarif.
Farid Modarresi, the journalist who chaired the meeting, later said that opponents of the regime and Farsi-language journalists working outside of Iran had been prohibited from speaking, but that this was a decision not made by the Foreign Ministry.
A critic, Gissou Nia, of the Atlantic Council, said on Twitter: “… The use of the iPhone that asks questions of the elites to a potential candidate in the Clubhouse is not an adequate substitute for the free expression of the real political parties (which Iran does not have). The CH convos are interesting but they can give the appearance of a free debate where there is none “.
With many suspicions that Iran had sold its sovereignty to China by signing a 25-year cooperation agreement, Zarif defended the agreement, insisting that it “does not create any obligation for either party.”
Referring to the economic value of the deal, he said that “it has no number” and “does not give up territory not even a point. There has been no pressure on the Iranian Foreign Ministry to sign the document. “
He added that Iran did not seek to look exclusively to the east, but rather wanted east-west connections.
Zarif spent part of his time targeting a semi-fictional Iranian television spy series called Gando, implying that some on the nuclear deal negotiating team were either weaklings or spies. He said his life would have been easier if he had been allowed to continue his work.
He again insisted that the United States had to change its position in order for talks to begin about Iran becoming fully compliant with the nuclear deal again, but said there were grounds for choreographed mutual compliance as long as Iran could verify that state sanctions were lifted. Joined.
Joe Biden has hired Richard Nephew, an expert on Iran sanctions, and is believed to be going through the painstaking process of sorting out sanctions so that a sequenced and conditional lifting can take place in exchange for specific actions by Tehran to re-enforce them. . Iran has lowered the level of inspections, increased its uranium arsenal, raised the level of enrichment, and used increasingly sophisticated centrifuges.
Informal indirect talks have taken place with the EU acting as a mediator. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, and Emmanuel Macron, the French President, spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the beginning of the week.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there were encouraging signs coming from the Biden administration. But there is growing frustration on the Democratic left that Biden is delaying any move for fear of alienating Congress, when urgency may be needed as a result of the likelihood that the Iranian elections will bring in a hardliner.
Others argue that the policy of the next president is not critical since all important decisions are made by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his circle.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism