Iran’s foreign minister apologized on Sunday for taped comments that leaked to the public last week that offered a direct assessment of the country’s power struggles, triggering a political storm in Iran less than two months before the presidential elections and apparently drawing the wrath of Iran’s supreme leader.
Mohammad Javad Zarif’s tapes included candid comments about the powerful Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, killed by a US drone in Iraq last year, as well as criticism of his policy in Syria and his relations with Russia.
“I hope the great Iranian people and all the lovers of the General (Soleimani) and in particular the great family of Soleimani, will forgive me,” Zarif said in an Instagram post.
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In a speech released later Sunday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared to castigate Zarif for straying from the official line, although he did not call him by name.
“This is a big mistake which should not be made by an official of the Islamic Republic,” Khamenei said in veiled reference to the leaked comments. “Some remarks have been heard from officials which are regrettable and surprising.”
He added: “Some of these comments are a repetition of what Iran’s enemies are saying.”
Zarif’s leaked comments sent shockwaves across Iran, where officials keep their words to a bitter political environment that includes the powerful Revolutionary Guard, ultimately overseen by the country’s supreme leader. Zarif’s criticism of the revered Soleimani, whose funeral processions in Iran drew millions into the streets, sparked instant controversy.
In the tapes, Zarif challenges Soleimani’s relations with Russia, which he accused of attempting to sabotage Tehran’s landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. He also denounces Soleimani’s refusal to stop using the US-sanctioned national carrier, Iran Air, for operations in war-torn Syria over Zarif’s objections.
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Zarif can be heard pointing out at various points on the Seven Hour Tape that it was not meant to be broadcast.
“If I had known that a line of it would be made public, I certainly wouldn’t have mentioned it like before,” he said in a remorseful Instagram post.
Speculation had mounted in recent weeks that Zarif, the Iranian official perhaps most closely associated with the now-tattered nuclear deal, would challenge extremists in the next vote. Khamenei’s apparent censorship of the foreign minister casts doubt on possible presidential ambitions, as the Council of Guardians, a body of senior clerics and legal experts that sits under Khamenei, examines the candidates. Zarif insisted he didn’t want to run.
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