Zarif was speaking to the newly elected and conservative-dominated parliament for the first time and had to wait for the speaker to restore order as he was accused of selling the country out by negotiating with the US administration over the nuclear deal in 2015. The row, which lasted several minutes, shows how conservatives will use the failure of the nuclear deal to boost the Iranian economy to isolate any reformist candidate in next year’s presidential election.
It also came as the country was forced to acknowledge setbacks in its efforts to rein in coronavirus by making face masks compulsory in public. Death rates hit a record level on Saturday. At the same time the Iranian currency has fallen 6% against the dollar to a record low in the last few days. It has fallen 500% in value since 2015.
The normally unruffled Zarif hit back at his critics and insisted that he had always been an ally of Qassem Suleimani, the Revolutionary Guard commander killed by a US drone strike in January.
He shouted from the lectern: “You can say whatever you want, but the martyr Suleimani and I had weekly meetings. We coordinated with each other every week. In regional talks, whatever we did we coordinated with each other. Those who know Suleimani … and the Iraqi, Lebanese and Palestinian resistance, they know, and not you.
“I even want to thank you for your sharp criticisms, but you should know we are in the same boat. We are all in this together. The US does not recognise [the difference between] liberals, reformists and conservatives, revolutionaries and non-revolutionaries.”
He also said his conduct during the negotiations on the nuclear dealhad been agreed by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “If I lied, he heard and said it was the truth. If I told the truth, he heard and said it was bravery,” he said.
Javad Karimi Qudussi, an extremist MP, and several others chanted “death to a liar” during Zarif’s speech.
The foreign minister said last week’s discussions at the UN security council had shown it was the US rather than Iran that was isolated, and that the world was transitioning to a post-western era.
Zarif has been mentioned as a potential candidate for the presidential election in early 2021, but he has denied any interest.
The new parliament was elected in March on a turnout of around 25%, and the reformists, who are divided and demoralised, need a galvanising candidate if the middle class is to vote for them in large numbers.
Many reformist MPs were debarred from standing by the Guardian Council, a body that answers to the supreme leader.
The outgoing president, Hassan Rouhani, who is seen as a pragmatic centrist, has disappointed all sides, and feels betrayed by the US decision to pull out of the deal and impose stringent sanctions.
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