Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends India-Iran business forum in New Delhi, India, January 8, 2019..
(photo credit: REUTERS/ANUSHREE FADNAVIS)
Iranian media was divided on Friday over stories in the US reporting that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had met US Senator Dianne Feinstein.
“Why has Zarif begun negotiating again?” a member of Iran’s Election Commission asked Fars News Agency, amid several stories that put Zarif in a difficult position as Iran is in the middle of tensions with Washington.
Politico.com reported on Thursday that Sen. Feinstein (D-California) met with Zarif for dinner. It was “arranged in consultation with the [US] State Department,” the report noted. Zarif visited the US in late April and did television interviews as well as giving a speech at the Asia Society. Zarif then went to Qatar on May 1 and Russia a week later. He then went to Turkmenistan, India, Japan and China, and held talks in Pakistan on May 24. This was a busy month, and Zarif is trying to burnish Iran’s image, as the US have increased threats.
Zarif wants to make it seem like business as usual even as Iran’s economy suffers from US sanctions, and amid news that Turkey and India have stopped importing Iranian oil.
The Iranian foreign minister's trip to the US was designed to undermine the Trump administration’s tough talk on Iran and to “stir divisions,” according to a report at Axios. Feinstein’s office reached out to the State Department before her dinner meeting. Politico said they spotted Zarif’s contact information on her iPhone just last week.
The State Department did not ask her to meet Zarif but apparently didn’t dissuade her either. Feinstein is on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
As the story broke in Iran, the media digested it in different ways. Press TV in English sought to emphasize Zarif’s Friday comments about US President Donald Trump. Zarif said that Iran’s current regime would outlast Trump.
Initially ISNA, IRNA and Tasnim, three different media outlets, ignored the story in both Farsi and English. But Fars News played up the meeting.
A representative in the Islamic Consultative Assembly said it was not worth negotiating with the US again, and appeared surprised as the story of Zarif’s meeting. Ziaullah Maleki, a representative of Bonab in East Azerbaijan, was critical of Zarif’s meeting. A member of the Central Electoral Commission also reportedly critiqued the meeting, arguing that it went against the Supreme Leader’s views on speaking with the Americans.
The controversy has also embroiled Majid Takht-Ravanchi, Iran’s ambassador to the UN. When asked about the meeting, he appeared to downplay it, according to Farsi reports. A spokesperson for the delegation told IRNA that the meeting was done in “accordance with previous procedures.”
It is not immediately clear if the meeting will erode confidence in Zarif. News of his meeting comes at a complex time. He doesn’t want to seem soft on the US which explains his tough comments Friday attacking the Trump administration. Threatening to see the “end” of the US administration while having met with a powerful US senator may seem odd in Iran.
Zarif’s allies can say that it was merely a meeting with a member of the opposition in the US, but it may not be seen that way for everyone at home. Zarif has faced pressures in the past from internal opponents. He threatened to resign in February, only to stay on at his post.