Mohammad Javad Zarif was Iran’s lead negotiator of the 2015 nuclear deal, and if his resignation is accepted, it will be another large nail in the agreement’s mostly sealed coffin.
Iran’s presidential chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi denied the resignation had been accepted. But for the president, Hassan Rouhani, the departure of such a close ally at a time of prolonged intense political pressure will be a serious blow.
It will be the reaction of the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, which will determine Zarif fate. He has threatened to resign before as the nuclear deal came under sustained criticism by hardliners, but never so publicly.
Zarif is quoted in the Iranian media as saying that the immediate cause of his abrupt offer to resign, announced in the middle of the night on Instagram, was the fact that he was not invited to meet Bashar al-Assad when the Syrian dictator visited Tehran on Monday. By some accounts he was not even informed in advance about the visit
The news website Entekhab quoted him as referring to himself in the third person and saying “after the pictures of the meetings today, Javad Zarif has no credibility in the world as a foreign minister.”
Policy in Syria is largely run by the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and its leader Qassem Suleimani, but Zarif has participated in meetings with Assad before, and his exclusion from invitation list seems to be a clear snub. It also appears to signal a downgrading of the importance of the foreign ministry and its advocacy of openness to the world and keeping faith with the nuclear deal.
Since Donald Trump took the US out of the multilateral agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Programme of Action (JCPOA), by which Iran accepted severe constraints on its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief, there has been a rising chorus of calls in Iran for it to cease abiding by the deal’s restrictions.
The European states who were party to the agreement – the UK, France, Germany and Russia – along with China have urged Tehran to stick with the agreement, and have tried to devise ways of bypassing US sanctions.
However, the threat of secondary US sanctions on any companies trading with Iran has been enough to scare most foreign investors and traders out, robbing Iran of any substantial benefits from the deal.
Jamal Abdi, the head of the National Iranian-American Council, a pro-diplomacy advocacy group, said “Zarif’s resignation is a boon for the radical hardline forces in Tehran who oppose the JCPOA and further engagement with the West. While Zarif is not above criticism, over the past forty years, the US and Iran have had few clear channels for negotiations, and Zarif has long been a major proponent of US-Iran negotiations and deescalation. Trump’s plan to collapse the nuclear deal may indeed be aimed at empowering radicals in Iran.”