ISTANBUL — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has refused to accept the resignation of his chief diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday, state television reported.
Zarif submitted his resignation late Monday in a shock decision he said was made to “defend the integrity” of the Foreign Ministry. The move roiled Iranian markets and threatened to further unravel Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi, quoting Rouhani’s chief of staff, said Tuesday that “the resignation has not been accepted,” Iran’s Press TV reported.
“I do not have personal remorse. I do not need anyone to console me,” Zarif said in a statement carried by the government’s official newspaper, after he announced his decision to resign via Instagram.
The U.S.-educated Zarif, who in recent years became the global face of Iran’s push to engage with the West, apologized to the Iranian people in a cryptic Instagram post before saying he could not continueas the country’s chief diplomat.
“I sincerely apologize for my lack of ability to continue my service and for all of the shortcomings,” said Zarif.
The announcement Tuesday that Rouhani, a relative moderate and pragmatist, had rejected Zarif’s resignation added to a day of high drama and political intrigue in the Iranian capital as officials urged Zarif to stay on as foreign minister.
Zarif’s political allies in Iran mobilized Tuesday to prevent his resignation, and more than 150 parliamentarians signed a letter calling on Rouhani to keep Zarif, state media outlets reported.
Zarif — a key architect of the nuclear deal, his signature foreign policy achievement — did not specify why he decided to resign.
The pro-reform news site Entekhab reported Monday night that Zarif was angered by his exclusion from a high-level meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attended by Rouhani and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iran has supported the Assad government with cash, weapons and troops in its fight against a nationwide insurgency. The visit was Assad’s first to Iran since the Syrian conflict began in 2011.
Zarif, Entekhab reported, said he had “no credibility in the world as a foreign minister” after images of the meeting were published.
But some analysts doubted that the meeting was the catalyst for his abrupt resignation.
“It’s hard to believe that Zarif resigned over not being included in a recent meeting with Assad in Tehran. The Foreign Ministry has long been ornamental in such debates,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington.
“The power broker of Iran’s regional security policy has always been the IRGC, not the Foreign Ministry” he said, referring to Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. If Zarif does end up leaving, his absence could upend Iran’s foreign policy at a critical time when Tehran faces renewed U.S. sanctions following the Trump administration’s exit from the nuclear accord last year.
The deal curbed Iran’s nuclear energy program in exchange for widespread sanctions relief. But the U.S. withdrawal has emboldened Iran’s hard-liners, who generally oppose relations with the West and were long critical of the nuclear agreement, believing that Iran conceded too much.
“Where Zarif’s resignation matters most is the fate of the nuclear deal and legacy of the Rouhani government,” Taleblu said. “Without Zarif at the helm of the Foreign Ministry, overt nuclear escalation may well be entertained by those in Iran who want to contest the Trump administration’s resolve on Iran.”
Zarif, a fluent English speaker who attended prep school in San Francisco and earned degrees from San Francisco State University and the University of Denver, became known for his “smiling diplomacy.”
But in recent months he was under severe pressure to balance anger in Iran over the nuclear deal with productive negotiations with Europe, which has stayed committed to the agreement despite U.S. sanctions, said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of the Europe-Iran Forum, a business grouping.
“We know that he has contemplated resigning at other junctures in the past,” said Batmanghelidj. “And it’s certainly an indictment of the government that one of the most popular and most capable ministers is unable to stay in that role.”
Rouhani’s influential chief of staff, Mahmoud Vaezi, posted an undated photo of the president and Zarif together on an airplane.
Rouhani is “fully satisfied” with Zarif, Vaezi said before the foreign minister’s statement Tuesday.
“According to Dr. Rouhani, the Islamic Republic of Iran has only one foreign policy and a secretary of state,” he wrote.