Shockwaves over Iranian FM’s resignation

President Hassan Rohani appeared to stand by Zarif, holding back from accepting his resignation and praising him for being at the forefront of the fight against the US.
Tuesday 26/02/2019
 Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif listens to a question during a news conference in Tehran, Iran, on February 25, 2019. (AP)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif listens to a question during a news conference in Tehran, Iran, on February 25, 2019. (AP)

Iran's parliament announced it would look into the abrupt resignation of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, which has thrust a growing schism between Iran’s moderates and hardliners into the open.  

Zarif, a veteran diplomat who helped negotiate the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with then US President Barack Obama, announced his resignation on Monday, although President Hassan Rohani held back from accepting it.

Zarif offered an apology for his “shortcomings” in the unexpected message on Instagram on Monday, with prominent members of parliament immediately calling for Rohani to reject the resignation.

Zarif, 59, has served as Rohani’s foreign minister since August 2013 and has been under constant pressure from hardliners who opposed his policy of detente with the West.

“I apologise for my inability to continue serving and for all the shortcomings during my term in office,” Zarif said in the message posted on his verified Instagram account.

Rohani, however, signalled his support for Zarif by saying the diplomat had been at the forefront of the fight against America, in comments reported by state news agency IRNA. 

Rohani’s chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi said the president’s comments were “a clear sign of the satisfaction of the representative of the people of Iran about the wise and effective positions and work of Dr Zarif.”

An ally of Zarif said his resignation was motivated by criticism of the nuclear agreement, which has come under increasingly intense fire in Iran since the United States abandoned it last year.

“There were closed-door meetings every week, where top officials were bombarding him with questions about the deal and what will happen next and so on,” a Zarif ally told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “He and his boss (Rohani) were under a huge amount of pressure.”

Since the United States walked out of the nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions last year, Rohani has had to explain why Iran has continued to abide by its restrictions while reaping virtually none of the foreseen economic benefits.

On Tuesday, Zarif urged Iranian diplomats not to follow his lead as rumours spread of mass resignations.

“I hope my resignation will act as a spur for the foreign ministry to regain its proper statutory role in the conduct of foreign affairs,” the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, which will hold a meeting Tuesday examining the resignation, stressed the need for “unity and solidarity” given the country’s many challenges. 

"With attention to the internal and international situation, sanctions and the pressure from America, I emphasize that more than any other time we need internal unity and solidarity," said Ali Najafi Khoshroodi.

(Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)