Mohammad Javad Zarif is the foreign minister of Iran. He is widely viewed as a pragmatist who has promoted reestablishing diplomatic ties with the United States in order to bolster Iran’s position in the world.Thomas Erdbrink, “Once an Outcast, Iranian Minister Carries Hope of Easing Tensions,” New York Times, August 26, 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/27/world/middleeast/irans-pick-for-nuclear-talks-carries-hope-of-eased-tensions.html. Zarif, who was educated in the United States, has worked for the Iranian government in some capacity since Iran’s 1979 revolution. He led the Iranian team that negotiated the 2015 nuclear agreement with President Barack Obama’s administration and other world powers.Jethro Mullen and Nic Robertson, “Landmark deal reached on Iran nuclear program,” CNN, July 15, 2015, https://edition.cnn.com/2015/07/14/politics/iran-nuclear-deal/index.html. The U.S. government sanction-designated Zarif as a global terrorist in July 2019.“Treasury Designates Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif for Acting for the Supreme Leader of Iran,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, July 31, 2019, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm749.
Zarif spent three decades studying in the United States and working for the Iranian Mission to the United Nations in New York.Thomas Erdbrink, “Once an Outcast, Iranian Minister Carries Hope of Easing Tensions,” New York Times, August 26, 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/27/world/middleeast/irans-pick-for-nuclear-talks-carries-hope-of-eased-tensions.html; Marcus George and Paul Taylor, “Iran nominee seen as olive branch to United States,” Reuters, July 29, 2013, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-usa-zarif/iran-nominee-seen-as-olive-branch-to-united-states-idUSBRE96S0VO20130729?feedType=RSS. He is fluent in English and posts in English on Twitter.Javad Zarif, Twitter account, accessed August 2, 2019, https://twitter.com/JZarif. Zarif first came to the United States in 1977 to attend San Francisco State University.Don Melvin, “6 lesser-known facts about Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif,” CNN, April 3, 2015, https://www.cnn.com/2015/04/03/middleeast/irans-foreign-minister-six-things-to-know/index.html; Farnaz Fassihi and David D. Kirkpatrick, “He Enjoys American Coffee and Restaurants. Is He a Credible Negotiator for Iran?” New York Times, July 4, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/04/world/middleeast/iran-us-zarif-nuclear-deal.html. During his time as a student there, he also became involved with the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) at the nearby University of California, Berkeley. In February 1979, Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Iran from exile, beginning the Iranian revolution. Khomeini declared the new Islamic Republic of Iran on April 1, 1979.Gregory Jaynes, “Khomeini Declares Victory in Vote For a ‘Government of God’ in Iran,” New York Times, April 2, 1979, http://www.nytimes.com/1979/04/02/archives/khomeini-declares-victory-in-vote-for-a-government-of-god-in-iran.html. Representatives of the new Iranian government began to replace diplomatic staff around the world. In the United States, Zarif became the MSA’s representative to the Iranian consulate in San Francisco in an effort to ensure that it was not “deviating from the path of the revolution.”Ali Alfoneh and Reuel Marc Gerecht, “An Iranian Moderate Exposed,” New Republic, January 23, 2014, https://newrepublic.com/article/116167/mohammad-javad-zarif-irans-foreign-minister-religious-zealot. After the U.S. government closed the Iranian embassy in Washington, D.C., in early 1980, Zarif became an unofficial spokesman for Iran in the United States.Farnaz Fassihi and David D. Kirkpatrick, “He Enjoys American Coffee and Restaurants. Is He a Credible Negotiator for Iran?” New York Times, July 4, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/04/world/middleeast/iran-us-zarif-nuclear-deal.html; Thomas Erdbrink, “Once an Outcast, Iranian Minister Carries Hope of Easing Tensions,” New York Times, August 26, 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/27/world/middleeast/irans-pick-for-nuclear-talks-carries-hope-of-eased-tensions.html; “US is Protecting Former Iranian Embassy Building in DC,” Jerusalem Post, January 12, 2011, https://www.jpost.com/Breaking-News/US-is-protecting-former-Iranian-embassy-building-in-DC. He received his undergraduate degree in international relations from San Francisco State in 1981 and then completed a PhD from the University of Denver in international law and policy in 1988 while working for the Iranian U.N. mission.“CV Dr. M Javad Zarif,” UNESCO, accessed August 19, 2019, http://portal.unesco.org/en/files/40284/11926255963CV_Dr_M._Javad_Zarif.pdf/CV%2BDr%2BM.%2BJavad%2BZarif.pdf. In 1988, he participated in the negotiations that ended the Iran-Iraq War.Robin Wright, “The Adversary,” New Yorker, May 19, 2014, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/05/26/the-adversary-2.
