Iran’s foreign minister gets personal in candid 'Clubhouse' Q+A

Foreign Minister Zarif denies desire to run for president in two-hour Clubhouse session

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, pose for photos at the start of their meeting in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, March 27, 2021. Iran and China on Saturday signed a 25-year strategic cooperation agreement addressing economic issues amid crippling U.S. sanctions on Iran, state TV reported. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
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Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said he had no plans to run for the presidency, in an impromptu question and answer session on the social media channel Clubhouse.

In a country that has banned various social media platforms, from Twitter to Instagram, newcomer Clubhouse has taken Iran by storm.

On Wednesday night in a chat room meant to focus on Iran’s landmark deal with China, called “The 25-year Strategic Cooperation Pact", Mr Zarif made an unannounced appearance in his apparent debut on the app.

He addressed nearly 8,000 audience members with unusual candour.

Mr Zarif said the new US administration was no different from that of former president Donald Trump and a controversial new deal with China was good for Iran.

The foreign minister spent nearly two hours answering questions from both supporters and critics, largely focused on his political career, the future of the JCPOA and the latest deal between Iran and China.

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On joining the channel, the foreign minister joked with the room that he was limited in time on the Apple-only app.

“I have an Android, I’m not rich like the rest of you and I only got the beta software that allows Android to use Clubhouse two hours ago,” he said.

Mr Zarif used the floor to emphasise he had no intentions of running for president in the next elections saying, "As God is my witness, I have no goal of running in the Iranian elections."

Iran’s elections, expected to take place in June, are being closely watched as the outgoing administration of Hassan Rouhani attempts to renegotiate a deal with the US and alleviate the nation’s economic woes.

Iran analyst Reza Marashi told The National that the only way Mr Zarif would be likely to run was if Ayatollah Khamenei asked him directly.

Mr Zarif also addressed the tense relationship between Iran and the US, saying President Joe Biden was similar to Mr Trump because his administration had continued the policy of maximum pressure on Iran.

Iran and officials of the new US administration have yet to meet to negotiate America’s return to the 2015 nuclear deal that Mr Trump walked out of three years ago – or Iran’s return to compliance with the terms of the deal.

With Europe unable to circumvent US sanctions,to continue trading with Iran as per the terms of the 2015 JCPOA, Tehran has turned east to China.

Tehran and Beijing recently signed a major deal to open Chinese investment in Iran in exchange for cheap Iranian oil supplied to China.

The agreement has caused concern in some circles of the Iranian public who have taken to social media to warn of neocolonialism and the government selling their country out to fix the dire economic crisis caused by US sanctions.

But Mr Zarif said the best way forward for Iran on the global stage was through the 25-year accord with China, the Iran nuclear deal, the removal of sanctions and ratifying the FATF, an intergovernmental anti-money laundering treaty.

Shortly after his Clubhouse appearance, Mr Zarif posted on Instagram hailing the China deal as the "best way to ensure the interests and sustainable development of Iran."

He also said he favoured a “balanced foreign policy” and did not support a solely eastward looking policy, like many hardliners in Iran, and neither was he pro-West.

“In a globalised world, a foreign policy that favours the East or West doesn’t make sense any more,” he said.

Mr Zarif is known for his jovial demeanour and personable interactions with both the public as well as journalists and foreign officials. But, on Wednesday night, the usually warm and effusive minister appeared strained, tense and quick to temper.

He told the audience that he was staying awake to answer their questions, despite having chosen to join the discussion.

He responded to a question on his portrayal in popular Iranian TV spy thriller Gando by saying the makers should just let him get on with doing his job.

Although it was Mr Zarif’s first appearance on Clubhouse, the app has already drawn candidates from both hardline and moderate factions before the elections.

The trend has fostered a degree of candour in the current campaign not often seen in Iran’s poetical discourse.

On Wednesday, Mr Zarif himself was questioned by politicians from both sides.

Twitter users were quick to point out that in Wednesday's room, journalists from outlets including BBC Persia, who have long gone head-to-head with the Iranian government, were not permitted to ask questions.

The chatroom's moderator was quoted as saying that Foreign Ministry officials made it a condition that journalists from certain media outlets and dissidents not be permitted to ask questions.