What does Zarif's resignation mean for Iranian diplomacy? With the erosion of a unipolar world Iran has the chance to shift its foreign policy, whilst continuing to comply with the JCPOA [JB see] and maintain broad diplomatic engagement.
On Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif announced his resignation in a late-night Instagram post, sending shockwaves through political circles in Iran and abroad. Just ten days earlier, Javad Zarif’s fiery performance at the Munich Security Conference had won him praise across the political spectrum in Iran. At a time when public support for the JCPOA among Iranians has slipped to just 51%, Zarif’s strong message struck a chord with the Iranian public, who flooded social media with clips of him defending Iran’s missile program and refuting any notion that the West held the moral high ground. Zarif also made clear that while Europe has made the ‘right political statements’ regarding the JCPOA, it has yet to prove that it is willing ‘to pay the price’ to defend the deal in the face of US ‘bullying’.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has rejected Zarif’s resignation, citing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei’s trust in and esteem for Zarif. But the foreign minister’s reasons for tendering his resignation are hardly opaque. With parliamentary and presidential elections on the horizon, and the economy falling under increasing pressure, he has had to reassure the public of the Rouhani administration’s nationalist credentials and parry accusations of weak leadership from hardliners, which tried to impeach him in December 2018 over his support for Iran’s Financial Action Task Force reforms. The last straw was reportedly his exclusion from meetings with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who was in Tehran on Monday. Zarif felt that the foreign ministry was being unduly sidelined, and told an Iranian newspaper that he sought to defend the ‘integrity’ of the ministry by resigning. Should he stay on, Rouhani and Khamenei’s testimonials may help Zarif prevent the Foreign Ministry’s marginalisation.
Preserving the JCPOA
Regardless of who is foreign minister, Iran’s public diplomacy[JB emphasis] must find a new balance. Zarif’s resignation illustrates how growing divergence in foreign policy between the Iran’s moderates and hardliners could impede the critical political mission of preserving the JCPOA until 2021, when Iran’s newly elected president will likely have the chance to engage a new American president.
Just as the JCPOA remains the signature foreign policy achievement of the Rouhani administration, it also serves as a symbol of multilateralism for the E3 and especially the European Union. However, as demonstrated by the tortured wording of the recent European Council conclusions on Iran, there is growing fatigue in Europe over efforts to shield the JCPOA from the Trump administration’s attacks and increasing frustration over what are perceived as Iran’s destabilising activities in the Middle East and – in light of attempted political assassinations – in Europe. Many European officials view Iran as intractable and are inclined to take a much harsher stance, albeit short of the Trump administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign. …
Provided Iranian officials can maintain Iran’s broad diplomatic engagement, they could leave the door open to improved dialogue with the United States while placing the onus on American leaders to earn back trust of the remaining parties to the deal. It bodes well that the Democratic National Committee has already adopted a resolution calling upon the US to re-enter the JCPOA.