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Amid Nuclear Talks, Iran Pushes Diplomacy Online

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Amid Nuclear Talks, Iran Pushes Diplomacy Online

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Amid Nuclear Talks, Iran Pushes Diplomacy Online

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

This coming Wednesday, it's back to the negotiating table for Iran and the United States. Along with five other countries, they'll be trying to figure out a way forward on Iran's controversial nuclear program. But aside from the public press conferences and official statements, a lot of the stories played out online, especially on the Iranian side.

In fact, Iran has launched a kind of online charm offensive with a new English language website and Twitter feeds and Facebook pages for top officials.

Robin Wright has been following all this. She's an expert on Iran and a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Robin, thank you for joining us.

ROBIN WRIGHT: Great to be with you.

RATH: So I want to start off with the English language website. It was launched earlier this month apparently by the government. And the website is nuclearenergy.ir. Could you describe what it looks like and what they're trying to do?

WRIGHT: Well, the most interesting thing is that it's in English, so it's clearly an attempt to reach out to the outside world, most notably the United States. And it is very sophisticated in that it deals with all the key questions of what Iran is doing in its various nuclear sites, what its intentions are. And it puts out Iran's case in what is sophisticated, thoughtful language now.

There are probably a lot of nuclear experts who would say this presents only part of the story, but it is interesting that it came out just on the eve of the first round of talks in Geneva.

RATH: Of course, the Iranians aren't just building websites, but there's been this active engagement through social media. Who among the main Iranian political figures are using social networks?

WRIGHT: It's astounding actually that since the election in June - or actually since the campaign, many in - of the candidates in Iran started campaigning on Twitter or on their Facebook pages, even though both sites are technically illegal. But so many people in Iran have access through dialing in through foreign channels that they have access to what's going on.

And the president of Iran actually had an account in English. And he has, since being elected in June, used his Twitter and Facebook pages to reach out to the world, to try to define his program to Iranians.

Now, during the last round of talks in Geneva, President Hassan Rouhani tweeted 10 times during the day, during the last of three days of talks, saying: The West should not miss out this unique opportunity. Our nation is participating in the Geneva negotiations with strong will and determination.

The supreme leader of Iran tweeted the last day in English on his Twitter account: Our negotiators are children of the revolution. We strongly support those in charge of our diplomacy, which was actually designed to push back against the hard-liners in Iran who rejected or questioned the diplomatic outreach by Iran to try to find something other than a military confrontation over its nuclear program. So it's been really interesting to see what is the most ambitious public diplomacy campaign since Iran's 1979 revolution.

RATH: Twitter is banned - I'm assuming that it's condemned in some way. How do they square that, that when a supreme leader is out and active on the service himself?

WRIGHT: Well, there are a lot of Iranians who are making that point. And, in fact, when the foreign minister was in New York at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, he was tweeting regular accounts of his meetings and what he was doing, very kind of familiar accounts. He would tell about how some of the meetings were so boring he could barely keep his eyes open and so forth.

And at one point when he was on his way home, he tweeted that he was having a hard time getting service at some facility. And he had hundreds of people who came back and said to him, well, now you know what it's like for the rest of us in Iran. It's very interesting how social media is being used by the new Iranian government but also being a source to hold the new Iranian government to account.

RATH: That's Robin Wright. She's a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center. And you can find her analysis at iranprimer.com. Robin, thank you so much.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

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