Iran: Rouhani rejects top diplomat Zarif’s resignation

Iranian president says resignation of Foreign Minister Javad Zarif would not be in the interest of the country.

Correction27 Feb 2019
A previous version of this story stated that Iranian President Rouhani had rejected Foreign Minister Zarif's resignation on Tuesday 26 February, citing the presidential spokesperson. This was incorrect and has been reflected in the story. Rouhani rejected Zarif's resignation on Wednesday 27 February.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has officially rejected the resignation of his Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

“I believe accepting your resignation would be against the benefit of the country, so I reject it,” Rouhani said in a letter to Zarif published in Iranian media on Wednesday.

In a post on Instagram, Zarif said his “sole concern is to improve foreign policy and the credibility of the foreign ministry”.

He declared that his office is “the frontline in defence of national interests and the rights of the noble people of Iran”.

Zarif was later seen joining Rouhani and other Iranian officials during a ceremony welcoming Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

Qassem Soleimani, a senior Revolutionary Guard commander, also declared on Wednesday that Zarif is the main person “in charge of the foreign policy” of Iran, and “has always beens supported by the top officials.”

Soleimani, who commands the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, was present in two separate meetings in Tehran on Monday between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Rouhani. Zarif was absent in those two meetings. 

When he announced his resignation late on Monday, Zarif did not give a reason for his decision. But there were speculations that his decision was linked to his exclusion from the meetings with Assad.

On Tuesday, Zarif had told the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) that he hoped his resignation “would spark the return of the ministry of foreign affairs to its constitutional place in [Iran’s] international relations”.

Other internal disagreements over Iran’s international policies were also reported to be the reasons behind his resignation.

Following his abrupt announcement, Iranian officials and legislators rallied behind the top diplomat and appealed for him to stay, even as some hardline voices expressed satisfaction with the move.

IRNA said 135 legislators of different political factions wrote a letter, asking him to stay.

On Tuesday, Tehran Stock Exchange recorded a drop of more than 2,000 points as rumours and reports about the resignation circulated rapidly on Iran’s news outlets and social media.

Resignation over Instagram

Zarif’s resignation over Instagram dominated the political chatter in Tehran on Tuesday.

Later that day, in a speech broadcast on national television, Rouhani said the Syrian president flew from Damascus to Tehran to thank “the Iranian nation, the Iranian government, the supreme leader of the revolution and also … the foreign ministry”.

Following Rouhani’s remarks, Mahmoud Vaezi, his chief of staff, explained on Twitter that Rouhani’s remarks were “clear evidence” of Rouhani’s “complete satisfaction” with Zarif’s stance and performance.

“From Dr Rouhani’s point of view Iran has only one foreign policy and one foreign minister,” he said.

Zarif’s abrupt announcement also came amid quarrels over Iran’s foreign policy as well as a global struggle to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal, in which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

Fighting between parties and factions in Iran is a “deadly poison” in formulating foreign policy, Zarif said in an interview published by the Jomhuri Eslami newspaper on Tuesday, suggesting he may have resigned over pressure from hardline elements opposed to his role in negotiating the nuclear deal.

Many in Iran were caught off-guard by his offer to resign, adding to the country’s state of uncertainty following Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear accord in May last year.

Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, later responded to Zarif’s move, saying: “We’ll see if it sticks.”

He added in a Twitter post: “Our policy is unchanged – the regime must behave like a normal country and respect its people.”

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also hailed the move, writing in a Twitter post: “Zarif is gone. Good riddance.”

Legislative delays

“Shock of Zarif’s resignation,” read the headline in big yellow letters on the front page of the reformist Arman-e Emrouz daily’s Tuesday issue.

The newspaper referred to a prolonged procedure in Iran’s Expediency Council to pass bills to reform the country’s anti-money laundering and terror financing regulations.

Iranian FM Zarif says Israel ‘looking for war’

The international Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recently extended the deadline for Iran to fix its rules until June.

Passing of the bills is crucial for the establishment of international banking ties, notably with Europe.

In an effort to save the nuclear deal, Germany, the UK and France recently launched a financial entity to facilitate trade with Iran; it also hinges on FATF legislations.

Two remaining FATF bills have been stalled due to a seemingly unending debate between moderates and the hardliners both in parliament and the Expediency Council.

FATF bills have put Zarif at odds with a part of the conservative camp, which the foreign minister has implicitly accused of being engaged in money laundering activities.

Coupled with crippling US sanctions, these efforts have slowed down the economic benefits of the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Iran’s economic indicators have been generating nothing but concern over the past months. Growth is dismal, the national currency has depreciated substantially and prices have soared.

Source: Al Jazeera