Kerry faces calls to step down over leaked Iran tapes
John Kerry, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, is facing calls for his resignation from Republican lawmakers and pundits for reportedly discussing Israeli military operations with Iran’s foreign minister when he served as then-President Obama’s secretary of State. Republican blowback is running the gamut from calling for Kerry to leave his position as the top official addressing climate change to calling for an investigation and his prosecution. Biden administration officials are dismissing the allegations, saying the information Kerry allegedly shared was widely known at the time.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) called for Kerry’s resignation in a floor speech, one of several senators to do so Monday.
“I don’t do this lightly. In my entire time in the Senate, I’ve never called for anyone’s resignation,” Sullivan said. “But his record, John Kerry’s record, of undermining working families and working against American national security interests was too much to bear. He needs to go.”
“When I read this today, I was astonished as well that a former secretary of State, now a member of President Biden’s National Security Council ... would reveal the secrets of one of our most important and enduring allies in the region to an avowed enemy,” he added.
The New York Times and other outlets reported on Monday that leaked audio recorded in March captured Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif saying that Kerry told him Israel had attacked Iran’s interests in Syria at least 200 times.
Zarif reportedly expressed astonishment at the revelation. Zarif did not say when Kerry, who served as secretary of State between 2013 and 2017, made the admission.
Kerry categorically denied the allegations in a Monday evening tweet, saying, "This never happened - either when I was Secretary of State or since."
State Department spokesperson Ned Price would not comment on the contents of the reportedly leaked audio but appeared to dismiss that the Iranian foreign minister’s astonishment was genuine.
“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,” he said in response to a reporter's question at a briefing on Monday.
An Israeli official in 2018 confirmed that Israel had struck 200 Iranian targets in Syria, the first public admission of a covert campaign that was long suspected to be carried out by Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, had raised alarm that Iran was exploiting the conflict to expand its own operations in the region and publicly stated, frequently, that Israel would act to prevent weapons transfers to Lebanese Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran.
As early as 2013, Netanyahu emphasized that Israel’s policy would be to act to protect its own defense and self-interest, considered a thinly veiled admission of responsibility for a number of covert airstrikes that had occurred in Syria against Iranian-backed activity at the time.
The revelations in the leaked audio come as the U.S. is participating in indirect discussions with Iran over ways for both sides to return to compliance with the 2015-Obama era nuclear deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Israel is opposed to the U.S. reentering the deal, saying it does not prevent Iran from ever attaining a nuclear weapon and is a risk to Israel's survival.
Republicans attacked Kerry as betraying Israel, America’s closest ally in the region.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said in a tweeted statement that Biden should remove Kerry from access to briefings on national security until the truth comes out as to whether Zarif’s reported statements are accurate.
“The allegations involving @JohnKerry are deeply disturbing. If true, he must resign,” Scott said.
Speaking with reporters, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called for "transparency."
"This can't be swept aside. This has to be evaluated. We need the kind of transparency associated with this kind of an apparent breach of a commitment to one of our key allies," Romney said.
On the other side of Capitol Hill, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, called for Kerry to be prosecuted.
“This is a criminal act and John Kerry must be immediately investigated and PROSECUTED. President Biden must immediately remove John Kerry from any government or advisory position,” she tweeted.
Nikki Haley, who served as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in the Trump administration and is considered a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, called Kerry’s reported discussion with Zarif “disgusting.”
“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 tweeted.
Kerry currently serves as a special envoy for climate, taking the lead role on the country’s diplomatic efforts on climate change. He serves under the direction of Secretary of State Antony Blinken but also holds a seat in President Biden’s Cabinet, signifying the administration’s high priority on addressing the effects of a warming planet.
Kerry recently oversaw the U.S. hosting a two-day virtual summit on climate change, hosting 40 world heads of state for several sessions on what steps need to be taken to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
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