When the art of statesmanship turns the tables

Mohammad Javad Zarif

An analytical report evaluates how Foreign Minister Zarif has masterfully acted as a game-changer on both regional and global stage.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, the number one figure in Iran’s diplomacy machine, flaunted – to the world and the Arab countries in the Persian Gulf – his high diplomatic dexterity over the past few weeks and tipped the balance in the region – which was heading toward a tipping point – in favor of Iran and peace in the Middle East by helping craft the Lausanne agreement and convincing Pakistan not to join the [Saudi-led] war [against Yemen].

This is the opening sentence of an analytical report entekhab.ir, a news website, released on April 12 on the professional performance, foreign policy achievements and diplomatic agility of Iran’s top diplomat. The following is the translation of the report:

After days of waiting, on April 2 the world saw Zarif and Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, announce that they have worked out joint solutions in nuclear talks to close Iran’s 12-year-old atomic case. The [Lausanne] framework agreement surprised the most seasoned of observers, with some saying what Zarif did was among the key measures Iran has taken since the [1979] Islamic Revolution.

Zarif is so busy these days that he does not have time to catch his breath. He has his hands full with the nuclear talks (which have a long way to go [before they are declared closed]) as well as critical regional questions which matter greatly to Iran.

A man who has been lifted to the level of a national hero in the court of the public opinion was heavily involved – up until two weeks ago – in the talks over Iran’s nuclear program in Lausanne, Switzerland and managed to arrive at an agreement which could [ultimately] pave the way for a final nuclear deal.

If conclusion of an agreement had a 50-50 chance prior to what unfolded in Lausanne, thanks to marathon talks and all-nighters by Zarif and his team as well as the Supreme Leader’s guidance and the president’s serious efforts to follow the case, it has now gotten closer than ever to settlement of the dispute sparked by the West, the US in particular.

Reporters based in Lausanne say that Zarif’s indefatigability shocked everybody; eventually eight and a half hours of non-stop talks with the US secretary of state and European and Asian ministers helped Iran’s top diplomat set a new world record as far as international talks were concerned.

Despite the spontaneous, rousing welcome Zarif and his team received upon arrival in Tehran from Lausanne, certain people – who were expected to shout their opposition loud and clear, irrespective of results – found fault with the achievements of the Lausanne talks and went so far to claim, “We have exchanged a saddled horse for a broken bridle”.

To the disbelief of the few contrarians, the country’s ranking officials – including the chief of staff of the Armed Forces and the IRGC commander – praised the achievements of Lausanne agreement. The Supreme Leader too voiced his support for “the revolution’s sons”, underlining his concerns about the talks and – drawing on almost four decades of experience since the revolution – warning about the deceitfulness on the part of the US and certain European countries.

What happened in Lausanne was not the whole story, however. One week after the breakthrough [Iran and P5+1] made in the Swiss talks, the Yemeni crisis entered a new stage, something which was very much likely to degenerate into a catastrophe in the region.

Saudi Arabia, which has rained bombs down on Yemen for almost a month, asked Pakistan to join the military operation against the Houthis. In case of Pakistan’s positive answer, the current Saudi-led coalition which is more of an Arab alliance would have turned into a Sunni alliance and would have rekindled the memory of a Shiite-Sunni war in the minds of people.

In the meantime, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, who had adopted unprecedented inflammatory rhetoric against Iran, arrived in Tehran on a daylong trip, entered talks with Iranian officials and reached an agreement with Tehran over the Yemeni crisis.

One day after Erdogan’s Tehran visit, Zarif paid a surprise, short visit to Oman with the question of Yemen top on his agenda, and was welcomed by Muscat and Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi.

Iran’s foreign minister took a proposed package to Oman on settling the Yemeni crisis and shared it with Omani officials and later with authorities in Islamabad.

The day Zarif arrived in the Pakistani capital coincided with the third day of that country’s parliament debating a request by Riyadh to join the Saudi-led military alliance against Yemen.

Following two days of intensive talks over Tehran’s proposed package on the Yemeni crisis and meetings between the head of Iran’s diplomacy machine and Pakistan’s senior officials – among them the army commander who plays a decisive role in the country and is believed to hold more sway than the prime minister and other officials – Zarif came back home in the final hours of Thursday [April 9].

One day after the departure of the Iranian foreign minister, on Friday, the Pakistani parliament gave a big “No” to [the country joining] Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf Arab states in their fight in Yemen. The Pakistani parliament also announced, “(Parliament) desires that Pakistan should maintain neutrality in the Yemen conflict so as to be able to play a proactive diplomatic role to end the crisis”. This [Islamabad neutrality] exactly matches the Islamic Republic of Iran’s line of reasoning.

Islamabad’s decision gave Iran an edge; Tehran’s diplomacy caused Pakistan – which was believed to be the skeleton key which can help shift the scales in the Yemeni war in Saudi’s favor – to loosen the grip of Riyadh.

The uneasy reaction of this group of Arabs – who follow the lead of Zionists – was sparked off by the Supreme Leader’s significant remarks on reprimanding the wickedness of the Saudi conduct and that of its “new rulers” after the death of King Abdullah.

After the Islamic Republic’s diplomatic breakthrough [in Pakistan] and the bewilderment on the part of the Persian Gulf Arabs at the rejection by Pakistan – which has been beset by economic woes – of their tantalizing [financial] promises, the United Arab Emirates addressed Islamabad acrimoniously, “Tehran seems to be more important to Islamabad and Ankara than the [Persian] Gulf countries”.

[…]

What has played out in recent weeks conjures up remarks by a prominent Iranian diplomat who said, “Zarif is a religious diplomat who is determined to serve the country’s national interests; the Iranian history does not remember anybody like him over the past one hundred years.”

What has transpired thanks to the efforts of Zarif and the Leader’s trust in and guidance for him and other members of the Iranian team will play an undeniable role in the future of the Middle East.

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