Iran's supreme leader on Sunday criticised its foreign minister, who said in a leaked interview that the elite Revolutionary Guards had more influence in foreign affairs and Tehran's nuclear dossier than him.
In the interview, aired by the London-based Iran International Persian-language satellite news channel last week, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he had "zero" influence over Iran’s foreign policy.
Zarif has been the public face of Iranian diplomacy as it deals with a host of issues, including talks with world powers on how to revive Iran's 2015 nuclear accord that Washington abandoned three years ago.
Relations between pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani's government and the Guards are important because the influence of the hardline force can disrupt any rapprochement with the West.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking in a televised speech, did not call Zarif out by name but said of his comments: "This was a big mistake that must not be made by an official of the Islamic Republic."
"Nowhere in the world the foreign ministry determines foreign policy. There are higher ranking officials that make the decisions and policies. Of course, the foreign ministry is also involved."
In an Instagram post after Khamenei's speech, Zarif apologised for comments that had "annoyed" the country's top authority, who has the last say on all state matters.
Iran has imposed travel bans on 15 people for alleged involvement in the leaked audio recording, which authorities have said it was produced for state records rather than for publication.
Using language rarely heard in politics in Iran, Zarif in the interview complained about the extent of influence of the late leader of the Guards' clandestine overseas Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, had over foreign policy, hinting that Soleimani tried to spoil the 2015 nuclear deal by colluding with Russia.
Soleimani was a pivotal figure who built up Iran’s network of proxy armies across the Middle East. He was killed in a U.S. drone attack in Iraq last year.
"The Quds Force has been able to put into action the independent policy of the Islamic Republic in the region, which is based on honour," Khamenei said.
Although Zarif has repeatedly said he has no intention of running in a presidential election next month, his name has been suggested by moderates as a possible candidate for the election. Several prominent Guards commanders are also running for the top executive post.
Some critics said Zarif's comments in the tape were aimed at attracting votes from Iranians disillusioned by a stalled economy and lack of political and social freedoms.