Who is Soleimani’s loyal successor to Zarif?

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Opinion: Iran’s new foreign minister, Amir-Abdollahian, will likely continue Iran’s policy of destabilizing and promoting militias, hampering regional reintegration, writes Arash Azizi.

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian at a commemoration ceremony for Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani on January 1, 2021 in Tehran, Iran. [Getty]

Eight years ago, in August 2013, when newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani unveiled his appointed cabinet, he seemed to confirm the old adage that “people are politics”.

Rouhani’s choice for foreign minister was an unmistakable sign of his upcoming policy: Javad Zarif had spent most of his adult life in the United States and had long been the Iranian regime’s go-to person for negotiations with the West and the United States.

Eight years later, Rouhani’s successor, Ebrahim Raisi, also chose a foreign minister who shows clear political direction. Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who was confirmed in a vote in Iran’s parliament on Wednesday, shares one thing with Javad Zarif: They are both career diplomats who have spent their entire professional lives in the Iranian ministry bureaucracy. Foreign Affairs.

But the similarities end there.

While Zarif was a graduate of Denver and Columbia, Amir-Abdollahian received his first degree from the Foreign Ministry’s own university, followed by a master’s and doctoral degree from the University of Tehran. While Zarif has criticized the authoritarian influence of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) militia in guiding Iran’s foreign policy, Amir-Abdollahian has long been its greatest supporter.

“Amir-Abdollahian has made it clear that he wants to” follow in Qassem Soleimani’s footsteps “in matters of foreign policy and that, unlike Zarif, he sees no contradiction between the demands of” battlefield “and” diplomacy ” “

In a revealing audio file that leaked earlier this year, Zarif was heard complaining that the Iranian regime still prioritizes the IRGCs and its notorious General Qasem Soleimani; a reality Zarif characterized as “the battlefield always coming before diplomacy”.

In the same file, he was heard mocking Amir-Abdollahian, the man who has now replaced him as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Amir-Abdollahian has made it clear that he wants to “follow in Qasem Soleimani’s footsteps” in foreign policy and that, unlike Zarif, he sees no contradiction between the demands of “battlefield” and “diplomacy”.

Amir-Abdollahian started working with Soleimani in 2003; while the young diplomat was an Iraq expert at the Iranian Foreign Ministry and the seasoned general was about to launch the most important campaign of his career: Iran’s intervention in the post-war period invasion of Iraq. The two would work closely together for nearly two decades before Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike on January 3, 2020.

A major cheerleader in Soleimani’s hagiographic carnival, Amir-Abdollahian has made the bizarre claim that the late general has helped various field commanders by appearing to them in their dreams and giving them detailed operational plans.

The obvious differences between Zarif and Amir-Abdollahian were already visible in 2016 when the latter lost his powerful post as Deputy Foreign Minister in charge of Arab and African Affairs.

Rejecting Zarif’s reappointment as ambassador to Oman (an obvious demotion), Amir-Abdollahian went to work as an international adviser to the conservative speaker of parliament. He also headed the permanent secretariat of the International Conference on the Palestinian Intifada and was the director of the academic journal Palestine’s Strategic Discourse, continuing his work on regional affairs and biding his time. Soleimani’s longtime loyalist is now in charge of the country’s diplomatic apparatus.

In his first tweet as foreign minister, Amir-Abdollahian promised “balanced, active and intelligent diplomacyWhere priority is given to “neighbors and Asia”.

Double challenge of the new Minister of Foreign Affairs

Raisi’s government takes the reins in Tehran as Iran faces two major foreign policy challenges: First, indirect negotiations with the United States in Vienna on the latter’s possible return to the nuclear deal of 2015, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA. . Second, Iran’s troubled relations with its neighbors and its lack of diplomatic relations with the regional giant of Saudi Arabia.

The new senior diplomat seems ill-suited to both.

