Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif complained of the influence Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has on the country’s foreign policy in a leaked recording that was released on Sunday.
The three-hour-long recording was acquired by Iran International, a UK-based Persian news outlet. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the recording should not have been leaked, adding that it was part of a seven-hour conversation from March. “What Zarif has said should be seen as a whole and not cherry-picked,” he said.
In the recording, Zarif said he’s had to “sacrifice diplomacy for the IRGC’s operations” and that his influence on foreign policy was “nil.” The diplomat discussed actions by Qassem Soleimani, the late leader of the IRGC’s Quds Force, who was killed by a US drone strike in January 2020.
Zarif said he had to practice diplomacy that advanced Iranian military operations in the region while he didn’t get much in return from the IRGC. “On the other hand, I have never been able to ask Soleimani to do something that would serve my diplomatic moves,” he said.
Zarif appeared to blame Soleimani for US sanctions on Iran’s national airline. “He would not accept to refrain from using the Iranian national airline for transportation to Syria,” Zarif said.
The diplomat said he’d been left in the dark on IRGC operations in Iraq in Syria. He said the IRGC’s Quds Force informed Iraq’s former prime minister of their plan to strike a US military base in retaliation for Soleimani’s killing before him. “The United States knew about the attack on Ain al-Assad in Iraq before I was informed of it,” Zarif said.
Zarif also said he did not know how many Israeli attacks against Iranian targets were launched in Syria until he was informed of the number by John Kerry. “It was former US Foreign Secretary John Kerry who told me Israel had launched more than 200 attacks on Iranian forces in Syria,” he said.
Kerry, who is now serving as President Biden’s envoy for climate change, denied Zarif’s comment in response to criticism and claims of treason from Iran hawks. “I can tell you that this story and these allegations are unequivocally false. This never happened — either when I was Secretary of State or since,” he wrote on Twitter.
Even if Kerry told Zarif the number of Israeli operations in Syria, it would not be the scandal Iran hawks are making it out to be. Israel’s attacks in Syria are usually airstrikes, and while Israeli officials rarely acknowledge them, the strikes are no secret, and it’s clearly something Iran’s military is aware of.
Zarif also discussed Russia and accused Moscow of seeking to sabotage the nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA. Zarif said Russia has an interest in bad relations between the US and Iran.
The leaked recording comes as Iran’s June presidential elections are approaching. Zarif and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will not be part of the next Iranian government. The two are seen as pragmatists, and a more hardline president is expected to replace Rouhani.
The release also comes as the US and Iran are involved in indirect negotiations to revive the JCPOA. Even the most hardline elements in Iran favor a return to the agreement if the US lifts all Trump-era sanctions. But since the Biden administration refuses to do so, time is needed to negotiate what sanctions the US is willing to lift to revive the JCPOA, and the talks are being dragged out.