Zarif criticized for showing ‘weakness’ in proposing Iran-US prisoner swap

While Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has floated the possibility of talks with the United States over prisoners, others in Iran have rejected showing any signs of "weakness" amid ramped up outside pressure.

al-monitor Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sits for an interview with Reuters in New York, New York, US, April 24, 2019. Photo by REUTERS/Carlo Allegri.

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prisoner exchange, irgc, jcpoa, mohammad javad zarif, donald trump, quds force, qasem soleimani

Apr 29, 2019

During an April 29 speech addressing Iran’s police force commanders, Qasem Soleimani of the Quds Force - the foreign operations branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) -  weighed in on one of the hot topics in Iranian media: direct talks between Iran and the United States.

“The enemy [America] wants to drag us to the negotiating table through economic pressure, and this type of negotiation is an example of submission,” Soleimani said. “But our people are smart and intelligent and believe that negotiations with the enemy under current conditions is pure surrender and certainly we will not give in to this humiliation.”

With the recent replacement of Mohammad Ali Jafari as commander of the IRGC, Soleimani is definitely the most recognizable face of the IRGC both inside and outside of Iran. Given that he is not political in nature and a man of few words, and that he weighed in on this issue during a time when Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is in the United States discussing with American media possible prisoner swaps with the United States, Soleimani appears to have been sending a signal to the Donald Trump administration on the IRGC’s current position regarding any direct talks.

Zarif’s media interviews in the United States, which he gave while attending a United Nations conference, have definitely caught the attention of Iranian media. Hard-line Kayhan newspaper, whose editor is chosen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s office, took exception with a comment Zarif made in which he said Iran is ready to discuss prisoner swaps but the United States has not responded. The article stated that given that the United States has already exited the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and has a history of breaking pacts, Zarif is “recommending negotiations from a position of weakness and passivity.”

The article noted that a number of Reformist media outlets reported on Zarif’s proposal for talks with the United States and generally welcomed the news. However, Kayhan continued, addressing the foreign minister directly, “Mr. Zarif, a weak message will make the enemy bolder” and reminded him that “Now the instructive experience of the JCPOA is in the court of public opinion.”

While the foreign minister was in the United States openly discussing the possibility of talks with American officials, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi was in Iran meeting with European officials. “The patience and tolerance of the Islamic Republic is not unlimited,” Aragchi told Iranian reporters April 28. He added, “And with a comprehensive assessment of the present situation … we’ll soon adopt a proper response to America’s illegal actions.”

It seems that while Iran is opening the door for some form of talks with the United States, they seem intent on not showing the gesture to be a sign of submission to Trump's reapplying sanctions on the country after Trump exited the JCPOA. While the United States recently announced they would no longer allow sanctions waivers for countries purchasing Iranian oil, Iranian media has been filled by statements from Russian, Turkish and Chinese officials stating that they would continue to do business with Iran.

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