John Kerry is facing mounting calls to resign as President Biden’s climate envoy amid allegations he fed Iran sensitive information on 200 Israeli military operations while he was Secretary of State under Obama.
Several Republicans, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and potential presidential candidates, have called for him to step down following leak of tapes of recordings from Tehran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif.
Kerry emphatically denied giving Zarif information about Israeli attacks on Syria, calling stories about it ‘unequivocally false.’
A leaked recording of Iran’s foreign minister featured Iranian diplomat Zarif claiming that Kerry told him Israel had attacked Iranian proxies in Syria while serving as Barack Obama’s Secretary of State, a role he held between 2013 and 2017.
Kerry himself does not appear in the recording, and Israeli officials have themselves previously shared details of some of their attacks on Syria. It is not clear how Kerry allegedly provided the information.
The information about the former top US diplomat comes amid in an explosive leak where Zarif complained about the late Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani.
Israel has admitted launching strikes on Iranian interests in Syria since 2011 to counter Tehran building up a military presence and to stop them transporting weapons to terrorists groups such as Hezbollah.
Pompeo, Kerry’s successor as Secretary of State and a potential 2024 presidential candidate, said the recording tells ‘what I’ve said for years: that [Zarif] continued to engage with former Secretary of State Kerry on policy matters after Kerry’s public service and, according to Zarif, Kerry informed the Iranians of Israeli operations,’ said Pompeo.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif describes former Secretary of State John Kerry telling him that Israel launched 200 attacks on Iranian forces in Syria in comments picked up in a leaked recording. Zarif (left) and Kerry (right) are seen above in New York in this 2016 file photo
In 2012, Iran claimed Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad was behind the assassination of nuclear scientist Dr.Massoud Ali Mohammadi
Pompeo also took the opportunity to slam the Iran nuclear deal, which Donald Trump yanked the U.S. out of and Kerry helped negotiate. ‘Before we cut a deal with Iran that reduces Americans’ security, it would be good to know what the arrangement, if any, may have been between these two leaders,’ he told the conservative Washington Free Beacon.
Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley accused Kerry of ‘tipping off’ the Iranians.
‘This is disgusting on many levels. Biden and Kerry have to answer for why Kerry would be tipping off Iran, the number one sponsor of terror, while stabbing one of our greatest partners, Israel, in the back,’ she said.
State Department spokesman Ned Price referenced substantial reporting on Israeli strikes at Syria without naming the U.S. ally.
Several Republicans, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and potential presidential candidates, have called for Kerry to step down following leak of tapes of recordings from Tehran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif
‘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,’ he said Monday. ‘And governments that were involved were speaking to this publicly, on the record,’ he said Monday.
Haley is also considered a potential presidential candidate, although she said recently she would not seek the office if former President Donald Trump ran.
Also jumping on Kerry was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). ‘If this tape is verified, it would signal catastrophic and disqualifying recklessness by Envoy Kerry to Foreign Minister Zarif that endangered the safety of Americans and our allies,’ he said.
Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska threw out the word ‘treason’ during a Senate floor speech and called on Kerry to resign from his climate post. So did Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), head of the conservative Republican Study Committee.
‘People are talking about treason — and I don’t throw that word around a lot,’ he said. ‘John Kerry does all kinds of things that I can’t stand. But this is the one that broke the camel’s back.’
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo bashed climate envoy John Kerry following a leaked recording of Iran’s foreign minister
An Israeli soldier runs past a mobile artillery cannon at a position near Moshav Sha’al in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on April 22, 2021
Countered Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) on Twitter: ‘They are coming after John Kerry because he will help lead the world to a post-fossil-fuel future, and the polluting fossil fuel industry can’t abide that.’
Kerry denied Zarif’s recorded claim.
‘I can tell you that this story and these allegations are unequivocally false,’ Kerry tweeted on Monday.
‘This never happened – either when I was Secretary of State or since.’
As the Times of Israel noted, after Zarif made the comments, an interviewer asked him ‘You did not know?”
Zarif responded: “no, no” two different times. Although the timing of the conversation is not clear, Kerry served as chief U.S. negotiator on the Iran deal in 2015 and worked with Zarif.
