John Kerry vehemently denied ever saying anything at all to Iran’s foreign minister about covert Israeli actions in Syria. The White House insisted, somewhat contradictorily, that Kerry had only discussed reports already in the public domain. However, a fresh translation of the leaked audio by the Washington Free Beacon shows that Mohammad Javad Zarif had no prior knowledge of Israel’s involvement in those actions:
Leaked audiotape of Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif indicates he had no knowledge of covert Israeli military strikes before former secretary of state John Kerry provided him with the information, new details that contradict the State Department’s recent defense of Kerry.
These details are likely to further fuel calls from leading Republicans for Kerry’s firing or resignation. The New York Times reported that Zarif said on the tape that Kerry told him Israel launched 200 airstrikes against Iranian interests in Syria. The Times did not provide further details on that issue. But an independent translation of the audiotape commissioned by the Washington Free Beacon shows that Zarif went on to clarify that he had no prior knowledge of these Israeli strikes before Kerry told him.
“Kerry told me that Israel had launched 200 airstrikes against you [Iran],” said Zarif. “You didn’t know?” asked his interviewer. “No, no,” he replied.
This is the first time we’ve actually seen a quote from the tape. The New York Times’ buried lede didn’t provide any quote, but only reported that Zarif claimed to have heard about over 200 attacks from Kerry. This translated quote not only makes the meaning explicitly clear, it undermines the State Department’s “not a secret at the time” defense:
“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,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Monday. “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.”
Immediately after Kerry’s denial and the State Department’s public-domain statement, defenders of the administration insisted that the claim had been “debunked.” That, however, is nonsense. It has been denied, but not even in a consistent manner, and it certainly hasn’t been “debunked”. Zarif explicitly tells his interviewer that Kerry informed him of Israel’s covert operations against the IRGC in Syria, and that he had no knowledge of it prior to then.
Could it be true that it was public knowledge in the West, but not in Tehran? Possibly, although that’s tough to believe. Zarif’s point in this interview was apparently to set down a record of the IRGC’s control of Iran and to reveal that the elected government was nothing more than a puppet for the mullahs and the military. From the description in the NYT, Zarif didn’t intend for this to become public until much later, perhaps posthumously. It’s certainly possible that Zarif wasn’t read into IRGC operations in Syria, but it seems very unlikely that he would be unaware of reporting on Iran in the West, especially in his role as foreign minister.
At any rate, Zarif didn’t intend this to go public. The leak of this interview might have put a target on his back almost literally. What purpose would lying about Kerry serve in that context? It’s a statement against Zarif’s interests made in what he thought was a private conversation. Maybe Zarif is an inveterate liar — it’s certainly possible, especially in the Tehran regime — but then that calls into question why the US and Europe is negotiating with Zarif and his government at all.
Kerry won’t ever admit to this, and the Biden administration probably won’t answer for it either. They’re too invested in trying to cut a new deal with Zarif, regardless of the consequences in the region. But they will have one hell of a time arguing that Zarif is a trustworthy partner in a deal to end Iran’s nuclear-weapons program while simultaneously painting him as a man who lies to his friends in private.
Update: Ted Cruz appears first out of the gate to demand Kerry’s resignation from the Biden administration — and a firing if none is offered:
If this transcript is confirmed, John Kerry must resign immediately and if he doesn’t, President Biden must fire him immediately. https://t.co/mpyxFEBf4e
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) April 30, 2021
Will the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hold a hearing on this? Not if Chuck Schumer’s in charge, and he is … at the moment.