Iran’s foreign minister on Sunday apologized for recorded comments leaked to the public last week that offered a blunt assessment of the country’s power struggle, triggering a political firestorm in Iran less than two months before the presidential election and apparently pulling annoyed Iran’s supreme leader.
The footage of Mohammad Javad Zarif contained honest comments about the powerful late Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by a US drone strike in Iraq last year, as well as criticism of his policies in Syria and his relations with Russia.
“I hope the great people of Iran and all the lovers of General (Soleimani) and especially the great family of Soleimani, will forgive me,”
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In a speech sent later Sunday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared to have rejected Zastif from the official line, although he did not call him by name.
“This is a big mistake that must not be made by an Islamic Republic official,” Khamenei said, referring to the leaked comments. “Some remarks have been heard from officials that 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 through Iran, with officials keeping an eye on their words amid a cut-off political milieu that includes the powerful revolutionary ultimately overseen by the country’s supreme leader. Zarif’s criticism of the esteemed Soleimani, whose funeral procession in Iran drew millions of people to the streets, immediately ignited controversy.
In the footage, Zarif questions Soleimani’s relationship with Russia, which he accused of trying to sabotage Tehran’s 2015 milestone nuclear deal with world powers. He also condemned Soleimani’s refusal to stop using the US-sanctioned national airline, Iran Air, for operations in war-torn Syria because of Zarif’s objections.
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Zarif can be heard emphasizing in various places in the seven-hour tape that it was not intended for release.
“If I had known that a sentence of it would be published, I certainly would not have mentioned it as before,” he said in a regrettable Instagram post.
Speculation had risen in recent weeks that Zarif, the Iranian official perhaps most closely linked to the now-split nuclear deal, would challenge hardline companies in the upcoming vote. Khamenei’s apparent distrust of the foreign minister casts doubt on any potential presidential ambitions, as the Guardian Council, a body of senior clerical and legal experts serving under Khamenei, nominates candidates for the post. Zarif has insisted he will not run.