A planned debate on impeaching Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has been postponed for two weeks, parliament’s influential Commission for National Security and Foreign Policy (NSFEC) has announced.
NSFEC Spokesman Ali Najafi Khoshroodi said December 2 that the commission had decided to postpone parliament’s debate after holding a hearing that Zarif attended. The commission had earlier received a parliamentary motion to impeach the foreign minister signed by 24 MPs.
A host of accusations were made against Zarif in the motion, but the MPs’ main complaint centered on recent remarks he made alleging widespread money laundering in Iran.
Khoshroodi said commission members also discussed the possibility of suing the foreign minister over his comments. Based on the body’s own rules, the NSFEC has ten days after receiving the motion to decide whether or not to pursue legal action.
In a highly controversial remark made November 11, Zarif said those who “pocket billions of dollars" from money laundering in Iran are spending millions from their windfalls to prevent the passage of legislation requiring more financial transparency in Iran.
The foreign minister went further by implicitly accusing unspecified state agencies of mounting the campaign against President Hassan Rouhani’s package of proposed laws against money laundering, known collectively in Iran as the Palermo Bills.
"We cannot challenge the scenes set by these wealthy and mighty state organs,” he said.
Zarif’s money laundering comments have polarized Iranian politics, with the conservative camp, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his close ally, judiciary head Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani, calling for Zarif’s head.
Speaking to state-run media, Larijani described Zarif’s comments as a “stab right into the heart” of the Islamic Republic’s ruling system.
As the political fallout over his remarks grew serious, Zarif attempted to clarify his statements in a twelve-page letter to the judicial department. The Islamic Republic's Prosecutor-General, mid-ranking cleric Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, dismissed the letter as "devoid of any evidence" supporting the foreign minister's claims of rampant money laundering in Iran.
Many influential leaders have come to Zarif’s defense, however, and are publicly discouraging his impeachment.
In a surprise move, Qom-based senior cleric Nasser Makarem Shirazi was quoted November 28 by the official government news agency, IRNA, as saying, “If we replace any ministers, especially ministers who confront the enemy [code for the U.S. and other Western powers], it would be the wrong move and could risk weakening the government.”
Speaking to state-run Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) December 1, the chairman of parliament’s pro-reform “Hope” faction, Mohammad Reza Aref, also criticized the motion to impeach Zarif, saying the impeachment of a foreign minister at this moment is “not at all desirable.”
Aref lauded the foreign minister as a “revolutionary figure,” saying his tenure as chief diplomat has brought honor to Iran on the international stage.