Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps dictates government decisions and Russia worked with slain Iranian general Qassem Soleimani to thwart the 2015 nuclear agreement, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif can be heard to say in a newly leaked audio recording.
“In the Islamic Republic the military field rules. I have sacrificed diplomacy for the military field rather than the field servicing diplomacy,” Zarif says on the tape of a conversation that took place in March and was initially leaked on Sunday.
According to the New York Times, the comments were made during a discussion between Zarif and Iranian economist Saeed Leylaz.
The Times quoted former Iranian vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi as saying that the publication of the comments was “tantamount to Israel stealing the nuclear documents” from Iran in 2018.
Portions of the leaked interview were first aired by Iran International, a London-based, Farsi-language satellite news channel once majority owned by a Saudi national. The channel then shared segments of the recording with other news outlets.
On the recording, Zarif says that Soleimani, the Quds Force commander killed by the U.S. in Baghdad last year, took actions that damaged the country, including working with Russia to scupper the nuclear deal.
The comment was apparently so sensitive that he warns the interviewer: "You definitely can never release this part."
According to the sections of the audio received by the Times, Zarif expressed "astonishment" at being informed by former U.S. secretary of state John Kerry that Israel had struck Iranian interests in Syria on at least 200 occasions.
Kerry was the U.S. lead in the negotiations for the nuclear deal during the presidency of Barack Obama.
The release of the audio set off a firestorm within Iran, where officials carefully mind their words amid a cut-throat political environment that includes the powerful Revolutionary Guard, ultimately overseen by the country's supreme leader.
Zarif has been suggested as a possible candidate for Iran's June 18 presidential election as well.
Outside of Iran, Zarif's comments could also affect ongoing talks in Vienna aimed at finding a way for Tehran and the U.S. to both come into compliance with the nuclear deal, which was abandoned by former U.S. president Donald Trump in 2018.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh did not dispute the leaked tape's authenticity.
He told journalists Monday that the recording represented just a portion of a seven-hour interview Zarif gave to a well-known economist that was to be held for posterity by a think tank associated with the Iranian presidency.
Khatibzadeh called the release of the recording "illegal" and described it as "selectively" edited, though he and others did not offer opinions on how it became public.
Tehran has criticized Iran International in the past for its airing of a militant spokesman who praised a 2018 militant attack on a military parade in Ahvaz that killed at least 25 people, including a child. British regulators later rejected an Iranian complaint over the segment.
The Media Line contributed to this report