Secretary of State John Kerry swears in Rick Stengel as undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs at the Department of State on April 15, 2014. (Photo: State Department)
(CNSNews.com) – The State Department’s Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, Rick Stengel, raised eyebrows and ire on Twitter after quoting Iran’s foreign minister voicing Muslim solidarity after terror attacks in Saudi Arabia.
Some Twitter users found it curious that Stengel would cite on that subject a representative of a regime which his own State Department affirms is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.
After a suicide bombing Monday that killed four security officers near Islam’s second-holiest site in Medina, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted, “There are no more red lines left for terrorists to cross. Sunnis, Shiites will both remain victims unless we stand united as one.”
After Zarif’s widely quoted remark appeared in a Wall Street Journal report Tuesday, Stengel used his official Twitter account to draw attention to the story -- and specifically to Zarif’s quote.
“Muslim leaders condemn Saudi attacks. ‘We will remain victims unless we stand united as one’- FM Zarif,” Stengel tweeted (hashtags removed).
Response from critics of the Iranian regime followed quickly.
“Your employer designated Iran as top terrorist state sponsor. Iran fans flames of sectarian war. And you tweet this?” Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) executive director Mark Dubowitz wrote on his Twitter feed.
“Rick, are U aware that you work at State, which just named Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism,” tweeted The Israel Project CEO and President Josh Block.
“Remember Khobar?” Block added, referring to the 1996 bombing in Saudi Arabia. Nineteen U.S. military personnel were killed in the attack, for which a U.S. federal judge in 2006 ruled the Iranian regime bore partial responsibility.
Meshal al-Khalidi, a U.K.-based Arab who tweets on politics called Stengel’s tweet “an example on how US dept. promotes the propaganda and burnish the image of a country sponsor of terrorism!”
Peymaneh Shafi, who describes herself as an “advocate for regime change in Iran,” asked Stengel “R U whitewashing the hands of hostage takers + terrorists? Last time I checked they R still on UR list of state sponsor of terrorism!”
FDD vice president for research Jonathan Schanzer had a one-word response: “Disgraceful”
Omri Ceren of The Israel Project commented that Stengel’s tweet was “on msg” (on message). He pointed to remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry last August, when he hailed a call by Zarif for unity in the region – when the Iranian was actually calling for unity against Israel.
(As CNSNews.comreported at the time, Kerry suggested that Zarif’s regional outreach – to Lebanon and other Arab countries – was positive, a sign of growing moderation in Tehran. In fact Zarif met with the leader of Iran’s terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, and urged Muslim countries to cooperate against “the Zionist entity.”)
As recently as May, Zarif was lamenting the “martyrdom” of a top Hezbollah terrorist, killed in Syria where Iran and Hezbollah are helping to prop up the Assad regime.
When he released the State Department’s global terrorism report early last month, acting coordinator for counterterrorism Justin Siberell declared that “Iran remains the leading state sponsor of terrorism globally.”
He added that the regime in Tehran “continues to provide support to Hezbollah, Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, and various groups in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.”
Kerry and Zarif led their respective delegations in the nuclear negotiations, and developed a close working relationship – one which Kerry later credited with helping to secure a speedy resolution after Iran seized ten U.S. sailors in the Persian Gulf last January.
The two men have met often, and speak frequently on the phone. Along with President Hasan Rouhani, Zarif is the Iranian administration officials point to when expressing the hope that “moderates” are rising in Tehran.
“Everybody understands that Iran is going through certain change,” Kerry saidat the Aspen Ideas Festival last week. “President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif have a vision that was a vision that was carried out in the context of sitting down with us and negotiating.”
Stengel, a former Time magazine managing editor, assumed the position of undersecretary for public diplomacy in 2014 after Senate confirmation.
Swearing him in, Kerry said he had “asked him about being the principal person in the State Department to help share what America is trying to do and share it with millions of young people in the Middle East and North Africa and South Central Asia, in East Asia – people who are struggling over which side they’re going to choose to be on: whether they’ll take the long walk to freedom and to modernity or choose the temptations of a path that leads to extremism and violence and nihilism.”
According to the State Department, the undersecretary “leads America’s public diplomacy outreach, which includes communications with international audiences, cultural programming, academic grants, educational exchanges, international visitor programs, and U.S. government efforts to confront ideological support for terrorism.”
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United." Affiliated with Georgetown University for over ten years, he shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."