Almost a day after Mohammad Javad Zarif resigned as Iran's foreign minister, Iranian President Hassan Rouahni has neither accepted the resignation nor officially rejected it.
However, the spokesman of Iran's foreign ministry, Bahram Ghasemi quoted the president's chief of staff as saying that Rouhani has not accepted the resignation. This can be interpreted in different ways, but it is not a clear and official statement saying Zarif's resignation has been rejected.
Nevertheless, Rouhani has praised Zarif and 160 members, a majority of parliament have signed a letter expressing their opposition to Zarif leaving his post, demanding from the president to reject the resignation.
It increasingly appears that the resignation might not have been a prearranged decision. While Rouhani might have known about Zarif's intentions, it does not appear that the decision was a result of an agreement with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei or an order by the hardline ayatollah.
A previously unknown website published what it claimed was Zarif's official resignation text sent to the president, but the foreign ministry spokesman said it was a doctored text, without elaborating what was changed and what was kept from the original.
Earlier, Rouhani had thanked Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for his service, saying that Zarif is at the frontline of the battle against America and thanked Zarif, as well as Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh and central bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati for their role in confronting the United States.
Zarif was slated to be in Geneva on Wednesday for a UN human rights committee meeting. His trip has been cancelled.
Zarif, the architect of the nuclear deal with the West (JCPOA) was always under pressure by Iranian hardliners for "compromising with the West," but pressures became overwhelming following the United States' withdrawal from the deal and the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions against Iran.
He also came under even more pressure as Europe has not been able to provide a meaningful financial and trade channel for Iran to ease the pressures of sanctions, months after the re-imposition of sanctions.
Towards the end of 2018 hardliners in parliament launched an impeachment effort against Zarif, which petered out, apparently for lack of support from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
It seems all the negative campaigning against Zarif became intolerable for him and tilted the balance in favor of resignation, either as a final act or as a counter-pressure on his opponents.
Already from mid-2018 some of Zarif's responsibilities were being dolled out to others. Khamenei's confidant Ali Akbar Velayati was apparently put in charge of relations with Russia, Islamic Republic's most important backer in the face of Western pressures. Iran's Middle East relations were practically run by the IRGC; particularly its extra-territorial Qods force commander Qassem Soleimani.
As a matter of fact, photos published from Syrian President Bashar Assad's meetings in Tehran on February 25 with Rouhani and Khamenei show Zarif is absent but Soleimani is sitting in. A website in Iran (Entekhab) quotes Zarif as saying, "After photos of today's meetings, Javad Zarif has no more credibility as foreign minister."
A veteran Iranian journalist commented to Radio Farda that Zarif appeared to be Iran's foreign minister just for Europe.
In a message to foreign ministry staff who had announced they were planing to resign, Zarif asked them to stay, stressing that his resignation meant to return the ministry to its deserved status.
This development could be interpreted as a change in Iran's foreign policy and an end to Khamenei's policy of "heroic flexibility" as the U.S. position vis-à-vis Iran has been toughening during the past year.
In 2013, when news emerged of possible negotiations to resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, Khamenei portrayed the move as his heroic flexibility, which meant he was brave enough to take a risk and be flexible.
Zarif became sort of a national hero following the conclusion of the nuclear deal with the West and received a hero's welcome at the Tehran airport upon his return from Europe.
Nevertheless, Iranian opposition abroad was critical of Zarif for what they called whitewashing the Islamic Republic's violation of human rights.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted his first reaction to the resignation, seeming to dismiss its significance. "We note
@JZarif’s resignation. We’ll see if it sticks. Either way, he and @HassanRouhani are just front men for a corrupt religious mafia. We know @khamenei_ir makes all final decisions. Our policy is unchanged—the regime must behave like a normal country and respect its people", he noted.
Outside Iran, Zarif is known for leading Iran's charm offensive since 2013, when he started to correct Iran's image in the international community.
He would be remembered for taking a walk with his U.S. counterpart John Kerry in Geneva in 2014, and for shaking hands with President Barak Obama, in an ad hoc meeting in the corridors of the United Nations Organization in New York in 2016.
Zarif was for the first time noticeably nervous during a news conference in Munich, while discussing violation of human rights by the Islamic Republic and became angry a couple of times during the Q & A.
If his resignation is accepted, Zarif is likely to go back to academia, most probably to the International Relations Department at the University of Tehran.