Just days ago, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was sending out a YouTube message to Washington, urging a “lasting outcome” for the nuclear talks and calling for “the maturity to be reasonable […] and the audacity to break old habits,” as poignant classical music played in the background. Then, he was predicting in a dovish Financial Times op-ed that a nuclear deal would usher in an era of cooperation between Iran and the West on “shared challenges of far greater magnitude,” such as the “menace of violent extremism.”
But things escalated quickly round the negotiating table, with Zarif reportedly warning EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini during a row over the arms embargo on Iran this week to “never threaten an Iranian” and entering a shouting match with US Secretary of State John Kerry, in antics that were all over the internet this week – quickly becoming memes, predictably. Meanwhile, #NeverThreatenAnIranian has become a popular hashtag on Twitter, even being put to use within Iran for purposes of political protest.
Yet despite the drama in Vienna, which may well prove to be a “defining moment” in the talks, what was highlighted in the media this week was not the enduring acrimony and “apocryphal blow-ups” between the parties, as evinced by Zarif and Lavrov’s face-off with Mogherini and Kerry, but rather their persistent determination to finalize a nuclear accord and go on talking despite the “lingering tension” between them.
That’s not to say that some outlets didn’t try to find out just why the diplomats lost their cool (hint: it wasn’t the abnormally hot weather). While National Interest suggested that Zarif’s words were an attempt to appeal to “proud national ‘character’” and maneuver public support for the talks, The Huffington Post’s take was that the Iranian foreign ministers’ “Mogherini riposte” was not a manipulation of Iran’s national pride and ethos of resistance, but rather a manifestation of them. Bloomberg’s Eli Lake, meanwhile, viewed Zarif’s comment as ironic in light of Washington’s seeming disinclination to rein in the Iranian regime, as well as said regime’s own threatening behavior, which remains unsubtle – and unchanged.