The tape surfaced on Sunday, providing indications of a pronounced rift within the Iranian regime – while showcasing Iran’s top diplomatic speaking to his own ineffectiveness in contending with powerful internal forces.
The account of Kerry’s comment appeared in the New York Times and other outlets Monday.
‘Former Secretary of State John Kerry informed him that Israel had attacked Iranian interests in Syria at least 200 times, to his astonishment, Mr. Zarif said,’ according to the Times.
The recording has Zarif saying: ‘It was former US Foreign Secretary John Kerry who told me Israel had launched more than 200 attacks on Iranian forces in Syria.’
That drew immediate pushback from conservative supporters of Israel.
Noah Pollak of the Democratic Alliance Group tweeted: ‘John Kerry was ratting out Israeli covert operations in Syria directly to the Iranian foreign minister. Let that sink in. Wow.’
Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who served as ex-President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, is also an ardent supporter of Israel.
Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who served as ex-President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, is also an ardent supporter of Israel. She tweeted: ‘This is disgusting on many levels. Biden and Kerry have to answer for why Kerry would be tipping off Iran, the number one sponsor of terror, while stabbing one of our greatest partners, Israel, in the back.’
But complicating the picture are numerous public claims by the Israelis about attacking Hezbollah forces in Syria dating to 2013 – something Zarif wouldn’t need the top U.S. diplomat to inform him about
She tweeted: ‘This is disgusting on many levels. Biden and Kerry have to answer for why Kerry would be tipping off Iran, the number one sponsor of terror, while stabbing one of our greatest partners, Israel, in the back.’
But complicating the picture are numerous public claims by the Israelis about attacking Hezbollah forces in Syria dating to 2013 – something Zarif wouldn’t need the top U.S. diplomat to inform him about.
Israel also said it launched an attack in Syria last week following a Syrian missile attack.
Israeli soldiers search for debris after a missile launched from Syria landed near the Dimona nuclear site in Israel’s southern Negev desert, on April 22, 2021. Multiple defense batteries in Syria were struck by Israeli forces, the military said, after a missile targeted a village near a secretive nuclear site in southern Israel
The White House declined to comment when asked about the potentially explosive information. ‘We’re not going to comment on leaked tapes,’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at Monday’s press briefing.
Former special Iran advisor for the State Department Gabriel Noronha said in a statement reported by Fox News: ‘The main reason Zarif has survived as Foreign Minister for eight years in Iran’s cutthroat political environment is that he serves as the ‘reasonable’ storefront to the world, protecting the more empowered radical elements of the regime from Western and press scrutiny.’
‘I think the leak was likely instigated by regime insiders who have long hated Zarif and tried to oust him — they oppose current efforts to rejoin the [Iran nuclear deal and also want to bolster domestic opposition to President Rouhani and his allies running for office in June.’
Noronha was fired from his State Department political post in the Trump administration after tweeting on Jan. 6th that former President Donald Trump ‘fomented an insurrectionist mob that attacked the Capitol today. He continues to take every opportunity to obstruct the peaceful transfer of power,
Israel under the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has balked at the Iran nuclear deal hammered out during the Obama administration, in part by Kerry and Zarif.
Israel is believed to be behind attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities, although it did not comment on the latest explosion at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility.
Mohammad Javad Zarif complained in the leaked recording that the late Revolutionary Guards commander Qassim Soleimani forced Tehran to send troops to Syria at Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s insistence.
Zarif said he had ‘zero’ influence over Iran’s foreign policy while Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq last year, exerted his power to fulfil his military demands at the expense of diplomacy.
‘I have never been able to tell a military commander to do something in order to aid diplomacy,’ Zarif said in the tape, aired by the London-based Iran International Persian-language satellite news channel late on Sunday.
In the three-hour leaked recording, the foreign minister criticises Soleimani for effectively being a pawn for Putin after the commander deployed Iranian ground forces to Syria and allowed Russia‘s warplanes to fly over Iran to attack Syria.
Russia had wanted the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the ground to help Moscow’s air campaign in support of the Syrian government.
‘He (Soleimani) asked me to make this or that concession or point almost every time I went to negotiate (with world powers),’ Zarif said in the recording.
