Israeli reporters were somewhat surprised this week when Iranian officials took their questions during press briefings amidst nuclear talks in Geneva.
But a direct encounter between Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi and Yediot Ahronot correspondent Lior Zilbreshtein on Wednesday suggested that in the previous incidents, the Iranians didn’t know exactly to whom they were speaking.
Zilbreshtein recounted as Araqchi was leaving his hotel for a fresh day of talks, “he agreed to answer a few questions from reporters who had flocked to him.”
The Israeli didn’t waste the opportunity and pushed in to ask if a breakthrough in the talks could lead to a renewed relations between Iran and Israel. At that point, Zilbreshstein had not identifed herself as Israeli, so Araqchi didn’t hesitate to answer: “That is a different matter entirely, it has no connection to these negotiations. Any breakthrough on the nuclear issue will open new horizons, but how and what exactly, that depends.”
Encouraged by the fact that the Iranian had spoken to her (Iranian ministers usually pretend the Israelis journalist in front of them don’t exist), Zilbreshstein followed Araqchi out toward his waiting vehicle, properly identified herself, and asked for a few minutes.
“You know I can’t do that,” Araqchi said with a smile.
Hours later, an Iranian colleague notified Zilbreshstein that she herself had become something of a hot news item in Iran.
Iran’s official state media had reported that “as the deputy minister was leaving his hotel…a reporter asked a question and he answered. But as soon as he understood that he was speaking to a Zionist reporter he refused to answer any further questions.”
Later that evening, Iranian TV broadcast a video clip showing what it called the “attack approach” Araqchi faced from a “Zionist correspondent.”
While the Israelis were trying to get the Iranians to talk to them without viewing it as some sort of direct frontal assault, the Obama Administration was all but gushing over its first day of direct negotiations with the Islamic Republic.
White House Spokesman Jay Carney described the talks as containing a “level of seriousness and substance that we have not seen before,” while cautioning that an actual breakthrough in the nuclear issue could take some time.
Above photo for illustrative purposes only.
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