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Can Outdated Slogans Of 'Resistance' Save Zarif?

IRGC Qods force commander Qassem Soleimani attending funeral of Zarif's mother in 2013. File photo

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited several European countries including France Norway and Sweden this week.

Iranian opposition groups abroad staged protests in every country he visited, accusing Zarif of representing a regime that violates human rights and whitewashing the regime's wrongdoings. The criticism was not just limited to members of Iranian diaspora, as others also criticized Sweden and Norway for Zarif's "red-carpet treatment".

A few weeks after the state Department website in Persian nicknamed the Iranian Foreign Minister "the supreme apologist," Zarif told Iranians in Sweden that he used this expression when telling Saudi officials that if they don't like to negotiate with “the supreme apologist”, they can always talk to Qassem Soleimani, a notorious hardline commander of Revolutionary Guards.

The expression is frequently used by Iranians on social media in response to Zarif's attempts to justify Tehran's violations of human rights.

For years, the media have been showing a special interest in Zarif, something he seems to crave by often looking into cameras with a smile. In fact, being media savvy is one of his points of strength. He has used this strength as well as his social media skills to defend and justify what the Islamic Republic stands for.

However, he has admitted in his memoires, "Mr. Ambassador", that the way he defended Iran's performance in the area of human rights in the 1980s was not efficient. Nevertheless, his recent return to the same old technique of making excuses for the regime came as a surprise.

In the 2019 Munich Security Conference in February, Zarif claimed he is "human rights professor" when attempting to defend the Islamic Republic's record.

For many Iranians Zarif is a popular figure, however, he does not have a solid base in Iran's domestic politics among any one of the two main political factions; the reformists and the conservatives.

The reformists never accommodated him in their camp, Zarif says in his book. He complained that reformist leaders have praised everyone else in the Iranian government for their foreign policy initiatives except him.

Nor was he popular in the ultraconservative administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinjead when he was banished to semi-retirement. At the time, the reformists also shunned him and never invited him to their circles and events.

Radical ultraconservatives such as former MP Hamid Rasaee claimed Zarif's father was linked to the Shah's secret police. Rasaee's newspaper "9 Dey" charged that Zarif imposed the nuclear deal on Khamenei by threatening to resign.

Meanwhile, Zarif has failed in several areas during the past couple of years. His prediction that the United States will not leave the nuclear deal turned out to be wrong. His oft repeated conspiracy theory of a Team B (Bin-Salman, Bolton, Benyamin Netanyahu) pushing Trump toward war failed to divide key players in the U.S. government. Similarly, his analysis about U.S. sanctions not having an impact on Iran's economy and oil exports was also wrong.

In the meantime, in Iran, his foreign policy lost its glamor as his influence was overshadowed by IRGC Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani's interventions, while his ministry failed to solve new and long-standing problems in diplomacy.

In this difficult situation, he changed tact by endorsing the concept of "resistance," which is one of Khamenei's favorite terms. Nevertheless, the idea is neither consistent with Zarif's image, nor it is consistent with his track record in diplomacy. It only allows Zarif to escape crisis and maintain his foothold in Iranian politics.

He even knows that using the expression "supreme apologist" about himself will not help him outside Iran, although the tactic might come handy if, and only if, he decides to run for president in 2021.

Former diplomat Sadeq Kharrazi has described Zarif's relations with Khamenei as "total cooperation." Not bad, although Kharrazi has charcterized Khamenei's ties with former foreign minister Velayati as based on "total confidence." Nevertheless, Zarif has to do his best to win Khamenei's trust as he needs it more than ever.

As a result, he dismisses negotiation with U.S. President Donald Trump because Khamenei has called negotiations with America "double poison."

Some have criticized Zarif for his weakness in understanding Iran's domestic political dynamics. Meanwhile, one of Iran's leading political scientists Mahmoud Sariolghalam has recently outlined 30 reasons for the failure of Iran's foreign policy including "short-term vision, lack of focus, and not distinguishing between propaganda and public diplomacy. "The criticism is said to be pointed at Zarif.

All of these are tied to Zarif's excessive preoccupation with conflicts in Iran's domestic politics which has been described as the directional source of Iran’s diplomacy. It can also be its quagmire.

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    Reza Haqiqatnezhad

    Reza Haqiqatnezhad was a well-known journalist in Iran until he left the country a few years ago and he is now a political analyst at Radio Farda.