DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – A recording of the Iranian Foreign Minister offering a blunt assessment of diplomacy and the limits of power within the Islamic Republic has been leaked publicly, offering a rare glimpse into the theocracy of the country.
The publication of Mohammad Javad Zarif’s comments has sparked a firestorm in Iran, where officials carefully keep their words to a bitter political environment that includes the powerful paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, ultimately overseen by the country’s supreme leader. Zarif has also been proposed as a potential candidate in Iran’s June 18 presidential election.
Outside of Iran, Zarif’s comments could also affect talks in Vienna aimed at finding a way for Tehran and the United States to come into compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal with world powers. Already, sabotage targeted the Iranian nuclear installation in Natanz during interviews like Tehran has started to enrich a small amount of uranium up to 60% purity, which brings the country closer to military grade levels.
After the leak became public, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh did not dispute the authenticity of the tape. He told reporters on Monday that the recording was only part of a seven-hour interview Zarif gave to a well-known economist who was to be held for posterity by a think tank associated with the Iranian presidency.
Khatibzadeh called the release of the recording “illegal” and described it as “selectively” edited, although he and others did not express opinions on how it became public. .
Parts of the leaked interview were first broadcast overnight on Iran International, a London-based satellite news channel in the Farsi language. Tehran has criticized Iran International in the past for broadcasting an activist spokesperson who praised it 2018 militant attack on military parade in Ahvaz who killed at least 25 people, including a child. British regulators later rejected an Iranian complaint on the segment.
Iran International shared a dossier with just over three hours of interview with an Associated Press correspondent based in the United Arab Emirates on Monday.
In the interview, Zarif describes Russia as wanting to end the nuclear deal, something apparently so sensitive that he warns the interviewer: “You will certainly never be able to publish this part.” At the time, Russia had an icy relationship with then-President Barack Obama, whose administration secured agreement with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Russia and Iran also have strained relations at times, although they are allies on the battlefield in Syria..
“If Iran had not become Mr. (Donald) Trump’s priority, China and Russia would have become his priority,” Zarif said. “If, due to hostility with the West, we still need Russia and China, they don’t have to compete with anyone, and they can also reap the maximum benefits through ours.”
China and Russia have both been adamant supporters of the return to the nuclear deal. Their missions to Vienna did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
The recordings also include Zarif who also criticizes Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani’s separate relations with Russia. U.S. drone strike in 2020 killed Solemani in Baghdad, an attack that at the time brought the United States and Iran to the brink of war. Soleimani’s funeral processions in Iran drew millions to the streets.
Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who drove the Trump administration’s lobbying campaign on Iran, was later linked with a story about the tapes leaked on Twitter. He described it as an “exquisite strike” which “had a massive impact on Iran and the Middle East”.
“You don’t have to take my word for it,” Pompeo wrote, noting Zarif’s comments.
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