US dismisses surprise resignation of Iran’s Zarif
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US dismisses surprise resignation of Iran’s Zarif

‘We’ll see if it sticks,’ Mike Pompeo tweets, calling the foreign minister a front man ‘for a corrupt religious mafia’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the United Against Nuclear Iran Summit in New York on September 25, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the United Against Nuclear Iran Summit in New York on September 25, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

WASHINGTON — The US said its policy regarding  Tehran would not change after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif abruptly tendered his resignation Monday.

“We note @JZarif’s resignation. We’ll see if it sticks,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote on Twitter.

“Either way, he and @HassanRouhani are just front men for a corrupt religious mafia,” Pompeo wrote, referring to the country’s president.

“We know @khamenei_ir makes all final decisions. Our policy is unchanged — the regime must behave like a normal country and respect its people,” he said of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Zarif, 59, announced his resignation on Instagram, but it can only take effect once Rouhani accepts it.

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

He has served as Rouhani’s foreign minister since August 2013 and has been under constant pressure and criticism by hardliners who opposed his policy of detente with the West, as well as by the Trump administration, which has hammered away at the nuclear deal he helped broker.

While former US secretary of state John Kerry established a working rapport with Zarif, the Trump administration has taken a much harder line toward the so-called moderate, including one State Department official recently tweeting an unflattering GIF of Zarif saying: “How do you know @JZarif is lying? His lips are moving.”

In this January 16, 2016 file photo, then-secretary of state John Kerry talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna, after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verified that Iran has met all conditions under the nuclear deal. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool via AP, File)

Within Iran, Zarif’s standing in the country’s political establishment took a hit when the US withdrew last year from the nuclear deal, aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear program, and the pact’s achievements became less and less clear as Iran’s economy nosedived.

Zarif was blamed by ultra-conservatives for negotiating a bad deal that had not gained anything meaningful for Iran in exchange for all the concessions it had made in its nuclear program.

Analysts say Rouhani faces growing political pressure from hard-liners within the government as the nuclear deal unravels. Iranian presidents typically see their popularity erode during their second four-year term, but analysts say Rouhani is particularly vulnerable because of the economic crisis assailing the country’s rial currency, which has hurt ordinary Iranians and emboldened critics to openly call for his ouster.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in parliament, in Tehran, Iran, on February 4, 2019 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Reaction to Zarif’s resignation was swift. A prominent reformist lawmaker, Mostafa Kavakebian, wrote on Twitter that Rouhani should reject Zarif’s resignation as his departure would only “make enemies of Iran’s dignity happy.”

Hassan Mohammadi, a Tehran-based political analyst close to Rouhani, said he understood it was Zarif’s third time submitting his resignation in the last year.

“It is part of plan for changing the track in foreign policy in Iran. A negotiation-seeking foreign minister is not a favored person anymore,” Mohammadi told The Associated Press. “Iran needs a tough foreign minister from now on. Someone who does not offer smile towards the West.”

AP contributed to this report.

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