Iran's Chief Nuclear Negotiator Zarif Quits as Foreign Minister

(Bloomberg) -- Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who led his country’s nuclear negotiations with world powers, resigned on Monday in an unexpected move he announced on the picture-sharing service Instagram.

“I am no longer able to continue to serve,” Zarif said in the post, giving no reason. The resignation was confirmed by state news agencies and the foreign ministry.

“I thank the great and dear people of Iran and the authorities. I am most grateful for the past 67 months. For all my inabilities to continue my service and all the shortcomings and failures during the period of my service, I deeply apologize,” he wrote.

Zarif led Iran’s negotiating team during lengthy talks with the U.S. and other world powers that culminated in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2015, or “Iran deal," which lifted some sanctions against Iran in exchange for commitments on its nuclear enrichment program. President Donald Trump Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal last year and reimposed sanctions, leaving Iran to try and salvage what it could of the agreement.

Brokering the deal made Zarif popular with reformists and moderates in Iran’s fractious political system, but he also was the subject of nearly constant criticism from the Islamic Republic’s hardliners, who are traditionally suspicious of any engagement with Washington and Europe. The resignation coincided with a visit from Syria’s President Bashar al Assad to Tehran, where he met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Zarif, who was appointed in 2013 after Rouhani was elected, leaves amid intensifying pressure on the Iranian economy from the U.S. sanctions regime. He has a long history of goading U.S. officials, telling Trump last year that “international relations is not a beauty pageant” and accusing him of bullying members of the United Nations Security Council.

Zarif’s announcement via Instagram comes weeks after authorities in Iran said they were preparing to block access to the service, extending their crackdown on social media to the only major platform still freely available.

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