London – Iran’s foreign affairs ministry has introduced changes to its staff, ending the term of Amir Abdul Lahyan – outgoing Iranian assistant foreign minister – who had a major role in Iran’s interference with internal affairs of some Arab states and was publicly supporting Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Al-Quds Force.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday appointed Jaberi Ansari as his new deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs, replacing Abdul Lahyan, who has been appointed as adviser to the Iranian foreign minister.
Analysts believe that the changes reflect disagreements within the Iranian regime.
Last March, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper quoted sources as saying that criticisms against Abdul Lahyan, who manages the Iranian policy in the region, have followed U.S.-Iranian negotiations regarding the Syrian crisis. The sources added that these criticisms resulted from deep disputes with the foreign minister regarding the “new trends” of Iran’s foreign policy.
Jaberi Ansari had served as head of the Center of Middle Eastern and Gulf Studies, assistant advisor for Arab and African affairs, Iran’s ambassador to Libya and the Foreign Ministry’s director general for Middle East and North Africa.
With this new appointment, Zarif overcame a major challenge following the nuclear deal, as he defied fierce opposition from groups close to the Revolutionary Guard, who had insisted on keeping Abdul Lahyan in his post.
Meanwhile, the Iranian foreign ministry announced the appointment of former ambassador to Italy, Spain and Ireland Bahram Qasemi as the ministry’s spokesman. Qasemi was also the head of Foreign Ministry’s Commonwealth Department, the director general for the Foreign Ministry’s Western Europe Department and the deputy head for international studies at the Center for Strategic Research, which is affiliated with Iran’s Expediency Council.
Zarif also appointed Mohammed Kazem Sajad Bur as the head of the center of international studies.
Sources close to the matter told Asharq Al-Awsat last November that Abdul Lahyan was subjected to severe criticisms due to the failure of Iranian policies in putting pressure on Arab foreign policies, with Saudi Arabia in the forefront. The sources added that the Iranian Parliamentary Committee demanded Abdul Lahyan to resign from his post after the Iranian foreign policy has weakened in the Middle East.
Moreover, “Raja News”, a website close to the former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, implicitly accused Zarif of bringing up the Syrian file with the United States, defying Khamenei’s will.
The website considered Abdul Lahyan to be the most protruding victim of the “new trends” of Iran’s foreign policy in the region.
While the Iranian foreign affairs ministry refused to confirm such claims, White House spokesman Mark Toner announced last week that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the Syrian crisis with Zarif in Oslo. In this context, sources told Al-Monitor that Zarif, at the Oslo meetings, signaled that he has more authority on the Syrian file than he has had until now, and that Iran may be prepared to show more flexibility to advance a political solution.
Several Iranian media reports had talked about U.S. and Arab pressure exerted on Zarif to remove Abdul Layhan from his position as deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs.
However, Zarif refused to deny or confirm these reports, telling Khorasan newspaper in April that diplomatic arrangements were a normal procedure and adding that the Iranian diplomatic organism was under evolution.
Abdul Lahyan is a close friend of the Commander of the Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, and he is the first Iranian official to deny Soleimani’s injury in Aleppo. He is also considered a linking point between the Foreign Minister and the Commander of the Revolutionary Guard.