Iran president ‘has not accepted foreign minister’s resignation’

Middle East
Mohammad Javad Zarif addresses the Munich Security Conference in Germany on 17 February 2019 Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mohammad Javad Zarif announced his resignation in an Instagram post on Monday night

Iran’s president has not accepted the resignation of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, a foreign ministry spokesman has said.

Hassan Rouhani’s chief-of-staff said earlier that he was “satisfied” with Mr Zarif’s record in the role.

Mr Zarif offered to resign on Monday, saying he hoped to allow his ministry to reclaim its “proper statutory role”.

His role negotiating the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers exposed him to sharp criticism from hardliners.

Many hardliners opposed the decision to accept limits on the country’s nuclear activities in return for the lifting of crippling sanctions.

Pressure on Mr Zarif grew last year after US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal and reinstated US sanctions targeting Iran’s oil and banking sectors.

Why did Mr Zarif offer to resign?

Mr Zarif initially gave no explanation.

“I would like to sincerely apologise for not being able to continue my service and for all my shortcomings during my service,” he wrote on Instagram.

On Tuesday morning, he urged fellow diplomats not to follow his lead and suggested that he had resigned because he felt he had been sidelined.

“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,” he said.

He was quoted by the centrist newspaper Jomhuri Eslami as saying in an interview that political infighting was hampering the foreign ministry’s work.

“The deadly poison for foreign policy is for foreign policy to become an issue of party and factional fighting,” he said.

Minister ‘left with no credibility’

By Kasra Naji, BBC Persian

Mr Zarif’s exclusion from top-level meetings in Tehran on Monday during the previously unannounced visit of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was the final straw.

When photos were released showing of Mr Assad attending talks with President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Mr Zarif saw them as a new low for his ministry’s role in overseeing Iran’s foreign policy.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani met his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad – without Mr Zarif

He wrote in message to a reporter for a reformist newspaper that that the pictures had left him with “no credibility in the world as Iran’s foreign minister”.

The fact is that Iranian hardliners resent him for agreeing to dismantle much of the country’s nuclear programme. Those around the supreme leader have gradually wrested more and more of control of Iran’s foreign policy from him, particularly in relation to Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

Mr Zarif, most observers agree, has put up a robust defence of Iran on the world stage in spite of the fact that many of Iran’s positions, actions and behaviours – with which he has had little to do – have been indefensible.

What has the president said?

In a speech on Tuesday, Mr Rouhani made no mention of Mr Zarif’s resignation, but he did praise the foreign minister for his “resistance” and “capabilities”.

“If our foreign ministry is doing something, it is because it is from the people and it represents the people,” Mr Rouhani said.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Zarif was the architect of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers

The president also noted that his Syrian counterpart had “explicitly thanked” the Iranian foreign ministry for its help during the country’s civil war.

Later, Mr Rouhani’s chief-of-staff, Mahmoud Vaezi, wrote on Instagram: “The words of the president today in praising his foreign minister are 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 and a tough response to some biased and incorrect analyses.

“In the view of Dr Rouhani, the Islamic Republic of Iran has only one foreign policy and one foreign minister.”

Foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi subsequently stressed that Mr Zarif’s resignation had not been accepted, Iran’s English-language news channel Press TV reported.

A post on an Instagram account run by President Rouhani’s supporters also said Mr Zarif’s resignation had been rejected.

What has been the international reaction?

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed scepticism about Mr Zarif’s announcement, and dismissed both him and Mr Rouhani as “front men for a corrupt religious mafia”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has accused Iran of lying about its nuclear activities, said: “Zarif has gone. Good riddance. As long as I am here, Iran will not have nuclear weapons.”

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