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Syria's U.N. ambassador rips criticism of his daughter

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 11:45 AM EDT, Mon June 18, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "This is an unethical, immoral, baseless, unfounded, animal and brutal approach," ambassador says
  • "They are trying to attack me through my own daughter," Bashar Jaafari says
  • His comments follow the expression of regret by Barbara Walters for having tried to help his daughter

United Nations (CNN) -- Syria's U.N. ambassador lashed out Thursday at criticism of his daughter, who was in the news last week after ABC News' Barbara Walters expressed regret for having tried to help her.

"This is an unethical, immoral, baseless, unfounded, animal and brutal approach toward personal issues related to my family," Bashar Jaafari told reporters here after being asked to address the issue of his daughter's link to Columbia University.

"Somebody is seeking to get to the Syrian ambassador," he continued. "Since they don't have any possibility to get to that, they are trying to attack me through my own daughter. This is why this is an unethical approach -- and immoral."

Walters has said she should not have tried to help Sheherazad Jaafari obtain an internship and admission to Columbia's prestigious School of International and Public Affairs. "In retrospect, I realize that this created a conflict and I regret that," Walters said last week in a statement.

Walters said Sheherazad Jaafari contacted her following the reporter's return from Syria to the United States after a December ABC interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Sheherazad Jaafari had coached al-Assad before the interview on how to describe the violence there, according to e-mails purportedly from Syrian officials released in February by the hacking group known as Anonymous.

"Don't talk reform," she wrote in one e-mail. "American's (sic) won't care, or understand that. ... American psyche can be easily manipulated when they hear that there are 'mistakes' done and now we are 'fixing it.'"

On her resume, Jaafari said she graduated from college in June 2010 and worked for a year as an account executive at Brown Lloyd James, a public relations firm, in New York.

Sheherazad Jaafari said Wednesday that she had met a number of English-speaking journalists during a three-month, unpaid internship she undertook late last year in Syria while preparing to return to school to pursue her master's degree.

"My main intention as a new graduate was to expose myself to the world of media and communication, which are the fields that I have interest in," she said in an e-mail to CNN.

"Unfounded reports published recently have wrongfully claimed that I was the aide of the President of Syria. I want to make clear that I have never served as a President aid (sic) to the President of Syria," she continued."

She added, "I am nothing but a victim for some personal agendas."

Sheherazad Jaafari said that she gained admission to Columbia based on her own qualifications.

What is occurring in Syria "and to my people saddens me and breaks my heart. It is in my prayers that peace and stability will prevail."

In e-mails obtained by CNN, she struck a personal tone toward the Syrian president.

"I miss ur voice already," she wrote al-Assad in late December. "Give me a call whenever u can so I could get some energy from you and tell you how much I misss u (sic)."

Walters has said that Jaafari was "looking for a job" when she contacted her. "I told her that was a serious conflict of interest and that we would not hire her. I did offer to mention her to contacts at another media organization and in academia."

Walters sent an e-mail to CNN's Piers Morgan and his executive producer, Jonathan Wald, describing her as a "sensational young woman."

CNN has said Walters contacted "Piers Morgan Tonight" on Jaafari's behalf; however, she was neither interviewed nor hired as an intern.

Morgan himself denied having had any contact with Jaafari.

Walters also e-mailed a professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism on Jaafari's behalf. The professor, former ABC News executive Richard Wald, is the father of Jonathan Wald.

Walters later sent a follow-up e-mail to Jonathan Wald, advising him not to bother following up with the college graduate, since she did not have an appropriate U.S. visa.

Howard Kurtz, the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources," said the incident makes Walters "seem a little too cozy" with someone close to the Syrian regime.

"This looks like a bit of a quid pro quo," Kurtz said last week. "This woman was close to Assad, the daughter of the ambassador, helps her arrange the interview, and the next day they're on e-mail talking about helping her -- Barbara Walters helping her to either get into an Ivy League school or land a media internship."

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