Parliament Grills Zarif And Warns Him With Two 'Yellow Cards'
The Iranian Parliament on Tuesday on two separate debates voted against accepting answers by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, giving him two “yellow cards” and paving the way for his impeachment. Hardline lawmaker Javad Karimi Ghoddusi accused Zarif of meeting with an Israeli military official.
Zarif has become even more a target for principlists who oppose Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers since he has been widely discussed as a possible presidential candidate in June, when President Hassan Rouhani is ineligible for a third consecutive term.
Parliament grilled the foreign minister on a variety of issues, including statements he made to the German magazine Der Spiegel last year shortly after the assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad in which he said Tehran was prepared to negotiate with Washington.
Zarif defended the process of diplomacy by referring to his talks with Saddam Hussein, Iraqi president, when deputy foreign minister nearly two decades ago. “I negotiated even with Saddam, do you think I liked negotiating with Saddam. Do you think I enjoyed sitting before Saddam? No, this is my job and my duty. Do not record this as my sin. God willing, such actions will atone for my sins.”
But the central issue is Rouhani’s proposal to revive the 2015 nuclear deal – known as the JCPOA, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – as has been advocated by President-elect Joe Biden. Zarif cited recent remarks from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that the US could return to the JCPOA by abiding by its commitments under the agreement including lifting sanctions against Iran. Zarif stressed that he and his colleagues had followed Khamenei’s lead over reaching the JCPOA in 2015.
Zarif explained that a meeting with American officials – which according to Ghoddusi was also attended by an Israeli military intelligence officer – had been to free “another Soleimani” – stem cell and hematology expert Masoud Soleimani, who was arrested in the US in October 2018 and returned to Iran after a prisoner swap on December 2019 against American academic Xiyue Wang. Zarif denied any knowledge of an Israeli official being present.
Of the total 259 lawmakers present, 173 voted against and 55 in favor of accepting Zarif’s explanations, with 18 abstentions, over Iran’s readiness for talks with the US. One hundred and thirty-eight voted against and 90 in favor of accepting the foreign minister’s explanations about his ministry’s “economic diplomacy.”
“In the past eight years we tried to change the ministry’s approach from political and security to an economic, political and security approach,” Zarif said. The foreign minister also defended his own beliefs, claiming that he had broken off sessions with US Secretary of State John Kerry during nuclear talks that led to the JCPOA, to pray. “Do you know why I prayed here? I wanted to remind myself that power is in the hands of God, not you,” he said he had told Kerry.
Abolfazl Amoui, spokesman of the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, said Zarif had been questioned by the full parliament because he had not responded to a summons from the committee in September. Zarif last appeared on parliament to answer question on July 5, when several lawmakers called him a liar and chanted critical slogans.