Zarif’s Resignation Saga

Week of February 25, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

 

Zarif’s Resignation Saga

On February 25th, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad travelled to Tehran and met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, President Rouhani, and Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani, among other senior Iranian officials. Foreign Minister Zarif was notably absent from the meetings.

During their meeting, Ayatollah Khamenei praised Assad for his “steadfastness” and said he had “turned into a hero for the Arab world.” He also said the Syrian uprising was not a part of the Arab Spring, stating: “The enemy’s mistake was confusing Syria with some other Arab states. In those countries, the peoples’ movements were towards resistance, they were uprisings against America and its clients.”

In the evening of the same day (February 25th), Foreign Minister Zarif stated he was resigning in a post on Instagram. He said in the post: “I am thankful to the dear and brave people and respectful officials for being gracious over the past 67 months. I sincerely ask for forgiveness for my inability to continue to serve and for all my deficiencies and shortcomings.”

In the immediate aftermath of the resignation announcement, reports suggested that it was triggered by Zarif not being informed of Assad’s visit. Entekhab News said it received a text from Zarif in which he reportedly stated: “After the photos of the meeting today [of Assad in Teran], Javad Zarif has no credibility today as Iran’s foreign minister.”

The following morning (February 26th), President Rouhani gave a speech where he thanked Zarif, as well as Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh and Central Bank Governor Abdolnaser Hemati, for their “steadfastness” in being the “frontline against America.” Rouhani further praised the three officials for “bearing and resisting pressures” and as “people who are holding resolute at the frontline of attacks.”

Rouhani was speaking at a Central Bank conference on the issue of sanctions and the necessity to approve the deadlocked anti-money laundering and terrorism financing legislation. Read more on the bills, which are designed to bring Iran into compliance with guidelines set out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.

During his address, Rouhani stressed the need to approve the FATF legislation and said none of Iran’s decision-making bodies opposed the bills, including Ayatollah Khamenei. He proclaimed: “Decision-making in the country is either with the presidential administration, the parliament, or the leader. The leader has on multiple occasions told me he doesn’t opposes the four [FATF] bills. The administration and parliament also don’t oppose them, so who does?”

He added on the necessity of passing the FATF legislation: “We can’t trade with suitcases. You can’t move millions of tons of cattle meat with suitcases. The banks have to be active. If our country’s relations with FATF are cut, our banking activities at the international level will be faced with difficulties.”

A previously conducted interview with Zarif by the Rouhani administration-affiliated Islamic Republic Newspaper was published on February 26th, which listed what many Iranian analysts believe were the reasons behind Zarif’s resignation. The newspaper did not give a reason for why the interview wasn’t published sooner. In the interview, Zarif made a range of complaints, including over the unapproved FATF legislation, slanted coverage of state radio and television regarding Iran’s current conditions, the situation in the Expediency Discernment Council, a lack of support given to the Rouhani administration in its negotiations with other countries, and a lack of coordination between different government institutions.

In the interview, Zarif said factional infighting was “poison” for Iranian foreign policy. He opined: “We must separate foreign policy from partisan and factional fights. We must trust our foreign policy officials at the national level. This requires domestic consensus.”

After Zarif announced he would resign, a host of Iranian diplomats and foreign ministry officials said they would leave their posts if his resignation becomes final, and over 160 members of parliament wrote to President Rouhani asking him to reject the resignation. Zarif said in response to the support from his foreign ministry colleagues: “For me serving alongside you all has been an honor. I hope my resignation brings the foreign ministry back to its rightful legal position on foreign policy.”

Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Ali Motahari said that the main reason for Zarif’s resignation was not his absence from the Assad meeting, but interference in foreign policy by other domestic entities. He added that President Rouhani should never have allowed “military forces” to interfere in foreign policy.

On February 27th, President Rouhani formally rejected Zarif’s resignation, keeping him at his post as Iran’s foreign minister. Rouhani said in a letter to Zarif that he agreed with Zarif on “preserving the status and credibility of the foreign ministry, and the position of the foreign minister as the highest official implementing the country’s foreign policy.”

