US climate envoy John Kerry has denied passing information on Israeli military ops in Syria to his one-time Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who made the claim in leaked audio, enraging GOP critics.
A controversial recording leaked to the New York Times on Sunday captured a far-reaching, hours-long discussion between Zarif and economist Saeed Leylaz. At one point in the sit-down, the Iranian FM says Kerry informed him that Tel Aviv had carried out more than 200 strikes on “Iranian interests” in Syria, a revelation Zarif reportedly called “astonishing.”
This is a criminal act and John Kerry must be immediately investigated and PROSECUTED. President Biden must immediately remove John Kerry from any government or advisory position.https://t.co/lO7ReFVCZS
— Elise Stefanik (@EliseStefanik) April 26, 2021
Recorded last month and originally obtained by the London-based Farsi news outlet Iran International, the leaked audio quickly sparked demands from Republican lawmakers for Kerry to step down, among them Senators Dan Sullivan (Alaska) and Rick Scott (Florida). New York GOP Representative Elise Stefanik, meanwhile, went even further, saying the former secretary of state “must be immediately investigated and prosecuted.”
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) April 26, 2021
However, Kerry weighed in later on Monday night to set the record straight amid the controversy, insisting the allegations are “unequivocally false.”
If reports are accurate that John Kerry leaked intelligence about Israeli operations, he should resign. pic.twitter.com/9SeCqu6Kc5
— Rep. Mike Gallagher (@RepGallagher) April 26, 2021
“This never happened – either when I was secretary of state or since,” he added.
I can tell you that this story and these allegations are unequivocally false. This never happened – either when I was Secretary of State or since. https://t.co/BTOdFE1khW
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) April 26, 2021
Prior to Kerry’s denial, State Department spokesman Ned Price rushed to the climate envoy’s defense, telling reporters during a Monday press briefing that while he couldn’t speak to the “authenticity” or “accuracy” of the leaked audio, “I would just make the broad point that if you go back and look at press reporting from the time, this certainly was not secret.” Price presumably referred to a 2018 Reuters report that also stated Tel Aviv had launched 200 strikes on Iranian targets in Syria over the prior two years, citing a senior Israeli official.
Tehran, for its part, has not disputed the authenticity of the recording, though a Foreign Ministry spokesman argued the behind-closed-doors conversation was leaked “illegally” and that portions had been “cherry-picked” for political purposes.
The leaked audio surfaced as Washington and Tehran continue to meet for indirect talks in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers, from which former US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018, reimposing a raft of crippling sanctions soon after. Since then, Iran has scaled back its own commitments under the deal, insisting the Joe Biden administration must make good on promised sanctions relief before it considers returning to full compliance with the nuclear pact.