Having devoted his entire diplomatic career to regional affairs, Amir-Abdollahian does not appear to have the attitude or experience to negotiate with the United States and the rest of the P5 + 1 although he briefly did served as a member of the political group. -security sub-committee of talks during the reformist administration of President Mohammad Khatami (1997 – 2005.)

“With Raisi in the president’s office, there is no longer any game of illusions about who appears in charge and who holds real power.”

It is still not clear whether Amir-Abdollahian’s Foreign Ministry will be in charge of the nuclear issue or whether it will come back to the Supreme National Security Council as was the case before 2013. If that happens, Amir -Abdollahian will oversee a foreign ministry. this is sidelined when it comes to the country’s main diplomatic challenge.

On regional affairs, Amir-Abdollahian’s diplomatic expertise and fluency in Arabic may seem like an asset, but the point is that he has worked more closely with the multitude of militias that form the destabilizing network of allies. Iranian politico-military in the region, than with its diplomatic counterparts in the Arab world.

In 2007, Amir-Abdollahian led the Iranian delegation to a crucial tripartite process in Baghdad with Iraqis and Americans, engaging in a rare direct negotiation with the United States. But obviously, the three meetings of this process showed Amir-Abdollahian’s inflexibility and his decidedly non-diplomatic attitude. During the Rouhani years, her talks with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on regional affairs did not seem to have gone much better.

Overall, Amir-Abdollahian may seem like a confusing choice, given Raisi’s constant insistence on the need to improve ties with countries in the region, especially Saudi Arabia.

Things become less perplexing when one considers Amir-Abdollahian in the larger context of Iranian power struggles. Raisi’s election victory earlier this summer was only made possible by rejecting the candidacy of all individual rivals to outright religiousness. While Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has had a history of balancing the different factions of the regime, supporting Raisi’s coronation, he shows he is impatient in his attempt to consolidate power.

Raisi’s presidency has helped streamline and simplify power in Iranian government structures. While nominally responsible for the country’s executive branch, Rouhani was largely powerless in the face of the IRGC and parastatals loyal to Khamenei.

With Raisi in the President’s office, there is no longer any illusion about who appears in charge and who holds real power. This is also reflected in the Foreign Ministry when Zarif admitted that he had very little to say in handling the case of countries in the region vis-à-vis Soleimani and the guards. In Amir-Abdollahian, Iran now has a foreign minister who speaks on behalf of the guards and the real centers of power in the country. For many in the region, this is preferable to Zarif’s smoke and mirror game.

The first test of the new Minister of Foreign Affairs comes from his first week in office. On August 28, Baghdad will host a diplomatic conference to which Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi invited Iran alongside Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and other countries.

Will Amir-Abdollahian attend personally to show the importance he attaches to regional reconciliation?

Will he meet his Saudi counterpart on the sidelines of the one-day summit?

“In Amir-Abdollahian, Iran now has a foreign minister who speaks on behalf of the guards and the real centers of power in the country.”

According to two senior diplomats I spoke to, he is pondering this issue while also planning staff changes in the crucial section of the Persian Gulf Ministry.

Even if the aforementioned questions are answered in the affirmative, the Iranian-Saudi talks are unlikely to lead to deep reconciliation but to a series of pragmatic talks, mainly on Yemen, similar to the Iranian-US talks on Iraq in the post years. -2003. or the Astana process over Syria.

The root of the tensions in the region, however, lies in the Iranian policy of destabilization and promotion of the militias; a policy that Amir-Abdollahian not only defends but has helped to build for many years. Without fundamental change, it is difficult to imagine Iran’s reintegration into the region. The new foreign minister seems to bode well for the Islamic Republic’s growing isolation from the world and escalating actions in the region.

Arash Azizi is a writer, translator and doctoral student at NYU. He is the author of the book, ‘The Shadow Commander: Soleimani, the global ambitions of the United States and Iran‘.

Follow him on Twitter: @Arash_Tehran

Do you have any questions or comments ? Email us at: [email protected]

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board, or its team.



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