Iran’s foreign minister has complained in a leaked recording that the late Revolutionary Guards commander Qassim Soleimani (centre in 2016) forced Tehran to send troops to Syria at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s insistence
Mohammad Javad Zarif said he had ‘zero’ influence over Iran’s foreign policy while Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq last year, exerted his power to fulfill his military demands at the expense of diplomacy
In the interview, Zarif added that Soleimani refused to stop using the state-owned national carrier Iran Air for Syrian operations despite his objections. He said the aircraft was sometimes used without the government’s knowledge.
This admission confirms reports that Iran’s civilian aircraft was used to deploy military and personnel to Syria.
‘The (military) field’s success was more important than diplomacy’s success. I was negotiating for the (military) field’s success,’ Zarif said.
‘I have sacrificed diplomacy for the battlefield more than the price that (those on) the battlefield (led by Soleimani)… paid and sacrificed for diplomacy.’
In the leaked taped, he also hinted that Soleimani tried to spoil Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal by colluding with Russia.
He claims that the Revolutionary Guards had written ‘Israel should be wiped off the Earth’ in Hebrew in an effort to ruin the deal.
Zarif added that Iran gave up much of what it ‘could have achieved from the nuclear deal’ for the sake of advancement on the battlefield.
His comments come as talks are underway in Vienna aimed at finding a way for Tehran to return to the nuclear deal with the U.S. and other Western powers.
How US drone took out top Iranian general
MQ-9 Reaper drone is seen in a file photo
On January 3, 2020, an MQ-9 Reaper rained four Hellfire missiles on Soleimani’s convoy at Baghdad International Airport.
The head of the elite Quds Force, Soleimani was considered the second most powerful person of Iran, subordinate only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
US officials believed Soleimani was the mastermind of attacks on American personnel in Iraq, and claimed he was plotting an imminent strike against the embassy there.
The assassination of Soleimani was reportedly presented to Trump as the ‘most extreme option’ on a menu of responses to embassy attacks.
Leader of the Guards’ clandestine overseas Quds Force, Soleimani was a pivotal figure who built up Iran’s network of proxy armies across the Middle East before he was killed by the U.S. in a drone strike last year – an attack which at the time brought the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war.
Iran retaliated with a rocket attack on an Iraqi air base where U.S. forces were stationed. Hours later, Iranian forces shot down a Ukrainian passenger airliner taking off from Tehran. Days later, Iran’s Guards admitted that the plane had been shot ‘mistakenly’.
‘I said (at the Supreme National Security meeting) that the world is saying the plane was hit with missiles. If the plane was really hit with missiles, tell us so we can see how we can fix it,’ Zarif said in the recording.
‘They told me: ‘No, go, go tweet and deny it’.’
Throughout the recording, Zarif offered a blunt appraisal of diplomacy and the limits of power within the Islamic Republic, providing a rare look inside the country’s theocracy.
He complained that the Revolutionary Guards and its commander had more influence in foreign affairs and the country’s nuclear dossier than him, in remarks that shine a light on ties between the government and the powerful force.
In the interview, Zarif repeated an earlier claim by officials around President Rouhani that they had not been told by the Revolutionary Guard that it accidentally shot down a Ukrainian jetliner in January 2020, killing all 176 people on board.
Zarif describes Russia as wanting to stop the nuclear deal, something apparently so sensitive that he warns the interviewer: ‘You definitely can never release this part.’
Russia had a frosty relationship with then-President Barack Obama, whose administration secured the deal with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Russia and Iran also at times have strained relations, despite being battlefield allies in Syria.
‘If Iran hadn’t become Mr. (Donald) Trump’s priority, China and Russia would have become his priority,’ Zarif said. ‘If, because of hostility with the West, we always need Russia and China, they don’t have to compete with anyone, and also they can always enjoy maximum benefits through us.’
Both China and Russia have been vocal proponents of returning to the nuclear deal. Their missions in Vienna did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
Despite his criticism, Zarif acknowledged Soleimani’s importance in Iran.
