The daughter of Syria's UN ambassador denied reports she was an aide to President Bashar Al-Assad, but some of her prospective classmates at Columbia University said the school should shun anyone connected to the dictator's violent regime..
In an exclusive statement to FoxNews.com, Sheherezad "Sherry" Jaafari claims she worked in 2011 as an intern in "Syrian media and communication circles" for three months in preparation for a career in the field and said she was "never on the payroll" of the Assad regime. Jaafari, the 22-year-old daughter of Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari, has enrolled in a master's program at Columbia University to begin this fall.
"Unfounded reports published recently have wrongfully claimed that I was the aide of the president of Syria," said Jaafari. "My duties were limited to fulfill instructions related to communicating with some English speaking media reporters under the supervision of the media advisors."
But Haya Dweidary, a recent graduate of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs -- the same master's program for which Jaafari was accepted -- said she is untruthful about her ties to Assad. Dweidary, who was born and raised in Syria, claims Jaafari did not present herself as a former "intern" when she applied to the school.
Dweidary told FoxNews.com that she was casually approached by a school "administrator" who she claims asked her, "'This girl is 22 years old and is claiming to be a media adviser to the president. Is that true? What's the story with her?'"
"She had direct access to him [Assad] and I was shocked by her acceptance," Dweidary said. "This has nothing to do with the school's need for diversity. She [Jaafari] stood with a brutal dictator who has slaughtered innocent people."
ABC News' Barbara Walters, who landed an interview with Assad that aired in December, reportedly claimed in an e-mail that Jaafari "helped arrange" her exclusive sit-down with the dictator. So close was Walters' and Jaafari's relationship that Walters reportedly addressed her as "dear girl," while Jaafari asked for her assistance in getting into a master's program at Columbia University, according to emails purportedly leaked by Syrian opposition to the U.K. Telegraph.
"If there is any way you can give my application a push, I would really, really appreciate it," Jaafari wrote in one e-mail, according to the newspaper. "You did mention you knew a professor there. I will buy you some jewelry from Syria."
Jaafari also reportedly asked for a job at ABC News, which Walters said she refused to offer because it was a conflict of interest. She instead used her Rolodex to assist her in other ways, like contacting CNN producer Jonathan Wald and his father, a Columbia University journalism professor and former ABC News chief, according to the emails.
"This young woman, whose resume is attached, is the [daughter] of the Syrian Ambassador to the UN. She helped arrange my interview with Assad," reportedly wrote Walters, who mistakenly thought Jaafari wanted acceptance into Columbia's journalism school. "She is brilliant, beautiful, speaks five languages. Anything you can do to help?"
Walters has since expressed regret over having tried to help Jaafari. In a statement released to the Telegraph, she said, "In the aftermath [of the Assad interview], Ms Jaafari returned to the U.S. and contacted me looking for a job. 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, though she didn't get a job or into school. In retrospect, I realize that this created a conflict and I regret that." .
Jaafari was not hired by CNN. She was admitted to Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), Associate Dean Jesse Gale confirmed, but the young woman's acceptance was "based solely on the submitted application materials." Jaafari also told FoxNews.com she got in on her own merits.
"I applied to Columbia like any ambitious student and I got accepted based on my resume that I worked hard for," Jaafari said. "I didn't even apply to [Columbia's school of journalism]. How can she help me with something that I didn't even apply for?" she said of Walters.
Jaafari went on to say that she is "deeply concerned" by the "misleading media attention" about her relationship with the Syrian regime. "There seems to be a campaign orchestrated by some international parties to manipulate the facts," she said. "What’s going on in Syria and to my people saddens me and breaks my heart. It is in my prayers that peace and stability will prevail."
Still, some Syrian rights groups are calling on the school to rescind Jaafari's acceptance amid reports of escalating violence by pro-government forces that have already killed thousands of innocent civilians.
"I think everyone is just generally outraged at the fact that somebody who was a close media adviser to president Assad and somebody who helped spin the massacres that are being conducted by the regime is being accepted to such a prestigious and dignified university," Sarab al-Jijakli, a spokesman for the National Alliance for Syria, told FoxNews.com.
Cristina Corbin is a Fox News reporter based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CristinaCorbin.