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Bad Selfie: Iranian Lawmakers Take Heat For Pictures With Top EU Diplomat

An Iranian lawmaker uses a phone to take a "selfie" picture as EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini walks by in parliament in Tehran on August 5.

A group of Iranian lawmakers have come under fire for appearing too eager to take selfies with EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini while she was in Tehran to attend a high-profile event.

Mogherini was among dozens of foreign officials in attendance as President Hassan Rohani was inaugurated for his second term on August 5, and the Italian politician's presence did not go unnoticed.

Photos have emerged showing Mogherini surrounded by phone-wielding Iranian lawmakers crowding to snap a selfie with her -- some leaning over desks to squeeze into the frame, others waving at her.

The images have led to criticism in the country's press as well as on social media.

Some have suggested the lawmakers had embarrassed and humiliated themselves over their behavior.

Hesamodin Ashna, cultural adviser to the relatively moderate Rohani, wrote on Twitter: "This is not a political problem, it's rather a cultural one. Every one of those esteemed MPs in that selfie should be interviewed seriously."

Sadeq Kharazzi, a former Iranian diplomat and adviser to reformist former President Mohammad Khatami, wrote on his Instagram page that the parliament should hold a "training course on codes of conduct and universal moral values" for lawmakers.

Others said that the lawmakers, who are in general not known for favoring women's rights, were overly excited to take a photo with a woman of power.

The moderate daily Ghanoon drew a comparison with Edvard Munch's famous painting The Scream. Ghanoon featured a front-page cartoon, titled The Selfie Of Scream, showing Mogherini and lawmakers with their phones and selfie sticks.

The ultra-hard-line daily Kayhan made a vague connection to controversy over the nuclear deal agreed between six world powers -- including the United States and three EU members, but not Italy or the EU itself -- and Iran in 2015.

The United States and the three EU states involved in the deal (Britain, France, and Germany) have condemned missile tests recently conducted by Iran, saying they were "inconsistent" with the UN Security Council resolution that endorsed the nuclear deal.

"Those who are supposed to defend the rights of the nation against the enemy queue up to take photos in a humiliating way with the violators of the nuclear deal," Kayhan wrote.

Kayhan claimed that recent stances by some EU officials, without specifying individuals, suggested that the EU was in agreement with the United States in "its hostility" toward Iran. The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has been highly critical of the nuclear agreement, although it has twice certified Tehran's compliance with its terms.

In recent months and as recently as early July Washington has imposed unilateral economic sanctions on businesses and individuals who support Iran's ballistic-missile program, as well as over Iranian human rights violations and support for terrorism. Trump has also recently reportedly tasked staffers with building a case against certifying the deal in October, when the next 90-day review comes up.

In 2013, Rohani rode a wave of optimism that he could end Iran's international isolation and negotiate a nuclear deal to a presidential victory. He delivered on that promise, but enters his second term facing criticism from hard-liners who were against the deal and say the West negotiated in bad faith.

At least one of the lawmakers pictured in the selfie scandal -- reformist Shiraz deputy Farajollah Rajabi, who was pictured leaning on his desk to get into a shot -- has apologized for his behavior.

Others attempted to downplay the incident.

Lawmaker Homayoun Yusefi told the hard-line Tasnim news agency that the selfie was "totally normal" and the issue shouldn't be "magnified so much."

"In inauguration ceremonies, hundreds of selfies are being taken and this was one of them," Yusefi said while noting that he did not take a selfie with Mogherini.

"It is not true that some lawmakers had become excited to see Mogherini," he said.

"Mogherini's presence -- despite America's intense opposition -- is a major diplomatic victory for Iran," he said, adding that the inauguration should not come under question over such "trivial matters."

Iranian media touted the expected "record turnout" of foreign dignitaries attending the inauguration, stressing that delegations from more than 100 countries and several heads of state were in attendance.

Lawmaker Abolfazl Hassanbeigi, deputy head of the parliament's National Security Committee, told the government daily Iran that the issue of the selfie should not overshadow the "greatness" of Rohani's inauguration.

"It was really positive for the Islamic republic. On the sidelines, some lawmakers met and welcomed foreign guests, including Mogherini," Hassanbeigi said.

He added that lawmakers were conveying their stances to Mogherini.

"I was there, I witnessed a lawmaker telling Mogherini that we're hoping she will one day chant 'Death To America,'" he said, adding that lawmakers had told the EU's top diplomat that they're hoping that the EU continues to adhere to the 2015 nuclear deal and "doesn't join U.S. games."

"Then I and several other lawmakers said loudly 'Death To America and Viva Europe,'" he said.

Mogherini has not publicly reacted to the controversy.

In an August 5 statement, she reiterated "the EU's unwavering commitment to the deal, recalled its historic significance, multilateral dimension, and its importance for regional and global stability."

The statement also underlined "the need for a full and effective implementation of the deal by all parties throughout its duration."