Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) and President Hassan Rouhani, February 27, 2019

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has turned down the resignation of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, keeping the diplomat in his post but pointing to a possible battle with hardliners.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said, “As the Chief of Staff of the Iranian President said today, the resignation has not been accepted.” A photograph soon showed the President and Zarif chatting amiably as they awaited a visit by the Armenian Prime Minister.

Zarif suddenly and unexpectedly announced his departure on Monday in an Instagram post. He gave no reason, but later suggested that the move was a “nudge” to restore the Foreign Ministry’s place in the making and implementation of foreign policy.

The Foreign Ministry has been limited since 2014 by the Supreme Leader’s decision pushing back the Rouhani Government over its approach to the Middle East. Zarif reportedly has been supplanted recently by Ayatollah Khamenei’s senior advisor Ali Akbar Velayati, and hardliners have pressured the Foreign Minister to the point of some threatening his impeachment.

Observers also noted that the Foreign Minister was not present at Monday’s hosting of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad by the Supreme Leader and by Rouhani.

Iran Daily: Tehran Unsettled by Foreign Minister Zarif’s Resignation

Ministry spokesman Qassemi reacted defensively on Wednesday, not referring to Zarif’s attempt to get more influence inside the regime:

“Any interpretation and analysis revolving around the reasons behind the resignation of Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif, except for what he has posted on his Instagram account, are incorrect.

But Zarif had been boosted not only by delegations of officials encouraging him to stay — and apologizing for the snub over Assad — but also by 160 MPs, more than a majority of the Majlis, supporting him in as statement.

Rouhani appealed to Zarif on Tuesday via a televised speech, saying the Foreign Minister was on the frontline of resistance to the US.

The President’s Chief of Staff Mahmoud Vaezi then gave a stronger signal, saying Rouhani’s words were “a clear sign of the satisfaction of the representative of the people of Iran about the wise and effective positions and work of Dr. Zarif and a tough response to some biased and incorrect analyses”.

But the head of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Qassem Soleimani — who was at the Supreme Leader’s meeting with Assad — tried to put the blame on Rouhani’s staff.