Rouhani also stated that Ayatollah Khamenei believes Zarif is “honest, brave, and pious.” He added that “joy and celebration” of figures such as Israeli PM Netanyahu after Zarif’s resignation is a reason for Zarif’s “success.”

Qassem Soleimani also expressed support for Zarif as the “main official responsible for foreign policy” and said Zarif has always had support of senior officials, “especially” Ayatollah Khamenei. He added that Zarif’s absence in the meeting with Assad was “not deliberate” and was due to “some lack of coordination” in the executive branch.

After Rouhani rejected the resignation, Zarif wrote a new post on Instagram thanking the president for his support. He stated: “My concerns were nothing but promoting foreign policy and the credibility of the foreign ministry as responsible for advancing foreign policies and being the frontline for defending national interests and the noble Iranian peoples’ rights internationally.”

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Hardliners Rejoiced Over Zarif’s Short-Lived Resignation

Prominent hardline politicians, mostly associated with the fundamentalist Jebhe Paydari faction, rejoiced over Zarif’s resignation. Read more about Jebhe Paydari in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered.

Javad Karimi Ghodousi, a conservative MP from Masshad, offered sweets to other parliamentarians for Zarif’s resignation. He also stated that “Zarif’s resignation has been accepted and is certain. [Oil Minister] Zangeneh will also certainly leave.”

Ali Naderi, the editor in chief of the far-right Raja News, stated: “Zarif has wanted to leave for some time. Not just Zarif but [oil minister] Zangeneh also wanted to flee from under the rubble of the Rouhani administration, the columns of which they had built. They want to run away from their responsibilities … they were just waiting for an excuse, which was found … acceptance of their resignation means the end of heroic flexibility.”

Mahmoud Nabavian, a former MP and student of ultra-conservative Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, declared: “The man of the damaging agreements of Saadabad, Paris, Geneva, Lausanne, the JCPOA, and FATF has resigned. Thank God.”

Hamid Rasaee, another former hardline MP, stated: “Rouhani no longer has popularity. The disgraceful JCPOA agreement has reached a dead-end. Zarif is like a gambler who gambled his entire existence on trusting John Kerry and lost.”

Conservative politician Ruhollah Hosseinian added that Americans were sad with Zarif’s resignation, stating: “Americans are more unhappy than anyone about this resignation because Zarif was the only person who realized their old wish of negotiations with Iran.”

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Iran’s Freedom Movement Condemns U.S. Sanctions

On February 25th, the Freedom Movement, one of Iran’s oldest pro-democracy groups, wrote a letter condemning U.S. sanctions and “unilateral” U.S. policies against Iran. The letter says regarding the destructive impact of US sanctions: “It is the Iranian people who suffer the most harm and economic hardship from sanctions. These sanctions have weakened the middle class & the downtrodden & disrupts Iran’s democracy-seeking trend.”

The letter says that the Freedom Movement has been among the most ardent critics of Iran’s ruling system and that its members have been imprisoned and tortured. Despite this, the letter calls for the US to abide by the nuclear deal, calling it a guarantor of global peace and security.

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Qassem Soleimani Rejects Idea of Further US Negotiations

On February 28th, Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Qods Force, denounced the idea of reaching a “second JCPOA” with the United States. Soleimani said those seeking a “JCPOA 2” wished to “dry up Islamic movements.”

Soleimani suggested that former U.S. President Obama sought regime change with the JCPOA, and that President Trump simply seeks regime change on a shorter time scale. He stated: “For the enemy, the JCPOA was a triangle [with the JCPOA being one side of the triangle]. Obama believed that with time he would get to the two other sides [in subsequent “JCPOAs,” or U.S.-Iran agreements], but this impatient person who has come [Trump] insists on getting where they want in a hurry and he believes they can get there [meaning regime change].”

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Iran’s Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant Shuts Down for Refueling and Repairs

On February 28th, Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesperson of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), stated that the Bushehr nuclear power plant would temporarily shut down for “refueling and necessary repairs.”  Kamalvandi stated: “Based on the existing plan, Bushehr will be disconnected from the electricity grid on Monday for two months.”

