The late leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, Qassem Soleimani, tried to undermine the nuclear talks with world powers, according to a taped interview with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif which has been obtained by the New York Times.
“In the Islamic Republic the military field rules. I have sacrificed diplomacy for the military field rather than the field servicing diplomacy,” Zarif is reportedly heard saying in the three-hour long audio tape.
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Zarif also blames Soleimani for being in cahoots with Russia, which “put all its weight” behind sabotaging the nuclear deal with the U.S. and world powers, as well as allowing Russian fighter jets to fly over Iran for Syrian bombing raids, letting Russia use Iranian airliners to move military personnel and equipment, and deploying Iranian soldiers on the ground in Syria.
The foreign minister said that he is often left in the dark about policies and that the IRGC and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei are the ones dictating Iran’s position on the nuclear negotiations.
According to Zarif, he was “forcefully rebuked” by Khamenei when he said Iran was willing to coordinate steps with the U.S. to return to the 2015 nuclear deal.
Zarif, however, also praised Soleimani, saying they worked closely together on the preparations for the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The U.S. assassination of Soleimani in Iraq last year dealt a major blow to Iran, Zarif said, comparing it to taking out a whole city at once.
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The release of the comments by Mohammad Javad Zarif 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, 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 may 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% purity, which edges the country closer to weapons-grade levels.