Iran’s Rouhani stands by foreign minister after parliament slurs

The fragility of the Iran nuclear deal and its bleak prospects have given Iran’s hard-liners the upper hand in their domestic battle against moderate forces.

al-monitor Iranian Foreign Minister Mohmmad Javad Zarif (C) attends during the inaugural session of the new parliament in Tehran on May 27, 2020. Photo by AFP via Getty Images.

Jul 8, 2020

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani mounted a rosy defense of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif after the latter was cornered by the hard-line lawmakers who are in full control of the country’s new parliament.

In a televised cabinet meeting July 8, Rouhani expressed admiration for Zarif as the embodiment of Iran’s political power. Rouhani also borrowed from the “constant praise” that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has lent Zarif and his emphasis that the foreign minister “ought to be respected.”

During his first address to the newly elected legislative body last week, the Iranian foreign minister was heckled by a group of parliamentarians who greeted him with slurs and name-calling. “Death to the liar” and “You’re a traitor,” they shouted before the Iranian top diplomat sarcastically thanked them for their “hospitality.”

The outcry was meant to be an expression of anger against Zarif’s role as the architect of the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which the foreign minister vigorously backed as a document of “national pride.” Zarif also reminded his critics that “we are all in the same boat” when it comes to Iran’s tensions with the United States, whose departure from the JCPOA in May 2018 has left the multilateral accord in tatters.

“There was no stuttering in Zarif’s defense and that is what infuriated the attackers, who were going out of their way to make him slam the door,” a pro-Rouhani news outlet reported of Zarif’s “day of patience” and criticized the new parliament for taking a path of “confrontation rather than one of interaction” with the moderate government. 

During the cabinet meeting, Rouhani called for unity against American and Israeli plots aimed at “sowing division” among Iranian officials. “This is not the best time for an exchange of diatribes,” he said, “at a moment when the country is facing too many enemies and has to fight across multiple fronts from sanctions to the coronavirus.”

The president’s advice came only three days after 130 lawmakers signed a motion to summon him for questioning on the parliament floor. Among other issues, the meeting is expected to revolve around Rouhani’s economic performance, his handling of the JCPOA and his engagement with Western states.

Under Article 88 of the Iranian Constitution, if the signatories of the motion are left “unconvinced” by the president’s explanations, they are authorized to proceed to the next stage, which could be impeachment. This could be a critical moment when Rouhani will perhaps have to pin his hopes on intervention from the supreme leader, whose informal but binding directives have blocked similar attempts by other parliaments in the history of the Islamic Republic.

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