Rouhani says leaked tape aimed to sow division in Iran
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has warned against division sown by the country’s “enemies” after leaked audio revealed his top diplomat discussing internal power struggles, stirring up a political storm in the country.
More than three hours of what is said to be a seven-hour tape of foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaking about a variety of issues was released earlier this week by Iran International, a London-based Farsi-language media network funded by Saudi Arabia.
The president said during a televised cabinet meeting on Wednesday that the classified tape, part of an oral history project aimed at documenting his administration’s work, was “stolen” by elements that the intelligence ministry has been tasked with finding.
“It was leaked exactly when Vienna is at the height of its success,” Rouhani said in reference to ongoing talks in the Austrian capital to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that the United States abandoned in 2018.
“They want to create division inside the country. How can we succeed? How can we lift the sanctions? With unity and integrity.”
A JCPOA Joint Commission meeting was held between Iran, China, Russia, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom on Tuesday, where representatives agreed to accelerate efforts aimed at lifting US sanctions and curbing Iran’s nuclear programme in compliance with the deal.
In the audiotape, among other things the diplomat talks about how at times diplomacy had to be “sacrificed” for what he refers to as “the field” – military operations and politics driven by the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and specifically its outward-looking Quds Force that was led by Qassem Soleimani until his assassination by the US in January 2020.
Zarif also explained how Russia was against the JCPOA as it did not benefit from Iran normalising ties with the West, and how Russian President Vladimir Putin convinced Soleimani to increase Iranian ground presence in the civil war in Syria and flights to the country.
The foreign minister’s comment that he first heard from his then-counterpart John Kerry that Israel had conducted 200 air attacks against Iranian interests in Syria created a political storm in the US, with many Republicans calling for Kerry’s resignation for divulging sensitive information.