Iran’s Foreign Minister in Leaked Audio: Regime Forced Me to Lie About Downed Plane

Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during the Tehran Security Conference in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018. Iran's foreign minister has warned neighboring countries over fomenting insecurity in his country, a reference to anti-government protests that have roiled Iran over the past two weeks. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
AP/Ebrahim Noroozi

In leaked audio of a March interview that evidently was not intended for consumption outside the Iranian regime, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif complained that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) forced him to lie to the world about the downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet in January 2020.

176 people were killed on January 8, 2020, when Iranian air defenses destroyed the unarmed passenger jet, a few hours after Iran launched missile attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq to retaliate for the elimination of IRGC Gen. Qassem Soleimani by a U.S. airstrike.

Iran initially tried to deny responsibility for shooting the plane down and was later caught trying to literally bulldoze the evidence at the crash site.

Zarif’s leaked interview caused a sensation this week because he claimed former Secretary of State John Kerry gave him information about Israeli operations in Syria. The Iranian foreign minister dropped this bombshell offhandedly while complaining that he had to learn what was happening in Syria while talking to Kerry, because the IRGC never told him anything.

In another part of the interview, Zarif talked about the Ukrainian airliner shootdown and said he was instructed to lie about it at a meeting held one day before Tehran finally admitted IRGC forces fired on the aircraft.

“They knew the plane was downed by missiles since Thursday morning, or Wednesday afternoon,” Zarif said of the IRGC, a designated terrorist organization and the theocratic wing of the Iranian military.

“I said, ‘The world is saying the plane was hit with missiles. If the plane was really hit with missiles, tell us so we can see how we can fix it.’ They said, ‘No, go, go tweet and deny,’” Zarif recalled.

Zarif complained that the IRGC is too powerful and constantly overrides the decisions of the civilian government, including his own diplomacy. He extended this criticism to Soleimani, who Iranian officials are supposed to treat with absolute reverence as a “martyred” hero.

According to Zarif, Soleimani worked with Russia to undermine Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with the United States, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He said Soleimani made a trip to Russia specifically to plan strategy for scuttling the agreement.

“That trip was made upon Moscow’s initiative without the Iranian Foreign Ministry having any control on it. Its objective was to destroy the JCPOA,” he said.

He said Soleimani gave him marching orders “almost every time I went to negotiate.”

“On the other hand, I have never been able to ask Soleimani to do something that would serve my diplomatic moves,” Zarif grumbled.

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