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Hardliners Bay For Zarif's Head After Khamenei Scolds Iran’s Top Diplomat

Following a speech broadcast live on Sunday by Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, criticizing Mohammad Javad Zarif over a leaked interview, hardliners in Tehran stepped up calls for the foreign minister to be sacked or put on trial.

Khamenei called Zarif’s interview, in which he criticized the role of the late general Qasem Soleimani "regrettable and surprising", "repetition of the hostile words of the enemies and America" and a "great mistake." The leader reminded Iranians that “nowhere in the world” was foreign policy determined by the foreign ministry, and that while “of course, the foreign ministry is involved…there are higher-ranking officials that make the decisions and policies.”

This echoed the point made last week by President Hassan Rouhani that foreign policy in Iran was shaped by the Supreme National Security Council, which made decisions collectively with inputs from the diplomatic service and military officials.

In the widely trailed speech, in which Khamenei did not refer to Zarif by name, the leader praised the Qods Force, the extra-territorial arm of the Revolutionary Guards that Soleimani led until killed by a United States drone strike in Baghdad in 2020. Khamenei said the force had acted on “the independent policy of the Islamic Republic in the region, which is based on honor.”

Minutes after Khamenei completed his speech, Zarif apologized to Khamenei in an Instagram post for "perturbing" his mind with the comments, which had been recorded in an oral history project and were not intended for release until the Rouhani government stood down in the summer. Zarif said he accepted the leader’s "final word" on the matter.  Earlier on Sunday the foreign minister apologized to Soleimani’s family for any hurt caused by the leaking for the tape.

Hardline newspapers Monday highlighted the most stringent words in Khamenei's criticism of Zarif without further comment. Kayhan newspaper ran the full text of the speech under the headline "Some People Repeat Americans' Pronouncements About Foreign Policy and Qods Force”. Jam-e Jam chose "Don't Repeat Enemy's Pronouncements." Sobh-e No and Javan referred to Khamenei's description of Zarif's remarks as "Great Mistake" while Vatan-e Emrouz ran the speech with the title "Zarif's Chastisement.”

On social media, anonymous attacks on Zarif were vituperative, with hashtags citing Khamenei's speech such as #GreatMistake and #VoiceofAmerica with a pun on the name of the Persian-language US Congress-funded Voice of America radio and television channels. Many call Zarif a traitor.

One tweeter criticized lawmakers for failing to impeach Zarif in the parliament. "The Leader would not have to pay the cost of your sluggishness if you had performed your duty well," he noted. "At least convene the parliament [not currently in full session due to Covid-19], drag him there and make him apologize for what he has said, not its publication," another Twitterati railed. "Zarif's impeachment must start before the chance is taken away from you," a third Twitterati who said Zarif's "great error" required a fitting response warned lawmakers.


A British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National and journalist at Iran International
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