Zarif began working for the Iranian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in 1982 as an adviser. He served various roles at the mission and later became Iran’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations in 1989. From 2002 to 2007, Zarif served as Iran’s permanent ambassador to the United Nations after stints in Iran’s foreign ministry and as Iran’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations. During his time at the foreign ministry and the United Nations, Zarif served as vice president of the U.N. General Assembly and chair of the U.N. Disarmament Committee among other roles.“CV Dr. M Javad Zarif,” UNESCO, accessed August 19, 2019, http://portal.unesco.org/en/files/40284/11926255963CV_Dr_M._Javad_Zarif.pdf/CV%2BDr%2BM.%2BJavad%2BZarif.pdf.
Despite Zarif’s time in the United States and his reputation as an Iranian moderate, he has at times taken hardline positions toward the United States and Israel while praising Iranian terrorist proxy Hezbollah. In February 2019, he met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon and promised continued Iranian support.“Zarif In Lebanon Meets Hezbollah Leader Nasrallah. Pledges Support,” Radio Farda, February 11, 2019, https://en.radiofarda.com/a/iran-zarif-met-hezbollah-nasrallah-in-lebanon/29764248.html. After the United States designated Zarif as a global terrorist in July 2019, Nasrallah sent him a letter of support.“Hezbollah Chief Writes Letter in Support of FM Zarif,” Islamic Republic of Iran Ministry of Foreign Affairs, August 15, 2019, https://en.mfa.ir/portal/newsview/48432/Hezbollah-Chief-Writes-Letter-in-Support-of-FM-Zarif. In May 2018, Zarif was filmed chanting death to America, death to Israel, death to Britain.Reuters, “Iranian FM caught chanting 'death to US, UK, Israel,’” Ynet, May 26, 2018, https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-5271124,00.html. Zarif has also declared that Iran will never trust the United States.“Zarif: Iran will never trust the United States,” Times of Israel, June 12, 2016, https://www.timesofisrael.com/zarif-iran-will-never-trust-the-united-states/. Nonetheless, Zarif reportedly believes restoring relations with the United States is in Iran’s best interests. In an interview that cited in his biography, Zarif said that relations with the United States can “never be friendly,” but are “a means to be in line with national benefits.”Thomas Erdbrink, “Once an Outcast, Iranian Minister Carries Hope of Easing Tensions,” New York Times, August 26, 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/27/world/middleeast/irans-pick-for-nuclear-talks-carries-hope-of-eased-tensions.html.
Zarif has long been involved in Iran’s negotiations with the P5+1—the United States, United Kingdom, China, France, Germany, and Russia—over its nuclear ambitions. Alongside future Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, Zarif was part of a small negotiation team that, in 2003, negotiated a temporary deal for Iran to suspend enrichment between 2003 and 2005. That deal eventually collapsed as Iran did not ratify the agreement and continued its enrichment activities.Thomas Erdbrink, “Once an Outcast, Iranian Minister Carries Hope of Easing Tensions,” New York Times, August 26, 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/27/world/middleeast/irans-pick-for-nuclear-talks-carries-hope-of-eased-tensions.html; Paul K. Kerr, “Iran’s Nuclear Program: Tehran’s Compliance with International Obligations,” Congressional Research Service, last updated July 18, 2019, https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R40094. In August 2013, newly elected President Hassan Rouhani nominated Zarif as foreign minister.“Iran parliament approves big Rouhani cabinet nominees, rejects 3,” Reuters, August 15, 2013, https://uk.reuters.com/article/iran-rouhani-cabinet/iran-parliament-approves-big-rouhani-cabinet-nominees-rejects-3-idUKL6N0GG2WR20130815. Foreign diplomats and political observers praised the appointment, citing Zarif’s pragmatism. Zarif and the foreign ministry took over the nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 that September.Suzanne Maloney, “It’s Official: Washington’s Favorite Iranian Takes On The Nuclear File,” Brookings Institution, September 5, 2013, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/markaz/2013/09/05/its-official-washingtons-favorite-iranian-takes-on-the-nuclear-file/. Zarif reached an agreement—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—with then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in July 2015. Iran agreed to curtail its nuclear activities for a set period of time in exchange for international sanctions relief.Jethro Mullen and Nic Robertson, “Landmark deal reached on Iran nuclear program,” CNN, July 15, 2015, https://edition.cnn.com/2015/07/14/politics/iran-nuclear-deal/index.html. U.S. President Donald Trump was highly critical of the JCPOA when he took office in 2017 and repeatedly threatened to withdraw. Zarif warned in April 2018 that Iran would restart its nuclear program “at much greater speed” if the United States withdrew.“Iran To Restart Nuclear Program ‘At Much Greater Speed’ If U.S. Quits Deal,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 22, 2018, https://www.rferl.org/a/iran-us-prisoner-swap-zarif-negotiations/29184695.html. Trump pulled the United States out of the JCPOA in May 2018.Yara Bayoumy and Brian Love, “Europeans work to save Iran deal, and business, after Trump pulls out,” Reuters, May 8, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-nuclear/europeans-work-to-save-iran-deal-and-business-after-trump-pulls-out-idUSKBN1I90D6.
