Leaked audio: Iran’s Zarif offers to ‘fix’ plane downing, says has ‘zero’ policy role

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Iran’s foreign minister recalled how he asked for the truth behind the downing of the Ukrainian airliner over Tehran in January 2020 so that he can “fix it”, as well as admitted he has “zero” role in the country’s foreign policy, according to a leaked audio recording published on Sunday.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 on January 8, 2020, killing all 176 people on board. Iran admitted to downing the plane after denying responsibility for three days, declaring it a “disastrous mistake.”

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“They knew the plane was downed by missiles since Thursday morning, or Wednesday afternoon,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in the recording.

UK-based Iran International TV station, which first published the three-hour recording, says the recording is from an interview Zarif gave to an Iranian journalist close to the government of President Hassan Rouhani last month in Iran.

Zarif said in one part of the recording that he attended a high-level meeting to discuss the incident at the building of the Supreme National Security Council the day before Iran admitted to downing the airliner, where he was told to deny on Twitter that the plane was shot down.

“I said [at the meeting], ‘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’,” Zarif tells the interviewer in the recording.

“They said, ‘no, go, go tweet and deny’,” he said.

Iran’s foreign ministry was quick to comment following the recording’s publication, with its lead spokesman saying the recording is part of a seven-hour interview that was not intended for release.

Qassem Soleimani dictated foreign policy

In another part of the interview, Zarif said he had “zero” influence over Iran’s foreign policy and complained about the extent of the influence the Revolutionary Guards and its assassinated commander Qassem Soleimani had over Iran’s foreign policy.

“I have never been able to tell a military commander to do something in order to aid diplomacy,” Zarif said.

He added that Soleimani would give him instructions “almost every time I went to negotiate.”

Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force – the overseas arm of the Revolutionary Guards – was killed in a US airstrike in Iraq in January 2020.

Zarif cited talks with Russia at some point as an example, saying Soleimani gave the Iranian foreign ministry a list of concessions to get.

When asked by the interviewer if Soleimani would reciprocate and accept requests from the ministry to do something on the military front to aid Iranian diplomacy, Zarif said: “No, this was not part of the deal.”

Zarif also accused Soleimani and Russia of colluding to undermine the 2015 nuclear deal soon after it was signed. Moscow was opposed to the deal, Zarif alleged.

The leak comes as Iran and world powers engage in talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the nuclear deal.

Iran’s state TV, which is controlled by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has in recent days been criticising Iranian diplomats and opposing a return to the deal, despite Khamenei recently declaring his support for the Iranian negotiators in Vienna.

Iran’s presidential elections are also less than two months away, and while Zarif has announced he will not run, some “reformists” in Iran still view him as their best option in the presidential race.

Some say the leak will give Iran’s Khamenei-appointed elections watchdog cause to disqualify Zarif should he decide to run for president.

All candidates who wish to run for election in Iran must be approved by the Guardian Council, whose members are appointed by the supreme leader. Khamenei is said to want a more “hardline” president this time around, especially since the next president may be the last one of his lifetime.

Others say Zarif attempts to come across as more of a critic in the interview in order to gain sympathy and support from the public, indicating he may plan to run for president.

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