Iran downplays controversial leaked FM remarks

According to a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Zarif's comments in the three-hour tape were "confidential" and should not have been released.

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Iran’s foreign ministry on Monday downplayed a leaked audiotape of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in which he said the military played too strong a role in diplomacy, saying it reflected his personal opinions.

Foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Zarif’s comments in the three-hour tape were “confidential” and should not have been released.

“What was published was not an interview with the media,” Khatibzadeh told reporters in Tehran.

The statement came after Zarif’s comments were reported by media sites online, as well as the New York Times.

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Conservatives have criticised Zarif for comments he made on the role of top Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, killed in a US drone strike near the airport of the Iraqi capital Baghdad in January last year.

“In the Islamic republic the military field rules,” Zarif was reported as saying in the conversation, according to the New York Times.

“I have sacrificed diplomacy for the military field rather than the field servicing diplomacy.”

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”.

Parliament speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf on Monday tweeted his praise for the “wisdom and courage” of Soleimani, who had “conquered the battlefields and paved the way for diplomacy”.

Ghalibaf also denounced “the political game” and “naivety” of criticising Soleimani, without explicitly naming Zarif.

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.

Ministry spokesman Khatibzadeh played down the controversy, noting that Zarif said in the tape his “statements are his personal opinions”.

Khatibzadeh said the conversation took place “within the framework of routine and confidential interviews within the government”, adding that leaking it was “a crime”.

Zarif on Monday was in neighbouring Iraq, where he paid his respects to Soleimani, stopping at the site where he was assassinated.

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At a press conference, Zarif called the late general “a “hero of the fight against Daesh”, the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group. He made no reference to the controversy over the comments.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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