In an analysis pegged to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's recent resignation and his subsequent return to his office last week, Iranian analyst Reza Haghighatnejad presented a profile of President Hassan Rouhani's Chief of Staff Mahmoud Vaezi, as the man to be blamed for the "lack of coordination" in the Iranian President's office.
Presidential Adviser Hesamoddin Ashna has also mentioned lack of coordination as the underlying reason for Zarif's resignation; a reason that seems to have been widely accepted by the Iranian press as the driving force behind the controversy.
Haghighatnejad characterized the Rouhani administration as a cabinet marked by discords. The focal point of discord in Rouhani's first term as President was his -then- chief of staff Mohammad Nahavandian, says Haghighatnejad, adding that in the second term, the focal point shifted to the new chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi.
The Iranian press noticed Vaezi's influence when he appointed Majid Takhtravanchi, a former aide of Zarif's and a former nuclear negotiator as his political deputy in October 2017. Nevertheless, Takhtravanchi, better known to U.S. negotiators in 2014 and 2015 during the nuclear talks with Iran as "Ravanchi", continued to be present in diplomatic negotiations, although now he got his mandate from Vaezi rather than Zarif.
A few months later, when circumventing U.S. sanctions turned into a priority for the Iranian government, Vaezi went to Turkey to discuss a way out with Turkey's leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In December 2018, once again Vaezi led a high ranking delegation to Turkey, met with Erdogan and paved the way for a bilateral summit. In January 2019, Vaezi put himself in charge of the joint economic committee of Iran and Turkey, a position he had delegated to others for some time, says Haghighatnejad.
"This was an example of Vaezi boosting his diplomatic power. His previous career included the position of deputy foreign mister for economic affairs, and this put him in a better position to lead Iran's economic diplomacy," he continued.
During over 200 days that the Rouhani administration has been without a spokesperson, Vaezi as his chief of staff has been his most prominent spokesman talking to the media on diverse topics from FATF to a long-awaited meeting between Trump and Rouhani that has not materialized so far. Vaezi is the man who disseminates news and warnings on behalf of Rouhani.
Meanwhile, the post of vice-president for executive affairs has been eliminated in Rouhani's second term as President and Vaezi has put himself in charge of the most important domestic political affairs, also consolidating his influence over the Interior Ministry.
On the other hand, thanks to links to his brother Ahmad Vaezi, a prominent administrative figure at the Qom Seminary, Mahmoud Vaezi has become the liaison between the administration and top clerics in Qom in Rouhani's second cabinet.
Vaezi is known for his political differences with reformists who support Rouhani, and instead, he support Rouhani's alliance with Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and the politicians around him. Vaezi has repeatedly denied reformists' role in Rouhani's election victory in 2013 and 2017. That also explains Vaezi's sharp differences with Vice-President Es'haq Jahangiri, who represents reformists in the administration. Reformists have been complaining about Vaezi's increasing power in running the affairs of the state. In late September, reformist figure Abdollah Naseri predicted that "this could bring the administration face to face with major problems as Vaezi ignores protocols regarding the visits of foreign officials to Iran."
Zarif's resignation could have been one of those major problems, although it is evident that during the past week, attacks by reformists on Vaezi were not completely devoid of opportunism to harness his power. But the main question is whether Rouhani is willing to harness his chief of staff's power and influence.
As long as Vaezi's sway remains intact, it is unlikely that Zarif's gestures to defend his turf or reformists' complaints would bring about any change in the situation and have an impact on Vaezi's power, says Haghighatnejad.