Iranian President Hassan Rohani has said that the leak of a recording of the country’s foreign minister making frank comments about the limits of his power sought to “create divisions" during talks aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The Intelligence Ministry “must to do its best to find out how this tape was stolen,” Rohani said during a weekly cabinet meeting on April 28.
"We can only lift sanctions through unity," he added.
Ongoing talks in Vienna seek to return the United States to the 2015 agreement, and persuade Tehran to come back into compliance with the nuclear obligations set out in the accord.
The deal, hammered out during Rohani's first term following negotiations led by Zarif, lifted international sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program. But the accord started to unravel in 2018 when former U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of it and reimposed sanctions, followed by Iran beginning to ramp up nuclear activities in response a year later.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s comments in the three-hour-long audio clip -- in which he said the Iranian army and the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) were too influential in diplomacy -- have dominated the discussion in Iran since its publication by media outlets outside Iran on April 25, and sparked a furious reaction from conservative media and politicians.
Among other things, Zarif complained about the extent of influence that the late Major General Qasem Soleimani had over foreign policy, hinting that the top IRGC commander tried to spoil Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers by colluding with Russia. Solemani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad in January 2020, greatly intensifying tensions between the United States and Iran.
In his first public comments on the controversy, Zarif said on April 28 that the "main point" of his remarks was "the need for a smart adjustment of the military and diplomatic spheres."
In a post on Instagram, which included video of him at a Soleimani memorial in Baghdad, the minister said he also saw a need for "setting priorities through legal structures and under the great purview of the supreme leader."
Zarif said he deplored the fact that “a secret theoretical talk regarding the need for synergy between diplomacy and the [military] field...turns into domestic infighting."
"Honest and passionate" argument in a private setting had been misconstrued as "personal criticism," the minister wrote.
Rohani said the recording was part of a wider project of interviews with government officials for posterity as he steps down in June after two terms in office.
The previous day, a government spokesman called the leak “a conspiracy against the government, the system, the integrity of effective domestic institutions, and also against our national interests."
The Foreign Ministry had described the recording as “selectively” edited, and said it represented just a portion of a seven-hour interview that included "personal opinions."
Meanwhile, the Tehran prosecutor's office said it had opened a criminal case into the matter, Fars reported.
According to another semiofficial news agency, ISNA, the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission has summoned Zarif.