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Iranian President Praises Zarif, Tight-Lipped On Resignation

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Iranian President Hassan Rohani (left) presents Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif with a Medal of Honor for his role in the implementation of a nuclear deal with world powers, in Tehran on February 16.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani has not specified whether he will accept the resignation of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, but has praised him for his "resistance" and "capabilities."

In a televised speech on February 26, Rohani made no mention of Zarif’s announcement that he was resigning, saying the minister was on the "front line of the battle" against the United States, Tehran’s archenemy.

"If our Foreign Ministry is doing something, it is because it is from the people and it represents the people," Rohani said. "The government, in general, is elected by the people."

The comments come after Zarif announced his resignation in a message posted on Instagram late on February 25, amid mounting pressure from hard-liners who have criticized his role in negotiating a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The United States pulled out of the deal in May 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran, fueling a deepening economic crisis and political infighting in the country.

Iran's parliament will discuss Zarif’s resignation during a meeting on February 26, the assembly's news website ICANA reported.

"With attention to the internal and international situation, sanctions and the pressure from America, I emphasize that more than any other time we need internal unity and solidarity," said Ali Najafi Khoshroodi, the spokesman for the parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, which will hold the meeting.

A report by Fars news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying on February 26 that Zarif's resignation "has not been accepted."

"All interpretations and analysis around the reasons behind the resignation of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, beyond what he posted on his Instagram account, are not accurate and, as the chief of staff of the president of Iran said today, the resignation has not been accepted," spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by Fars.

Meanwhile, Rohani’s chief of staff said on Instagram that the president stands behind Zarif.

"The words of the president today in praising his foreign minister are a clear sign of the satisfaction of the representative of the people of Iran about the wise and effective positions and work of Dr. Zarif and a tough response to some biased and incorrect analyses," Mahmud Vaezi wrote in the post.

"In the view of Dr. Rohani, the Islamic Republic of Iran has only one foreign policy and one foreign minister," Vaezi added.

'Deadly Poison'

In an interview published in the Jomhuri Eslami newspaper on February 26, Zarif was quoted as saying that infighting between parties and factions in Iran was a "deadly poison" undermining foreign policy, suggesting he may have quit over pressure from hard-line conservatives.

However, the semiofficial Fars news agency reported that the interview had taken place last week, before Zarif announced his resignation.

Meanwhile, a majority of Iranian lawmakers signed a letter to Rohani on February 26, asking for Zarif to continue in his job, according to IRNA.

It quoted Khoshroodi as saying that 150 out of 290 lawmakers in the chamber had so far signed the letter.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington had taken note of Zarif's resignation, saying: "We’ll see if it sticks."

Zarif and Rohani "are just front men for a corrupt religious mafia,” he also wrote on Twitter.

The prime minister of Israel, Iran's arch-foe in the Middle East, welcomed Zarif's announcement.

"Zarif is gone. Good riddance," Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted.

Iran's stock market dropped around 2,000 points on the news that Zarif had resigned, IRNA reported.

'Shortcomings And Flaws'

In his message on Instagram, Zarif thanked the Iranian people and authorities but gave no reason for the resignation.

"I apologize for not being able to continue in the post and for all the shortcomings and flaws in the period," he wrote.

Zarif has served as the Iran's top diplomat since August 2013, replacing Ali Akbar Salehi, the current head of Atomic Organization of Iran.

He headed the Iranian negotiation team that led to the 2015 deal between Tehran and six world powers, which saw Iran limit its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

Zarif's resignation could further undermine the deal after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the accord, saying it did not address Iran's missile program and "destabilizing" activities in the Middle East.

The other signatories to the agreement have been working to keep it alive and have resisted U.S. pressure to abandon the deal.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, IRNA, ISNA, and the BBC
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