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Iran's Culture Ministry said the U.S. has a distorted and negative image of the country.

Iran's Culture Ministry has defended the "successful presence" of an Iranian delegation in an October 28 conference in Pittsburgh that was reportedly also attended by State Department official Greg Sullivan.

The conference, "Growing Business between the U.S. and the Middle East," was organized by the American Middle East Institute.

The Iranian delegation included Deputy Culture Minister Ali Moradkhani and the director of the Fajr Music Festival Ali Torabi.

In a statement published on Iranian websites on November 3, the Culture Ministry said the Iranian delegation did not have any "official or unofficial" meeting or discussion with U.S. officials.

"The presence of the Iranian delegation led to criticism by pro-Israel and anti-Iran hardliners, and one week ahead of the visit, two senators and members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives drafted an anti-Iran motion to prevent Iran from attending the seminar," the statement said.

The statement added that the efforts failed to bear any result.

"Following the successful presence of the Iranian delegation, [an] anti-Iranian group published a one-sided and distorted report from the seminar's proceedings," the statement said apparently in reaction to a report by the conservative "Free Beacon" website.

The website reported on October 31 report that former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian was present at the conference.

“Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the Pittsburgh visit appeared to be an attempt by Mousavian “to mobilize the U.S. business community as a pressure group calling for removal of the sanctions regime.”

“The Islamic Republic’s motive for participating at the conference is understandable: Ambassador Hossein Mousavian, who is a brilliant diplomat, desires to convey the message to the U.S. business community that Iran is open for business,” said Alfoneh.”

But in an interview with, Mousavian denied the report. He said he had been invited to the Pittsburgh meeting but had not been able to attend because of a speaking engagement in Washington D.C.

Mousavian also claimed that he didn’t have any role in organizing the trip. He said the “unofficial” trip was aimed at opening cultural ties between the two countries.

"The approval of the trip by the U.S. government and attendance in conferences and consultations means that the U.S. government is gradually removing barriers facing people-to-people ties between Iran and the United States," he said.

The conference organizer, American Middle East Institute Director Simin Curtis, told the BBC Persian Service that there was no talk about business with Iran at the conference. She said the aim of the discussions with the Iranian delegation was to facilitate cultural ties between Iran and the U.S.

She said the State Department had "welcomed" the presence of the Iranian delegation.

Reacting to a question on Twitter, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said the meeting was aimed at cultural collaboration.

Iran's Culture Ministry said because of the absence of the Islamic republic in important cultural spheres in the U.S., the "enemies and ill-wishers" have replaced Iran and depicted a distorted and negative image of the country.

"That is why counterrevolution Iranian groups and warmonger supporters of [Israel] are adamantly against the participation of Iranian intellectuals and artists [in cultural events]," the statement said.

The ministry issued the statement following criticism in Iranian conservative media and hard-line websites regarding the silence surrounding the trip.

"Is this trip a cultural cover up for a political move? And a more important question is: why was there no news about the trip, while for the American side, providing information about the trip was a winning card that was used to challenge our country?" the semi-official Mehr news agency asked in a report.

In its statement, the ministry said Iranian media outlets should not cover "speculation" and avoid providing an opportunity for "the enemies" to take advantage.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

Iranian cabinet ministers during the November 3 session

Iranians have been celebrating the Shi’ite religious festival of Tasua Ashura to honor the martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hussein, who was slain in a battle in Karbala in 680 C.E.

Many Iranians take to the streets or go to mosques and beat their chests to mourn the suffering and death of the third Shi’ite imam and his companions. Some gather to watch the traditional Ta'zieh, a play that recounts the events that surrounded Hussein's death. Still others cook food and offer it to friends, neighbors, and the poor.

Iran's cabinet of ministers launched its November 3 session by listening to a tearful sermon by President Hassan Rohani.

State-controlled television reported that Rohani's sermon appeared to have brought cabinet ministers to tears -- some loudly -- focused on the lessons of Ashura, including resistance in the face of oppression and injustice.

Here's an ISNA photo gallery of tearful ministers.

Iranians are used to seeing their leaders cry in public, particularly at times of religious mourning.

The website of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei often posts pictures of the cleric in tears over the death of Shi’ite religious figures (as over Imam Hussein here).

Here's a tweet by @Khamenei_ir, which is believed to be run by Khamenei’s media team:

Iranian politicians have also wept in public during election campaigns and on other occasions.

While some of the crying may be genuine, weeping politicians are often accused by critics of attempting to manipulate the public and influence emotional Iranians.

The pictures of Rohani and other government ministers, including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, weeping this week have been ridiculed by some social-media users.

"They cry in front of cameras to prove their sincerity?" one Facebook user wrote.

Under a short video of Rohani's sermon and weeping posted on an Instagram account believed to be managed by people close to the Iranian president, many reacted with great appreciation, while others criticized the move.

"As one of your supporters I didn't agree with your sermon, I think it's not befitting of a president's status," wrote a young man.

"This is all great," wrote another, adding, "But when are people's economic situations going to improve?"

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.


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