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Iran’s Zarif says he won’t run for president

Iran’s foreign minister ruled out any possibility about his nomination in the country’s next presidential election, a race that hard-liners are already attempting to make entirely one-sided.
The Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Javad Zarif, speaks during a meeting with his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez (out of frame), in Havana, on November 6, 2020. - Cuba and Iran's foreign ministers met in Havana on Friday to reinforce their mutual support in the face of crippling US sanctions. (Photo by YAMIL LAGE / AFP) (Photo by YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gave an absolute “no” to questions about whether he will run in the country’s next presidential election, slated to be held next June.

In a Persian-language interview with Afghanistan’s Tolo News TV, Zarif appeared confident in his answer, noting that such a decision does not indicate that he has been fatigued by politics. “But I don’t see my capabilities fitting such a position [presidency].”

Zarif has previously expressed willingness to continue his career in the capacity of Iran’s top diplomat in any upcoming administration. Yet despite all the clarity, Zarif’s stances have failed to end calls for him to run for president. Debates have been heating up in the past months that the foreign minister, a popular figure in the Moderate-Reformist camp, stands a high chance if he seeks nomination to run for president.

Iran’s Reformists suffered a severe blow in the parliamentary elections back in February, allowing a parliament that had been in their full control to be dominated by hard-liners. The defeat has been largely blamed on a pre-election purge by the ultraconservative Guardian Council, which is in charge of vetting candidates in all Iranian elections. Against such a backdrop as well as the fact the incumbent moderate President Hassan Rouhani will be constitutionally barred from running for a third term, the Reformist camp seems to have every reason to worry about the next presidency.

The hard-line parliament is, on the other hand, going the extra mile to push rivals aside ahead of the election. The lawmakers have in recent months been busy amending the country’s election laws, among other moves, trying to grant greater powers to the like-minded Guardian Council for a more merciless removal of Reformists.

In a controversial decision, the parliament also rejected an amendment earlier this week that could have barred military commanders to be nominated for the presidency. “A salute from the military parliament to the generals,” read a front-page title on the pro-Reform daily Arman-e-Melli, which also alluded to the fact a large group of high-ranking officers with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) are already passing laws as influential members of parliament, among them speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf.

As the architect of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Foreign Minister Zarif was elevated to the rank of a national hero in the immediate months after the signing of the accord. With the deal in a state of near-coma these days, Zarif is currently focused on reviving it before any possible farewell to politics, trying to preserve a legacy which he and his team fought for during marathon talks with major powers.

In the absence of credible opinion polls in Iran, it remains unclear where exactly Zarif stands among ordinary Iranians five years after the signing of the nuclear deal. But he has on multiple occasions drawn the ire of some citizens, who accuse him of acting as an “apologist” with inflammatory comments, including his stance on the deadly crackdown on the nationwide protests last November, and the IRGC’s downing of the Ukrainian jetliner that killed 176 people on board in January. And in the same interview with Tolo News, the foreign minister appeared to justify the Iranian judiciary’s contentious execution earlier this month of dissident journalist Rouhollah Zam.

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