TEHRAN, Iran: Iran’s foreign minister apologized Sunday for recorded comments that were leaked to the public last week, creating a firestorm in Iran less than two months before presidential elections.
The recordings of Mohammad Javad Zarif included frank comments on powerful late Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by a US drone strike in 2020. The attack at the time brought the US and Iran to the brink of war. Soleimani’s funeral processions in Iran drew millions of people to the streets.
In the recordings, Zarif criticizes Soleimani’s separate relations with Russia and for refusing to stop using the national carrier Iran Air for Syrian operations despite Zarif’s objections. Iran Air has been sanctioned by the US.
Zarif said in an Instagram post Sunday he hoped Soleimani’s family would forgive him. “I hope that the great people of Iran and all the lovers of General (Soleimani) and especially the great family of Soleimani, will forgive me,” he said.
Zarif’s leaked comments were highly controversial in Iran, where officials mind their words amid a cut-throat political environment that includes the powerful Revolutionary Guard, ultimately overseen by the country’s supreme leader.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei slammed as a "big mistake" the leaked remarks by Zarif.
"The country's policies are made of different economic, military, social, scientific and cultural plans, including foreign relations and diplomacy," Khamenei said in televised remarks.
Saying "that one part denies the other or contradicts... is a big mistake that must not be perpetrated by officials of the Islamic republic," he added, in reference to the leaked audio comments.
Besides the criticism of Soleimani, a top commander in the Guard, Zarif’s leaked remarks included cutting references to the limits of his power in the theocracy.
Zarif can be heard saying at various points in the seven-hour tape that it was not meant for release.
“If I had known that a sentence of it would be made public, I certainly would not have mentioned it as before,” he said in his Instagram post.
Zarif has said he will not run for president in the upcoming election. Some had suggested him as a potential candidate to challenge hard-liners in the vote.