Obituary

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, 60, Iran’s hardline FM who died in helicopter crash

A consistent supporter of Tehran’s radical policies, country’s top diplomat oversaw reconciliation efforts with Saudi Arabia, held meetings with top Hamas officials amid Gaza war

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian speaks during a joint press conference with his Lebanese counterpart Abdallah Bouhabib, in Beirut Lebanon, October 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian speaks during a joint press conference with his Lebanese counterpart Abdallah Bouhabib, in Beirut Lebanon, October 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who died Sunday in a helicopter crash that also killed the country’s president, was a hardliner close to the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who oversaw indirect talks with the US over the country’s nuclear program.

Amir-Abdollahian represented the hardline shift in Iran following the collapse of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers after then-US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord. He served under now-deceased president Ebrahim Raisi, a protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and followed their policies.

He first served in the Foreign Ministry under Ali Akbar Salehi in 2011-2013. He then returned for several years under then-foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was a key player in the nuclear deal reached under the administration of the relatively moderate president Hassan Rouhani in 2015.

But Zarif and Amir-Abdollahian had a falling out, likely over internal differences in Iran’s foreign policy. Zarif offered him the ambassadorship to Oman, still a strategically important post given the sultanate long serving as an interlocutor between Iran and the West, but he refused.

Amir-Abdollahian became foreign minister under Raisi with the latter’s election in 2021, and was a consistent supporter of the government’s policies, even as mass protests swept the country in 2022 after the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who had been detained by Iran’s morality police over allegedly not wearing a hijab, or headscarf, to the liking of authorities. The months-long security crackdown that followed the demonstrations killed more than 500 people and saw over 22,000 detained.

In March, a United Nations investigative panel found that Iran was responsible for the “physical violence” that led to Amini’s death.

FILE: Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian speaks during a UN Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, at UN headquarters in New York City on April 18, 2024. (Angela Weiss / Wires)

Amir-Abdollahian had a close relationship with senior IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad in 2020.

“You should thank the Islamic Republic and Qassem Soleimani because Soleimani has contributed to world peace and security,” Amir-Abdollahian once said. “If there was no Islamic Republic, your metro stations and gathering centers in Brussels, London and Paris would not be safe.”

More recently, he was also involved in efforts to reach a détente with regional rival Saudi Arabia in 2023, a move eclipsed almost immediately later by tensions that arose over the war between Israel and the Iran-backed Palestinian terror group Hamas.

In September 2023, just a month before the October 7 Hamas massacre in southern Israel, Amir-Abdollahian met with his Saudi Arabian counterpart, ending a seven-year break in diplomatic ties between the two countries, which have historically backed opposing sides in conflict zones throughout the Middle East.

While Iran claimed it had no prior knowledge of Hamas’s unprecedented terror assault, it publicly praised the attack and warned that its proxies would not hesitate to join the fight against Israel.

In December 2023, Amir-Abdollahian met with Hamas politburo leader Ismail Haniyeh in Qatar. A month prior, he held meetings with senior Hamas politburo member Khalil Al-Hayya, and with Palestinian Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ziad al-Nakhaleh in Lebanon.

He met with Haniyeh twice more, once in February during a visit to Doha and again in March during the Hamas political chief’s visit to Tehran.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, right, is welcomed by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian for their meeting in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

He issued repeated statements accusing Israel of warmongering, and following the alleged Israeli airstrike on an Iranian consulate building in Damascus on April 1, he again accused Jerusalem of trying to start a regional war.

Elsewhere in the region, Amir-Abdollahian also oversaw Iran’s response to a brief exchange of airstrikes with its nuclear-armed neighbor Pakistan and worked on diplomacy with the Taliban in Afghanistan, with whom Iran had tense relations.

He is survived by his wife and two children.

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