Iran foreign minister in trouble over leaked tape

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A leaked audio tape has revealed how powerful the Iranian Revolutionary Guards is in influencing Iran’s foreign policy and positions.

The tape, in which the Iran Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, spoke in what sounds like interview, complained that the Revolutionary Guards have made diplomacy and Iran’s foreign policy subservient to their battlefield needs in the region.

He said the Revolutionary Guards dragged the country into Syria’s civil war at the behest of Russia.

Zarif, an experienced diplomat who is normally very guarded and is a moderate by Iranian standards has been tipped by some to be the successor of President Hassan Rouhani, as the country prepares to hold a presidential election and internal power struggles reach new heights.

The leaked tape is likely to put the seasoned diplomat in the bad books of hardliners and the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say over all government matters and controls the Revolutionary Guards, the country’s most powerful security force.

Zarif specifically mentioned how General Qasem Soleimani – the former commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, who was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq in January 2020 – often went to see him with requirements.

He recalls how Soleimani wanted him to take particular positions in meetings with the Russian foreign minister, and said the general effectively took Iran into the war in Syria because Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted Iranian forces on the ground to complement the Russian air campaign in support of the Syrian government.

He also complains that Soleimani used Iran’s national carrier, Iran Air, for military flights to Syria at great risk and reputational cost to the country, confirming reports that civilian aircraft were used for gun-running and troop transportation.

Zarif also says Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov did everything he could to stop Iran from agreeing to a nuclear deal with six world powers – including Russia – in 2015. He alleges that Russia never wanted to see Iran mend fences with the West.

His words are surprising, as it is generally understood that he has good relations with Lavrov and that Russia is a close ally of Iran. The leak also comes at a time when Iran is engaged in indirect talks with the US in Vienna with the aim of reviving the nuclear deal, which has been close to collapse since then President Donald Trump reinstated sanctions in 2018 and Iran began breaching its commitments in response.

The Foreign Minister also said that the Revolutionary Guards never wanted the agreement and did everything they could to stop it. He mentioned the testing of a missile on which they had written “Israel should be wiped off the Earth” in Hebrew and the detention of 10 US sailors on board two patrol boats in the Gulf in early 2016 as examples of their efforts to scupper the deal.

He mentions the early hours of 8 January 2020, when Iran attacked an Iraqi military base housing US forces with more than a dozen ballistic missiles in retaliation for the killing of Qasem Soleimani. He said he only found out about the missile attack two hours after it happened.

He added that later that day when a Revolutionary Guards air defence unit shot down, apparently by mistake, a Ukrainian passenger airliner that had just taken off from Tehran, killing all 176 people on board, commanders only wanted him to deny Iranian culpability.

The Iranian foreign ministry’s spokesman has said Zarif’s comments in the audio tape have been taken out of context and that, if necessary, it will publish the whole interview.

According to the spokesman, the foreign ministry does not have the recording in its possession and that its safekeeping is not the ministry’s responsibility.

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