Dec. 25, 2013
(CNN) — Another sign of new rapprochement with Western culture, or a cynical public relations ploy?
Iran’s top leaders used Twitter to send Christmas greetings that praised Jesus, continuing a new era of social media outreach by a government previously known for Islamic extremism and political belligerence.
“May Jesus Christ, Prophet of love & peace, bless us all on this day. Wishing Merry #Christmas to those celebrating, esp Iranian Christians,” said a tweet from the official account of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
In response to Rouhani, the Shiite Muslim country’s hardline Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, tweeted back: “No doubt that Jesus #Christ has no less value among Muslims than [he has] among the pious Christians.”
Another tweet from Khamenei’s account said that “Jesus #Christ, the Son of #Mary, was a herald of God’s grace, blessing & guidance for man.”
The messages come as Iran seeks to reshape its relationship with the United States and other Western powers more than three decades after the Islamic revolution launched an era of diplomatic estrangement.
Its economy crippled by international sanctions over its nuclear program, Iran recently agreed to freeze some nuclear development efforts in exchange for the easing of some sanctions while talks continue on a final deal that U.S. officials say would prevent Tehran from building a nuclear weapon.
However, Israel and some U.S. legislators warn that Iran was manipulating President Barack Obama’s administration and its allies in the talks without intending to truly give up its quest for a nuclear weapon.
Rouhani insists Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the negotiations will show if that’s true because a final agreement will require Iran to give up the technology to develop weapons of mass destruction.
The chief Iranian nuclear negotiator, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, joined in some of the Christmas tweeting from Tehran.
“May the spirit of Christmas bring joy, peace, empathy and compassion to everyone throughout the coming year. Merry Christmas,” said a post on his account.
The messages came from leaders of an Islamic republic in which religious minorities are not completely free to participate in the Iranian government and often face discrimination.