Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif looks on during a joint press conference with his Iraqi counterpart in Baghdad on April 26, 2021.
CNN  — 

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was heard criticizing the country’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the assassinated top general Qasem Soleimani in an audio tape leaked on Sunday across Iranian media.

In the three-hour interview, recorded as part of a research project by Iranian journalist and economist Saeed Laylaz, Zarif said that the slain commander Soleimani was directing foreign policy and attempting to sabotage the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal signed in 2015 by the US and other world powers.

Zarif also said that Iranian diplomacy had been undermined and overshadowed by the military’s actions, especially in Syria, where the IRGC were aiding President Bashar al-Assad to crush a rebellion against his rule.

“My diplomacy always paid the price for the military activities of the Martyr Qasem Soleimani and it was not vice versa,” he said in the interview with Laylaz.

Soleimani also exploited the lifting of sanctions after the 2015 nuclear deal to use flights transporting military equipment and personnel from Tehran to Damascus aboard civilian air carrier Iranair without informing Zarif, he said in the recording.

The tape of Zarif reveals a rare moment of internal criticism against Soleimani. The powerful commander, who headed the Quds Force, an elite unit that handles Iran’s overseas military operations, was killed by a targeted US drone strike in Iraq in January 2020.

The timing of the audio leak is questionable. Iranian elections are set to take place in June, with the main competition lying between President Hassan Rouhani and Zarif’s relatively moderate camp versus the hardline conservative camp.

Iran is also currently taking part in sensitive negotiations in Vienna with world powers over its nuclear program and a return to the JCPOA.

The authenticity of the tape has not been officially confirmed, but Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh did not deny its validity during the weekly news conference.

Khatibzadeh, however, said that the quotes were taken out of context and do not reflect the official stance.

The leaked tape “was by no means an interview from the beginning, nor was it supposed to be an interview … it was part of a routine and confidential dialogue that takes place within the administration,” Khatibzadeh added, according to state-run Press TV.