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Iran's President Rejects Zarif's Resignation but Rumors of Internal Conflict Continue to Swirl

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rejected on Wednesday the resignation of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, leading some to believe the Islamic regime is embroiled in internal conflict.

"I believe your resignation is against the country's interests and do not approve it," Rouhani wrote in a letter to Zarif published on the government's official website. He added that the "whole Islamic establishment" trusts Zarif.

In response, Zarif posted his thanks to Iran's leaders in an Instagram post.

"As a modest servant, I have had no concern other than elevating [our]  foreign policy and the credibility of the Foreign Ministry as the person in charge of advancing foreign policy and protecting national interests and people's rights in the international arena," he wrote.

Zarif then attended a welcoming ceremony with Armenia's prime minister who arrived in Tehran Wednesday.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard, which answers directly to the Supreme Leader, later issued a statement of support for Zarif.

"Definitely, Zarif is in charge of foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran and he has been always supported by top officials including the supreme leader," The Guard's website quoted Gen. Qassem Soleiman as saying.

Zarif resigned without warning Monday and apologized to the nation for his inability "to continue service."  The announcement sent shock waves throughout the country and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eagerly welcomed his reported departure.

Zarif worked with former secretary of state John Kerry to create the 2015 Iranian nuclear. He is one of President Rouhani's closest allies and is the face of Iran's outreach to the West.

Zarif did not provide details on why he chose to resign.

Unconfirmed Iranian media reports say Zarif resigned because he was not invited to a meeting with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. However, an official close to Zarif told Reuters the decision was motivated by criticism of the 2015 nuclear accord from top leaders of the Islamic regime.

"There were closed-door meetings every week, where top officials were bombarding him with questions about the deal and what will happen next and so on," the sources said on condition of anonymity. "He and his boss [Rouhani] were under a huge amount of pressure."

The accord was designed to freeze Iran's nuclear program in exchange for an end to economic sanctions on Tehran. However, it did allow Iran to re-start the program in eight years with a pledge not to pursue nuclear weapons. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal last year, calling it "defective at its core." Trump also vowed to enact severe economic sanctions on Iran.

After the US withdrew from the deal, Zarif had to explain why Iran should continue to abide by the restrictions if the country would see little to no economic benefit. On top of that, Iran's currency has dropped in value over the last year, causing extreme inflation and sparking violent protests.

The news of Zarif's resignation highlighted division within the Iranian government.

Ayelet Savyon, Director of the Iran Media Project for MEMRI told CBN News there is division, but not over the nuclear agreement. 

"There is real rivalry among the loyal sons of Iran's Islamic Revolution: Qassem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC Qods Force – the elite unite carrying out Iranian activity outside Iran – and who is also in effect leading Iran's expansion in the region, and Foreign Minister Zarif, who worked to shape the JCPOA according to Iran's requirements," she explained. 

"Zarif's resignation announcement came against the background of his frustration and sense of insult: Despite all his efforts on the diplomatic battlefield and his proven achievements (the JCPOA and closing the PMD - possible military dimension file of Iran's nuclear program, the four-month extension for Iran to come into compliance with FATF anti-terrorism oversight – which he achieved through his efforts with Europe – as well as masterminding Iran's recovery from being perceived in the world as a terrorist state, and his gaining acceptance for Iran as a legitimate member of the international community and acceptance into the international nuclear club) – he is being overlooked, and he was not present at nor informed of this most important foreign policy meeting with the Syrian president," Savyon added. 

The nation's parliament is roughly divided into reformists who want to change Iran from within,  hardliners, who believe the supreme leader is chosen by God and should actively confront the West, and moderates, who tend to take a middle path.

Hardliners disapproved of Zarif's outreach to the west,

A pro-reformist Iranian official told The Jerusalem Post Zarif's resignation would have had a "domino effect" on Iran.

Rouhani might follow him and this is not something that the country can tolerate when pressured by America and sanctions," he said. "Hardliners will be strengthened and any kind of reform will be buried for at least 10 years."

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