Political Drama In Tehran, FM Hospitalization Underscore Hardliner Influence

The Associated Press reported yesterday on political high drama unfolding in Tehran, where Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif briefly checked himself into a hospital citing physical pain caused by what he insists were fabricated statements attributed to him by the hardline newspaper Kayhan.

The daily had quoted Zarif walking back diplomatic overtures to the U.S. made by himself and by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. Specifically, Zarif was said to have described two moves – a phone call between Rouhani and President Barack Obama, and a meeting between Zarif and Secretary of State John Kerry – as “missteps.”

Untangling what exactly happened is difficult.

Zarif may have actually made the statements to the Persian-language newspaper, and is scrambling to limit the diplomatic fallout now that they’ve been translated in the West. Rouhani’s phone call had been criticized by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as “not appropriate,” and Zarif may have been forced into the de facto apology. It would not be the first time since Rouhani’s election that Iranian officials have engaged in a two-step regarding Western engagement, reaping the global publicity benefits of seeming moderate while acting and talking differently inside Iran.

Western media outlets have in recent weeks optimistically conveyed: a post from a Twitter account linked to Rouhani wishing Jews a happy New Year, the temporary lifting of Internet restrictions on Iranian citizens, and an offer by Iran to close its underground enrichment military bunker at Fordow. Each of those were quickly walked back: Rouhani’s office denied he was linked to the tweet, Internet restrictions were quickly reimposed, and the offer regarding Fordow was officially quashed. That list may now include Zarif’s meeting with Kerry and – if it exists – his subsequent walkback.

Alternatively, the quotes attributed to Zarif may indeed have been completely fabricated by the hardline Iranian newspaper. Zarif’s distress may be wholly genuine.In that case, it’s difficult to see how Zarif is going to stand up to the hardline Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) when antics by newspapers give him the vapors. The head of the IRGC said Monday that Rouhani should have refused to take the September phone call from Obama.

[Photo: PressTV / YouTube]