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Criticism over Kerry-Zarif stroll did not disrupt Rouhani meeting

Officials in the Hassan Rouhani administration have denied that the president stormed out of a meeting in anger after being criticized for the Geneva walk shared by Iran's top nuclear negotiator and the US secretary of state.
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25:  Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, 2014 in New York City. World leaders and their delagations gathered in New York City for the annual event.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

News that President Hassan Rouhani stormed out of a meeting has been denied by the administration and other officials present. Allegedly, Rouhani was upset that his foreign policy team had come under fire over a controversial stroll shared by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Hesam al-Din Ashna, Rouhani’s cultural adviser, told Tasnim News Agency, “At the latest session of the Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution, there was no tension. The president was present until the end of the meeting and he did not quit the meeting.”

On Jan. 25, the Entekhab website reported that Rouhani abruptly left a meeting at the Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution (SCCR) when council members began to criticize his administration for the walk on the sidelines of the Jan. 14 nuclear negotiations in Geneva. The 15-minute stroll along the Rhone River has angered some Iranian conservatives, who cannot attack the nuclear negotiations directly in out of respect for the supreme leader’s support and have instead criticized the negotiation team's tactics.

The stroll and the backlash received so much coverage that 21 members of parliament have summoned the foreign minister to explain the incident. The parliamentarians called the walk and Zarif’s trip to France at a time when French officials expressed support for Charlie Hebdo magazine's publishing images of the Prophet Muhammad “two diplomatic mistakes.”

Zarif has defended his walk with Kerry and called the criticism a “partisan issue” in which he would not become entangled.

According to Entekhab, after a member of the SCCR criticized the foreign policy team over the walk, Rouhani became angered and said that the comments were “inexpert” and the product of “low awareness.” This caused a “verbal confrontation” that resulted in Rouhani suddenly quitting the meeting.

Entekhab published a number of photos it claimed showed Rouhani scowling in the meeting and also one of him walking alone outside, as if he had walked out. Though the report did not mention his name, it ran with a suggestive picture of hard-line conservative Hassan Rahimpour attending the meeting.

Ashna said that it was normal procedure for members of the council to present their opinions during these meetings before the session addresses the agenda items, and when members express themselves, they don't necessarily expect a response.

According to Ashna, none of the comments from the members caused “controversy or tension.” He added that the details about which member presented what points would have to be acquired from the secretariat of the council.

In an interview with Fars News, council member Mehdi Golshani also said that Rouhani did not quit the meeting and that the controversial issue at the council was not the walk between Zarif and Kerry but concerns over the universities. Hojat al-Islam Ahmad Salek also told Fars News, “Differences at these meetings are normal,” and sometimes people raise their voices. He also said that every member stayed until the end of the meeting.

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