Tehran, May 12, The Iran Project – When Henry Kissinger dedicated a copy of 1994 book the “Diplomacy” to Zarif, as an “esteemed enemy”, some might predicted him as a widely respected diplomat, resolving international and regional challenges nearly two decades later.
After the nuclear breakthrough in April 2015, almost everyone praised the Iran’s diplomatic delegation led by Mohammad Javad Zarif for doing quite well.
After all, despite the vague recognition of the right to uranium enrichment and five resolutions by the Security Council between 2008 and 2012 to sanction Tehran for violating NPT, now thanks to Zarif, Iran has secured not only its nuclear right but also its legitimacy. What actually lies behind his success?
Above all else, part of the answer is relevant to his personal charm and qualities. As a true believer in the force of dialogue and diplomacy, Iran’s American-educated foreign minister simply knows how to bargain. The moderate manner, the art of dealing, his wit and reassuring English are the reasons why the pragmatist and optimistic realist minister (according to his own words) masterfully negotiated the concessions despite his predecessors and the Iran’s unsteady past.
A Decade of Cultivation in US
To be sure, what he achieved in the framework of the nuclear talks during the recent years is not the whole story. The impression he has left, is far beyond what the cameras capture, smilingly shaking hands with the West’s foreign ministers in Vienna, Geneva, and Lausanne.
Since his tenure as the Iran’s representative to the UN (2002 – 2007), he made extremely wide connections with the journalists, analysts, think tank members and US Congressmen. His wide access to the various political figures in US made some of the media to compare him to “an aspiring presidential candidate working over local party activists in Iowa and New Hampshire”.
Preventing a Shiite-Sunni War in the Middle East
Soon after the nuclear deal in Lausanne, Zarif met the Turkish President in Tehran and reaching an agreement over the Yemen conflict that already had entered a catastrophic stage. He then visited Oman, providing a proposed package on settlement of the Yemen’s dispute and later discussed the Pakistani authorities in Islamabad to convince them to maintain neutrality. All his diplomatic engagements finally ended up in saying no to involvement in Saudi-led war in Yemen by Pakistan and preventing the whole Middle East from opening another Shiite-Sunni bloody war. Despite the long history of alliance and intimate friendship between two countries, Pakistan’s refusal to join the Kingdom’s war against Yemen inevitably reveals the truth over undeniable power of the affable foreign minister in applying diplomacy.
New Direction in Foreign Affairs
Zarif’s appointment as the foreign minister by president Rouhani in June 2013 made some to speculate it as the “assigning the right man, at the right time”. There is no question that since then, there has been significant change in foreign policy’s conceptual framework. The move toward a clear rationalization, moderation and a strong pursuit of engagement are among the principles under the current administration.
The provision of fresh perspective to the Iranian nuclear stances, and the recent successful diplomatic engagements in regional issues based on Iran’s national security and interests is undeniably among the many implications of the Rouhani-Zarif new direction, the implications which still continue to impress the Iran’s foreign relation for coming years.
Reputation at Home
Zarif also enjoys immense support from Ayatollah Khamenei, the Islamic revolution leadership. He is trusted enough by Ayatollah Khamenei, a relationship which refers not only back to his career as a minister but also his mission at the United Nations at early 1980s. Unlike his predecessors, he has accomplished a good vision of managing foreign affairs, incorporating both Ayatollah Khamenei and the president Rouhani’s views and attitudes.
Nicknames such as the “smiling minister”, “national hero”, and “the most popular diplomat” are indications of Zarif’s popularity among the Iranians, too. Even some media commentaries go far comparing him to Amir Kabir, the reformist prime minister in Qajar era.
It is no surprise though that they are pleased the smiling face of a deeply knowledgeable minister is the most visible face of their country in the world, a minister saying that “the art of a diplomat is to conceal all turbulence behind his smile.”