Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed in recently leaked audio that John Kerry, when he was serving as Secretary of State during the Obama administration, informed him of more than 200 Israeli operations in Syria.
Kerry has previously been accused of colluding with Iranian leaders to undermine the Trump administration. Kerry is now a part of the Biden administration and has a seat on the National Security Council as the special presidential envoy for climate.
Kerry shocked Zarif by revealing that Israel had attacked Iranian targets in Syria more than 200 times, according to leaked audio obtained by The New York Times and other outlets.
Zarif also spoke frankly about his limited power compared to Ayatollah Ali Khameini and the blow the U.S. dealt to Iran by killing Gen. Qassem Soleimani in January 2020.
Kerry faced criticism on Monday over Zarif’s claim.
“John Kerry was ratting out Israeli covert operations in Syria directly to the Iranian foreign minister. Let that sink in. Wow,” Noah Pollak of the foreign policy-focused Democratic Alliance Group wrote on Twitter.
Former special advisor for Iran at the State Department Gabriel Noronha weighed in on Zarif’s lasting political career, despite his differences with others in Iranian governnment.
“The main reason Zarif has survived as Foreign Minister for 8 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,” Noronha said in a statement.
“Most of the time, Zarif’s Foreign Ministry is relegated to the job of the marketing and PR team, justifying and defending the policy choices of the IRGC and Supreme Leader Khamenei abroad,” he continued. “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 JCPOA and also want to bolster domestic opposition to President Rouhani and his allies running for office in June.”
The release of the comments by Zarif set off a firestorm within Iran, where officials carefully mind their words amid a cutthroat political environment that includes the powerful paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, ultimately overseen by the country’s supreme leader. Zarif has been suggested as a possible candidate for Iran’s June 18 presidential election as well.
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% purity, which edges the country closer to weapons-grade levels.
After the leak became public, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh 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.
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.