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Iran's Zarif asks for 'forgiveness' from Soleimani family following audio leak

In an audio released last weekend, the foreign minister can be heard criticising late Iranian commander's disproportionate power
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addresses the media at the International Conference on the Legal-International Claims of the Holy Defense in Tehran in February 2021 (AFP)

Iran's foreign minister asked "forgiveness" from the family of assassinated Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani on Sunday, following an audio leak in which he was heard to criticise the disproportionate power the military leader held in the country.

An Iranian opposition media outlet published the three-hour recording of Mohammad Javad Zarif on 25 April, triggering a heated debate ahead of presidential elections and amid talks with world powers in Vienna to revive a nuclear deal.

Later on Sunday, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticised Zarif, who had said in the audiotape that the elite Revolutionary Guards had more influence in foreign affairs and Tehran's nuclear dossier than him.

Zarif had also mentioned the significant role played by Soleimani.

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"In the Islamic republic the military field rules," Zarif said in the recording, which was released to the Iran International outlet.

"I have sacrificed diplomacy for the military field rather than the field servicing diplomacy."

Khamenei, speaking in a televised speech on Sunday, did not call Zarif out by name but said of his comments: "This was a big mistake that must not be made by an official of the Islamic Republic."

"Nowhere in the world the foreign ministry determines foreign policy. There are higher ranking officials that make the decisions and policies. Of course, the foreign ministry is also involved.

"The Quds Force has been able to put into action the independent policy of the Islamic Republic in the region, which is based on honour," Khamenei added.

In an Instagram post after Khamenei's speech, Zarif apologised for comments that had "annoyed" the country's top authority, who has the last say on all state matters.

Under fire

Soleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guard's foreign operations arm, was killed in a US air strike in neighbouring Iraq last year.

"My remarks... do not diminish the status and irreplaceable role of martyr Soleimani," Zarif wrote on Instagram on Sunday.

"The pure feelings of those who love the great martyr Major General Qassem Soleimani and his family, especially his brave daughter Zeinab - who is as dear to me as my own children - have been hurt," Zarif added.

Zeinab Soleimani posted a photo on Twitter on 27 April showing her father's hand shortly after being assassinated, calling it "the cost" paid by those in "the field for the sake of diplomacy".

Zarif has been under fire from conservative politicians and media for the leaked recording, with remarks on Soleimani hitting a nerve.

"If I knew a word of them would be published publicly I would not have said them," Zarif said.

"I have forgiven all those I believe accused me... I hope the great people of Iran, all those who love [Soleimani], and especially the gracious Soleimani family, forgive me as well," he added.

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