Leaked tapes appear to show Zarif claiming that Russia wanted to sabotage the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015.
Leaked recordings are the latest twist in a strange saga that appears to pit Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani was undermining him and the Iran deal while working with Russia, he supposedly said on the tapes.
The tapes appear to show Zarif claiming that Russia wanted to sabotage the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015. Soleimani sought to “demolish our achievement,” he said.
Iran allowed Russia to use Iranian airspace to bomb Syria and move military equipment via Iran, Zarif said. This, together with Iranian forces being deployed to Syria, supposedly all went on without the knowledge of the Iranian government.
The leaked tapes lead to one of several conclusions. They seem to cater to a Western worldview that depicts Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani as “moderates” who are confronting the “hard-liners” in the IRGC and the Supreme Leader’s Office. The leaks appear timed to encourage this view as the US considers reentering the Iran deal.
The leaks also depict an Iranian government that cannot be trusted because Zarif is the smiling face of the regime but doesn’t actually represent its policies. This could aid Western countries as they sign deals with Zarif, and then Iran can pretend it violates the deals because only the Foreign Ministry signed them.
This aids Iran’s “good cop, bad cop” approach, where the regime pretends it has a shadow government that conducts different policies than the regime agrees to.
This is sort of like the bait and switch Iran does in Lebanon, where it uses Hezbollah’s “armed wing” to do one policy, while the Lebanese government gets funding from the West.
Is Tehran’s latest narrative that it now has its own internal “Hezbollah,” known as the IRGC, and that Iran’s “armed wing” does one thing, while the “political wing” does something else? This appears crafted to let Iran carry out illegal behavior and have plausible deniability.
Another option is that Zarif is lying on the tapes. He often lies to Western audiences, so lying about not knowing what Soleimani was doing could be part of the program.
A third option is that the tapes were leaked purposely to undermine Zarif by showing he insulted a powerful martyr-like Soleimani. The US killed Soleimani in January 2020.
THE CLAIMS on the tapes don’t mesh with reality, however, since Russia has backed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iran deal. Why would Moscow want to sabotage the deal?
The argument that Russia is a bogeyman harming the JCPOA would seem to make it look like the deal was a US success and that Washington needs to reenter it to confront Moscow. This ridiculous logic presents Russia as against the JCPOA, while the deal manifestly helps Iran and Russia.
Let’s take the Zarif leaks as they appear. What they tell us is that Zarif has no real power and cannot be relied upon. It means the US and other countries should negotiate directly with the IRGC and bypass the Foreign Ministry.
If the IRGC overrules government decisions and conducts its own policy, then it should be dealt with rather than the plausible deniability of the cutout at the Foreign Ministry. If Zarif’s “hands are tied,” then he should be ignored.
Iran International, a British-based Persian television station headquartered in London, examined Zarif claims.
“Zarif said that Soleimani intervened in his meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, adding that Soleimani would never accept a demand by Zarif,” the report said. “‘He would not accept to refrain from using the Iranian national airline for transportation to Syria.’”
Zarif seemed to claim his role in Iranian foreign policy was basically “nil.”
However, Zarif has purposely tried to show he was close to Soleimani. He has also sought to demonstrate how close he is to the IRGC. In October 2017, he tweeted: “Today, Iranians – boys, girls, men, women – are ALL IRGC; standing firm with those who defend us and the region against aggression and terror.”
So is Zarif lying? Is he a charlatan? Is he a manipulator? Or is he just naïve?
THERE ARE now no good options for interpreting Zarif. Either he has no power, or he purposely leaked this tape to improve his chances for a chair as a professor at some Western university when he leaves office. Otherwise, his regime is simply totally incompetent, and he cannot be trusted to articulate its policy.
There is no reading of this tape in which Zarif should ever be seen as a player in Iran’s foreign policy again. Yet he likely will be because these stunts have come and gone in the past. He once even pretended to resign.
The Zarif imbroglio comes after a similar battle between Iran’s Press TV and Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi.
ast week, Araghchi slammed Press TV over its sourcing for a story on the Iran deal, mocking it as not being informed.
“I don’t know who the ‘informed source’ of Press TV in Vienna is, but s/he is certainly not ‘informed,’” he tweeted.
The embarrassing incident with Araghchi weakened the Foreign Ministry’s image.
Zarif’s even greater embarrassment should demolish the whole ministry, as well as anyone’s pretense that they can talk to the ministry and get a straight answer. Of course, this should undermine the Islamic Republic’s negotiations in Vienna.
But it also might lead to Western powers running to “strengthen the moderates” by caving in to Zarif’s demands.
In such a scenario, it might be worth asking if this was all just an act designed to bring the US back to the table. Iran’s administration has already tried to use its upcoming elections as a way to encourage America to move faster, warning that “hard-liners” might win.
Iran is a sophisticated country and regime. Unlike Turkey, a top-down authoritarian and fascist one, Iran’s regime is willing to use more cunning and complex approaches. But overall, the regime is not divided between hard-liners and moderates; it is only hardliners.
The question may be whether there are hard-hardliners or other hard-liners. The pretense that there is some mythical good part of the Iranian regime is only sung by Zarif at Western think tanks, his natural habitat. And now it has also been heard about in ostensibly secret recordings.