Putin seeks permanent tension
Zarif focuses on four issues in describing Soleimani's role: the nuclear agreement, Russia, the Syrian war, and tensions with Saudi Arabia. He notes that Russia does not want a genuine detente between Iran and the West; on the contrary. Moscow, he says, wants ongoing, but manageable tension between Tehran and Washington.
Prior to the conclusion of the international nuclear agreement in 2015 between Iran and leading powers, General Soleimani had repeatedly sought to travel to Moscow, but Putin had always refused. It was only after the signing of the agreement that Putin summoned Soleimani to see him in September 2015, he said.
After the two met, the Revolutionary Guards were sent to Syria as ground forces to assist the Russian air force. According to Zarif, this intervention in Syria was not solely about Assad and IS, but also about undoing the fruits of the nuclear agreement. Which it did. The Revolutionary Guards executed Russian policy in Iran. And head of state Ali Khamenei was positioned at the heart of the Meydan.
Worth less than a porter
When the interviewer asks with a sardonic laugh, "Where do you stand in this order?", Zarif responds with a Persian saying that represents deep degradation and humiliation:
"نظام باقلی هم بار من نمیکند"- "To the system, I am less than a carrier of beans". Then he added, "Maybe I'll end up someday, somewhere, in a striped shirt."
This is not unrealistic. Four days after the conversation was published, calls were made to put Zarif on trial. Last Wednesday, the prosecutor general in Tehran said investigations were already underway against Zarif over the audio file.
"Every time I was about to leave for the nuclear talks, Soleimani would enumerate point by point what issues I should bring up and what results I should achieve. Yet I never managed to convince Soleimani to help the diplomatic effort."
Civil aviation at the service of the Quds Brigades
Once the nuclear agreement was signed and sanctions on Iran Air were lifted in December 2015, Iran began holding talks with Boeing and Airbus with the goal of buying new planes. "A few weeks later, then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told me that since sanctions on Iran Air had been lifted, the airline's flights to Syria had increased sixfold. Neither President Rouhani nor the transport minister knew anything about this. When I asked the head of Iran Air if that was true, he replied, yes, it was an order from General Soleimani. And then when I asked Soleimani why he didn't use Mahan Air for his military purposes as he had before, he replied, Iran Air was safer." The fact that the civilian Iranian airline was carrying military goods to Syria did enormous damage to Iranian credibility.
The audio file contains a wealth of such startling and historically interesting details on the secret diplomacy over a civil war in a foreign land that has since produced hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of refugees. "It was Secretary of State Kerry who reported to me at the time that the Israelis had already bombed Iranian forces in Syria 200 times," the irate foreign minister is heard saying. Seen in this light, this file is undoubtedly a document of historical value. "We were not even allowed to know how many Iranians were killed in Syria."
Confession of a crime
The background to the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight No. 752 in Tehran on 8 January 2020 is also interesting. Two Revolutionary Guards missiles led to the downing of the passenger plane, killing 167 passengers and nine crew members. The disaster – the bereaved families call it a crime – occurred shortly after sunrise on a Wednesday.
For two days after the shooting down, there was silence at first, then there were lies and contradictions. The outside world was already talking about the shooting down and the likely intent of the Revolutionary Guards. "On Friday morning, I went to the National Security Council," Zarif says. "Five military and intelligence people were sitting there. I told them, for two days, the world has been talking about missiles and launching: if you did this, tell me, so I can try to explain it to the world somehow.' They showed me the door as if I were a blasphemer and said, get out there, write a tweet and deny everything." If this crime ever goes to trial, this statement by Zarif could pass for court-proof evidence. Survivors of the victims abroad are currently trying to sue the Iranian leadership in various countries.
Was it Netanyahu?
One could fill entire pages with similar information, backroom whispers and further background from Zarif's conversation. In a meeting broadcast on Iranian television, President Rouhani angrily shouted at the intelligence minister present that he should find and relentlessly pursue those who had stolen this secret file and passed it on to foreign broadcasters. Experts are racking their brains over who could have done this. Will a "guilty party" soon be paraded on television?
In any case, former Vice President Mohammed Ali Abtahi is already comparing the leaking of these three-hour files to the theft of the secret nuclear file that Israel's President Benjamin Netanyahu gleefully presented to the world in 2018.
© Iran Journal/Qantara.de 2021
You may also like:
U.S. sanctions against Iran: The lonely "axis of evil"
Interview with Nader Hashemi: Violence "reflects the Iranian regime's desperation"
Parliamentary elections in Iran: Era of the Khamenei vassals