A senior advisor to Iran’s president resigned from his post as head of a government-run think tank following allegations he was behind the leak of an audio recording in which Tehran’s foreign minister complained about the role of the military in diplomacy.
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The resignation of Hesamoddin Ashena, who headed the Center for Strategic Studies – a Tehran-based think tank and research arm of the president’s office – was reported by President Hassan Rouhani’s website on Thursday.
Rouhani appointed government spokesman Ali Rabiei as the new head of the CSS, the website said.
Ashena’s resignation comes after allegations by political opponents in Iran that he was behind the leak of a “confidential” interview of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif conducted by the CSS last February.
Also on Thursday, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported, citing an “informed source” in the judiciary, that more than 15 people have been banned from leaving the country over the leak.
In the leaked recording, aired on Sunday by London-based Iran International TV station, Zarif was heard complaining about having little influence over foreign policy compared with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its assassinated commander Qassem Soleimani.
Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force – the overseas arm of the IRGC – was killed in a US airstrike in Iraq in January 2020.
The recording caused an uproar among the political class in Iran, where criticism of the IRGC and Soleimani is considered a “red line.”
Zarif said in an Instagram post on Wednesday that he “regretted” how the interview, which he described as a “confidential theoretical debate” intended to aid future administrations, turned into an “internal conflict.”
He said his “honest” comments were mischaracterized as personal criticism.
Rouhani said on Wednesday the Intelligence Ministry “must do its best to find out how this tape was stolen” and that “there will be no mercy for those who made a mistake on this.”