Iran’s ‘Smiling’ Foreign Minister Resigns, Reportedly After Being Snubbed During Assad Visit

By Patrick Goodenough | February 25, 2019 | 7:23pm EST
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany on Sunday, February 18, 2018. (Screen capture: MSC Webcast)

( – Reportedly miffed at not being included in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s visit to Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has tendered his resignation, signaling the departure of a diplomat feted as a “moderate” by many – although unequivocally not by the Trump administration.

Iranian state media confirmed that, in a posting on his Instagram account, Zarif apologized for his “shortcomings” during his tenure as foreign minister and said he could not continue in the post.

“Many thanks for the generosity of the dear and brave people of Iran and its authorities over the past 67 months,” he wrote. “I sincerely apologize for the inability to continue the service and for all the shortcomings during the service. Be happy and worthy.”

The IRNA state news agency quoted foreign ministry deputy spokesman Abbas Mousavi as confirming the authenticity of the Instagram post. It’s not clear whether President Hassan Rouhani has accepted his resignation.

Iran’s Entekhab (“Choice”) news site, traditionally supportive of Rouhani, reported that Zarif resigned because he had not been involved in a rare visit to Iran by Assad.

Iranian media outlets carried photos of Assad meeting with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and with Rouhani – but not with the regime’s top diplomat.

“After the pictures of the meetings today, Javad Zarif has no credibility in the world as a foreign minister,” Entekhab quoted him as saying.

Advocates of engagement with Iran have characterized Zarif and Rouhani as “moderates.”

Then-Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif led their respective negotiatng teams at the nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria in 2014. (Photo: State Department)

The foreign minister and his characteristic smile featured prominently in the marathon negotiations that led in 2015 to the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Then-Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the U.S. team in the talks, evidently developed a close working relationship with Zarif, whom he later praised as “a patriot.”

Reacting to his resignation, Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin lamented that the news was “terrible.”

“Our delegation had just met with him and we were blown away by his brilliance and commitment,” she tweeted from Iran. “This is bad news for Iran and the world.”

The tweet was accompanied by a group photo of the delegation, with Benjamin and Zarif in the forefront. Code Pink, which currently has a “peace delegation” in Iran, was recently given credit for a lukewarm European response to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Iran-focused conference in Warsaw.

In a blog post earlier, Benjamin reported having met with Zarif at a Tehran hotel where he happened to be addressing students:

“… we rushed down to the lobby to get a chance to say hello. What serendipity. We got a chance to chat and also asked if it was possible for our group to meet with him tomorrow. We did have a meeting set up at the foreign ministry tomorrow, but not with the head honcho. He said, ‘I was supposed to go to Geneva tomorrow but my meeting was cancelled, so yes, I’d be happy to meet with your group.’ Bingo. We are so happy that on the first official day of the delegation, we’ll hopefully get to talk to the foreign minister!”

Despite his purported moderation, Zarif during a visit to Beirut in 2014 visited the tomb of notorious Hezbollah terrorist chief Imad Mughniyeh to pay his respects. (Mughniyeh, who was one of the FBI’s “most-wanted” terrorists, was held responsible for attacks including suicide bombings that cost the lives of hundreds of Americans. He was killed in a 2008 car bombing in Damascus which Hezbollah and Iran blame on Israel and the CIA.)

Asked in a later NBC News interview about honoring the dead terrorist, Zarif gave a lengthy reply that included the assertion, “I’m not running for a popularity contest in the United States.” He also stated that Hezbollah fighters “are considered heroes in the entire Middle East.”

The Trump administration, and especially Pompeo, has not aligned with the view that Zarif and Rouhani are moderates.

In a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library last July Pompeo likened the search for moderates in Iran to a hunt for “an Iranian unicorn.”

“The regime’s revolutionary goals and willingness to commit violent acts hasn’t produced anyone to lead Iran that can be remoted called a moderate, or a statesman,” he said.

“Some believe that President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif fit that bill,” he said. “The truth is they’re merely polished front men for the ayatollah’s international con-artistry.”

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