EU Foreign Policy Chief Triggers ‘Selfie’ Scrum in Iranian Parliament

By Patrick Goodenough | August 6, 2017 | 10:11 PM EDT

Iranian lawmakers clamor for photos of and with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, after President Hasan Rouhani’s swearing-in ceremony in parliament in Tehran on Saturday, August 5, 2017. (Photo: Mahmoud Hosseini/Twitter)

( – European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini was a high-profile guest at Saturday’s swearing-in of re-elected Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, but while regime officials pressed her to distance the E.U. from U.S. policies towards Iran, many lawmakers seemed more interested in taking photographs of, and with, the blonde Italian politician.

Press photos showing the Iranian men clamoring for cellphone photos of Mogherini after the ceremony drew sharp criticism on social media, with some Iranians accusing them of behaving disgracefully and calling for consequences.

Away from the phone frenzy, media outlets noted Mogherini’s presence with satisfaction, coming at a time when President Trump is hardening the U.S. stance towards Iran – and days after he signed into law a sanctions bill targeting Iran’s missile program and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for terror-sponsorship.

“The presence of Mogherini in the ceremony carries a great meaning as U.S. President Donald Trump has toughened his rhetoric against the July 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran,” commented the Tehran Times.

A few hours before the swearing-in, Mogherini held talks with Rouhani and – according to the Iranian presidency – called the presence of an E.U. delegation “an important political decision,” signaling the E.U.’s commitment to relations with Tehran and to the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister who advises supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on foreign affairs, met with Mogherini and said Tehran expects the E.U. to adopt policies that are “more independent” of those of the U.S.

Trump has called the deal negotiated with Iran by the U.S. and five other powers one of the worst deals ever struck and appears ready to find Iran to be in violation of its commitments.

Under the agreement Iran received tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief in return for implementing steps which the Obama administration said would prevent it from developing a nuclear bomb.

As the E.U.’s top foreign policy official, Mogherini acts as coordinator of the JCPOA and has defended it in the face of Trump’s criticism.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and members of her delegation hold talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Tehran on Saturday, August 5, 2017. (Photo: European External Action Service)

Meeting Saturday with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Mogherini declared that the nuclear deal “is delivering on its objectives,” reiterated the E.U.’s “unwavering commitment” to it, and underlined the need for “all parties” to fully and effectively implement it.

For his part, Zarif accused the U.S. of reneging on its obligations and urged the E.U. to be vigilant in response to what he said was Trump’s aim to terminate the deal.

(Zarif did reserve some criticism for Europe, asking why Germany, France and Britain had joined the U.S. in criticizing Iran’s launch late last month of a satellite-carrying rocket into space. The Western governments argue that the technology used is inherently designed to advance Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities.)

In his swearing-in speech, Rouhani also accused the U.S. of not adhering to its JCPOA obligations, charging that it wasaddicted to the illegal and ineffective policy of sanctions and threats” and thus proving to the world that Washington cannot be trusted.

“I explicitly announce that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not start violating the JCPOA but will not remain quiet against U.S. continuing to wriggle out of its commitments either,” he said.

'Strange' behavior

Despite Mogherini’s expressions of support for Iran and the nuclear accord, many Iranians seemed unimpressed by the attention she attracted from some members of the majlis (parliament) after the ceremony.

Iranian media outlets published photos showing the lawmakers gathering around, phones in hand, trying to get the best angle for photos of her, or selfies with her. Mogherini, her hair mostly covered by a scarf in accordance with Islamic “modesty” standards, appeared amused in some of the photos, bewildered in others.

Reaction on social media was harsh, with the lawmakers’ conduct described as “humiliating,” “insulting,” “offensive,” “embarrassing” and “strange.”

(Photo: Mahmoud Hosseini/Twitter)

Some commenters, including an advisor to a former president, called for protocol and ethics training for the representatives

Mohammad Nabi Habibi, an Iranian politician, said the speaker of parliament “should pay attention to this group of representatives in order to protect the dignity of the majlis in accordance with the rules.”

A sociologist said politicians and sociologists should hold a session “to discuss why they took pictures with Mogherini in this amazing way.”

One Iranian Twitter user said “fifth-grade schoolchildren” do not behave so badly.

“The people were embarrassed by this ugly act,” said a second, while a third asked, “Why have you sold the prestige and authority of beloved Iran?”

Some said that those responsible – who could be easily identified in the photographs – should resign or be expelled.

Respondents appeared to differ over whether or not they felt sympathy for Mogherini. Iranian fashion photographer Reihani Taravati tweeted an apology to her for the “shameful attitude” of the men.

Others pointed to European criticism of Iran’s recent rocket launch and challenged the notion that she was not an “enemy of the nation.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow