Iran’s Khamenei ‘shocked’ by Foreign Minister Zarif’s leaked audio

Zarif says sorry for remarks he said were never meant for release just weeks before presidential elections in Iran

File photo: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon August 14, 2020. Reuters
File photo: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon August 14, 2020. Reuters

Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei has slammed Foreign Minister Javad Zarif over leaked audio in which the lead nuclear negotiator and career diplomat laid out internal power struggles within the regime and criticised a revered slain commander.

Although he refrained from directly naming Mr Zarif in his televised speech on Sunday night, Mr Khamenei described Mr Zarif's transgressions as “a big mistake that must not be made by an official”, and said the leaked comments “are a repetition of what Iran’s enemies say".

“Some remarks have been heard from officials that are regrettable and surprising,” Mr Khamenei said.

Mr Zarif offered him a direct and extensive apology on Sunday for the recorded comments leaked to the public.

Last week, audio surfaced of Mr Zarif in a seven-hour interview as part of a history project that included a blunt appraisal of the country’s internal power struggles and criticism of the powerful late Iranian commander Qassem Suleimani. The leak sent shockwaves through Iran just a month before the presidential elections.

“I am so sorry that part of my comments were stolen and published for misuse by enemies of the country and its people, and that it caused you, supreme leader, to feel regret,” Mr Zarif wrote in an Instagram post.

Mr Zarif’s Instagram apology followed an earlier one to the family of Suleimani, the commander of the IRGC's foreign operations Quds Force, who was killed by a US drone strike in Iraq last year.

He repeated that the leaked seven-hour conversation was never meant for release.

Mr Zarif expressed remorse for departing from Iran’s official line, acknowledging that “following the supreme leader’s suggestions and decisions is an undeniable necessity".

“Your comments are the final say on all matters for me and my colleagues," he said.

"As an expert in foreign relations, I always believe that it should be managed and guided by the superior.”

Mr Zarif’s criticism of the revered Suleimani, whose funeral processions in Iran drew millions of people to the streets, ignited instant controversy.

In the recordings, he took issue with Suleimani’s relations with Russia, which he accused of trying to sabotage Tehran’s 2015 landmark nuclear deal with world powers.

He also denounced Suleimani’s refusal to stop using the US-sanctioned national carrier, Iran Air, for operations in war-torn Syria despite Mr Zarif’s objections.

Speculation had mounted in recent weeks that Mr Zarif, the Iranian official most closely associated with the nuclear agreement, would challenge hard-liners in the coming vote.

But Mr Khamenei’s censure is likely to dismiss any such ambition, as the Guardian Council, a body of senior clerics and legal experts that serves under Mr Khamenei, vets candidates for office.

Mr Zarif has insisted that he does not want to run.

Updated: May 3, 2021 11:23 AM

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