Earlier this week, AEOI had warned that because of financial issues and the depreciation of Iran’s currency, the Bushehr nuclear power plant’s operations were under “ambiguity” for the next year. However, immediately after this warning, parliament approved funding for Bushehr’s operation.

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Armenian Prime Minister Travels to Tehran

On February 27th, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan travelled to Tehran and met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, President Rouhani, and Foreign Minister Zarif. During their meetings, the two sides signed trade and energy agreements.

During his meeting with Pshinyan, Ayatollah Khamenei rebuked U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton, who said last fall that the Armenian-Iranian border is “going to be a significant issue” as the U.S. enforces sanctions. Ayatollah Khamenei stated: “Iran and Armenia have never had problems with each other … but American officials like John Bolton have no understanding of these issues and humane relations.”

In his meeting with President Rouhani, Prime Minister Pshinyan emphasized Armenia’s support of the JCPOA and said it was worried about developments surrounding the agreement. He stated that regarding the JCPOA, Armenia will “work closely with Iran and other parties.”  

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Bahraini Shia Leader Travels to Qom

Sheikh Isa Qassim, the spiritual leader of Bahrain’s majority-Shia population, has met with senior officials in Qom. Qassim was under house arrest in Bahrain for some time and has been stripped of his Bahraini citizenship. According to the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim, Qassim discussed the situation in Bahrain and the conditions for Bahraini Shias in his meetings in Qom.

In 2016, after Qassim’s Bahraini citizenship was revoked, Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani warned Bahraini officials that the safety of Shia religious leaders in Bahrain was a “red line.”

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Foreign Minister Zarif to Travel to Damascus

On February 27th, Foreign Minister Zarif spoke on the phone with Syrian Foreign minister Walid Muallem. According to Iranian media, the two reviewed the “conclusions” of the recent meeting in Tehran between Syrian President Assad and President Rouhani, Ayatollah Khamenei, and other Iranian officials.

After the phone call, Syria’s ambassador to Tehran forwarded Syrian President Assad’s invitation to Zarif to travel for an official visit to Syria.

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Rouhani to Take First Iraq Trip of His Presidency

According to Tasnim, President Rouhani will travel to Baghdad for a state visit on March 11th with a large delegation of Iranian officials and businesspeople. The trip follows Iraqi President Barham Salih’s December 19th trip to Iran. It will be Rouhani’s first trip to Iraq of his presidency.

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Iran Warns Saudi Arabia & Pakistan Over Suicide Bombing

Week of February 18, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

 

Financial Watchdog Extends Deadline for Iran to Pass Banking Reform Laws

On February 22nd, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF)—an intergovernmental body that sets global standards for banks—extended the deadline for Iran to come into compliance with its standards. Since 2016, FATF has suspended countermeasures against Iran, conditioned on Iran implementing an action plan to bring the country into compliance with the FATF’s standards. According to FATF’s statement, if by June 2019, Iran “does not enact the remaining legislation in line with FATF Standards, then the FATF will require increased supervisory examination for branches and subsidiaries of financial institutions based in Iran.”

Of the four bills introduced by the Rouhani administration to meet the FATF standards, two have been approved by the parliament and Guardian Council, while the other two remain in limbo. The bill on reforming Iran’s laws on anti-money laundering (AML) and confronting terrorism financing have been passed. However, while parliament accepted the other two bills on Iran acceding to the terrorist financing (TF) convention and Palermo conventions, both bills were rejected by the Guardian Council. (Read more on the contentious domestic debate over the FATF legislation in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered).

The TF and Palermo convention bills have been under debate in the Expediency Discernment Council—a body constitutionally mandated with resolving disputes between the Guardian Council and parliament. Ahead of the FATF plenary this week, the Expediency Discernment Council held a meeting to decide on the Palermo convention, but its members failed to reach an agreement.

