Why Zarif Is No Moderate, and the Iran Nuclear Deal Is a Sham
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced on Monday that he was resigning, but later seemed to have resumed his diplomatic duties, after his request was denied by President Hassan Rouhani.
In the coverage of Iran’s diplomatic melodrama, it hasn’t been uncommon for news reports to characterize Zarif as a moderate, whose leadership made the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers possible. Zarif’s resignation was portrayed as collateral damage due to the deal not providing Iran with its promised benefits, and the withdrawal of the United States from the accord last year.
Trita Parsi, the former head of the National Iranian American Council and a major supporter of the nuclear deal, summed up this line of thinking to CNN,: “If Zarif ends up being replaced, at least one dimension of this is that the Trump administration’s war on the JCPOA inevitably led to political casualties in Iran.”
For this analysis to be true, Zarif would have to be a moderate who negotiated a deal to end Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions in good faith. But it can empirically be shown that neither proposition is true. Zarif is no moderate, and the nuclear deal delayed — but did not end — Iran’s quest for nukes.
A recentwritten by Kasra Aarabi, an analyst at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, surveyed the speeches of seven of Iran’s most prominent leaders since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979 – including so-called moderates Rouhani and Zarif.
Aarabi noted, “When the West speaks of moderates in the regime, it often overlooks the fact that all figures in the establishment are committed to Islamism and are vehemently opposed to liberal, secular values.”
His survey of Zarif’s speeches was interesting.
In 30% of his speeches, Zarif praised the concept of velayat-e faqih (), the authority by which Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reigns. The same percentage was registered in cases where Zarif expressed pan-Islamic aspirations and used the pejorative takfiri to describe regime opponents as apostates. Zarif also expressed anti-Western sentiments and employed anti-Israel rhetoric in 80% of his speeches, and specifically voiced anti-American sentiments in 60% of registered cases.
All told, Aarabi wrote, the speeches show that the worldview of Iranian political leaders portrayed as moderates, such as Rouhani and Zarif, “are much closer to the ideology of the revolution than commonly believed, and that political language in Iran is virtually inseparably from the revolution’s worldview.”
Simply put, one does not rise to the position of foreign minister or president of the Islamic Republic of Iran without drinking the regime’s ideological Kool-Aid. Zarif may have been educated in the US, but he is very much a member in good standing of the revolutionary regime that he represents on the world stage.
If Zarif’s moderation has been oversold, so too have the restrictions placed on Iran by the nuclear deal.
A recent paper —by David Albright, a former weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security; Olli Heinonen, former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and a senior advisor to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; and Andrea Stricker, a senior policy analyst at the Institute — analyzed the nuclear archive that Israel seized from Iran last year.
Albright, Heinonen, and Strickerthat the fact that Iran kept such a comprehensive archive of its nuclear weapons research showed that the regime likely violated its “pledge under the JCPOA that under no circumstances will it ever seek nuclear weapons.”
In addition, the paper points out that many of the major figures in Project Amad — as Iran’s nuclear weapons program was known until 2003 — including President Rouhani, current National Security Advisor Ali Shamkhani, and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force Commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh, remain influential in government and are in positions allowing them “oversight of activities critical to maintaining a capability to make and deliver nuclear weapons.”
In other words, information contained in the nuclear archive shows that the deal didn’t end Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but allowed the Islamic Republic to maintain it, as well as empowering it to develop weapons at a time of its choosing in the future.
Taken together, the picture that emerges of Zarif is not of a pragmatic moderate willing to make real sacrifices to better the lives of his countrymen, but of an ideological con man, committed to protecting the regime he represents from suffering the consequences of its extremism.