Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was the lead negotiator in the 2015 nuclear deal, has abruptly tendered his resignation on Instagram, although there was no sign President Hassan Rouhani had yet accepted his decision.
Zarif offered an apology for his “shortcomings” in the unexpected message on Monday, with prominent members of parliament immediately calling for Rouhani not to accept the resignation. Zarif, 59, has served as Rouhani’s foreign minister since August 2013 and has been under constant pressure and criticism by hardliners who opposed his policy of detente with the West.
“I apologize 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. He thanked Iranians and “respected officials” for their support “in the last 67 months.”
The resignation was confirmed by an informed source, however in a tweet, Rouhani’s chief of staff strongly denied reports it had been accepted by the president.
The resignation happened hours after a surprise visit by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to Tehran. However, according to the semi-official ISNA News Agency, Zarif was not present at any of Assad’s meetings with Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Rouhani.
Mostafa Kavakebian, a reformist M.P., was among those calling for Rouhani not to accept the resignation. “Undoubtedly the Iranian people, government and state will not benefit from this resignation,” he said. “A great majority of M.P.s demand that the president never accept this resignation,” he said in a tweet.
Top U.S. diplomat Mike Pompeo, however, was less moved, tweeting that “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,” Pompeo wrote. “We know @khamenei_ir makes all final decisions. Our policy is unchanged—the regime must behave like a normal country and respect its people,” he said of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The head of parliament’s influential national security and foreign policy commission told ISNA how a planned trip to Geneva with Zarif on Monday afternoon had been cancelled at the last minute with no explanation.
“I suddenly got a text message saying the trip has been cancelled,” Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh told ISNA, adding that this was not the first time Zarif had resigned but “that he has done so publicly this time means that he wants the president to accept it this time.”
Zarif’s standing within Iran’s political establishment took a hit when the U.S. withdrew from the nuclear accord in May 2018, under which Tehran drastically scaled back its atomic program in return for sanctions relief. The deal’s achievements became less and less clear as Iran’s economy nosedived.
Ultra-conservatives said Zarif had negotiated a bad deal that had not gained anything meaningful for Iran for all the concessions it had made in its nuclear program. The faceoff between the minister and his critics only intensified as time passed, with Zarif saying his main worry throughout the nuclear talks had been from pressure from inside Iran.
“We were more worried by the daggers that were struck from behind than the negotiations,” he told a local newspaper on Feb. 2. “The other side never managed to wear me down during the negotiations… but internal pressure wore me down both during and after the talks,” he said.
The latest point of contention between Zarif and hardliners was the implementation of the Financial Action Task Force’s requirements regarding money laundering in Iran. The rift on the issue pitched the government and parliament against supervisory councils.
On Sunday, ISNA reported that Zarif had warned the Expediency Council, an arbitration body tasked with solving such impasses, that it should “understand the consequences of its decision.” He was immediately attacked by the ultra-conservatives who deemed what Zarif had said as a threat.