The Expediency Discernment Council meets every two weeks and will meet to discuss the Palermo convention bill on March 2nd. After it reaches a decision regarding the Palermo convention, the council will discuss whether or not Iran will accede to the terrorist financing convention.

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Foreign Minister Zarif and Other Senior Officials Travel to China

A delegation of senior Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Zarif, Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, and Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, traveled to Beijing for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other officials. In his meeting with Larijani, President Xi said China wished to increase cooperation with Iran in the fields of “security, confronting terrorism, and people-to-people exchanges.” He also called for China-Iran “coordination on international issues to promote a new type of international relations.”

President Xi praised what he said was Iran’s constructive role in the Middle East and expressed a willingness to cooperate with Iran on regional issues. He proclaimed that he “supports Tehran’s constructive role in preserving peace and stability” in the region and said that Beijing is ready to develop “close ties and cooperate with Tehran on regional issues.”

Larijani said that he discussed solutions to regional conflicts with President Xi. He stated: “We have discussed the political issues in our region, confronting terrorism, and the consultations that are necessary for peace in the region and for constructive dialogue.”

Larijani told President Xi that Iran wished to increase cooperation with China over energy and infrastructure projects. He stated: “The Islamic Republic is ready to offer China its unique capabilities in different areas including transportation, infrastructure, and energy.”

During their meeting, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called for “deeper strategic trust” with Iran and praised Foreign Minister Zarif’s address and interview last week at the Munich Security Conference. Yi stated: “I saw on television how you defended the rights of Iran loud and clear at the Munich Security Conference. I think an audience of hundreds of millions of Chinese also watched what you said and you are a famous person now.”

Yi added: “I would like to take this opportunity to have this in-depth strategic communication with my old friend to deepen the strategic trust between our two countries and to ensure fresh progress of the bilateral comprehensive and strategic partnership.”

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Hardline MP Introduces Impeachment Bill Against President Rouhani

Conservative MP Mojtaba Zonnour, affiliated with the fundamentalist Jebhe Paydari faction, has introduced an impeachment bill against President Rouhani. The bill lists 14 reasons for Rouhani’s removal, four of which have to do with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The bill claims that Rouhani gave false promises that Iran’s “economy and industry can spin simultaneously with [uranium] centrifuges spinning” and that the JCPOA removed the threat of war.

Zonnour has also emphasized that he wants Rouhani removed over deteriorating economic conditions, stating: “Today we have no answers from the administration over issues it can alleviate, such as the peoples’ empty dinner tables, corruption, societal problems, unemployment, and smuggling. The people want answers from us and we have no answers. The law allows us to either impeach or question [the president].”

Last year, hardline MPs calling for Rouhani’s impeachment were rebuked by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Read more about earlier efforts by hardliners to remove Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif from office in a previous issue of Iran Unfiltered.

According to Iran’s constitution, if at least one-third of the parliament’s 290 members sign onto an impeachment bill, the president will be summoned to parliament for questioning. If two-thirds of parliamentarians give a vote of no confidence in the president’s answers before parliament, formal impeachment proceedings are then sent to the Supreme Leader.

In response to Zonnour’s impeachment bill, influential Iranian reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh said the aim was to take advantage of the “golden period of Trump” to remove Rouhani and to establish a “military administration” before Iran’s next parliamentary elections. Zonnour denied Tajzadeh’s allegation, stating: “Anybody seeking a military government is damn wrong and those saying this are damn wrong … I was the architect of this impeachment bill … I decided to introduce this bill. I did not consult with anyone inside or outside of parliament.”

All the major factions in the Iranian parliament voiced their opposition to Zonnour’s impeachment bill, and ultimately he only secured 18 signatures in support of the bill. President Rouhani’s Chief of Staff Mahmoud Vaezi said of the impeachment effort: “Those pursuing this are the same people who completely supported the previous administration [the Ahmadinejad presidency] and now completely oppose the current administration.”

Vaezi added: “For them, it doesn’t make a difference that the country is facing an economic war. They don’t work in line with national interests. However, we respect the parliament and don’t want to take a stance that would be in opposition to parliament.”

