By the Apadana Chronicle Editorial Board
When US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin first announced in late June the possibility of designating the Iranian regime’s foreign minister Javad Zarif, many Iranian dissidents questioned the usefulness of this action. Some of them believed sanctioning Zarif will afford him undue recognition. After all, Zarif had become increasingly irrelevant and lost tremendous credibility in the diplomatic arena since the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the JCPOA. Designation of Zarif, however, had a broader purpose. Not only was he whitewashing and rationalizing the regime’s atrocities and malign behavior before the American people, but by incessantly opining on America’s internal politics, he was interfering in the country’s democracy. His snarky, condescending comments on US politics disseminated via social media were no different than the disinformation Russia was promulgating during the 2016 elections.
Zarif was designated by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control on July 31. In announcing Zarif’s designation, Secretary Mnuchin stated, “Javad Zarif implements the reckless agenda of Iran’s Supreme Leader, and is the regime’s primary spokesperson around the world. The United States is sending a clear message to the Iranian regime that its recent behavior is completely unacceptable.” Secretary Mnuchin further added, “At the same time the Iranian regime denies Iranian citizens’ access to social media, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif spreads the regime’s propaganda and disinformation around the world through these mediums.”
It is rumored that during his meeting with Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Zarif was warned about the Trump Administration’s decision to sanction him. He was allegedly invited by Senator Paul to attend a meeting with President Trump in the Oval Office to reverse the decision before it was made public. He declined, stating that he did not have permission from Khamenei (Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution) to attend such meetings. He apparently also informed Senator Paul that the general policy of the regime was to refrain from diplomacy with the US.
Zarif’s designation seemed to have struck a nerve in the community of pro-regime scholars, pundits, and journalists. Almost immediately after Zarif’s designation, pro-regime “Iran experts” took to social media condemning this action by the Trump Administration. Their objections were expressed in an absurd, infantile fashion, which resulted in deriding comments from Iranian dissidents. Narges Bajoghli, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, complained about how an unappealing photo of Zarif was used in conjunction with his designation announcement. Negar Mortazavi, a pro-regime freelance journalist, claimed Zarif was more “popular” than Secretary Pompeo because he had more followers on Twitter. By far however, the most preposterous comment came from Ali Vaez, the Iran project manager at the International Crisis Group. In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Vaez claimed Zarif was sanctioned because Secretary Pompeo was “jealous of him.”
In diplomacy, Zarif is spineless and ignorant. He does not comprehend international norms. He is confused about what policies serve Iran’s national interest and promote the its credibility with the international community. His mendacious comments are testaments to his duplicitous character and lack of civility and integrity. His blatant lies include denying the existence of political prisoners in Iran to repudiating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ complicity in the devastation of Yemen and Syria.
On social media, Zarif acted more like a troll than a thoughtful diplomat. His obsessive taunting of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince, Ambassador John Bolton, and Secretary Pompeo on Twitter was unbecoming of the foreign minister of the second largest country in the Middle East. He conveniently ignored and consciously justified the regime’s human rights violations and the IRGC’s acts of terror in the region. Zarif labeled facts as “fake news” while spreading his own self-procured disinformation. He deceitfully presented to the American media a beaming façade for Islamofascism. Pro-regime campaigners in the US, including advocates of Bernie Sanders’ extremist policies and “never Trump” militants, were devouring Zarif’s propaganda like confectionary, amplifying his talking points in conforming media outlets ad infinitum.
Zarif’s propaganda was (is) toxic and detrimental to US democracy and the welfare of the Iranian people. He used trips to the US as an opportunity to appeal directly to the American people and high-level Democrats. He cultivated his own lobbying apparatus directly and indirectly through organizations like the National Iranian American Council. Furthermore, he had procured a cadre of propagandists in the US to parrot his talking points by writing op-eds, giving interviews, holding conferences, and participating in panel discussions on various networks. Zarif’s designation was to curb his pernicious influence on the US by restricting his media presence and do away with the regime’s “good cop, bad cop” game of moderates versus hard-liners.
The embargo on Zarif was long overdue. He is arguably the most conniving, dishonest diplomat in Iran’s modern history; perhaps in the modern history of the world. Zarif has little power and authority as a foreign minister; his primary and only function is to serve as the propagandist for the mullahs. Many Iranian dissidents and human rights activists have compared Zarif to Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda. In his capacity as a foreign minister, some opposition activists have also compared him to Joachim von Ribbentrop, Germany’s Foreign Minister during the Third Reich. Ribbentrop represented all that was deceptive in foreign policy and placed a civil, humane mask on the hideous face of the Nazi regime. Both of these designations, in addition to the one placed on him by the US Treasury Department, are appropriate and well-deserved. Perhaps Iranian dissidents who initially saw Zarif’s designation counterproductive and futile are now content with the fact that sanctioning mullahs’ “top diplomat” was the correct thing to do.