‘I believe that the U.S. by hitting Martyr Soleimani dealt a blow to Iran that would not have been as bad even if they had hit one of our towns,’ he said.
A photo shows burning wreckage of the US airstrike on two cars at Baghdad International Airport that killed Soleimani and other top Iranian military officials last year
Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who pushed the Trump administration’s pressure campaign on Iran, later linked to a story about the leaked tapes on Twitter. He described it as an ‘exquisite strike’ that ‘had a massive impact on Iran and the Middle East.’
‘You don’t have to take my word for it,’ Pompeo wrote.
The release of his comments set off a firestorm within Iran, where officials carefully mind their words amid a cut-throat political environment that includes the powerful paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
The conservative Fars news agency criticized Zarif for presenting himself during the conversation as ‘a symbol of diplomacy’, contrasting with Soleimani as a symbol of the ‘battlefield’.
The Fars agency quoted lawmaker Nasrollah Pejmanfar, who demanded ‘explanations’ from the foreign ministry for the remarks.
‘Mr. Zarif calls into question subjects appearing among the red lines of the Islamic republic,’ Pejmanfar said.
Relations between pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani’s government and the Guards are important because the influence of the hardline paramilitary force is so great that it can disrupt any rapprochement with the West if it feels this would endanger its economic and political interests.
Without disputing the audio’s authenticity, the foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh on Monday said that the news channel only published excerpts of the seven-hour interview with the foreign minister.
Khatibzadeh called the release of the recording ‘illegal’ and described it as ‘selectively’ edited, though he and others did not offer opinions on how it became public. Zarif, visiting Iraq on Monday after a trip to Qatar, took no questions from journalists after giving a brief statement in Baghdad.
Although Zarif said he had no intention of running in Iran’s June 18 presidential election, some critics said Zarif’s comments were aimed at gaining votes from Iranians disillusioned by a stalled economy and lack of political and social freedoms.
His name has been suggested by prominent moderates as a possible candidate for the election, in which several prominent commanders of the Guards are also running for the top executive post.
Outside of Iran, Zarif’s comments could also affect talks in Vienna aimed at finding a way for Tehran and the U.S. to both come into compliance with Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Already, sabotage targeted Iran’s nuclear facility at Natanz during the talks as Tehran has begun enriching a small amount of uranium up to 60 per cent purity, which edges the country closer to weapons-grade levels.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) was set up after the 1979 Islamic Revolution to protect the Shi’ite clerical ruling system and revolutionary values. It answers to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
HOW US TENSIONS WITH IRAN HAVE ESCALATED
An American drone strike on Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020 killed Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force and one of the country’s most powerful men, and brought Washington and Tehran to the brink of all-out war.
While the strike marked a sudden and violent escalation of tensions between the two countries, trouble has been brewing since early 2018 – when former US president Donald Trump tore up the nuclear deal signed under Obama.
Here is the series of events that left the Middle East teetering on a knife-edge:
May 9: Donald Trump announces that the US will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, calling it ‘defective at its core’, and says strict new sanctions will be imposed on Tehran
May 21: The US issues a list of 12 demands that it says Iran must comply with – including the complete abandonment of its nuclear energy program – or else face sanctions. The list is rejected by Tehran
Donald Trump signs an executive order reimposing sanctions on Iran and effectively tearing up the nuclear deal signed by Obama
August 7: America imposes the first round of sanctions, including cancelling a multi-billion dollar deal for Boeing aircraft and banning the sale of gold to Tehran
November 5: Second round of sanctions announced, this time against Iranian oil exports – Tehran’s primary source of income – and cutting off access to banking markets
April 8: Donald Trump designates the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s domestic military force, a ‘terrorist group’, imposing travel bans and economic sanctions against its leaders
May 5: National Security Adviser John Bolton announces a Carrier Strike Group and Air Force bombers are being deployed to the region to combat ‘a number of troubling and escalatory indications’
