Mohammad Javad Zarif, the charismatic head of the Iranian Foreign Ministry shocked the whole world on the night of February 25 by a tweet in Instagram where he said he was quitting as Foreign Minister.
“I bring my sincere apologies for not being ready to continue as Foreign Minister,” he wrote. “Please forgive me for the shortcomings in my service.”
Mr. Zarif is one of the most remarkable and influential political figures in the history of Iranian diplomacy who managed to defend the country’s interests in the knottiest political game – he reached agreement with the P5+1 negotiators on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal.
As of 2013, the main task for Mohammad Javad Zarif was to free Iran of the shackles of economic and financial sanctions imposed on it by the US and most other countries of the world and to develop trade and economic relations with them. The agreements he reached signaled breakthroughs for Iranian politics, although some conservatives at home opposed the nuclear deal. They spoke out against the JCPOA or restrictions of the nuclear program or the normalizing of relations with Europe, to say nothing of the US. This normalization was the main element of President Rouhani’s foreign policy, which Mr. Zarif was steering. When President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the nuclear deal the foundation of this policy cracked. This undermined Mr. Zarif’s reputation in the minds of the people, as some thought he had failed to live up to the promises given to the fellow-Iranians.
Some people in Iran even said the minister should resign. And here we are.
International news media and tabloids started mooting about Mr. Zarif’s resignation as of the early morning of February 26 in an attempt to figure out domestic or foreign policy factors behind the move.
The inflow of opinions and suppositions turned out much bigger than one might have imagined. Members of the Iranian political community offered a practically unanimous reaction to Mr. Zarif’s resignation – no one wanted this master of Iranian diplomacy to quit at a moment so sensitive for the country. They believed he should keep up his self-styled trend in foreign policy and defend the country’s interests in the international arena further.
Iran’s young minister of information technologies and telecommunications voiced his support for the resigning colleague in a humorous form.
“Don’t sit, brother, stand up and hold out. People are worried,” he wrote in Instagram.
Mahmoud Vaezi, the chief of the Iranian President’s administration staff twittered his reaction within hours after the first reports came in.
“The stories saying President Rouhani has accepted Foreign Minister Zarif’s resignation stands at variance with reality,” he wrote.
اخبار منتشر شده مبنی بر پذیرش استعفای دکتر ظریف از سوی رئیس جمهوری قویا تکذیب می شود.
— Mahmoud Vaezi (@Dr_Vaezi) February 25, 2019
The reaction on the part of members of the Iranian Majles, or national parliament, was instantaneous. As many as 135 MPs demanded that the President stay away from accepting the resignation.
Mahmoud Vaezi posted a brief report on President Rouhani’s position on the Foreign Minister’s resignation in Instagram later.
“Today’s speech by the President (at the Central Bank of Iran), where he mentioned the situation around the Foreign Minister among other things, shows in bold relief how much the representative of the Iranian people (meaning the President) is satisfied with Dr. Zarif’s clever and efficacious policies and farsightedness at the post of Foreign Minister,”Vaezi wrote. “This is a wise response to all these libelous ruminations and stupid prattling. Dr. Rouhani believes Iran has one foreign policy course and one Foreign Minister.”
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سخنان امروز رئیس جمهور در تجلیل از وزیر امور خارجهاش، گواهی روشن بر رضایت کامل نماینده ملت ایران از مواضع و عملکرد هوشمندانه و موثر دکتر ظریف و پاسخ محکمی به برخی تحلیل های نادرست و مغرضانه است. از نظر دکتر روحانی، جمهوری اسلامی ایران تنها یک سیاست خارجی و یک وزیر امورخارجه دارد.
He thus obviously made it clear President Rouhani doesn’t have any plans to allow his highly praised minister to retire for well-earned rest.
We should mention at this point that Mr. Zarif has filed thirteen resignation requests while at the Foreign Minister’s post and each time the supreme leadership of the country turned them down telling him (behind closed doors, naturally) that the nation needed him much. This time, President Rouhani didn’t accept the fourteenth request either.
It is quite noteworthy that the President formulated his position in the form of a post at his official account in Instagram and marked it with the catchy hashtags in Farsi reading #Zarif_is_not_alone and #Zarif_is_staying.
Reaction from the West
Javad Zarif’s European counterparts in the nuclear deal preferred staying neutral, although they made known their concern over the situation. A spokesman for the EU’s High Commissioner for Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini told Euronews the commission refrained from comments on the situation, adding however that Mogherini was concerned by the resignation of Mr. Zarif. “She’s following the situation closely and she hopes it doesn’t take effect,” he said.
In contrast, the Americans decided that acerbic comments would be more appropriate. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo twittered that Washington had taken note of reports on Mr. Zarif’s resignation. “We note @JZarif’s resignation. We’ll see if it sticks. Either way, he and @HassanRouhani are just front men for a corrupt religious mafia. We know @khamenei_ir makes all final decisions,” Pompeo’s tweet said.
We note @JZarif’s resignation. We’ll see if it sticks. Either way, he and @HassanRouhani are just front men for a corrupt religious mafia. We know @khamenei_ir makes all final decisions. Our policy is unchanged—the regime must behave like a normal country and respect its people.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) February 26, 2019
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netenyahu aired jubilant notes alongside with Pompeo. He twittered his message in Farsi, saying, “Zarif is gone. Good riddance. If we never see him again! We are relieved of him. As long as I am here (on Twitter) Iran won’t be able to obtain the nukes.”
#ظریف رفت. از دستش راحت شدیم. مادامی که من اینجا هستم، رژیم ایران به سلاح هستهای نخواهد رسید.
— بنيامين نتانياهو (@israelipm_farsi) February 26, 2019
Whatever the situation, though, it is anyway too early to write Mr. Zarif off. The charismatic personalities like him don’t abandon the stratosphere of politics in the twinkle of an eye. However, it is important to bear in mind that the power of passing the final decision belongs to Iran’s supreme religious leader, ayatollah Khamenei.
The political conditions of the Islamic Republic of Iran don’t provide the politicians with an opportunity of acting in a what-you-please style. It is not ruled that, given the heightening internal political tensions in Iran where the opposition is subjecting President Rouhani and Mr. Zarif to a really strong pressure, the latter man’s step is a gambit. As a pragmatically thinking and farsighted person, he has used it to see how some or other forces in the Iranian officialdom will react to it. These reactions will show Rouhani and ayatollah Khamenei the genuine layout of forces not only regarding Zarif himself but also in relation to the entire foreign policy the country is pursuing.
In an article titled “The Supreme Leader’s interpretations of Zarif” the ISNA state-run news agency listed Khamenei’s praises of Zarif over the years attempting to show that there were no internal disagreements between the two. pic.twitter.com/YPtRtTmGZW
— Iran News Wire (@IranNW) February 26, 2019
According to ISNA, Khamenei had described Zarif as “the child of the revolution, trustworthy, brave and devout, tireless, and responsible” which proves once again that as Secretary Pompeo said, Zarif is a just front and “Khamenei makes all final decisions”. pic.twitter.com/TGmVF5wTog
— Iran News Wire (@IranNW) February 26, 2019