The publication of excerpts of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s seven-hour interview with ‘reformist’ journalist Saeed Leylaz had fueled a power struggle among various factions of power in Iran.
“The Administration’s Verbal History,” as it is called, has shed light on some secrets, which would benefit neither ‘reformists’ nor ‘principalists,’ particularly in the run-up to the June 18 Presidential election.
Regardless of the publishers’ genuine purposes, the audio file has severely undermined Tehran’s gestures, especially amidst the Vienna-based nuclear negotiations, and exposed deep frustration among high-ranking officials in Iran.
Zarif Is Just a Front Figure
Furthermore, Zarif explicitly admitted that as Iran’s top negotiator and diplomat, he had no authority, and the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were pulling the strings in the talks with world powers.
In other words, it showed that reformists’ warnings about “the window of opportunity being closed” were merely a propaganda campaign to place Western negotiators in an awkward position. In reality, Khamenei is the final-say official in the Islamic Republic, and he draws the Islamic Republic’s path whether a ‘reformist’ or a hardliner is in office.
In response to Zarif’s comments, loyalists to Khamenei extremely slammed the Foreign Minister describing his comments as “wrong, full of lies, and disrupting of national security interests.” Iranian authorities regularly alleged dissidents and rivals of disrupting national security, referring to actions that threaten the state’s survival.
They also mentioned that Zarif’s comments create a “dangerous polarization for the national security in the Presidential election about foreign policy.” Earlier, on March 21, Khamenei bluntly expressed his concerns about a polarized election, which could pave the path for social protests like 2009 and nationwide anti-establishment demonstrations.
Zarif and His Department, Brokers for Terrorism and Warmongering
On the other hand, the Foreign Minister frankly spoke about Qassem Soleimani, the former chief of the IRGC Quds Force. He admitted that Soleimani had used Mahan Airline and Iran Air commercial flights to transfer money, military equipment, and paramilitary forces to Syria.
In June 2020, Amir Assadollahi, a pilot of the IRGC-owned Mahan airlines said in his memoires that back in 2013, “I transferred ‘seven tons of prohibited cargo’ to Syria with former IRGC-Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani on board. He implicitly affirmed that the IRGC recruited a passenger airliner to carry out weapons and missiles.”
In January, Brig. Gen. Ahmadreza Pourdastan, head of the Army’s Center for Strategic Studies and Research and the former commander of the Iranian ground forces, admitted in a television interview that under the orders of Soleimani, the Army had transferred weapons, ammunition, and forces to Syria and that by forming a combat brigade it was actively involved in the murder of the people of that country.
IRGC’s Role in the Ukrainian Airliner Crash
Furthermore, Zarif revealed how high-ranking commanders tried to conceal the IRGC’s role in downing the Ukrainian civilian flight PS752 while they were aware of the truth. On January 8, 2020, IRGC air-defense forces shot down the Ukrainian flight leading to the death of all 176 passengers and crew, shortly after it took off from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran.
For three days, Iranian authorities, including Zarif, categorically rejected Iran’s role, claiming a technical deficit caused the plane crash. However, following undeniable evidence and footage provided by the people and Ukrainian officials, the head of the IRGC Aerospace Force Amir Ali Hajizadeh admitted the truth in a January 11, 2020 press conference.
“In the first hours after the incident, I had informed my superiors that our military forces might have shot down the plane,” he said, trying to evade responsibility.
Now, the Foreign Minister also says, “I said at the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) meeting that the world is saying the plane was hit with missiles. If the plane was really hit with missiles, tell us so we can see how we can fix it. But they told me, ‘No, go tweet and deny it.’”
Zarif Involved in All Crimes and Terror Attacks
According to Zarif’s narrative of the SNSC’s meetings, he was a permanent member of the council along with President Hassan Rouhani, Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi, IRGC chief-in-command Hossein Salami, Soleimani, the Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, the Intelligence and Security Minister Mahmoud Alavi, the State Security Forces chief Hossein Ashtari, and the council secretary Ali Shamkhani.
Zarif Downplays Bloody Crackdown on 2019 Protests
All the above-mentioned figures had already been designated as human rights violators by the international community for their direct involvement in the deadly crackdown on protesters in November 2019. At the time, hundreds of thousands of people flooded onto the streets in around 200 cities across the country venting their anger over the government’s decision to ration fuel and increase its prices by 200 percent.
In response, the government used lethal force to quell protests, leading to the death of at least 1,500 defenseless demonstrators and the arrest of more than 12,000, according to the opposition Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK/PMOI). Officials have yet to announce how many people were killed during the gas protests.
In an interview with Der Spiegel in January 2020, Zarif drastically downplayed the number of victims. “These numbers are wrong – it was less than a third of that,” he said responding to a reporter’s question about the killing of more than 1,000 people during the protests.
“The security forces also have a responsibility for maintaining public order,” Zarif said justifying the SSF and IRGC forces’ use of live ammunition, heavy machineguns, and armored vehicles to silence disgruntled people.
Zarif’s Ministry Involved in State Terrorism
In an excerpt the interview, Leylaz mentioned the intelligence-security missions of the Islamic Republic’s diplomatic delegations. “Most of our ambassadors, with all due respect, have a security background. Do other countries appoint security men as ambassadors like us?” the interviewer asked.
In response, Zarif bluntly stated, “Most of our [embassies] have a security structure because from the beginning of the Islamic Republic, our embassies’ agenda have been based on security-political priorities due to the challenges we face.”
Notably, on February 4, a Belgian court ruled against Assadollah Assadi, the third counselor of Iran’s embassy in Vienna, and his accomplices for orchestrating and operating a foiled bomb attack against the Free Iran gathering hosted by the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in June 2018.
Assadi had taken an Iranian-made bomb from Iran to Europe on a commercial flight and delivered it to his accomplices with the aim of causing mass casualties at the event.
“The Belgium court found ‘that the four defendants are part of a larger terrorist group within a specific Iranian intelligence service. This appears from the sums of money paid to the defendants, the way information was gathered, the meetings in Iran, the use of diplomatic status, and the making and testing of the explosive device in Iran itself,’” according to draft Resolution 118 of the U.S. House of Representatives co-sponsored by 225 bipartisan Members of Congress.
Moreover, Albanian authorities foiled a separate terror attempt by the Iranian embassy in Tirana in March 2018. In its investigation, the Albanian government tracked the footprint of Iran’s diplomats in the plan, contributing to the expulsion of Gholamhossein Mohammadi-Nia, the ambassador, and Mostafa Roudaki, his first deputy and the chief of Tehran’s intelligence station in Albania, in December 2018.
Meanwhile, in February 2021, a former member of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) unmasked damning details about the Iranian embassy’s misinformation campaigns, espionage mission operations, and terror plots against the MEK in Albania.
Iran experts point out that regardless of Zarif or his ilk’s objectives and motivations, the Foreign Minister is one of the Islamic Republic’s crucial elements, who along with his predecessors have been involved in all crimes and terror plots committed in the past 42 years. Zarif’s audiotape flagrantly underlines this reality and is an alarm bell for those who still search for moderation inside the theocracy ruling Iran.