May 8: On the eve of the one-year anniversary of Trump tearing up the deal, Iran says it will stop complying by increasing it stockpiles of Uranium and enriching to near weapons-grade levels
May 12: Four oil tankers belonging to Saudi Arabia, Norway and the UAE are hit by explosions near Fujairah in an attack that America blamed on Tehran
An oil tanker burns in the Strait of Hormuz – one of two belonging to Japan and Norway that were attacked on June 13
June 13: Two more tankers, this time belonging to Norway and Japan, are rocked by explosions which Washington again attributes to the Iranian regime
June 19: A US Navy drone is shot down by Iranian anti-aircraft missiles over the Strait of Hormuz, prompting Trump to order and then rapidly cancel airstrikes against Iranian targets
July 4: British Marines seize the Grace 1, an Iranian oil tanker which they said was bound for Syria, off the coast of Gibraltar as it sailed into the Mediterranean
July 10: British Heritage tanker is harassed by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, but they are driven back by a Royal Navy warship
July 20: British-flagged tanker Stena Impero is seized by the IRGC and towed to Bandar Abbas, where it is kept under armed guard by gunboats
August 15: Britain agrees to release the Iranian tanker after seeking assurances that it will not head to Syria
September 14: Drones and cruise missiles are used to attack a Saudi oil field at Khurais and the country’s largest refinery at Abqaiq, knocking out a third of the world’s oil supply. The US and Saudis blame Iran, which denies responsibility
September 27: Iran releases the Stena Impero and its crew
Smoke is seen billowing from Saudi Arabia’s largest oil refinery at Abqaiq, after and attack that Riyadh blamed on Iran
October 11: Iranian oil tanker sailing off the coast of Jeddah is rocked by two explosions which Iran says were caused by guided missiles fired by Saudi Arabia
December 27: An American military contractor is killed in a rocket attack near the city of Kirkuk, Iraq, in an attack which Washington blames on Iran
December 29: America launches retaliatory strikes against Kataeb Hezbollah, part of pro-Iran People Mobilization Forces in Iraq, killing 25 people
December 31: American embassy in Baghdad is attacked by PMF forces led by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who is pictured among camouflage-clad protesters outside
January 3: Qassem Soleimani arrives in Baghdad airport on a jet from either Lebanon or Syria, is hit by missiles fired from an American Reaper drone and killed. Muhandis is also killed, along with Mohammed Ridha Jabri, a senior PMF figure
The burning wreckage of a car believed to have been carrying General Soleimani at Baghdad airport after being hit by a US drone
Pictured: Officials stand near the wreckage after an Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 carrying 176 people crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran, killing everyone on board; in Shahriar, Iran, 08 January 2020
January 8: Iraq’s Al Asad Airbase, which hosts U.S.-led coalition troops, was attacked with ballistic missiles as a part of Iran’s ‘Operation Martyr Soleimani’, named for general Qasem Soleimani. It was also reported that the airbase in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan was attacked as well.
Hours after the attack, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 crashed just after taking off from Tehran International Airport, killing all 176 passengers and crew, including 82 Iranian and 63 Canadian citizens.
March: More rocket strikes in Iraq. One strike kills two Americans – a soldier and a contractor – and a British soldier.
April: Revolutionary Guards chief Hossein Salami says he has ordered Tehran’s naval forces to destroy any US warships that threaten the ‘security’ of Iranian vessels, after Trump said he had told the US Navy to fire on any Iranian ships that harass it at sea.
October: US threatened to close its embassy in Baghdad unless the attacks stopped.
December: Spray of rockets are launched at the US embassy. Trump vows that if one American is killed he will launch a massive bombing campaign.
January 4: Iran seizes a South Korean-flagged tanker in the Gulf, the first such seizure in more than a year. Iran cited ‘environmental reasons’ and demanded money for its damage to the environment.
January 22: Iran’s supreme leader appeared to threaten Trump with revenge on Twitter, before the social media platform suspended the ad-hoc account.
February 15: Rocket fire targeted Erbil Airbase in Iraqi Kurdistan; one US-led coalition civilian contractor was killed and eight others, including a US soldier, were wounded in the attack.
February 26: U.S. President Joe Biden ordered airstrikes against Kata’ib Hezbollah facilities in the town of Abu Kamal, Syria in retaliation for a recent rocket strike in Erbil.
The attack left casualties among Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, with the dead ranging from 1 to 17 or as high as 22 militants, with varying reports.