Twitter sends blessings and curses to veteran Iranian diplomat Javad Zarif as he leaves office for academia

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has bid farewell to international diplomacy as he transitions to a new role teaching at Tehran University. The US-educated official represented Iran for almost four decades in various positions.

In a short message on Twitter, Zarif pledged in English to continue to "pursue and promote global understanding and encourage 'positive-sum' dialog – based on empathy, mutual respect and equal footing."

Earlier he released a longer, more emotional farewell message in Farsi on Instagram, thanking the Iranian people for their generosity and asking their forgiveness for any shortcomings he may have had in office.

He apologized for the anger he caused in some Iranians when his job required him to deal with people as diverse as US Secretary of State John Kerry and representatives of the militant group Taliban. "I attest that, in four decades of service in foreign policy, I had no goals other than pursuing the interests of the people," Zarif vowed.

The 61-year-old veteran of the international diplomatic scene started his career in the early 1980s as a member of post-revolution Tehran's delegation to the United Nations. While working, he continued his education in the US, obtaining a doctorate in international law and policy at the University of Denver. Zarif rose through the ranks and became Iran's representative to the UN in 2002, holding the position for five years. In 2013, he was tipped by moderate president-elect Hassan Rouhani to head the foreign ministry.

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As chief of Iranian diplomacy, Zarif negotiated a number of high-profile treaties on behalf of his country. But arguably the biggest and most controversial part of his legacy is the 2015 international agreement on the Iranian nuclear program, known as the JCPOA. The deal, which offered Iran relief from international sanctions, as well as business opportunities, in exchange for accepting restrictions on its nuclear activities, was perceived by many as a potential breakthrough moment for the country and the world at large.

The agreement, which was signed under US President Barack Obama, was infamously torpedoed by President Donald Trump, who withdrew from it in May 2018 and launched a campaign of harsh economic pressure against Tehran instead. Zarif personally found himself on the US sanctions list, branded "an illegitimate spokesman" for his government by US arch-hawk John Bolton.

In his farewell speech, the outgoing diplomat acknowledged that he did not score some of the goals he had as foreign minister, adding that "history will judge both the value of our achievements and the causes of our failures."

The reaction to Zarif's goodbyes on Twitter was as mixed as one would expect, considering which country he spoke for. Many, including people who worked with him professionally on the diplomatic scene, thanked him for years of work in pursuit of a more peaceful world. Others accused him of being a professional liar in service of a repressive regime.

Some comments complemented Zarif's diplomatic acumen and contrasted his efforts to those of hardliners in his country and the US, who wanted more confrontational policies.

The outgoing minister's position in the Iranian government was far from totally secure. In early 2019, he even announced his resignation, which some observers said came in protest against Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) trying to sideline him on Syria policy. The resignation was rejected by President Rouhani, while General Qassem Soleimani, then a widely popular star in the IRGC, publicly voiced his support for Zarif.

Signs of the minister's uneasy relationship with the Iranian military could also be found in a leaked tape, published by Western media in April. The record, the authenticity of which was neither confirmed nor denied by Tehran, was allegedly of an interview that Zarif gave to an Iranian economist. In it the minister reportedly acknowledged being constrained by the IRGC in his diplomatic work, but also praised Soleimani, calling his 2020 assassination by the US a great blow to Iran.

The leaked tape was mentioned in Zarif's farewell statement, as he made examples of his actions that outraged some people in Iran at various points of time. He also said that while in office he was not always at liberty to "speak as I would like, even to defend my actions."

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As he retires, Zarif plans to dedicate his work time to research and teaching at the University of Tehran, where he holds an associate-professor position. His deputy at the ministry, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, will be taking over Zarif's job in the cabinet of President Ebrahim Raisi.

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