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Mohammad Javad Zarif Khansari
Mohammad javad zarif in 2021 (cropped).jpg
Zarif in 2021
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
15 August 2013 – 25 August 2021
President Hassan Rouhani
Deputy Morteza Sarmadi
Preceded by Ali Akbar Salehi
Succeeded by Hossein Amir-Abdollahian
Chief Nuclear Negotiator of Iran
In office
6 September 2013 – 14 July 2015
President Hassan Rouhani
Deputy Abbas Araghchi
Preceded by Saeed Jalili
Succeeded by Abbas Araghchi (as head of JCPOA follow-up commission)
Ambassador of Iran to the United Nations
In office
5 August 2002 – 25 July 2007
President Mohammad Khatami
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Preceded by Mohammad Hadi Nejad Hosseinian
Succeeded by Mohammad Khazaee
Personal details
Born (1960-01-08) 8 January 1960 (age 62)
Tehran, Imperial State of Iran
Political party Independent
Spouse(s)
Maryam Imanieh
(m. 1979)
Children 2
Awards see below
Signature
Website Government site
Academic background and work
Fields International law
International relations
International studies
Alma mater San Francisco State University (B.A., M.A.)
Columbia University (dropped out)
University of Denver (M.A., Ph.D.)
Thesis Self-Defense in International Law and Policy (1988)
Institutions School of International Relations
University of Tehran
Islamic Azad University

Mohammad Javad Zarif Khansari (Persian: محمدجواد ظریف خوانساری; Persian pronunciation: [mohæmːædd͡ʒæˌvɒːde zæˌɾiːf]; born 8 January 1960) is an Iranian career diplomat and academic. He was the foreign minister of Iran from 2013 until 2021 in the government of Hassan Rouhani. During his tenure as foreign minister, he led the Iranian negotiation with P5+1 countries which produced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on 14 July 2015, lifting the economic sanctions against Iran on 16 January 2016. On 25 February 2019, Zarif resigned from his post as foreign minister. His resignation was rejected by Ali Khamenei and he continued as foreign minister.

Before assuming his current position, he held various significant diplomatic and cabinet posts. He is a visiting professor at the School of International Relations and University of Tehran, teaching diplomacy and international organizations. He was the Permanent Representative of Iran to the United Nations from 2002 to 2007. He served as an advisor and senior advisor to the Foreign Minister, Deputy Foreign Minister in Legal and International affairs, member of the UN Eminent Persons Group on Dialogue Among Civilizations, Head of the UN Disarmament Commission in New York, and Vice President for International Affairs of the Islamic Azad University.

Early life and education

Zarif was born in Tehran around 1960, although other sources have given the year of birth as 1959 and 1961. According to The New Republic, Zarif was born to an "affluent, religiously devout and politically conservative merchant family in Tehran". His father was one of the most well-known businessmen of Isfahan, and his mother Efat Kashani (d. 2013) was the daughter of one of the most famous businessmen of Tehran. He was educated at the Alavi School, a private religious institution.

Zarif was shielded from TV, radio, and newspapers by his parents as a youth. There was only an alarm clock that played the Athan during prayers. Instead, he became exposed to revolutionary ideas by reading the books of Ali Shariati and Samad Behrangi.

At age 17, he left Iran for the United States. Zarif attended Drew College Preparatory School, a private college-preparatory high school located in San Francisco, California. He went on to study at San Francisco State University, from which he gained a B.A. in 1981 and M.A. in 1982, both in international relations. Following this, Zarif continued his studies at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver, from which he obtained a second M.A. in international relations in 1984 and a Ph.D. in international law and policy in 1988. His thesis was titled "Self-Defense in International Law and Policy."

Tom Rowe, a professor at the graduate school who led the committee that oversaw Zarif's dissertation, said: "He was among the very best students that I've ever taught." Ved Nanda, who taught and was on Zarif's dissertation committee, recalled: "[He was] good in the classroom. At that time ... I thought he'd play an important part in his country's life."

Initial missions in the US

Zarif was appointed a member of the Iranian delegation to the United Nations in May 1982 – largely due to his English-speaking ability and relationships in America, rather than formal diplomatic training. As a junior diplomat Zarif was involved in negotiations to win the release of U.S. hostages held by pro-Iranian gunmen in Lebanon, according to the memoirs of former United Nations envoy Giandomenico Picco. Even though the United States did not make a promised reciprocal goodwill gesture at the time, Zarif remained committed to improving ties.

In 2000, Zarif served as chairman of the Asian preparatory meeting of the World Conference on Racism and as the chairman of the United Nations Disarmament Commission. Zarif was also professor of international law at the University of Tehran. He served as the vice president of Islamic Azad University in charge of foreign affairs from 2010 to 2012 under Abdollah Jasbi. He has served on the board of editors of a number of scholarly journals, including the Iranian Journal of International Affairs and Iranian Foreign Policy, and has written extensively on disarmament, human rights, international law, and regional conflicts.

