Mohammad Javad Zarif has underscored his “long-time” friendship with Lieutenant General Qasem Solemani, a top commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), who was killed in a targeted US drone strike on 3 January 2020.
“I have been shouting out the vigour, humanity, pacifism and courage of Martyr Soleimani, not just before the great people of Iran and not only today, but before the entire world and for more than two decades,” Zarif wrote in a post on his verified Instagram account on Wednesday.
Iran’s Foreign Minister also attached a video of himself paying tribute to the former commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' Quds Force on 27 April.
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Zarif had visited a memorial erected at the site where the national hero was assassinated on orders from ex-president Donald Trump, near Baghdad International Airport. The Iranian FM said he was overwhelmed with pride for Iran’s heroes.
“I have pointed out time and again that if peace has been established in Afghanistan and Iraq and if Daesh’s* terrorism has been defeated, more than anything else, it is owed to the wisdom and courage of General Soleimani and the bravery and self-sacrifice of the people of those lands,” he noted.
The Iranian Foreign Minister availed himself of an opportunity to clarify remarks he is heard making in a recently leaked audio file, where he appears to voice criticism of some of the late general’s actions.
Underscoring that they were ‘out of context’ excerpts from a confidential argument employed to help boost convergence between the country’s military and diplomatic apparatus, he wrote:
"I was very sorry that a secret theoretical talk regarding the need for synergy between diplomacy and the (military) field ... turns into domestic infighting and the honest and passionate pathology of some processes is framed as personal criticism."
Zarif added that reducing a theoretical debate on the relationship between the two wings of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s power abroad was “not only short-sighted but in complete contradiction with views of this student of international relations (himself), who deems the field and diplomacy as synergistic and complementary”.
Leaked audio of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif debating with economist Saeed Laylaz had sparked a political storm amid questions about who might have been behind the release.
Iran International, a Saudi-funded news channel based in London, was reportedly the first to publish parts of the audiotape transcript.
During the dialog, recorded on 24 February as part of an "oral history” project to document the history of the eight years of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's government, the foreign minister sounded critical of the predominance of what he called “the field” over “diplomacy”.
"In the Islamic Republic, the military field rules. I have sacrificed diplomacy for the military field rather than the field servicing diplomacy", Zarif is reported as saying on the tape.
While ostensibly deploring that diplomatic efforts within the government are overshadowed by the demands of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), throughout the audio Zarif repeatedly hailed General Soleimani’s activities in the region. He also underscored his own close cooperation with the general in the days preceding the start of the US invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Nevertheless, the leaked controversial remarks triggered a heated debate within the country.
Zarif explained that the key point he made during the leaked dialog was that Tehran should establish a clever relationship between the two wings of Iran’s foreign policy and determine its priorities under the instruction of the Leader of the Islamic Revolution.
He also mentioned that his friendship and cooperation with General Soleimani continued and deepened throughout more than two decades that he knew the general.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh emphasised that the remarks made by Zarif in the tape should be analysed holistically.
“What Zarif has said should be seen as a whole and not cherry-picked,” said Khatibzadeh.
Ali Rabiei, a spokesman for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s administration, said on Tuesday that the Intelligence Ministry had received orders to identify those behind the leak.
“The audio file was released by a vengeful television network, which is funded by petrodollars and has been fervently supporting the sufferings and intimidation of the Iranian nation ever since it was established. This is indicative of the fact that the interview was broadcast conspiratorially and selectively,” Rabiei said.
The timing of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's statements is such that they might potentially affect a number of processes taking place in the Islamic Republic.
Currently, the country is engaged in discussions on restoring the the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal. While it is unclear what stage the negotiations in Vienna are at right now, but Iran claimed last Tuesday that around 60 percent of all disagreements had been resolved.
Iran is also facing a presidential election, scheduled to take place on 18 June 2021. It might see current president Hassan Rouhani, perceived, like Zarif, as belonging to the moderate reformist force and a proponent of the resumption of the nuclear deal, pitted against a more hawkish opponent.
*Daesh (also known as ISIS/ISIL/IS) is a terrorist organization outlawed in Russia and many other states