Iran Newspaper Round-Up: Who Leaked the Zarif Audio File, And Why?
Iranian newspapers Tuesday [April 28] ruminated on the leaked audio file in which Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggested Russia had tried to attach last-minute conditions to the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
Some hardline papers such as Kayhan and Javan, and the ultraconservative Vatan Emrooz and Farhikhtegan, concentrated fire on Zarif over the leak, while others sprayed accusations at all in the office of President Hassan Rouhani.
Jomhouri Eslami, which had the most extensive coverage, called the publication of Zarif's interview by Iran International "a Saudi trap.” Kayhan featured a long report and a commentary accusing the entire Rouhani administration, but especially presidential adviser Hesamoddin Ashena, of giving away the interview.
Javan newspaper, which is affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards, was more selective. It pointed its finger at "security agents…expelled from the intelligence system" and "individuals previously convicted for security-related crimes," saying they had disclosed national secrets. The paper was referring to Ashena, a former intelligence officer, and Saeed Laylaz, the journalist who conducted the Zarif interview and who was jailed in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 election.
Farhikhtegan, the right-wing daily funded by hardliners who run the Islamic Azad University, and Vatan Emrooz, which is published by the ultraconservative Paydari party and has a pro-Russian slant, were scathing of Zarif. Vatan Emrooz ran one word in large typeface on its front page: "Insignificant." The daily said that placing Zarif face-to-face with Soleimani was "a bipolar situation against the people" of Iran.
Farhikhtegan ran a two-word front-page headline "Against Iran." It suggested that the publication of Zarif comments had been done with June’s presidential election in mind regardless of the damage to national interest.
For centrist and reformist papers, Hamshahri, published by Tehran Municipality, ran three major articles on the leak. The daily interviewed Hossein Marashi, spokesperson for Executives of Construction, which broadly supports the Rouhani government, who expressed concern that similar interviews done with all members of the government, except vice-president Es’haq Jahangir and chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi, could fall into hostile hands.
Hamshahri also surveyed the history of such interviews done for historical records. The paper noted that similar testimonies were collected at the end of the Mohammad Khatami administration (1997-95), but not under president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (1997-2005). Hamshahri also carried a commentary by academic and well-known reformist figure Elaheh Kulai, who unsurprisingly linked the leaking of the tape both to nuclear talks in Vienna and the presidential election.
The reformist daily Aftab Yazd drew an analogy with a US ‘October surprise’, meaning a late political stunt designed to influence a US presidential election, which take place in November. Under the headline, "The Ordibehesht Surprise," referring to the current Iranian month, Aftab Yazd claimed it had come up with the idea of interviewing ministers for the benefit of posterity.
Arman, a reformist daily, suggested that opponents of the JCPOA had the motivation to undermine diplomacy aimed at reviving the deal by leaking and publicizing the tape: "Apart from Moscow and Beijing, who in Iran wanted to turn the JCPOA into a failure?...Who are those who have taken the country's foreign policy hostage for their factional interests?"
Arman did not answer these questions, assuming Iranians had read hundreds of press reports since 2015 in which hardline opponents of the JCPOA had lashed out at Zarif and Rouhani.