The 2015 nuclear accord was so favorable to Iran that Foreign Minister Javad Zarif jokingly suggested kidnapping former president Barack Obama’s daughter to ensure the deal was implemented.
In a leaked audio tape first reported by Iran International and independently translated for the Washington Free Beacon, Zarif praises the original nuclear deal as a major win for Tehran at a time when the country was suffering under harsh economic sanctions.
Iran, Zarif said, "scored six goals against the opponent" when the country was down 6 to 0. Zarif also recalls "jokingly" suggesting that he kidnap one of Obama’s daughters and bring her to Iran in order to guarantee the United States signed the deal and made good on its implementation.
Zarif’s private remarks, recorded in March, provide new insight into just how badly Iran needed the nuclear deal, which provided it with billions of dollars in cash windfalls and unwound sanctions that had nearly destroyed the country’s economy. With the country once again teetering on the brink of economic collapse due to the Trump administration’s robust sanctions regime, Zarif is pressuring the Biden administration to guarantee a new round of sanctions relief. His leaked remarks are a sign that Iran’s leadership desires a new deal more than it is publicly letting on.
On the audio tape, Zarif admits "we were naïve" to fully trust America and the Obama administration when it signed the original nuclear accord. Because the former U.S. administration circumvented Congress and never submitted the deal for approval, former president Donald Trump was easily able to cancel it after taking office.
The foreign minister says he should not be blamed by the country’s leadership for Trump’s 2018 decision to cancel the deal and reimpose a bevy of economic sanctions. The comments make clear that Iran’s leadership held Zarif responsible, at least in part, when the deal fell apart. They also highlight the challenges of being the public face for a regime stacked with hardline zealots.
Zarif later offers a dour assessment on the future of U.S.-Iran ties: "I believe Iran and the U.S. will never be friends as long as the Islamic Republic preserves its identity. Never will our issues with America be resolved."
The hardline regime, Zarif explains, cannot maintain stable relations with America while still advocating Israel’s destruction and working to undermine Western interests in the Middle East. Iran must undertake an internal reckoning before it engages in good faith diplomacy with America and the West.
"The identity of the Islamic Republic, we don’t want to solve," Zarif says. "Recognizing the Zionist regime, we don’t want to solve."
The comments, which were supposed to remain private until the current administration led by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani leaves office later this year, have generated discussion about the gulf between so-called moderates and Iran’s authoritarian clerical leadership. While some have said Zarif is being genuine on the tape, others have described it as a cynical ploy to soften the foreign minister’s image and pressure the United States into inking a revamped nuclear deal.
Meanwhile, Iranian military leaders, who according to Zarif exert too much power in the government, renewed threats to destroy Israel in comments made on Wednesday.
"Everyone should know that the Islamic Republic of Iran does not tolerate the military or even civilian presence of the Zionist regime in the region in any way, because their presence is provocative and causes many issues," Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi was quoted as saying in the country’s state-controlled press.