Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday rejected the resignation of his Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, according to the presidential spokesperson.
Zarif did not give a reason when he announced his intention to quit on the social media platform Instagram on Monday night.
Zarif told the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) on Tuesday that he hoped his resignation “would spark the return of the ministry of foreign affairs to its constitutional place in [Iran’s] international relations”.
Other internal disagreements over Iran’s international policies were also reported to be the reasons behind his resignation.
Iranian officials and legislators called on Iran’s top diplomat to stay, while some hardline voices expressed satisfaction with the move.
IRNA said 135 legislators of different political factions wrote a letter, petitioning for his return to the post.
Meanwhile, his announcement to step down was up for debate on social media.
The supporters of the regime change alongside the advocates of Iran’s hardline conservative camp were somewhat content, as the supporters of the moderate-reformist faction sent their message of concern with the hashtag #Zarif_stay.
Tehran Stock Exchange recorded a drop of more than 2,000 points on Tuesday as rumours and reports about the resignation circulated rapidly on Iran’s news outlets and social media.
It prompted Bahram Ghasemi, the foreign ministry spokesman, to reject any reports citing informed sources in the ministry.
Zarif, however, stopped short in his Tuesday remarks of dismissing reports that diplomats and officials had decided to leave their posts, in case his resignation was accepted.
However, he said: “I emphasise to all of my brothers and sisters in the foreign ministry and [its] representative to follow their duties in defence of the country with complete strength and avoid such actions.”
Resignation over Instagram
Zarif announced his resignation on Instagram, which was officially confirmed by the foreign ministry. The announcement dominated the headlines a few hours after Assad’s sudden visit.
In a speech broadcast on National TV, Rouhani said the Syrian president flew from Damascus to Tehran to thank “the Iranian nation, the Iranian government, the supreme leader of the revolution and also … the foreign ministry”.
Later on Tuesday, Mahmoud Vaezi, the presidential chief of staff, said on Twitter that Rouhani’s remarks were “clear evidence” of Rouhani’s “complete satisfaction” with Zarif’s stance and performance.
“From Dr Rouhani’s point of view Iran has only one foreign policy and one foreign minister,” he said.
Zarif publicised determination to resign came amid quarrels over Iran’s foreign policy as well as a global struggle to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal, in which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.
Fighting between parties and factions in Iran is a “deadly poison” in formulating foreign policy, Zarif said in an interview published by the Jomhuri Eslami newspaper on Tuesday, suggesting he may have resigned over pressure from hardline elements opposed to his role in negotiating the nuclear deal.
Many in Iran were caught off-guard by his offer to resign, adding to the country’s state of uncertainty following Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear accord in May last year.
“I extend my gratitude for the generosity that dear and brave people of Iran and its respected authorities have had during past 67 months,” Zarif wrote on his Instagram page on Monday.
“I humbly apologise for the inability to continue serving and for all the shortcomings during my service.”
The president, in remarks on Tuesday, did not directly address Zarif’s resignation.
Instead, Rouhani thanked the minister, describing him as at the front line of the battle against the United States, according to IRNA.
Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, responded to Zarif’s move, saying: “We’ll see if it sticks.”
He added in a Twitter post: “Our policy is unchanged – the regime must behave like a normal country and respect its people.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the move, writing in a Twitter post: “Zarif is gone. Good riddance.”
“Shock of Zarif’s resignation,” read the headline in big yellow letters on the front page of the reformist Arman-e Emrouz daily’s Tuesday issue.
The newspaper referred to a prolonged procedure in Iran’s Expediency Council to pass bills to reform the country’s anti-money laundering and terror financing regulations.
The international Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recently extended the deadline for Iran to fix its rules until June.
Passing of the bills is crucial for the establishment of international banking ties, notably with Europe.
In an effort to save the nuclear deal, Germany, the UK and France recently launched a financial entity to facilitate trade with Iran; it also hinges on FATF legislations.
Two remaining FATF bills have been stalled due to a seemingly unending debate between moderates and the hardliners both in parliament and the Expediency Council.
FATF bills have put Zarif at odds with a part of the conservative camp, which the foreign minister has implicitly accused of being engaged in money laundering activities.
Coupled with crippling US sanctions, these efforts have slowed down the economic benefits of the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Iran’s economic indicators have been generating nothing but concern over the past months. Growth is dismal, the national currency has depreciated substantially and prices have soared.
‘Horrified and upset’
Many Iranians see Zarif’s resignation as yet another blow to the country’s struggle to overcome the sanctions.
Sepideh, 24, said she was “horrified and upset” when she heard the foreign minister had stepped down.
“I don’t have a good feeling,” she told Al Jazeera. “I worry that people, including my family, could fail to make ends meet in this situation.”
This comes at a time of growing pressure on Rouhani administration and his willingness to engage with the international community.
Hardline voices have been getting louder, calling for a change in political approach.
Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, the founder of Europe-Iran Business Forum, told Al Jazeera that if Zarif’s resignation was accepted, the functions of diplomacy could still be capably handled by his deputy at the foreign ministry, Abbas Araghchi, who has overseen much of the technical workaround implementation.
“But if Zarif’s departure signals that political tides within Iran are turning against the JCPOA in a more dramatic way, then this continuity may not matter,” Batmanghelidj said.
“However, the JCPOA is not a deal among governments but among states. The European parties to the deal will need to signal to Iran that they will stand by the deal even if Zarif departs, so long as that departure does not mean Iran’s own commitment is wavering,” he said.