Former Secretary of State John Kerry kept Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif informed about secret Israeli military actions in Syria, the Iranian diplomat said in recently leaked audio, casting new light on communication between the two men after Mr. Kerry returned to life as a private citizen in 2017.
In the audiotape released late Sunday night, Mr. Zarif reportedly said that Mr. Kerry told him that Israeli forces had attacked Iranian targets in Syria at least 200 times. Mr. Zarif expressed “astonishment” at the revelation, according to the New York Times, which reviewed the audiotape that was first released by the London-based Iran International media outlet.
Mr. Zarif sat down for interviews with an Iranian journalist as part of a major government-sponsored Iran history project. Iranian officials have not denied the authenticity of the recordings but have said they were selectively edited. In the tapes, Mr. Zarif bemoans the influence of Iranian military officials in Tehran, suggesting that the military often overrules diplomats and, in effect, takes the lead on Iran’s foreign policy.
Iran-backed militias operate inside Syria and have been the target of Israeli military strikes.
President Biden also ordered an American airstrike against an Iranian militia in Syria earlier this year after the militia targeted U.S. troops stationed in neighboring Iraq.
While such strikes by Israel are not surprising, it is noteworthy that Mr. Kerry discussed the matter with Mr. Zarif, though it’s not clear exactly when those conversations took place.
The two men worked closely together crafting the Obama-era Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement that limited Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.
Even after Mr. Kerry left the State Department and former President Trump came to power in January 2017, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Zarif remained in contact. By Mr. Kerry’s own admission, they met in person several times.
In 2018, the former Massachusetts senator sought to explain those meetings, telling radio host Hugh Hewitt that he intended to find out “what Iran might be willing to do in order to change the dynamic in the Middle East for the better” and claimed there was nothing secret about his discussions with Mr. Zarif. He also vehemently denied allegations that he “coached” Mr. Zarif about how to deal with a Trump administration that was taking a hard line toward Tehran.