Iran Lawmakers Want Legal Action Against Rouhani Over Zarif Tape
In another development in ‘Zarifgate,’ the secretary of the Iranian parliament's presidium, Hossein-Ali Haji-Daligani, said Thursday that a number of lawmakers had proposed a motion calling for a legal complaint to be raised with the judiciary against President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The motion also names Hesamoddin Ashena, head of the Center for Strategic Studies (CSS) and other CSS officials, the body that carried out the interview with Zarif that was leaked to Iran International TV and published on Sunday. Ashena was reported earlier in the day to have left his post. Haji-Daligani announced parliament was setting up its own probe into CSS, which is an affiliate of the presidential office.
The Prosecutor of Tehran, Ali Alghasi-Mehr, said Thursday that the Security Court of Tehran had begun an investigation into "the theft and illegal publication" of the audio tape but that no arrests had yet been made. Iranian news agencies also quoted an unidentified “informed source” in the judiciary that the prosecutor's office had ordered around 20 people banned from leaving the country due to possible involvement.
The text of the parliamentarians’ complaint, as published by Tasnim news agency, echoes Rouhani’s description of the audio file as "classified" and describes its airing as a threat to national security and "a sign of the depth of the enemy's infiltration in sensitive government agencies."
The motion charges that Rouhani should be held accountable for anything said by Zarif − although the interview was reportedly on the understanding it would remain confidential until the Rouhani government left office – both as head of the government and for the specific failure of Ashena and other officials in the presidential office to protect information.
It also asserts that Zarif’s interview "contains statements that are untrue, undermine the achievements of Qods Force commander in Syria, and insult a national hero and the Iranian people." During the interview, conducted by commentator Saeed Laylaz, Zarif questioned aspects of the played over Syria by Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, the extra-territorial arm of the Revolutionary Guards, who was killed with nine others by a United States drone attack in Baghdad in January 2020.
This – linked to Zarif’s suggestion that Russia had tried to impose last-minute conditions during Iran’s nuclear talks with world powers in 2015 – amounted to evidence of the crime of "disturbing the minds of the public," according to the parliamentary deputies.
Rouhani announced Wednesday a government investigation into what he called a theft that he suggested was designed to undermine the Vienna talks aimed at reviving Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Many government critics, including in parliament, oppose the deal. With Ashena resigning or sacked Thursday, Rouhani has appointed government spokesman Ali Rabiei as the new head of the CSS.