Entekhab Interview May Signal Zarif Iran Presidential Bid
Might this be the moment when Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister since 2013, emerged as a prospective president?
An interview published by Entekhab, conducted by its editor in chief Mostafa Faghihi, looks like a promotion of Zarif as a figure blessed with useful connections in the United States, the confidence of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and proven links to the principlist hero Qasem Soleimani.
In clips of the interview posted on Entekhab’s Twitter account, Zarif portrays himself as close to the Iranian general Soleimani, head of the Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, who was killed by American missiles in Baghdad in January.
Zarif refers to his regular meetings and consultations with Soleimani, noting his help during the Afghanistan peace talks in Bonn, Germany, in 2001. “I was the Islamic Republic's representative in the talks,” Zarif said. “I have told foreign parties to the conference that peace in Afghanistan is indebted to Soleimani more than anyone else.”
During the interview, Faghihi suggested that some Iranians were trying to take advantage of Soleimani’s popularity to undermine Iran’s international diplomacy. He asked Zarif whether Soleimani explained his view of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, from which United States President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018 and which President-elect Joe Biden wants to revive.
Zarif replied that Soleimani did not speak about the JCPOA, “because it was not the subject of our talks.” But, Zarif continued, “he always reassured me that I was doing an important job.” Zarif added that Soleimani had backed him in three rounds of talks with the US, all approved by Khamenei, both before and after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
Zarif drew attention to some principlists backing Trump, even after his election defeat: “Gentlemen! You are supporting a man who killed General Soleimani and thousands of other Iranians who died because of poverty and shortage of medical supplies [due to sanctions Trump introduced]. How can you still try to revive the legacy of someone who has destroyed your country's economy?”
Zarif claimed that some conservatives had clearly said that a Trump victory would work to their own political advantage, basing their own election strategy on what might happen abroad.
“Some Iranian conservatives tell not only China, but also the US, that the current administration in Iran is not going to last long and you have a better chance of working with us,” Zarif said. “I am not accusing anyone, but I have been told that many individuals have done this.”
Last week Zarif said in an interview with an administration-owned newspaper that he is a long-time acquaintance of Biden. Zarif attended high school and university in San Francisco, before completing a PhD at the University of Denver in international law and relations.
During international talks at the time of the JCPOA in 2015, Zarif held several high-profile meetings with John Kerry, then secretary of state and named as an environment envoy in the in-coming Biden administration. These meetings drew bitter attacks from Iranian principlists who opposed the nuclear talks.
As a reform-inclined website that has generally backed the administration of President Hassan Rouhani, Entekhab would be expected to favor Zarif as an alternative to Rouhani, who is ineligible for a third term. A report on the conservative website Alef that says Zarif’s maneuvers suggest he is either a presidential candidate or wants to help revive the reformist-centrist alliance that helped Rouhani to victory in the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections and prepare the way for another candidate who is still to emerge.
Asked by Entekhab whether he would cooperate with an administration headed by a hardliner such as Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (Qalibaf), parliament speaker, or Ebrahim Raeesi, judiciary chief, Zarif said he respected both men but might find it hard to work with them in government.