By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
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 Bacon" 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 Khabaronline.com, 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.
.@marieharf Did we get the name of the conference wrong? We have the title as: "Growing Business Between the U.S. and the Middle East."— Free Beacon (@FreeBeacon) October 31, 2014
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.
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