In Iran, a Tactical Resignation

The foreign minister's move appears to have strengthened President Rouhani and his allies versus the hardliners.


Last week, long-serving Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suddenly announced his resignation via Instagram. A chief proponent of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) -- the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program -- and broader engagement with Europe and the United States, Zarif has been repeatedly frustrated and undermined by hardliners. The final straw appears to have come last Monday when he was excluded from President Rouhani’s meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Tehran.

Several prominent Iranian politicians urged the foreign minister to stay in the government, and Rouhani refused to accept Zarif’s resignation. Now, the move is being seen as a tactical coup that has underscored Zarif’s importance and publicly consolidated the reformers against the hardliners. Predata signals show the incident has driven Farsi-language digital attention toward not just Rouhani and Zarif, but also toward several key figures in the reformist camp.  


By contrast, online activity related to hardliners in the government has fallen off,  and remained muted in the wake of the Zarif resignation-and-return.


Further, Zarif’s move appears to have refocused Iranian attention on the nuclear deal. That interest in the deal has increased at the same time that the reformist wing has become more influential in the digital realm may suggest that Rouhani and his allies are shaping the narrative surrounding the JCPOA to a greater degree than the hardliners. That bodes well for the president and the deal's survival.