The furor over claims that John Kerry may have disclosed intelligence secrets about Israeli military strikes to the Iranians escalated again Thursday, as 19 Republican senators Thursday demanded an investigation into the charges and that President Biden must fire Mr. Kerry as his top climate policy aide if the charges prove true.
In a letter to Mr. Biden, the group of GOP lawmakers said the White House should immediately begin a probe into Mr. Kerry’s alleged conversations with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. In the interim, they said, the former secretary of state — who has vehemently denied the claims of improper disclosures — should be denied access to all sensitive government information.
“Secretary Kerry has a long history of employing transactional diplomacy against the best interests of the United States or our allies — often trading long-term national security for a flawed short-term political agenda — which has ultimately endangered our allies and emboldened our enemies,” the senators wrote to Mr. Biden. “Revealing sensitive information, whether deliberately or not, about one of our most important and enduring allies in the region, the state of Israel, to an avowed enemy … is reason alone to remove Secretary Kerry from your administration.”
The firestorm facing Mr. Kerry stems from his longstanding relationship with Mr. Zarif, an English-speaking diplomat who in many ways has become the international face of the theocratic regime in Tehran. The two men worked closely to craft the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which put limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for economic sanctions relief.
While Mr. Zarif has cast himself as a key architect of that deal and a powerful figure in international diplomacy, he claimed in a recent leaked audiotape that Iran’s military leaders hold nearly all of the power in Tehran.
As an example of how he’s often kept in the dark by the military, Mr. Zarif said that he only learned from Mr. Kerry the true extent of Israel’s air campaign against Iran-backed militias in Syria. Mr. Zarif said that Mr. Kerry told him Israel had conducted more than 200 covert airstrikes against Iranian targets.
Iran has condemned a selective leaking of the Zarif interview but not the accuracy of the leaks. Mr. Kerry himself has denied ever having such a conversation took place.
“I can tell you that this story and these allegations are unequivocally false. This never happened — either when I was secretary of state or since,” he said in a Twitter post earlier this week.
State Department officials also have sought to downplay the charges and have pointed to a September 2018 public acknowledgment of the 200 airstrikes by the Israeli government.
But there are major unanswered questions about the timing of the alleged Kerry-Zarif conversation. In the larger picture, many Republicans were already fuming that veterans of the Obama administration, including Mr. Kerry, were working privately to keep the Iran deal alive when President Trump had made it clear U.S. policy was going in a different direction under his administration.
Mr. Kerry has acknowledged meeting with Mr. Zarif at least twice after leaving his post as secretary of state in January 2017 and prior to Mr. Trump withdrawing from the JCPOA in May 2018. The first public disclosure of Israel’s 200 airstrikes in Syria appears to have come in September 2018.
Israeli officials in 2017, however, publicly stated that they had conducted at least 100 airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria.
Mr. Zarif did not provide a date of when the conversation with Mr. Kerry supposedly occurred, and the State Department so far has not clarified the timing.
Republican lawmakers have called for congressional hearings to get answers to that question and a host of others. On Wednesday, three Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee also demanded the revelations about Mr. Kerry be probed.
Republicans are already cautioning the Biden administration to exercise caution as it pursues new diplomatic talks with Tehran about resurrecting the nuclear deal.
If Mr. Zarif is lying about his conversation with Mr. Kerry, they said, the administration should not trust the Iranian regime to honor any commitments it makes about its nuclear program.
“If proven false, this narrative is yet further proof that Iranian officials are dishonest brokers and we ask that your administration be mindful of this as you continue discussions on the future of U.S. posture towards Iran,” the 19 senators wrote.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters Thursday that “indirect” negotiations between Washington and Tehran about a possible return to the JCPOA — which do not include Mr. Kerry — are ongoing but that no deal is imminent.
“We are not on the cusp of any breakthrough, and again there is a potentially long road ahead of us,” he said.
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