Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rejected Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s resignation on Wednesday, 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.
“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, seemingly over being left out of meetings with visiting Syrian President Bashar Assad earlier in the day, Iran’s Entekhab news agency reported.
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.
Entekhab 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!”
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.
Zarif, acting on Rouhani’s instructions, negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal that saw sanctions on Iran lifted in return from it dismantling the weapons-capable aspects of its nuclear development program. The Trump administration pulled the US out of the deal in May last year and reinstated severe sanctions while claiming the pact isn’t strict enough.
Though the rest of the parties to the the nuclear accord — Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany — have said they will maintain the deal along with Iran, they have difficulties overcoming the US sanctions, which have impacted the Iranian economy, causing its rial currency to plummet.
Rouhani and Zarif, who are considered relative moderates, have been facing pressure from Iranian hardliners as the deal they championed has unraveled. Analysts say Rouhani is particularly vulnerable because of the economic crisis assailing the rial, which has hurt ordinary Iranians and emboldened critics to openly call for his ouster.
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.