Iranian vice president calls for new ‘ping-pong diplomacy’ with U.S.; promises expansion of Internet freedom in Iran
Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif last week on Iran's nuclear program.
October 2nd, 2013
04:34 PM ET

Iranian vice president calls for new ‘ping-pong diplomacy’ with U.S.; promises expansion of Internet freedom in Iran

By Tara Kangarlou and Jim Sciutto

From wishing Jews a Happy Rosh Hashanah to an historic phone call with President Barack Obama, Iran’s president is pursuing a new kind of outreach. One of his vice presidents compared it to Richard Nixon’s ping pong diplomacy, credited with opening relations between the United States and China more than 40 years ago.

In an exclusive interview with CNN, Mohammad-Ali Najafi, Iranian vice president and head of Iran’s richly funded Cultural Heritage and Tourism institution, said he believes such outreach could do the same for relations between the United States and Iran today.

“I adamantly believe in cultural diplomacy and believe the thing that could improve relations between (the) U.S. and Iran after the years and soften the harshness of this relationship is cultural diplomacy,” Najafi said.

Najafi, who reportedly planned to run for president and is considered part of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s inner circle, invited all Americans to visit Iran and regarded tourism as a primary tool to create “long-lasting and effective” engagement between the two countries.

“It’s these people-to-people dialogues and people-to-people relations that can encourage even political officials to accelerate the development of diplomatic and political relations for solving the issues between the two countries,” he said.

Rouhani has proposed direct U.S.-Iran flights, which were suspended after the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979.  U.S. officials, however, have offered no sign such change is on the table.

The Iranian president has created an international stir by sending messages, including the Rosh Hashanah greeting via Twitter, while at the same time, almost all social media websites, including Twitter, are blocked inside Iran.  Asked about the sharp contradiction, Najafi hinted that a relaxation of those restrictions is imminent.

“Social media is actually a great tool that can be used to express beliefs and reveal the reality and truth,” said Najafi. “During the previous administration, social media and the Iranian’s presence on social media was considered to be illegal. But I think based on the policies of the new administration, there would certainly be changes made in those limitations. And God willing, those contradictions will be resolved,” he said.

Najafi said the burden now is on the United States to reciprocate Iran’s outreach, arguing that it has missed opportunities in the past, for instance, when President George W. Bush included Iran in an “axis of evil” with Iraq and North Korea after 9/11.

This move, Najafi said, strengthened Iranians opposed to change.

“(This) led the hardliners to halt further movements inside Iran,” he said.

In domestic and foreign policy, the previous administration led by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—who once denied the Holocaust—seems to be one that the new government of  “prudence and hope” wants to distant itself from.

“Now it’s the time to say new things, say things that would improve the situation and remove limitations,” said Najafi in response to Secretary of State John Kerry’s  comments prior to the "optimistic” meeting held last Thursday with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad-Javad Zarif.

In an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes",  Kerry said, "The United States is not going to lift the sanctions until it is clear that a very verifiable, accountable, transparent process is in place, whereby we know exactly what Iran is going be doing with its (nuclear) program.”

However, late Friday night Kerry tweeted from the State Department's twitter account saying, “Good first steps w/#Iran this wk. Positive meeting w/@JZarif last night. Historic POTUS and @HassanRouhani call today. #Progress-JK"

Due to a long history of tense relations between the two countries, Najafi acknowledged that “change has to come in a more cautious and gradual way,” but he said he’s still optimistic.

“I’m hopeful because I’m certain that the Iranian government has this will — and as far as the U.S. government — of course I can’t talk with similar certainty—but I feel there is similar will. And I think in this case the work can be done,” he said.

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  31. changeirannow

    Rouhani pledges to govern with 'moderation'; however, he has a strange resume for being a moderate. Rouhani took charge of quashing pro-democracy student demonstrations in 1999. He was at the helm of Iran's security apparatus when the Islamic Republic ordered the systematic murder of opponents abroad. Many of these hits took place on his 16-year watch as secretary of the Supreme Council for National Security. He has appointed Hossein Dehghan, a senior Revolutionary Guard official and one of the masterminds of the bombing of the US marine and French paratrooper barracks in Beirut in 1983, to the post of defence minister. A man who can count the lives of 241 US soldiers and 58 French paratroopers on his conscience will help to steer Rouhani's "moderate" new course. If Rouhani strives to be a moderate, he can start by immediately by releasing the 7 hostages taken in the Ashraf massacre. On September 1, Iraqi forces killed 52 residents of Camp Ashraf and took seven hostages. In this massacre, ordered by the religious fascism ruling Iran, the attackers’ shot unarmed people while their hands were tied behind their backs and they delivered coups de grace to the wounded lying on hospital beds (see video http://bit.ly/GzSmHj ) This is a great crime against humanity that should not go unheeded in silence and inaction, especially that the rest of Ashraf residents and 3,000 residents in Camp Liberty are threatened by similar massacres. All residents of Ashraf and Liberty, including the 52 that have been cold-bloodily murdered, are protected persons by the Fourth Geneva Convention and asylum-seekers with U.S. and UN responsible for their safety.

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  32. Tom1940

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    • Mightysid

      You must be related to Bibi and his clowns !Get a life

      October 3, 2013 at 11:01 pm | Reply
  33. john smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    October 3, 2013 at 1:51 am | Reply
    • barry

      if you live in america you need to leave

      October 3, 2013 at 5:31 am | Reply
      • john

        You are telling some one to leave who is excercising their first amendment right of free speach. I did not do the research so I cannot say if all that was typed is accurate. HOwever, from my basic knowledge in history it seems to be the case. Instead of telling a person who states an opinion/history/etc... to leave how about doing the research yourself. Telling someone to leave for saying something is more unAmerican than the content of what was stated.

        October 3, 2013 at 7:28 am |
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  35. observer1776

    Russian President Vladimir Putin was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by an advocacy group that credits him with bringing about a peaceful resolution to the Syrian-U.S. dispute over chemical weapons.

    Putin gathers points at the expense of the amateur Obama.

    October 2, 2013 at 7:44 pm | Reply
  36. John McKane

    I fully agree with the Iranian Vice President. We do need a new ping-pong diplomacy with Iran. It would do well to remember the success of Richard Nixon's ping-pong diplomacy with China back in 1971 which led first to a dialogue between the U.S. and China and finally full diplomatic relations in 1979. Only a stupid, crazy fool would think otherwise!

    October 2, 2013 at 7:06 pm | Reply
    • observer1776

      A stupid crazy fool would believe Iran, or would have believed Hitler.

      October 2, 2013 at 7:45 pm | Reply
      • barry

        check plus!!

        October 3, 2013 at 5:33 am |
      • Mightysid

        No, just believe clown Bibi !

        October 3, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
    • john smith

      America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
      In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
      During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
      In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
      Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015..

      October 3, 2013 at 1:52 am | Reply

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