Representative at the United Nations

Zarif served as Iran's representative at the United Nations from 2002 to 2007. He was closely linked with developing the so-called "Grand Bargain," a plan to resolve outstanding issues between the U.S. and Iran in 2003. Zarif, during his time at the UN, held private meetings with a number of Washington politicians, including the then-Senators Joseph Biden and Chuck Hagel. He resigned from office on 6 July 2007. He was succeeded by Mohammad Khazaee in the post.

In 2007, Zarif was a headline speaker at an American Iranian Council conference in New Brunswick, New Jersey including Chuck Hagel, Dennis Kucinich, Nicholas Kristof, and Anders Liden to discuss Iranian-American relations, and potential ways to increase dialogue and avoid conflict.

Minister of Foreign Affairs

FM Zarif outside of Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs 06
Zarif outside of Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs

On 23 July 2013, it was reported that Zarif was Rouhani's choice for minister of foreign affairs. This was not confirmed by the president-elect's office until 4 August when Rouhani officially nominated Zarif for the position to the Iranian Parliament. He was confirmed by the parliament with 232 votes, replacing Ali Akbar Salehi in the position.

John Kerry Speaks With Hossein Fereydoun and Javad Zarif before Press conference in Vienna (19663913956) cropped
John Kerry with Hossein Fereydoun, the brother of 7th President of Iran Hassan Rouhani and Mohammad Javad Zarif during the announcement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, July 14, 2015

Zarif welcomed the first visit by a foreign leader to Iran since Rouhani assumed the presidency ten days after his approval as Foreign Minister with the arrival of Oman's sultan, Qaboos bin Said Al Said. Stories spread that there was a secret agenda to his meetings with Iranian officials, involving claims that he came to convey messages from the United States and then to relay Iran's response to White House officials. On 5 September 2013, in an exchange prompted by his Rosh Hashanah greeting on Twitter, Zarif said that Iran does not deny the Holocaust, distancing the government from the often belligerent stances by former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Genuineness of Zarif's tweeting in English was confirmed by CNN's Christiane Amanpour. On 27 September 2013, he met with United States Secretary of State John Kerry during P5+1 and Iran summit. It was the highest-level direct contact between the United States and Iran in the last six years. After the meeting, Kerry said that "We had a constructive meeting, and I think all of us were pleased that Foreign Minister Zarif came and made a presentation to us, which was very different in tone and very different in the vision that he held out with respect to possibilities of the future."

After the breakup of talks on 12 November, Zarif rejected Kerry's claim that Iran had been unable to accept the deal "at that particular moment". He said "no amount of spinning" could change what had happened in Geneva, but it could "further erode confidence". Zarif appeared to blame France for "gutting over half" of a US draft deal. Representatives from Iran and the so-called P5+1 – met again on 20 November.

Talks between senior American, Iranian and European diplomats in October 2014 produced no breakthrough agreement on curbing Iran's nuclear program, but officials said they still aimed to reach a deal by the 24 November deadline. A senior State Department official characterized each step of progress in the talks as "chipping away" at complex, technical differences, with virtually every sentence requiring an appendix of further explanation. "We continue to make progress, but there is still a substantial amount of work to be done," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the difficult and secretive negotiations.

Zarif and Kerry conferred, ahead of a fresh round of negotiations between Iran and six world powers in Geneva, on settling their 12-year standoff over Tehran's nuclear ambitions. Lower-level negotiators on both sides met at the same venue on 15 January 2015 to iron out technical details ahead of negotiations 3 days later between Iran and the "P5+1" powers – the US, France, Germany, Russia, China and Britain. Speaking at a Tehran news conference, Zarif said the purpose of the talks with Kerry "is to see if we can speed up and push the negotiations forward".

In February, Zarif said that Iran did not favor another extension of the talks on limiting its nuclear program and expected economic sanctions to be quickly lifted if an accord was reached. At a security conference in Munich, he said "Sanctions are a liability; you need to get rid of them if you want a solution." Of the long effort to forge an agreement, he said "This is the opportunity to do it, and we need to seize this opportunity. It may not be repeated." The nuclear talks have already been extended twice and face a late March deadline for working out the main outlines of an accord. The deadline for a detailed agreement is the end of June.

Javad Zarif meeting with UK foreign minister Boris Johnson in Tehran 2017-12-09 02
Zarif with then-U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, 9 December 2017

Based on the Iran nuclear deal framework, which was declared on 2 April, Iran agreed to accept significant restrictions on its nuclear program for at least a decade and submit to international inspections under a framework deal. In return, international sanctions would be lifted; whether in phases or all at once still needed to be worked out.

Nuclear agreement

Secretary Kerry Poses for a Group Photo With Fellow EU, P5+1 Foreign Ministers and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif After Reaching Iran Nuclear Deal
Zarif posed for a group photo shortly after finalizing the Iran nuclear deal in Vienna on 4 July 2015

On 21 November it was reported by Iranian negotiators that progress was being made in talks in Geneva with world powers, expressing hope to bridge differences and sign an elusive deal over Tehran's nuclear drive. In statements carried by Iranian media after a one-hour meeting with Baroness Ashton, Zarif said "Differences of opinion remain and we are negotiating over them. God willing we will reach a result." Three days later, the Geneva interim agreement, officially titled the Joint Plan of Action, was signed between Iran and the P5+1 countries in Geneva, Switzerland. It consisted of a short-term freeze of portions of Iran's nuclear program in exchange for decreased economic sanctions on Iran, as the countries worked toward a long-term agreement.

