Iran's foreign minister said he went to hospital suffering from back and leg pain after a hardline daily “misquoted” him as saying historic contacts with US leaders had been “inappropriate.”
Mohammad Javad Zarif said he had been unable to walk after reading the article in the Kayhan newspaper which claimed he had told lawmakers that his meeting with US counterpart John Kerry last month as well as an historic telephone conversation between presidents Hassan Rouhani and Barack Obama had been a mistake.
He said he had cancelled some of his official duties on Tuesday before having doctors carry out tests, which resulted in a diagnosis of “stress and muscle spasm.”
"I experienced back and leg pain after reading a newspaper headline this morning," Zarif told the more than 420,000 followers of his Facebook page late on Tuesday evening.
“I could not even walk or sit. So I left the foreign ministry and went to a hospital," he said in his post.
“An MRI test showed that -- thank God -- my problem was mostly due to stress and muscle spasm.”
Kayhan in its Tuesday edition quoted Zarif as describing the contacts with top US officials as mistakes in the eyes of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority in all matters of state.
“Rouhani’s (phone) chat with Obama and my lengthy meeting with Kerry were inappropriate,” read the front page of the paper, which has long been considered as close to Khamenei.
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The newspaper's report used the same word employed by Khamenei himself in his own far less critical comments about the Iran-US contacts on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
“Some of what happened in the New York trip was not appropriate... although we trust in our officials,” Khamenei said, also saying: “We support the diplomatic initiative of the government.”
Zarif expressed dismay that his comments to a closed-door meeting of lawmakers should not only have been leaked but also “misrepresented.”
“It is a source of regret that an hour and a half of serious, earnest and private discussions with lawmakers -- which had been clearly agreed to be secret and non-reportable -- were summarised in a few sentences” and leaked to the media, he said in the Facebook post.
“And that those quotes had nothing to do with my comprehensive argument,” he said, adding that “its content did not correspond to what I had said.”
Zarif criticised hardline opponents of his government's attempts to reach out to the West, saying that they were out of step with Khamenei's guidance.
“It is interesting that those who claim loyalty to the supreme leader are superseding him,” he said.
Following his return to work on Wednesday, Zarif strongly defended the contacts at the United Nations.
“I consider the New York trip a massive success for the government,” Zarif told reporters after a cabinet meeting, the Mehr news agency reported.
Zarif’s brief hospital checkup came a week before he is scheduled to meet representatives of the major powers in Geneva to seek ways to jumpstart decade-long talks on Iran's controversial nuclear programme.