- A leaked recording of an interview with Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, is causing a stir in Iran for its unusual bluntness—especially Zarif’s candor in commenting that Iranian diplomacy is forced to take a back seat to IRGC-led policy. ANYTarticle pasted below has more detail about what he said and why it’s significant.
- The U.S. began an orderly withdrawal from military bases in Afghanistan about a week early. Those bases—and some equipment—will be handed “primarily” to the Ministry of Defense and other Afghan forces, with the exception of certain sensitive equipment.
- Total finally declared force majeure on its $20 billion LNG project at Afungi, Mozambique, following nearby jihadist attacks like the one in Palma that threatened to derail the effort. However, the company was clear to state that the project was only being temporarily suspended—not cancelled. Total had already evacuated some workers and suspended construction back in January, so this declaration is more of a formality that lets Total out of contractual obligations it can’t meet in the current security situation anyway.
- Interim PM Dbeibah was supposed to visit Benghazi today, but his visit was called off after his security team was reportedly turned back from the airport in the Haftar stronghold. It sounds like airport officials loyal to Haftar refused Dbeibah’s team’s request to handle airport security during the visit..
- The new ruling junta in Chad—led by the late Pres. Deby’s son—said it would not negotiate with FACT rebels who launched the offensive in which Deby was killed. The rebels have said that they’re ready to discuss a political settlement and observe a ceasefire, but criticized the “coup d’etat” Pres. Deby’s son staged by grabbing power after his father’s death.
- The African Union also called for the junta to dissolve military rule and follow the constitutional order of succession, which would’ve handed power to National Assembly Speaker Haroun Kabadi instead of Pres. Deby’s son. However France—Chad’s former colonial power—seems to support even an unconstitutional stability over the uncertainty of a Kabadi presidency.
- Meanwhile, Chad’s military leadership says the leader of the FACT rebels, Mahamat Mahadi Ali, fled into Niger after the skirmish, and asked Niger for help capturing him.
- Rival factions within Somalia’s security forces exchanged gunfire in Mogadishu yesterday. Some are loyal to Pres. Mohamed, but others have sided with his opponents—who condemn Mohamed’s failure to hold (indirect) elections by February, as scheduled, and his contentious decision to extend his term by two years.
- The Association of Southeast Asian Nations met in Indonesia yesterday, with national leaders calling on Myanmar to stop violence, release political prisoners, accept humanitarian aid, and begin dialogue. However, that message was weakened by the presence of Myanmar’s commander in chief (and coup leader) at the meeting, which gave an air of legitimacy to the coup he pulled off.
- India is facing a terrible spate of COVID infections and regularly setting dismal records for new daily infections (350k) and daily deaths (2,800)—although many think both statistics are still underreported. The Biden administration plans to donate raw materials for vaccines to hasten India’s slow vaccination efforts, and other nations are donating oxygen to alleviate a shortage.
- The EU said it aims to reopen to vaccinated American tourists this summer, although almost two-thirds of Americans polled say they still wouldn’t get on a trans-Atlantic flight just yet—even if vaccinated—because “it’s risky.”
Iran’s Foreign Minister, in Leaked Tape, Says Revolutionary Guards Set Policies(NYT)
Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, described a rivalry with a powerful and widely revered military leader, Qassim Suleimani.
In a leaked audiotape that offers a glimpse into the behind-the scenes power struggles of Iranian leaders, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the Revolutionary Guards Corps call the shots, overruling many government decisions and ignoring advice.
In one extraordinary moment on the tape that surfaced Sunday, Mr. Zarif departed from the reverential official line on Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Guards’ elite Quds Force, the foreign-facing arm of Iran’s security apparatus, who was killed by the United States in January 2020.
The general, Mr. Zarif said, undermined him at many steps, working with Russia to sabotage the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and adopting policies toward Syria’s long war that damaged Iran’s interests.
“In the Islamic Republic the military field rules,” Mr. Zarif said in a three-hour taped conversation that was a part of an oral history project documenting the work of the current administration. “I have sacrificed diplomacy for the military field rather than the field servicing diplomacy.”
The audio was leaked at a critical moment for Iran, as the country is discussing the framework for a possible return to a nuclear deal with the United States and other Western powers. Talks through intermediaries have been taking place in Vienna.
