Iran’s American-educated foreign minister has led its nuclear negotiations with the U.S., and makes himself readily available to journalists. Since his tenure as ambassador to the UN (2002 – 2007), he has presented himself as a moderate, charming, Westernized representative of the Islamic Republic. In fact Zarif is no more moderate than the rest of the regime he serves, but his act has brought him much success. Eli Lake writes:
[Zarif] has for more than a decade cultivated Washington policy elites the way an aspiring presidential candidate works over local party activists in Iowa and New Hampshire. . . .
[I]n 2006, Zarif . . . tried to persuade journalists to write about a peace offer Iran had supposedly offered the George W. Bush administration after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Yet according to senior Bush administration officials, that 2003 offer was not a serious piece of diplomacy, and was not made through the channels by which the Bush administration communicated with Iran. Nonetheless, the narrative stuck that the Bush team blew a chance at a breakthrough in 2003. On the eve of the current negotiations in 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry repeated Zarif’s talking point about the 2003 offer in an interview with ABC’s This Week. . . .
It should be noted that when Zarif was cultivating these relationships out of the UN, the FBI was investigating him for his alleged role in controlling a charity called the Alavi foundation. The Justice Department claimed that the group—with several hundred million dollars in assets—was secretly run on behalf of the Iranian government to fund university programs and launder money to evade U.S. sanctions.