Former President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, did not share any secret information when he allegedly told his Iranian counterpart about more than 200 Israeli operations in Syria, the U.S. State Department suggested Monday.
In leaked audio first obtained by the London-based Iran International and shared with the New York Times, Iranian Foreign Minister (FM) Mohammad Javad Zarif reportedly claimed that “to his astonishment,” Kerry told him about the Israeli operations in Syria.
Some news outlets have described the Israeli operations as “covert” after the audio surfaced Sunday.
Zarif suggested that he had to learn of news about his own country from Kerry, noting that he was often kept in the dark regarding national security matters, “sometimes to his embarrassment,” the New York Times reported Sunday.
Iran and Israel are arch enemies.
Asked whether Kerry spoke to Zarif about “Israeli operations in Syria that were not supposed to be discussed,” Ned Price, a spokesperson at the State Department, declined to comment on the authenticity and accuracy of the Iranian official’s claims.
Price contended that his department does not comment “on reportedly leaked material.”
“This is purportedly leaked material. Can’t speak to the authenticity, can’t speak to the accuracy of it, can’t speak to any motives that may be behind its dissemination,” he told reporters.
Nevertheless, he added, “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, and governments that were involved were speaking to this publicly on the record.”
Echoing Price, Iranian International noted that the Israeli attacks alluded to by Zarif “were discussed in international media as far back as 2017.”
Kerry currently holds a seat on the National Security Council as President Joe Biden’s special envoy on climate change. The State Department oversees Kerry’s envoy role.
It is unclear from the reporting by Iran International and the New York Times whether Kerry, who continued meeting with the Iranian FM after leaving his post as Secretary of State, allegedly shared the information on Israeli operations with Zarif while he was serving as Obama’s top diplomat.
Nevertheless, the spokesperson for State did not challenge the reporter who asked about Kerry Monday and described him as Secretary of State when he allegedly spoke to Zarif.
Fox News also reported Kerry was the Secretary of State when he allegedly shared information about Israel with Iran’s foreign minister.
Critics have accused Kerry of colluding with Iranian officials to undermine the Trump administration’s foreign policy.
Referring to Kerry’s alleged conversation with Zarif, the Times paraphrased the Islamic Republic official as indicating that “former Secretary of State John Kerry informed him that Israel had attacked Iranian interests in Syria at least 200 times, to his astonishment.”
Iranian International provided slightly more detail.
“It was former U.S. Foreign Secretary John Kerry who told me Israel had launched more than 200 attacks on Iranian forces in Syria,” Zarif reportedly said in the leaked audio.
The reports on the leaked information primarily focus on Zarif’s description of his rivalry with the influential and widely revered Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the late commander of the Guards’ elite Quds Force who the U.S. killed in early 2020.
“Both these claims are not very credible. It would be highly unusual for Zarif not to inform his boss about Soleimani’s interventions. Israeli attacks were discussed in international media as far back as 2017,” Iranian International pointed out, alluding to Zarif’s allegations about Kerry and Suleimani.
Saeed Khatibzadeh, a spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, called the audio’s leak “unethical politics,” but he did not dispute the tape’s authenticity.
“He told journalists on Monday that the recording represented just a portion of a seven-hour interview Zarif gave to a well-known economist that was to be held for posterity by a think tank associated with the Iranian presidency,” Fox News pointed out.
The conversation between Zarif and the economist, identified as Saeed Leylaz, reportedly took place in March and was not meant for publication.
Zarif’s allegation about Kerry has sparked criticism.
On Sunday, Noah Pollak of the foreign policy-focused Democratic Alliance Group wrote on Twitter, “John Kerry was ratting out Israeli covert operations in Syria directly to the Iranian foreign minister. Let that sink in. Wow.”
— Noah Pollak (@NoahPollak) April 26, 2021
The leak could impact indirect talks in Vienna between the Biden Administration and Iran to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Former President Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement.