Iran’s foreign minister has complained that the military wields too much power over the country’s ruling elite, according to a leaked tape recording that grants rare insight into power struggles at the heart of the Islamic Republic.
In the recording, which Iran says was not intended for publication, Javad Zarif is heard warning that “in the Islamic Republic the military field rules."
"I have sacrificed diplomacy for the military field rather than the field servicing diplomacy,” he added in the tape, which was first published by the New York Times and the London-based news channel Iran International.
It came as Iran and the United States continued to hold indirect talks in Vienna this week which hope to salvage the Obama-era nuclear deal.
In the same interview, Mr Zarif claimed that Russia wanted to stop the nuclear deal, something apparently so sensitive that he warned the interviewer: "You definitely can never release this part."
The unusually frank comments offer rare insight into the regime’s inner circle and its apparent lack of control over Iran’s military establishment, including its powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Iran said that the comments made in the three-hour tape recording were "confidential" and should not have been released.
"What was published was not an interview with the media," foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters in Tehran, but did not dispute the tape’s authenticity.
He added that the recording represented just a portion of a seven-hour interview Mr Zarif gave to an economist, and that it was meant to be held for posterity by a pro-regime think tank.
It came as Iran’s president reportedly hailed “significant progress” in talks in Vienna on bringing the regime back into the 2015 nuclear deal on Monday.
The deal, which former US president Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, was designed to end sanctions on Iran in return for Tehran ending its nuclear programme.
Since then, Iran has ramped up uranium enrichment at its Natanz nuclear facility, which was struck by a mysterious sabotage attack earlier this month, heightening tensions in the region. The attack is widely believed to have been carried out by Israel, Iran's arch-nemesis.
The European Union confirmed on Monday afternoon that the talks would continue the following day, though there were no indications of a breakthrough beyond Mr Rouhani’s comments.
"Participants will continue their discussions in view of a possible return of the United States (to the accord) and on how to ensure the full and effective implementation (of the accord), the bloc said in a statement.