It is unclear what effect, if any, the revelations will have on those talks, or on Mr. Zarif’s position.
The recording, of a conversation in March between Mr. Zarif and an economist named Saeed Leylaz, an ally, was not meant for publication, as the foreign minister can repeatedly be heard saying on the audio. A copy was leaked to the London-based Persian news channel Iran International, which first reported on the recording and shared it with The New York Times.
On it, Mr. Zarif confirms what many have long suspected: that his role as the representative of the Islamic Republic on the world stage is severely constricted. Decisions, he said, are dictated by the supreme leader or, frequently, the Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Iran’s foreign ministry did not dispute the authenticity of the recording but questioned the motive for the leak. Saeed Khatibzadeh, a spokesman for the ministry, called it “unethical politics” and said the portion of the audio released did not represent the full scope of Mr. Zarif’s comments about his respect and love for General Suleimani.
In the portions that were leaked, Mr. Zarif does praise the general and says they worked productively together in the prelude to the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. He also says that by assassinating him in Iraq, the United States delivered a major blow to Iran, more damaging than if it had wiped out an entire city in an attack.
But he said some of Mr. Suleimani’s actions also damaged the country, citing, as one example, his moves against the nuclear deal Iran reached in 2015 with Western nations, the United States among them (the Trump administration later renounced it).
Mr. Zarif said Russia did not want the agreement to succeed and “put all its weight” behind creating obstacles because it was not in Moscow’s interests for Iran to normalize relations with the West. To that end, Mr. Zarif said, General Suleimani traveled to Russia to “demolish our achievement,” meaning the nuclear deal.
Mr. Zarif took issue with General Suleimani on other fronts, criticizing him for allowing Russian warplanes to fly over Iran to bomb Syria and for moving military equipment and personnel to Syria on the state-owned Iran Air airline without the knowledge of the government and deploying Iranian ground forces to Syria.
By Sunday night, Mr. Zarif’s critics were calling for his resignation, saying he had threatened Iran’s national security by revealing to the world the country’s inner politics. Even his supporters expressed concern that the comments could influence the presidential elections in late June and harm candidates from the reform faction, which Mr. Zarif is associated with, by reinforcing voter apathy and the idea that elected officials are not really in charge.
The leak follows a series of security breaches within Iran’s intelligence and government circles that have been implicated in two assassinations and two explosions at the Natanz nuclear site. A former vice president, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, said that the publication of Mr. Zarif’s audio was “tantamount to Israel stealing the nuclear documents” from Iran.
Some analysts said the audio would undermine Iranian diplomats’ authority at a sensitive window of the negotiations.
“This ties the hands of the negotiators,” said Sina Azodi, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council. “It represents Zarif as someone who is not trustworthy domestically, and overall paints a picture that Iran’s foreign policy is dictated by theater policies of the military and Zarif is a nobody.”
Mr. Zarif acknowledged on the tape that when it comes to negotiations, he is bound not just by the directions of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but by the demands of the Guards. He said Mr. Khamenei had recently “forcefully rebuked” him for straying from the official line when he said Iran was willing to work with the United States to choreograph steps toward returning to a deal.
“The structure of our foreign ministry is mostly security oriented,” Mr. Zarif said.
Mr. Zarif said he was kept in the dark on government actions — sometimes to his embarrassment.
On the night that Iran decided to retaliate against the United States for the killing of General Suleimani, two Quds Force commanders went to see the Iraqi prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, to inform him that in about 45 minutes Iran would be firing missiles at a military base where U.S. troops were stationed, Mr. Zarif said. The Americans knew about the strike before he did.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry informed him that Israel had attacked Iranian interests in Syria at least 200 times, to his astonishment, Mr. Zarif said.
He also pointed to the cover-up of the Guards’ downing of a Ukrainian jetliner in Iran that killed 176 on board on the morning after Iran attacked the air base.
The Guards knew immediately that their missiles had hit the plane, but only admitted to it three days later.
Soon after the plane was brought down, Mr. Zarif attended a small meeting of the national security council with two top military commanders, and said the world was demanding an explanation. The commanders, he said, attacked him and told him to send out a tweet saying the news was not true.
“I said, ‘If it was hit by a missile, tell us so we can see how we can resolve it,’” Mr. Zarif recalled. “God is my witness, the way they reacted to me is as if I had denied the existence of God.”