European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s visit to Iran, the first by an European official in her position to do so since 2008, sparked a poster campaign against her and a flurry of media responses both within Iran and outside it, with some Iranian press criticizing her harshly.
From posters comparing Ashton to Saddam Hussein to declarations announcing a “new episode in Iran-EU economic ties,” the Iranian press and street presented a complex picture reflecting, on the one hand, the regime’s push for closer diplomatic and economic ties with Europe, and on the other hand, the conservatives’ push to keep domestic Iranian matters, particularly those of concern to human rights activists, away from Western eyes.
The Revolutionary Guard-affiliated Javan newspaper, in reporting on Ashton’s meeting with “seditionists,” doctored a photo of the European diplomat meeting two women activists to remove one of them, the mother of a blogger who died in police custody.
According to the paper, the doctoring was done to prevent readers from misidentifying the “respectable mother,” Gohar Eshghi, as a “seditionist,” Al-Monitor reported. The caption blasted Ashton for “interfering in domestic affairs.” Sure enough, the next day, the paper quoted the head of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, as saying, “Where in the world do they allow a foreigner to come in and let that person go wherever they want and meet whoever they want?”
Iran’s Kayhan newspaper also suggested Ashton’s visit was more intervention than negotiation, saying its focus was less on furthering the ongoing talks over a final-status nuclear deal and more on human rights issues. The semi-official Fars news agency, meanwhile, said that the meeting had not been coordinated with the Foreign Ministry, blasting President Hassan Rouhani’s brand of diplomacy for weakening trust between Iran and Europe rather than building it.
Meanwhile in Europe, most news outlets focused on Ashton’s hours-long meeting with Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and optimistic predictions of a nuclear deal “in months.” However, many outlets picked up on the controversy generated by Ashton’s trip, with the BBC aptly summing it up as “a visit to explore the potential for a new relationship between Iran and Europe” that “also ended up highlighting the enduring sensitivity of the old.”