When Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, abruptly announced his resignation Monday in an unconventional way — with an Instagram post — the reaction was immediate and varied, both in Iran and around the world.
This is not the first time an Iranian official has thrown a temper tantrum while on the job. In 2011, then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad staged an 11-day walkout when Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, blocked Ahmadinejad’s decision to sack his intelligence minister.
Such antics are a gamble that require the confidence that others will plead for the official to come back to work. In a political ecosystem in which reliable polls don’t exist and social media plays a major role in gauging public opinion, Zarif’s resignation via Instagram makes sense.
Now, his equally startling comeback underscores the important role he’s played.
Without Zarif’s diplomatic efforts, there are few achievements that Rouhani can point to that satisfy an Iranian public who twice elected him. For as unpopular as the Iranian regime is, Rouhani was elected in 2013 and again in 2017 on the promise of opening the country to foreign investment and to greater contact with the outside world.
The nuclear deal — from the point of view of everyday Iranians — was meant to eliminate suffocating economic sanctions and help end decades of the entire nation being ostracized for the policies of their leaders.
One can debate whether the Iranian regime should be allowed to integrate more fully into international affairs. But there is no question that the subjects of that country desperately want to be connected with the rest of the world.
The survival of the Iranian regime and the survival of Iran as an intact nation are two very different matters. For better or worse, though, those fates now seem to be intertwined.
U.S. policy toward Iran is perceived to have wreaked havoc on Iran’s economy and has limited the ability of average Iranians to live as normal global citizens. Pledges that the United States has the best interests of the Iranian people in mind do not stand up to scrutiny.
Meanwhile, many Iranians believe that foreign powers — the United States, Israel and some Persian Gulf states — would like to see the country broken up along ethnic lines. In recent years, the Islamic republic has deftly exploited the sense of nationalism among the population.
Love him or hate him, Zarif understands these dueling realities in a way that no other Iranian official does. More importantly, he is able to enunciate them effectively to a world rightly skeptical of the regime he represents. That’s precisely why so many pleaded with him to stay on — including Rouhani; Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force; and, in all likelihood, Khamenei.