Well, this is a surprise, and probably Iran backed into a corner. President Hassan Rouhani released a statement congratulating Stanford Professor Mirzakhani on her prestigious win. I’d say I’m holding my breath for the clerics to follow suit, but I’d die pretty quickly. While Rouhani is the president of Iran, it is the clerics led by Ali Khamenei who is the Supreme Leader of Iran. Maybe their press office is a little slow.

The statement was released by the state-run Fars Network. “I congratulate you for winning the topmost world prize in mathematics. “Today the Iranians can feel proud that the first woman who has ever won the Fields Medal is their fellow citizen. Yes! The most competent must sit at the highest position and must be the most respected.”

“The entire Iranians, wherever in the world they are, are the assets of this land, and I, as the representative of the Iranian nation, laud your scientific efforts. I hope your life will be always filled with happiness and success.”

I’m sure he will hop on Twitter later and say something nice. Mirzakhani was born in Iran, but eventually left to study math at Harvard University. She is the first female winner of the Fields Medal, cracking another glass ceiling for women in scientific fields.

The Fields Medal was first given out in 1936, and is awarded every four years. They took the idea of the math Olympics literally when handing this out. Two to four mathematicians, under the age of 40, receive the award. It is the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for math.

With President Rouhani congratulating the professor, Iran is hoping to present a moderate front on the world stage. Open up to free and democratic elections without clerical interference and then you have something. Until then, the words ring hollow.

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