Mohammad Javad Zarif has spent more time with John Kerry than any other foreign minister
He once participated in a takeover of the Iranian Consulate in San Francisco
The Iranian foreign minister tweets in English
If you’ve been following the news lately, there are certain things you doubtless know about Mohammad Javad Zarif.
He is, of course, the Iranian foreign minister. He has been U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s opposite number in securing a breakthrough in nuclear discussions that could lead to an end to sanctions against Iran – if the details can be worked out in the coming weeks. And he received a hero’s welcome as he arrived in Iran on a sunny Friday morning.
“Long live Zarif,” crowds chanted as his car rolled slowly down the packed street.
You may well have read that he is “polished” and, unusually for one burdened with such weighty issues, “jovial.” An Internet search for “Mohammad Javad Zarif” and “jovial” yields thousands of results.
He certainly has gone a long way to bring Iran in from the cold and allow it to rejoin the international community.
But there are some facts about Zarif that are less well-known. Here are six:
He tweets in English
In September 2013, Zarif tweeted “Happy Rosh Hashanah,” referring to the Jewish New Year.
That prompted Christine Pelosi, the daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to respond with a tweet of her own: “Thanks. The New Year would be even sweeter if you would end Iran’s Holocaust denial, sir.”
And, perhaps to her surprise, Pelosi got a response. “Iran never denied it,” Zarif tweeted back. “The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year.”
The reference was likely to former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had left office the previous month. Zarif was nominated to be foreign minister by Ahmadinejad’s successor, Hassan Rouhami.
He was educated in the land of the ‘Great Satan’
His foreign ministry notes, perhaps defensively, that “due to the political and security conditions of the time, he decided to continue his education in the United States.”
That is another way of saying that he was outside the country during the demonstrations against the Shah of Iran, which began in 1977, and during the Iranian Revolution, which drove the shah from power in 1979.
Zarif left the country in 1977, received his undergraduate degree from San Francisco State University in 1981, his master’s in international relations from the University of Denver in 1984 and his doctorate from the University of Denver in 1988. Both of his children were born in the United States.
His precise age is uncertain
The website of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, which Zarif runs, cannot even agree with itself on when he was born. The first sentence of his official biography, perhaps in a nod to the powers that be in Tehran, says Zarif was “born to a religious traditional family in Tehran in 1959.” Later on the same page, however, his date of birth is listed as January 8, 1960. And the Iranian Diplomacy website says he was born in in 1961
So he is 54, 55 or maybe even 56. Whichever, he is still considerably younger than his opposite number, Kerry, who is 71.
He was investigated by the FBI
The feds investigated him over his alleged role in controlling the Alavi Foundation, a charitable organization. The U.S. Justice Department said the organization was secretly run on behalf of the Iranian government to launder money and get around U.S. sanctions.
But last year, a settlement in the case, under which the foundation agreed to give a 36-story building in Manhattan along with other properties to the U.S. government, did not mention Zarif’s name.
He was among the students who took over an Iranian Consulate
Early in the Iranian Revolution, Zarif was among the students who took over the Iranian Consulate in San Francisco. The aim, says the website Iranian.com – which cites Zarif’s memoirs, titled “Mr. Ambassador” – was to expel from the consulate people who were not sufficiently Islamic. Later, the website says, Zarif went to make a similar protest at the Iranian mission to the United Nations. In response, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations offered him a job.
He’s spent a lot of time with Kerry – a lot
In fact, he has now spent more time with Kerry than any other foreign minister in the world. And that amount of quality time will only increase as the two men, with help from other foreign ministers as well, try to meet a June 30 deadline for nailing down the details of the agreement they managed to outline this week in Switzerland.