Assad invites Iranian FM to Damascus after reported snub

No date set for trip announced; Zarif is said to have resigned because he wasn’t invited to Tehran summit with the Syrian president

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gestures during a press conference in Tehran on February 13, 2019 (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gestures during a press conference in Tehran on February 13, 2019 (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Syrian President Bashar Assad on Thursday invited Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to visit Damascus after the latter resigned, seemingly over being left out of meetings with Assad.

According to Iranian state media, cited by the Reuters news agency, no date has been set for the visit.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday rejected Zarif’s resignation, the government’s official website said.

“I believe your resignation is against the country’s interests and do not approve it,” Rouhani wrote in a letter to Zarif, the website said.

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, speaks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during their meeting in Tehran, Syria, February 25, 2019. (SANA via AP)

“I consider you, as put by the leader, to be ‘trustworthy, brave and pious’ and in the forefront of resistance against America’s all-out pressure,” he added, referring to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Zarif abruptly tendered his resignation on Instagram on Monday, reportedly because he was not invited to attend meetings with Assad.

Assad, a major recipient of Iranian aid during his country’s nearly eight-year civil war, met with both Khamenei and Rouhani on his rare foreign visit, but not with Zarif.

Rouhani praised Zarif’s “relentless efforts and endeavors” in bearing the “heavy responsibility” of the foreign affairs portfolio, and stressed that Zarif was the pointman in the conduct of Iran’s foreign policy.

“As ordered several times, all bodies — including government or state bodies — must be in full coordination with this ministry with regards to foreign relations,” the president said in his letter.

Iran’s Entekhab news agency said it tried to reach Zarif after Assad’s visit and received the following message: “After the photos of today’s meetings, Javad Zarif no longer has any credibility in the world as the foreign minister!”

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, attends a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Revolutionary Guard commanders in Tehran, Iran, September 18, 2016. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Zarif also got support from Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force within Iran’s Republican Guards, which are under the direct command of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

The Guard’s website quoted Soleimani Wednesday as saying that Zarif “is in charge of foreign policy” and has “always been supported and approved by senior officials in the system, especially the supreme leader.”

Soulemani, who oversees Iran’s military involvement in Syria, commented on Zarif’s absence from the Monday meeting saying “Some inconsistencies in the presidential office that have been raised have led to the absence of our country’s foreign minister at this meeting.”

“The indications are that there has been no intention for Mr. Zarif to be absent from this meeting, and I must emphasize that he is the main foreign policy secretary of the Islamic Republic of Iran as the Foreign Minister of Islamic Republic of Iran” Soleimani said, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

It’s unclear what will happen next. Zarif could stop going to work at the Foreign Ministry, forcing Rouhani’s hand, but there’s no precedent for that in the history of the Islamic Republic.

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