In recent days the BBC News website had published two reports pertaining to the resignation (apparently no longer relevant) of Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif.
“Mohammad Javad Zarif: Iran’s foreign minister submits resignation” originally appeared on the evening of February 25th.
“Iran president ‘has not accepted foreign minister’s resignation’” was published on February 26th and its headline has since been amended.
Both those reports include repeated framing of Zarif as someone who represents a “more moderate” Iran and is different from that country’s “hardliners”.
“He has served as Iran’s ambassador to the UN and became foreign minister in 2013 after President Hassan Rouhani was elected promising a more moderate, outward-looking Iran.”
“Mr Zarif has been under pressure at home from hardliners since the US withdrew from the Iranian nuclear pact, which binds Iran to limit its nuclear activities.”
The article includes analysis from the BBC’s chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet:
“But he’s under huge pressure from hardliners who never liked or trusted his negotiations with the West.”
“…is this the exit of the US-educated diplomat who became the smiling face of Iran’s new engagement with the world?”
“His role negotiating the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers exposed him to sharp criticism from hardliners.”
The article includes analysis from BBC Persian’s Kasra Naji:
“The fact is that Iranian hardliners resent him for agreeing to dismantle much of the country’s nuclear programme.”
“Mr Zarif, most observers agree, has put up a robust defence of Iran on the world stage in spite of the fact that many of Iran’s positions, actions and behaviours – with which he has had little to do – have been indefensible.” [emphasis added]
Leaving aside the fact that the JCPOA negotiations could not have been conducted or finalised without the agreement of Iran’s Supreme Leader, is the BBC’s framing of Javad Zarif as someone inherently different to Iran’s “hardliners” actually accurate?
The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change recently published a report by Kasra Aarabi based on analysis of speeches made by Iranian leaders perceived by some in the West as either ‘hardliners’ or ‘moderates’ – including Javad Zarif.
“The 2015 international nuclear deal did not alter Iran’s anti-US stance. The previous US administration’s signing of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran was seen as a stepping stone to better relations between Iran and the world. Yet despite the deal, anti-US sentiment—and anti-Western sentiment in general—continues to abound in the rhetoric of Iran’s leaders. For both Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, both of whom were involved in the negotiations, 60 per cent of their speeches featured explicit anti-US rhetoric.”
“…when the West speaks of moderates in the regime, it often overlooks the fact that all figures in the establishment are committed to Islamism and are vehemently opposed to liberal, secular values. This includes officials the West perceives as moderate, such as Zarif.”
“This research shows that although Rouhani and Zarif were willing to negotiate with the five permanent United Nations (UN) Security Council members plus Germany (P5+1) and the European Union (EU), at home their position towards the West did not shift—certainly not when it came to what they said in public. Antipathy towards the West might have been expected after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement in May 2018, but it was not a new feature of Rouhani’s discourse. Even while his government was negotiating the deal, he was repeating the same positions at home.”
“The anti-US rhetoric maintained by figures such as Rafsanjani, Rouhani and Zarif indicates that these individuals were never ideologically moderate, even though their actions—such as the negotiation of the nuclear deal—were perceived as moderate by Western counterparts. When it comes to policymaking, this is a vital lesson to learn. What sets these figures apart from the hard-line ideologues of the regime, such as Ahmadinejad, is that they understand that an unhealthy Iranian economy constrains the state’s ability to function. This, in turn, damages the implementation of Iran’s ideological objectives, both at home and overseas, as laid out in the constitution. […] These figures are more pragmatic ideologues than moderates or reformists.”
As regular readers know, the BBC has nevertheless been promoting the notion of Iranian ‘hardliners’ and ‘moderates’ for many years.
While the BBC is not alone in having bought into the myth of ‘moderates’ and ‘reformists’ within the Iranian political establishment, one would of course expect that a media organisation obliged to provide its funding public with accurate and impartial information which will enable audiences to “engage fully with issues across…the world” could and would do considerably better.
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