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Iranian Military Commanders Warn Pakistan and Saudi Arabia Over Zahedan Bombing

On February 21st, Qods Force Commander General Qassem Soleimani denounced Saudi Arabia and proclaimed that Iran would not pursue JCPOA-like negotiations over regional issues. Soleimani stated that a “regional JCPOA”—meaning negotiations with the United states and other world powers on regional issues—would be aimed at “breaking the spirit and [forward] movement of Islamic Iran.” He added: “If we carry out a second JCPOA, they will pursue other ‘JCPOAs’ with the goal being to change the country’s identity from within.”

Soleimani blamed Saudi Arabia over last week’s suicide bombing of a bus carrying IRGC soldiers in southeastern Iran, which left 27 dead. He declared: “I say to the Pakistani people that Saudi money has infiltrated their country and with these actions they want to destroy Pakistan.”

Soleimani also issued a stern warning to Pakistan: “Iran should not be tested. Whoever has tested Iran has received a severe response. We talk as a friend to Pakistan and tell it not to allow its borders to be used to cause insecurity in a neighboring country … the Islamic Republic will definitely avenge the blood of its martyrs against the mercenaries who took this action.”

Other senior Iranian military figures, such as Supreme Leader advisor General Yahya Safavi and IRGC Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari, issued unprecedented rebukes of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service in the wake of last week’s suicide attack. General Safavi accused Pakistan of sheltering the Jaish al-Adl terrorist organization, which claimed responsibility for the bombing: “We believe this silence is a kind of support for this group and the Pakistani intelligence organization should account for it.”

General Jafari said along the same lines: “Pakistan should also know that it should pay the cost for the Pakistani intelligence organization’s support for Jaish al-Zolm from now on and this price will no doubt be very heavy for them.”

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Families of Detained Labor Activists Report Harassment

According to Radio Farda, Iranian intelligence agents have threatened the families of detained labor protestors Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian in order to keep them silent about the cases. According to the Haft Tapeh factory workers’ Telegram channel, the families had earlier in the week protested outside of Shush’s courthouse. The Telegram channel also stated that Bakhshi and Gholian are being compelled to record another “confession” for state television. (Read more about their cases and the Haft Tapeh worker protests in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered)

On February 18th, President Rouhani’s new health minister Saeed Namaki said Iran would face difficult economic challenges in the upcoming Iranian year of 1397 (March 21, 2019-March 21, 2020). He stated: “We should know that next year will be a difficult year. Even though this country has persevered over many hardships, 1397 will be a very difficult year on the economic front.”

Namaki added: “We are managers who worked with $6-7 per barrel oil under the most difficult conditions [during the Iran-Iraq War]. God willing, by the blood of the martyrs, especially our Revolutionary Guards martyrs who died helplessly in Sistan and Baluchistan province [last week], we will overcome these problems. However, as men charged with running the country, we must tighten our belts and first look at our wallets and then spend money.”

The cases of political prisoners Farhad Meysami and Reza Khandan has gone to an appeals court, according to their lawyer. Meysami and Khandan were recently sentenced to six years in prison. Meisami was arrested last July for protesting Iran’s compulsory hijab law. He undertook a 145-day hunger strike, which ended on December 23rd. On January 5th, 2019 he wrote a letter lambasting the Trump administration and Tehran’s Revolutionary Court 15, as detailed in a previous Iran Unfiltered.

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IRGC Says It Was Aware of US Sabotage Efforts

On February 20th, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Force, said that the IRGC was aware of efforts to sabotage Iranian military armaments. He stated: “We were able to discover this conspiracy and have turned this major threat into an opportunity.” His comments follow a recent New York Times report about a U.S. program aimed at sabotaging Iran’s missile and rocket programs.

Hajizadeh also claimed that Iran had gained access to American military systems after commandeering U.S. drones flying over Syria and Iraq. He stated: “By infiltrating into U.S. military systems, including command and control and espionage systems, we have stopped their plans [for war].”

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