Other issues

Iran’s Zarif, Indonesia’s Marsudi Meet in Tehran
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi held a meeting in the Iranian capital of Tehran on January 13, 2016.
Zarif Mogherini meet in Tehran 2016 (1)
Zarif with EU High Representative Federica Mogherini in Tehran, 16 April 2016

On 29 April 2015, while appearing on The Charlie Rose Show, Zarif was asked about the detention of Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post reporter held in Iran for the past nine months. He responded, "We do not jail people for their opinions[.]"

Venezuela’s Top Diplomat Visits Iran-8
Zarif with Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, 2018

Zarif condemned U.S. involvement in the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen, saying the United States should be held "accountable for crimes against humanity".

On 11 February 2019, Zarif met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut. Nasrallah thanked Zarif for Iran's support of Hezbollah's fight against 'Zionist aggression', and Zarif affirmed his country's "firm stance that supports Lebanon and its state, people and resistance".

In an interview conducted by CBS News on 25 April 2019, Zarif said that he was the one who proposed Iran's prisoner swap proposal to the U.S. government in October 2018, the proposal having been unanswered by the U.S. side up until that time. He added that the U.S. government must prove its seriousness before any negotiations.

Zarif condemned the 2019 Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria viewing it as a violation of Syria's sovereignty. However regarding the US withdrawal from Syria Zarif commented saying the US was an "irrelevant occupier in Syria", and said that Iran would be willing to mediate tensions between Syria and Turkey.

Zarif called the peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates a betrayal against Arab and non-Arab countries in the Middle East.

Resignation

Zarif stepped down from his post on 25 February 2019, announcing his resignation on Instagram. After greetings in honor of Iranian Women's and Mothers' day, he wrote

I am apologising [to] you (wholeheartedly) for my (inability to continue my service and any) shortcomings in the past years during my time as foreign minister... I thank the Iranian nation and officials.

Zarif did not elaborate or provide any further explanation. An aide said that one of the reasons for Zarif's resignation was anger over his exclusion that day from meetings with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who was visiting Tehran. Rouhani rejected Zarif's resignation two days later. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's Quds Force, also rejected Zarif's resignation, with Soleimani remarking that Zarif is the "main person in charge of foreign policy."

Sanctions

In July 2019 the United States imposed sanctions on Zarif, and he was identified by the US as an "illegitimate spokesperson for Iran". In response, a spokesman for European Union diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini stated, "We regret this decision."

Leaked audiotape

On 25 April 2021, The New York Times published content from a leaked audiotape of a three-hour taped conversation between economist Saeed Laylaz and Zarif. The taped conversation was connected to an oral history project, "In the Islamic Republic the military field rules," that documents the work of Iran's current administration. The tape was obtained by the London-based news channel Iran International. In the tape, which the Times refers to as "extraordinary" moments, Zarif criticizes Qasem Soleimani and Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and alleges that former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told him that Israel attacked Iranian assets in Syria "at least 200 times." Although the tape has not been authenticated, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman did not deny its validity.

Accolades

  • 9th Iran National Industry Champions Festival's ‘Champion of Champions of Diplomacy’: 1392 SH
  • KhabarOnline's ‘Face of The Year’: 1392 SH
  • TIME's ‘100 Most Influential People in the World’ (2): 2014, 2015
  • Global Risk Insights' ‘Person of the Year in Political Risk’: 2015
  • Chatham House Prize: 2016 (shared with John Kerry)

National orders

Ribbon Distinction Country Date Location Ref
Orden al Mérito y Gestión IRI.png Order of Merit and Management, 1st Class  Iran 8 February 2016 Tehran
BOL Order of Condor of the Andes - Grand Cross BAR.png Grand Cross of Order of the Condor of the Andes  Bolivia 26 August 2016 La Paz
OrdenKurmet.png Order of Friendship  Kazakhstan 10 September 2018 Tehran

Personal life

Closing ceremony of 35th Fajr International Film Festival 09
Zarif with his wife at 35th Fajr International Film Festival

Zarif is married and has a daughter who is an interior decorator and a son who is a marketing consultant, both of whom were born in the United States. He met his wife in summer 1979 through his sister. They married in Iran but moved to New York within several weeks in the midst of the Iranian revolution. In addition to his native Persian, he is also fluent in English.

Public image

Zarif has gained a domestic reputation and popularity among the people. His "Never threaten an Iranian!" remark, during the heated nuclear negotiations, gained attention from global news agencies. According to a poll conducted by Information and Public Opinion Solutions LLC (iPOS) in March 2016, Zarif was the most popular political figure in Iran with 76% approval and 7% disapproval ratings.

See also

  • List of foreign ministers in 2017
  • List of current foreign ministers
  • Iran's 2018 prisoner swap proposal to the United States
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