Tehran, Iran – The head of a government think tank was replaced by the Iranian president after a recording of a conversation with the country’s foreign minister was leaked out this week. The Iran leaked FM tape, which was meant for government offices, set off a firestorm in Iran as it exposed a rare glimpse into the country’s power struggles.
The conversation was part of an interview with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif taken by Saeed Leilaz, an economist. The tape was meant to be kept by the Strategic Studies Center, the think tank associated with Iran’s presidency.
In the recording, Zarif offered a blunt analysis of diplomacy and how his role is constricted in the theocracy. The Islamic Republic’s presidency announced on Thursday, the resignation of the head of the Strategic Studies Center, Hessameddin Ashena. The now former head will be replaced by Cabinet spokesman, Ali Rabiei. It has been reported that Ashena was also present during the interview with Zarif.
The audio tape was leaked earlier this week to a London-based, Farsi language news channel Iran International,which set off political controversy across Iran as the country’s June 18 presidential elections approach. Even though Zarif has made his intentions of not standing in the elections clear, some have suggested that he is the ideal candidate to stand against hard-liners in the vote.
On Wednesday, President Hassan Rouhani, who after eight years in office is restricted by term limits from running in the general elections, lashed out at the leaked tape incident. He urged that the contents of the tape were part of a wider project with government officials and directed the authorities to investigate how the tape was leaked.
Zarif is heard in the tape stating repeatedly that the interview was not meant for release. The recording runs a total of seven hours. Also on Thursday, the semi official news agency ISNA reported that 15 people connected to the interview have been barred to leave the country.
In the interview, Zarif is heard giving cutting references on the limits of his power and those of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the country’s top commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, who was killed in a drone strike in Baghdad.
Zarif on the other hand, expressed his grief over Iran leaked FM tape, saying that his remarks have been misinterpreted. Rouhani said the breach has been intended to derail the ongoing talks between Iran and world powers over the return of the country to the tattered nuclear deal.