On Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 4, 2013, I put my daughter to sleep and caught up with the news on Twitter. I came across a Rosh Hashanah tweet from the President of Iran's account and then one his account retweeted from Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, @JZarif.
I was surprised and skeptical. Is this lip service or a real change in tone? After all Iran's leaders - despite their nation's sizable Jewish population - hosted a Holocaust Deniers Conference (in 2006) and made multiple statements as recently as this summer calling for the destruction of the state of Israel and supporting so-called "revisionists" doubting the Holocaust.
I decided to find out. So I tweeted him. And he tweeted me back, in the above exchange.
Minister Zarif appears to specifically say not only that Iran never denied it, but that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did deny it.
That tweet was then deleted and replaced with a less strongly-worded version, as seen below.
Even edited, it's what the hosts of Politics Radio called a "bizarrely awesome" exchange, and one that shows Zarif's willingness to address critics and make "news."
After our exchange I heard from hundreds of people from around the world on social media streams - not just Twitter but Facebook and email - expressing their responses. If we did a sound cloud in reaction, the most common word was "wow." People were surprised that of all the people who responded to his tweet, I would challenge him on the Holocaust denial (others raised the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, and Israel as well, but mine was on the civil side of snarky and included the word "sir" to maintain the friendship in my voice," as my mother would say.
So perhaps that, plus my last name, gave the foreign minister the opportunity to respond. I even heard from folks in Iran this past Monday, when the Twitter filters there were briefly unblocked.
That Minister Zarif deleted the old tweet, correcting it several hours later with a slightly less provocative stab at Ahmadinejad, doesn't change the essential message: One era is over and new one has begun.
We will see if this moment of "twiplomacy" was purely personal instinct - social media has a way of indulging impulses. Or a more calculated response, considering the subject matter and the goal, which was to "reset" (to borrow a phrase) the Iranian relationship with the Jewish people and the world community.
Now one small step on Twitter may be a larger chorus of understanding between peoples. Many, many people have responded to "The Tweets Heard Round the World" with hope that our countries will engage in direct conversation regarding Middle East peace, nuclear weapons, and political freedom. I share their hope and I believe the United States should seize the moment to meet directly with representatives of the Iranian government.
We have confirmation that President Barack Obama and President Hassan Rouhani have exchanged letters, in our nations' first official direct communication since 1980. In addition, Iran just announced the release of respected human rights lawyer Ms. Nasrin Suotoudeh, and other political prisoners.
Twiplomacy, presidential letters, political prisoner releases all point to a new dawn in Iran and a new opportunity for communication. As the United Nations General Assembly meets this week in New York City, the United States and Iran could break further new ground and do officially what their citizens have been doing unofficially for years, and have a public conversation. A meeting of U.S. Secretary of State Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif this week would be the perfect opportunity to build on behind-the-scenes progress and test Iran's groundbreaking statements for all the world to see - and tweet.
Christine Pelosi is an attorney, author and Democratic activist based in San Francisco. She earned a BSFS from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. Follow her on Twitter at @sfpelosi.com.