Although Kerry categorically denied that such a conversation had taken place, a group of Republican senators asked the president to investigate the allegation. A handful of other Republicans in Congress are calling for Kerry’s resignation from his current position on the National Security Council if the allegations are confirmed.
Here’s what we know as facts.
On Sunday, London-based news channel Iran International published an article describing an audio leak from a March interview between Zarif and Iranian journalist Saeed Lailaz, apparently scheduled for release in August after the current administration left office. Leilaz is considered sympathetic to Iran̵
7;s current president and is an adviser to former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist.
According to a Iran International news article, Zarif said: “Former US Secretary of State John Kerry has told me that Israel has launched more than 200 attacks against Iranian forces in Syria.”
Iran International specifically noted that this statement was “not very reliable”.
Although Kerry’s sentence was part of just one paragraph in a longer article that included Zarif’s criticisms of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and assassinated Supreme General Kasem Soleimani, Kerry’s claim was quickly reinforced by several conservatives. publications including Fox News, the New York Post, and the Daily Caller.
The authenticity of the tape itself (ie not the veracity of Zarif’s statement, but whether he even said it) has not been officially confirmed, but Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Hatibzadeh did not deny its validity during the weekly press conference.
Kerry pushed away
Kerry, who was secretary of state from February 2013 to January 2017, disputed allegations in a tweet on Monday. “I can tell you that this story and these allegations are unequivocally untrue,” he tweeted. “That never happened – neither when I was secretary of state nor after.”
Asked about the allegations during a press briefing on Monday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said he could not speak about the accuracy or authenticity of the audio or his allegations, but hinted that if such a conversation had taken place, Kerry would probably not be the disclosure of classified information.
“I would just say that if you go back and look at the press reports from that time, it was certainly no secret,” Price said. “And the governments that were involved talked about it publicly, in the minutes.”
This is true. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in July 2017 that Israeli airstrikes targeted Hezbollah convoys in Syria “dozens of times.” A month later, Major General Amir Eshel of the Israeli Air Force confirmed that Israel had attacked convoys carrying weapons in Hezbollah several times in the past five years. And in 2018, Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said that “in the last two years, Israel has taken military action more than 200 times in Syria itself.”
Asked about the audio on Tuesday, current Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told CNN’s Jake Tapper that “this is complete nonsense.”
“These things were so secret that they were all reported in the press at the time,” Blinken said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story had the wrong title of Javad Zarif. He is Iran’s foreign minister.