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Iran seeks to downplay FM’s leaked remarks: The comments ‘are his personal opinions’

TEHRAN, Iran — The Iranian foreign ministry downplays a leaked audiotape of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in which he said the military played too strong a role in diplomacy, saying it reflected his personal opinions.

Foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh says Zarif’s comments in the three-hour tape were “confidential” and should not have been released.

“What was published was not an interview with the media,” Khatibzadeh tells reporters in Tehran.

The statement comes after Zarif’s comments were reported by media sites online, as well as the New York Times.

Conservatives have criticized Zarif for comments he made on the role of top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, killed in a US drone strike near the airport of the Iraqi capital Baghdad in January last year.

“In the Islamic Republic, the military field rules,” Zarif was reported as saying in the conversation, according to the New York Times.

“I have sacrificed diplomacy for the military field, rather than the field servicing diplomacy.”

The conservative Fars news agency criticizes Zarif for presenting himself during the conversation as “a symbol of diplomacy,” contrasting with Soleimani as a symbol of the “battlefield/”

Parliament speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf tweets his praise for the “wisdom and courage” of Soleimani, who “conquered the battlefields and paved the way for diplomacy.”

Ghalibaf also denounces “the political game” and “naivety” of criticizing Soleimani, without explicitly naming Zarif.

The Fars agency quotes lawmaker Nasrollah Pejmanfar, who demands “explanations” from the foreign ministry for the remarks.

“Mr. Zarif calls into question subjects appearing among the red lines of the Islamic Republic,” Pejmanfar says.

Ministry spokesman Khatibzadeh plays down the controversy, noting that Zarif said in the tape that his “statements are his personal opinions.”

Khatibzadeh says the conversation took place “within the framework of routine and confidential interviews within the government,” adding that leaking it was “a crime.”

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