According to a November 27 letter that the parliamentarians shared with Iranian media, the 24 deputies are seeking Zarif’s impeachment for 11 reasons, including his claim that money laundering is taking place in the Islamic Republic. Among the others are his “not paying attention to the economy in the diplomacy of the country,” lack of outreach with Asia, Latin America and Africa, “not using the opportunities that the resistance has provided in the region” and taking a weak position on the 2015 Mina hajj stampede, in which 464 Iranians were killed.
Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, a top Shiite cleric who often speaks out on political and social matters, asserted in a seminary lecture Nov. 28, “In a situation in which we must be strong and united against foreign enemies, brothers and sisters in parliament are seeking to impeach ministers, and this is not advisable.” He added, “We must put this impeachment behind us, and if the members of parliament see problems, they must put the questions and criticisms directly to the ministers.”
The impeachment effort, although led by conservatives, is being driven more by hard-liners, who have longed opposed President Hassan Rouhani’s administration. Khabar Online reported, “The Concerned, in a pre-planned action, have started a damaging project against their opponents,” the “Concerned” being the moniker the hard-liners adopted for themselves in expressing their opposition to the nuclear deal and the Rouhani administration’s outreach to the United States, a policy that Zarif had led.
Hamid-Reza Haji-Babaei, a deputy from Hamedan, said that the moderate-conservative Velayat faction in the parliament opposes Zarif’s impeachment. Deputy Mohammad-Reza Badamchi, a Reformist, said that those seeking Zarif’s impeachment have not presented any new information and that their case is based on nothing more than “excuses and delusional claims.” Some of the 11 reasons cited for impeachment were dated and thus irrelevant to the political situation today in Iran.
What is likely driving this new wave of antagonism against Zarif by the hard-liners are Zarif’s comments on money laundering, which are related to a parliamentary bill concerning the international Financial Action Task Force. In a Nov. 10 interview with Khabar Online, Zarif had said, “Money laundering is a reality in our country, many are benefiting from it,” drawing the ire of hard-liners opposed to the bill. Zarif accused those who are benefiting from money laundering of spending money to oppose the bill.
If passed, the measure would make it easier for Iran to conduct financial transactions with other countries. It is currently being passed back and forth between the parliament and the Guardian Council, which vets bills. Opponents argue that if the provisions of the bill are implemented, it would divulge sensitive financial information to the country’s enemies.
The signing of the impeachment letter was mired in conflicting reports. Hassan Norouzi, a parliamentarian who signed the letter, reportedly backtracked and wanted his signature removed. His name was also linked to a reported attempt to unseat the parliament speaker, Ali Larijani.
The case for Zarif’s impeachment has been sent to the presiding board of the parliament and will be referred to the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission. Given the backlash across political and religious lines, the action appears to have been politically motivated to taint the Rouhani administration’s foreign minister.