Iran’s president rejects Zarif’s resignation

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rejected the resignation of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday, standing by his moderate ally long targeted by hardliners in internal factional struggles over a 2015 nuclear deal with the West.

Zarif — a U.S.-educated veteran diplomat who helped create the pact that curbed Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief — announced his resignation on Instagram on Monday.

“As the Supreme Leader has described you as a ‘trustworthy, brave and religious’ person in the forefront of resistance against widespread U.S. pressures, I consider accepting your resignation against national interests and reject it,” Rouhani said in a letter published on state news agency IRNA.

In another show of confidence, senior Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani said Zarif was the main person in charge of Iranian foreign policy and he was supported by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

On Wednesday, Zarif thanked Iranians for their support. “As a modest servant I have never had any concern but elevating the foreign policy and the status of the foreign ministry,” he added in an Instagram post. After Rouhani’s announcement, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported that Zarif had attended a ceremony to welcome Armenia’s prime minister to Tehran.

Zarif gave no specific reasons for his resignation. But his move thrust the schism between Iran’s hardliners and moderates into the open, effectively challenging Khamenei to pick a side.

An ally of Zarif told Reuters his resignation was motivated by criticism of the nuclear accord, under increasingly intense fire in Iran since the United States abandoned it last year.

Since the US walked out of the nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions, Rouhani has had to explain why Iran has continued to abide by its restrictions while reaping virtually none of the foreseen economic benefits.