Iran’s ‘moderate’ icon unmasked

By Ali Alfoneh, January 31, 2014
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In Persianised Arabic, Zarif is a word of many meanings, ranging from fine or delicate, discerning and cunning to subtle.

Mohammad-Javad Zarif, former ambassador to the United Nations, currently serving as Iran’s foreign minister and the head of the Iranian delegation to the Geneva nuclear talks, embodies all of the above.

Bespectacled, soft spoken and mild mannered, Mr Zarif inspires confidence among world leaders, and wins admirers among journalists and think-tankers enamoured with the way he wields Twitter and Facebook. His updates are closely followed by friends and foes alike.

However, the 140-character missives reveal little compared to Aqa-ye Safir [Mr Ambassador], the foreign minister’s 368-page memoirs in Persian, which has been largely ignored by Twitter- and Facebook-savvy statesmen, diplomats and journalists.

This is a shame. Much can be learned about the man from his memoirs. Mr Zarif is much more candid in his memoirs than in the snippets of information he communicates through his Twitter account.

“We have a fundamental problem with the West and especially with America,” Mr Zarif tells us in his memoirs.

He elaborates: “This is because we are claimants of a mission, which has a global dimension. It [the fundamental problem] has nothing to do with the level of our strength, and is related to the source of our raison d’être. How come Malaysia [an overwhelming Muslim country] doesn’t have similar problems? Because Malaysia is not trying to change the international order.”

Mr Zarif admits improving national welfare is one of the goals of the regime, but stresses: “We have also defined a global vocation, both in the constitution and in the ultimate objectives of the Islamic revolution.” He adds: “I believe that we do not exist without our revolutionary goals.”

What is this “mission” and “global vocation” of the Islamic Republic?

Mr Zarif does not explain because the book is addressed to the zealots at home well-versed in revolutionary ideology of the regime.

To the uninitiated, Mr Zarif refers to Article 154 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, declaring that the regime in Tehran “supports the just struggle of the mustazafun [the oppressed] against the mustakbirun [the arrogant] in every corner of the globe.”

Also known as the “export of the revolution” clause, this article keeps the regime in a permanent Trotskyist revolution.

Mr Zarif does not recognise any conflict between such revolutionary ideology and Iran’s interests, citing Iraq and Lebanon as hard won strategies that in the end made the regime “influential” in those states.

With Hizbollah one of the primary beneficiaries of this strategy, there are no prizes for guessing what Mr Zarif thinks of Israel.

While praising the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy as a means by which regime can gain “independence” from global powers, Mr Zarif finds it more difficult to explain Iran’s dependency on Russia and China in the UN Security Council and in advancement of its nuclear programme.

Unlike his social media updates, Mr Zarif’s memoirs are a depressing read, particularly for those who want to believe that his sharp wit and apparent sophistication reflect the Islamic Republic’s transformation from revolutionary revisionism to moderation.

The memoirs serve as a warning over the implementation of the Iran’s accord with the P5+1 group, let alone a lasting solution to the three decades of problems between the Islamic Republic and the West.

Last updated: 6:45am, January 31 2014