President Rouhani rejected his Foreign Minister's surprise resignation request after the latter implied that he was under serious pressure by an unnamed ruling faction, hinting at serious intrigue in Iran. Zarif made his announcement on the US-based social media platform Instagram of all places, and coincidentally on the same day as Syrian President Assad's first visit to the Islamic Republic since his country's conflict began. He apologized to his countrymen for vague shortcomings and then gave an interview where he criticized political infighting as a "deadly poison" for his country's foreign policy, in what many interpreted was a jab at institutional opponents of the failing 2015 nuclear deal.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) wouldn't have been possible had it not been for Zarif, but the agreement was controversial from the get-go after some suspected that the US wouldn't ever fully honor its obligations and was just trying to get Iranian society's guard down before the next destabilization attempt. Trump's unilateral withdrawal from the deal dealt a heavy blow to Zarif's political reputation, but more so to the ruling faction that he's regarded as representing. Zarif and President Rouhani are associated with the "reformists", popularly known as "moderates" in the West, while their opponents are considered to be "principalists", described as "conservatives" by outside observers.
The greatest fault line between the two factions is the JCPOA, but some have speculated that other divisions are also emerging over the Russian-Saudi OPEC+ agreement and the closing stages of the War on Syria. About the first-mentioned, the de-facto joint control that Moscow and Riyadh have over the oil market is thought to have deprived Tehran of some much-needed additional profits, while the latter concerns international pressure over the potential withdrawal of Iranian forces from the Arab Republic. Reformists and principalists have been feuding with one another for a while now behind the scenes, but the drama surrounding Zarif's resignation request is bringing it all out into the open.
Andrew Korybko is joined by Ali Musawi, Baghdad-based correspondent and Arman Mahmoudian, Researcher at Centre for Strategic & Diplomatic Studies, University of South Florida; you can follow him on Twitter @MahmoudianArman.
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