Iran: Top Rouhani aide resigns over audio leak scandal

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TEHRAN

A top aide of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has resigned amid growing backlash over a recent controversial audio leak of the country’s foreign minister.

In a statement, Rouhani’s office said on Thursday that Hesamuddin Ashena, who headed the Center for Strategic Studies, an influential policy group at the presidential office, had been replaced with government spokesman Ali Rabaie.

Ashena had been a prime suspect in a leak of an off-the-record audio by Javad Zarif that has since snowballed into a major political crisis for the top diplomat at home, with many conservative voices calling for his ouster.

Rouhani had on Wednesday distanced himself and his government from Zarif’s remarks, and vowed stern action against those who helped in leaking the audio to a foreign TV network.

Ashena headed the team that recorded the audio as part of a classified oral history project.

Quoting Rouhani, the statement said the new head of the Center for Strategic Studies would be required to prepare reports and plans on domestic and foreign political, economic, social and cultural issues.

Hornet’s nest

Zarif, who has been on a regional tour since before the leak erupted earlier this week, arrived in Kuwait on Thursday.

He is expected to appear before the parliament’s internal security and foreign affairs commission upon his return to explain his remarks, especially those about slain Iranian commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

The audio has stirred controversy in Iran, with many lawmakers and former officials demanding Zarif resign.

On Wednesday, Iran former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, in an online discussion said Zarif’s remarks amounted to “political assassination” of Soleimani, saying the only atonement for it would be his resignation.

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