The U.S. and Iran’s YouTube Diplomacy

The U.S. and Iran take to YouTube and the op-ed page to communicate directly with the other country’s citizens.

National Journal
Kaveh Waddell
July 2, 2014, 11:57 a.m.

As ne­go­ti­at­ors from Ir­an and the P5+1 na­tions meet be­hind closed doors in Vi­enna in a fi­nal push for a com­pre­hens­ive nuc­le­ar deal, a sep­ar­ate round of ne­go­ti­ations is tak­ing place on­line.

Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry and his Ir­a­ni­an coun­ter­part, For­eign Min­is­ter Javad Za­rif, traded ac­cus­a­tions, praise, and hope­ful words in ad­vance of the fi­nal round of nuc­le­ar ne­go­ti­ations. The two sparred in a pair of op-eds pub­lished in the The Wash­ing­ton Post (Kerry) and Le Monde (Za­rif), and in a video Za­rif made avail­able on You­Tube.

These mes­sages, pos­ted to pub­lic for­ums, con­tin­ue the trend of an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar pub­lic-re­la­tions tac­tic among both coun­tries’ gov­ern­ments of reach­ing out dir­ectly to the oth­er coun­try’s cit­izens.

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In the slickly pro­duced video re­leased Wed­nes­day, Za­rif exits the Ir­a­ni­an for­eign min­istry and strides pur­pose­fully past a bub­bling foun­tain, plant­ing him­self in front of the cam­era to pon­ti­fic­ate on the “unique op­por­tun­ity to make his­tory” in the com­ing weeks. He rails against the “crip­pling” sanc­tions Ir­an has been faced with in the eight years since failed nuc­le­ar ne­go­ti­ations in 2005, but makes clear that the sanc­tions did not break Ir­an’s re­solve to pur­sue its nuc­le­ar pro­gram. For­eign pres­sure “didn’t bring the Ir­a­ni­an people to kneel in sub­mis­sion,” Za­rif said, “and it will not now nor in the fu­ture.” He ends by re­stat­ing the Ir­a­ni­an claim that its nuc­le­ar pro­gram will re­main peace­ful, and re­as­sert­ing his gov­ern­ment’s com­mit­ment to end the crisis by the dead­line for a nuc­le­ar deal on Ju­ly 20.

Iron­ic­ally, Ir­a­ni­ans are un­able to view Za­rif’s mes­sage on You­Tube without cir­cum­vent­ing gov­ern­ment-im­posed In­ter­net fil­ters.

This is not the first time Za­rif has used You­Tube to broad­cast the Ir­a­ni­an gov­ern­ment’s po­s­i­tion. In Novem­ber 2013, just weeks after the his­tor­ic phone call between Pres­id­ent Obama and Ir­a­ni­an Pres­id­ent Has­san Rouh­ani, a somber Za­rif spoke from his desk in the for­eign min­istry. In con­trast to the com­bat­ive tone in parts of Wed­nes­day’s mes­sage, Za­rif’s first video fo­cused on ex­plain­ing the Ir­a­ni­an side of the nuc­le­ar con­flict in hu­man terms. “Ima­gine be­ing told that you can­not do what every­one else is do­ing, what every­one else is al­lowed to do,” he said then.

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Amer­ic­an pres­id­ents, for their part, have long used Nowruz, the Ir­a­ni­an New Year, to speak dir­ectly to the Ir­a­ni­an people and their lead­ers. In video­taped re­marks this March, Pres­id­ent Obama spoke of his “deep re­spect for the Ir­a­ni­an people,” and ex­pressed hope for a nuc­le­ar deal in the com­ing year. Pres­id­ents Bush and Clin­ton be­fore him used the same plat­form to pub­licly speak to Ir­a­ni­ans.

While both sides ac­know­ledge the hurdles that lie in the weeks ahead, the back-and-forth pub­lic-re­la­tions cam­paign between top Ir­a­ni­an and Amer­ic­an of­fi­cials re­veals an open­ness between the two coun­tries that did not ex­ist even a year ago.

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