Germany's Green Party Chairwoman Claudia Roth and Iran's ambassador to Germany, Reza Sheikh Attar, joyfully greeted each other at the annual Munich Security Conference earlier this month with a "high five."
The celebratory hand gesture -- more often seen among athletes than high-brow politicians or diplomats -- was caught on camera and quickly went viral.
The video has been covered widely in German media and has been shared extensively among Iranians on social media and blogs, eliciting controversy and criticism.
The criticism of Roth has focused on her seeming chumminess with an Iranian official who has been accused of human rights abuses. Roth was named "Loser of the Day" by the German daily "Bild" over the image.
A spokesperson for Roth, who has criticized human rights abuses in Iran in the past, downplayed the incident. The spokesperson was quoted as saying that Roth was committed to the "Iranian opposition movement" but gave the ambassador a high five because they had known each other for years.
Attar, for his part, has gone to great lengths to explain that his hand didn't touch Roth's, even though he appears to initiate the contact. In the Islamic republic, casual physical contact with women who are not close relatives is considered taboo, and Attar is banned from shaking hands with women in his capacity as a dipolomat.
In an interview with the hard-line Fars news agency, Attar said that he merely raised his hand to greet Roth.
"Because of laws and for religious reasons, we don't shake hands with women," Attar explained. "Therefore, as a sign of respect I raised my hand -- I didn't raise my hand to shake her hand -- Mrs. Roth also raised her hand. Of course the distance was small but no touching took place."
Attar accused "Bild" of supporting "Zionists" and the Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), which is considered a terrorist organization by the Islamic republic.
He said while the German Green Party and the Islamic republic differ on some issues, including human rights issues, they both agree on "the danger" posed by MKO.
Referring to the outcry, Attar claimed that, "With this move [the MKO] wanted to pressure Roth."
Attar also said he has penned an article in which he denied accusations that he had ordered the execution of hundreds of Kurdish activists during his tenure as the governor of Iran's northwestern Kurdistan Province. He said the piece had not yet been published.
Finding ways to avoid touching female politicians and female world leaders has always been a challenge for Iranian politicians and diplomats. Often they bow instead of shaking hands.
During his recent visit to Egypt, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad was seen greeting a woman in the Hindu manner -- by pressing both hands together.
Ironically, while shaking hands with women in public is forbidden in the Islamic republic, security forces show little restraint when dealing with women protesters.
YouTube videos that emerged during the mass protests that followed Ahmadinejad's hotly disputed reelection in 2009 showed security forces beating women with their hands, feet, or batons here:
Women are also routinely physically mistreated by the morality police during hijab crackdowns, which officials say are carried out to preserve Islamic values.
-- Golnaz Esfandiari