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Iran’s foreign minister, architect of nuclear deal, says he is resigning

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Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran announced Monday that he was resigning, in what seemed a sudden end to the tenure of one of the Islamic Republic's best-known figures abroad.

[ISTANBUL] Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran announced Monday that he was resigning, in what seemed a sudden end to the tenure of one of the Islamic Republic's best-known figures abroad.

Mr Zarif, an American-educated diplomat who was an architect of the Iranian nuclear deal, announced that he was stepping down in a post on his Instagram account.

It was not immediately clear why he was quitting or whether his resignation would be accepted. In the post, Mr Zarif said he apologised "for my inability to continue serving and for all the shortcomings during my service."

His resignation announcement also was reported by Iran's Fars News Agency.

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Mr Zarif's public resignation in a country where governance is usually conducted behind closed doors seemed to indicate escalating tensions between the country's hard-liners and President Hassan Rouhani.

Iran is in the midst of a dire economic crisis, exacerbated by US sanctions aimed at punishing it for what the United States considers destabilizing Iranian actions abroad. This has increased pressure on Mr Rouhani.

The loss of Mr Zarif could make Mr Rouhani's job harder, because Mr Zarif was the only top Iranian official with a deep understanding of Western diplomacy and the ability to interact directly with the West. He was a regular at international forums, where he offered spirited defences of his country's policies in fluent English.

Addressing experts and policymakers from around the world at the Munich Security Conference this month, Mr Zarif struck back at criticisms that Iran was destabilising the Middle East. He said Washington had an "unhealthy fixation" with Iran and called the United States "the biggest source of destabilisation in our neighborhood."

Mr Zarif also was known for his collaboration with John Kerry, the secretary of state under President Barack Obama who negotiated the 2015 international pact limiting Iran's nuclear activities.

Mr Trump withdrew the United States from that agreement last May, and later reimposed sanctions that had been lifted under the deal. The other parties to the agreement — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — have said they want to preserve it.

Mr Zarif's role in dealing with the United States has left him vulnerable to attacks from hard-liners in Iran who contend the Americans should never be trusted.

In Iran, the resignation of the foreign minister must be accepted by the president before it goes into effect, which can sometimes lead to resignation announcements being made to send political messages. It was not immediately clear whether Mr Rouhani would accept the resignation.

Political analysts who have followed the course of the nuclear agreement said Mr Zarif's resignation, if accepted, did not necessarily signal the agreement's demise.

"Iran is still very likely to wait out Trump's first term, hope he loses, and engage a Democratic successor on resuming US participation," said Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group, a Washington-based political risk consultancy.

"But Iran without Zarif would face a rocky road on foreign policy," Mr Kupchan said. "This foreign minister is a smiling face to the world, who has charmed many interlocutors. The Islamic Republic would be very hard pressed to find a successor so skilled."

Mr Zarif was unusual for an Iranian diplomat — a fluent, colloquial English speaker who knew American society, and so Western that during the negotiations over the nuclear deal, his hard-line adversaries in Tehran called him "Zarif the American." This was not necessarily a distortion: He attended college in San Francisco and the University of Denver for graduate school, and kept his ties.

A high point of his time in office came as he was negotiating with Mr Kerry over the intricacies of the nuclear deal. They often argued — one day the two could be heard shouting at each other through a closed door — but there was a connection between them that helped lead to an agreement.

Mr Zarif himself acknowledged as much in an interview with The New York Times as a draft of the deal was reaching its final stages. He said that "if not for Obama and Rouhani, if not for me and John, I am not sure this ever would have been possible."

But Mr Zarif also was bitter about what he viewed as US double standards around the world, an assumption in Washington, he believed, that the United States only interfered in global affairs for good, not national interest, and that Iran did so out of perfidy.

At one point in 2014, he described to a reporter evidence that the United States had been shipping in damaged parts to an Iranian reactor, which he said could have led to an accident and loss of life. There was no evidence of his specific charge, but the United States has conducted similar operations against Iranian rockets and missiles and, famously, sabotaged an Iranian nuclear enrichment plant in the city of Natanz with a cyberweapon, part of a vast US covert operation code-named Olympic Games.

Mr Zarif appeared to be at the center of the Iranian strategy to adhere to the nuclear deal he had negotiated, even after President Donald Trump had abandoned it.

And as time went on, and US sanctions were reimposed, he appeared to have a dwindling constituency in Tehran and none in Washington.

Iranians are angry over never having received the promised economic rewards for their concession in the agreement to ship out 97 per cent of their nuclear fuel and restrict the production of new fuel for 15 years. Mr Zarif's many meetings with Europeans in recent months to develop a barter system, going around reimposed US sanctions, amounted to little.

NYTIMES