Iran’s foreign minister has complained in a leaked recording that the late Revolutionary Guards commander Qassim Soleimani forced Tehran to send troops to Syria at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s insistence.

Mohammad Javad Zarif said he had ‘zero’ influence over Iran’s foreign policy while Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq last year, exerted his power to fulfil his military demands at the expense of diplomacy.

‘I have never been able to tell a military commander to do something in order to aid diplomacy,’ Zarif said in the tape, aired by the London-based Iran International Persian-language satellite news channel late on Sunday.

In the three-hour leaked recording, the foreign minister criticises Soleimani for effectively being a pawn for Putin after the commander deployed Iranian ground forces to Syria and allowed Russia’s warplanes to fly over Iran to attack Syria.

Russia had wanted the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the ground to help Moscow’s air campaign in support of the Syrian government.

‘He (Soleimani) asked me to make this or that concession or point almost every time I went to negotiate (with world powers),’ Zarif said in the recording.

In the interview, Zarif added that Soleimani refused to stop using the state-owned national carrier Iran Air for Syrian operations despite his objections. He said the aircraft was sometimes used without the government’s knowledge.

This admission confirms reports that Iran’s civilian aircraft was used to deploy military and personnel to Syria.

‘The (military) field’s success was more important than diplomacy’s success. I was negotiating for the (military) field’s success,’ Zarif said.

‘I have sacrificed diplomacy for the battlefield more than the price that (those on) the battlefield (led by Soleimani)… paid and sacrificed for diplomacy.’

In the leaked taped, he also hinted that Soleimani tried to spoil Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal by colluding with Russia.

He claims that the Revolutionary Guards had written ‘Israel should be wiped off the Earth’ in Hebrew in an effort to ruin the deal.

Zarif added that Iran gave up much of what it ‘could have achieved from the nuclear deal’ for the sake of advancement on the battlefield.

His comments come as talks are underway in Vienna aimed at finding a way for Tehran to return to the nuclear deal with the U.S. and other Western powers.

Leader of the Guards’ clandestine overseas Quds Force, Soleimani was a pivotal figure who built up Iran’s network of proxy armies across the Middle East before he was killed by the U.S. in a drone strike last year – an attack which at the time brought the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war.

Iran retaliated with a rocket attack on an Iraqi air base where U.S. forces were stationed. Hours later, Iranian forces shot down a Ukrainian passenger airliner taking off from Tehran. Days later, Iran’s Guards admitted that the plane had been shot ‘mistakenly’.

‘I said (at the Supreme National Security meeting) that the world is saying the plane was hit with missiles. If the plane was really hit with missiles, tell us so we can see how we can fix it,’ Zarif said in the recording.

‘They told me: “No, go, go tweet and deny it”.’

Throughout the recording, Zarif offered a blunt appraisal of diplomacy and the limits of power within the Islamic Republic, providing a rare look inside the country’s theocracy.

He complained that the Revolutionary Guards and its commander had more influence in foreign affairs and the country’s nuclear dossier than him, in remarks that shine a light on ties between the government and the powerful force.

In the interview, Zarif repeated an earlier claim by officials around President Rouhani that they had not been told by the Revolutionary Guard that it accidentally shot down a Ukrainian jetliner in January 2020, killing all 176 people on board.

Zarif describes Russia as wanting to stop the nuclear deal, something apparently so sensitive that he warns the interviewer: ‘You definitely can never release this part.’

Russia had a frosty relationship with then-President Barack Obama, whose administration secured the deal with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Russia and Iran also at times have strained relations, despite being battlefield allies in Syria.

‘If Iran hadn’t become Mr. (Donald) Trump’s priority, China and Russia would have become his priority,’ Zarif said. ‘If, because of hostility with the West, we always need Russia and China, they don’t have to compete with anyone, and also they can always enjoy maximum benefits through us.’

Both China and Russia have been vocal proponents of returning to the nuclear deal. Their missions in Vienna did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Despite his criticism, Zarif acknowledged Soleimani’s importance in Iran.

‘I believe that the U.S. by hitting Martyr Soleimani dealt a blow to Iran that would not have been as bad even if they had hit one of our towns,’ he said.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who pushed the Trump administration’s pressure campaign on Iran, later linked to a story about the leaked tapes on Twitter. He described it as an ‘exquisite strike’ that ‘had a massive impact on Iran and the Middle East.’

‘You don’t have to take my word for it,’ Pompeo wrote.

The release of his comments set off a firestorm within Iran, where officials carefully mind their words amid a cut-throat political environment that includes the powerful paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

The conservative Fars news agency criticised Zarif for presenting himself during the conversation as ‘a symbol of diplomacy’, contrasting with Soleimani as a symbol of the ‘battlefield’.

The Fars agency quoted lawmaker Nasrollah Pejmanfar, who demanded ‘explanations’ from the foreign ministry for the remarks.

‘Mr. Zarif calls into question subjects appearing among the red lines of the Islamic republic,’ Pejmanfar said.

Relations between pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani’s government and the Guards are important because the influence of the hardline paramilitary force is so great that it can disrupt any rapprochement with the West if it feels this would endanger its economic and political interests.

Without disputing the audio’s authenticity, the foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh on Monday said that the news channel only published excerpts of the seven-hour interview with the foreign minister.

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. Zarif, visiting Iraq on Monday after a trip to Qatar, took no questions from journalists after giving a brief statement in Baghdad.

Although Zarif said he had no intention of running in Iran’s June 18 presidential election, some critics said Zarif’s comments were aimed at gaining votes from Iranians disillusioned by a stalled economy and lack of political and social freedoms.

His name has been suggested by prominent moderates as a possible candidate for the election, in which several prominent commanders of the Guards are also running for the top executive post.

Outside of Iran, Zarif’s comments could also affect talks in Vienna aimed at finding a way for Tehran and the U.S. to both come into compliance with Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Already, sabotage targeted Iran’s nuclear facility at Natanz during the talks as Tehran has begun enriching a small amount of uranium up to 60 per cent purity, which edges the country closer to weapons-grade levels.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) was set up after the 1979 Islamic Revolution to protect the Shi’ite clerical ruling system and revolutionary values. It answers to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Source » dailymail