After withdrawing from the JCPOA, the Trump administration began to impose new sanctions on Iran in response to its ballistic missile activities and support of Hezbollah, Hamas, Houthi rebels, and other terrorist groups. The U.S. government imposed sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.“Treasury Designates the IRGC under Terrorism Authority and Targets IRGC and Military Supporters under Counter-Proliferation Authority,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, October 13, 2017, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/sm0177.aspx; Edward Wong, “Trump Imposes New Sanctions on Iran, Adding to Tensions,” New York Times, June 24, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/24/us/politics/iran-sanctions.html; “Executive Order on Imposing Sanctions with Respect to Iran,” White House, June 24, 2019, https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-imposing-sanctions-respect-iran/. Zarif resigned as foreign minister in an Instagram post on February 25, 2019.“Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif resigns,” Al Jazeera, February 25, 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/iran-foreign-minister-zarif-resigns-190225201531240.html. The resignation came after Zarif was left out of a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Tehran. Zarif was allegedly not even informed that Assad was visiting, despite protocol that should have included the foreign ministry. Zarif reportedly told Iranian media that he had no credibility left and his resignation was to protect the remaining dignity of the foreign ministry. Several Iranian lawmakers reportedly claimed that Zarif had submitted his resignation 14 times at that point since becoming foreign minister in 2013.Mohammad Ali Shabani, “‘Iran has one foreign minister’: How Zarif is turning claimed weakness into strength,” Al-Monitor, February 26, 2019, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/02/iran-zarif-resignation-vaezi-rouhani-khamenei-hardliners.html#ixzz5xA8HhIgy. Rouhani rejected the resignation two days later.Mehrzad Boroujerdi, “Javad Zarif Returns—to a Foreign Ministry Still Out in the Cold,” Foreign Affairs, March 6, 2019, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/iran/2019-03-06/javad-zarif-returns-foreign-ministry-still-out-cold.
The United States imposed financial sanctions on Zarif and designated him as a global terrorist on July 31, 2019. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Zarif “oversees a foreign ministry that has coordinated with one of the Iranian regime’s most nefarious state entities,” the IRGC’s Quds Force, while Iran’s foreign ministry under Zarif has “engaged in and funded efforts to influence elections….”“Treasury Designates Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif for Acting for the Supreme Leader of Iran,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, July 31, 2019, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm749. Zarif condemned the designation and accused the United States of shutting the door to negotiations with Iran.Tuqa Khalid, “Iran says will not tolerate ‘maritime offences’ in Gulf,” Reuters, August 5, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-iran-zarif/iran-says-will-not-tolerate-maritime-offences-in-gulf-idUSKCN1UV0KR.
According to U.S. intelligence, Iran has engaged in a general disinformation campaign—including the creation of false social media accounts—to spread false news in order to influence the U.S. 2018 congressional and 2020 presidential elections.Craig Timberg and Tony Romm, “It’s not just the Russians anymore as Iranians and others turn up disinformation efforts ahead of 2020 vote,” Washington Post, July 25, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/07/25/its-not-just-russians-anymore-iranians-others-turn-up-disinformation-efforts-ahead-vote/; “U.S. says Russia, China, Iran seek to disrupt elections,” Reuters, October 19, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-cyber/russia-china-iran-trying-to-disrupt-u-s-november-elections-agencies-idUSKCN1MT2O6. Further, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted nine Iranians in March 2018 for acting behalf of the IRGC to steal information from 144 U.S. universities and 176 universities in 21 other countries. A spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry dismissed the allegations as “illegitimate.”Dustin Volz, “U.S. charges, sanctions Iranians for global cyber attacks on behalf of Tehran,” Reuters, March 23, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-cyber-iran/u-s-charges-sanctions-iranians-for-global-cyber-attacks-on-behalf-of-tehran-idUSKBN1GZ22K.
On July 8, 2021, Tehran hosted high-level peace talks between an Afghan government delegation and Taliban representatives. Zarif called on both sides to work towards putting an end to the fighting for the benefit of the Afghan people and stressed that Iran stands ready to host additional talks.“Afghan gov’t delegation meets Taliban in Iran,” Al Jazeera, July 8, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/8/afghan-govt-delegation-meets-taliban-in-iran.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned Mohammad Javad Zarif as a Specially Designated National on July 31, 2019.“Treasury Designates Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif for Acting for the Supreme Leader of Iran,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, July 31, 2019, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm749.