On April 25 an audiotaped an interview with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was “leaked” to and broadcast by Iranian International, a satellite news channel. (It is equally possible that it was released intentionally by Mr. Zarif or his political foes in Tehran.)
The interview was reportedly part of an “oral history” project and not intended be released publicly. In the interview, Mr. Zarif said that he was told by former secretary of state John Kerry that Israel had covertly attacked Iranian-supported militias in Syria more than 200 times.
Mr. Kerry, now President Biden’s special envoy on climate change, angrily denied that he had leaked Israeli secrets to the Iranians, saying, “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.”
Many conservatives condemned Mr. Kerry, demanding his resignation or firing on the basis of what Mr. Zarif said. But, between the two, who is telling the truth? Because of their track records the better question is why should we believe either one of these guys?
Mr. Kerry’s political career was built on a foundation of lies, beginning with his 1971 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In that statement, he said that 150 Vietnam veterans met to tell stories about how they randomly murdered, raped and committed arson against Vietnamese people. He did his best to implicate every U.S. soldier who served in Vietnam in such atrocities and said that their superiors were ignoring their atrocities as a matter of policy.
Mr. Kerry’s testimony was a heinous lie. He has made a political career of such falsehoods, interspersed with quibbles and denials. A few examples suffice.
The phrase “he was for it before he was against it” was probably invented for Mr. Kerry. During his 2004 presidential campaign he claimed that he opposed President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, despite the fact that he had voted in favor of the authorization for using military force against Iraq.
In 2013, then-President Obama announced a “red line” against Syria’s Assad regime use of chemical weapons against civilians or rebels. But when, after Mr. Obama’s threat, Mr. Assad’s forces again used chemical weapons against those people, Mr. Obama did nothing. In 2017, Mr. Kerry insisted that Mr. Obama didn’t back down. Now, Mr. Kerry asserts that climate change is a matter of life and death.
Mr. Kerry’s denial that he disclosed Israeli covert operations is doubtful because he is used to parsing words in the best Clintonian manner. He may have righteously denied telling Mr. Zarif of over 200 instances of Israeli attacks in Syria when he only told Mr. Zarif about 198.
Mr. Kerry’s denial of Mr. Zarif’s statement is entirely doubtful because, by his own admission, he met with Mr. Zarif after he left office and President Trump was in office. He said he had met with Mr. Zarif three or four times to determine “what Iran might be willing to do in order to change the dynamic in the Middle East for the better” and denied coaching Mr. Zarif on how to wait out the Trump administration.
Whatever was said in those meetings, Mr. Kerry has clearly violated the Logan Act which prohibits private citizens from interfering in U.S. foreign policy. As a former secretary of State, Mr. Kerry retains his security clearance and must have been briefed by the Obama-friendly U.S. intelligence community about the Israeli strikes in Syria. He should be prosecuted under the Logan Act and his security clearance revoked, but neither action will be taken by Mr. Biden’s administration.
Mr. Zarif’s record of lies is perhaps even worse. He has denied that Iran jails people for their political opinions, that there is any collaboration between al Qaeda and Iran, and that Iran has supplied Houthi rebels in Yemen with arms and funding. He has claimed that Iran is a democracy. In the leaked interview, he said that Russia was opposed to the 2015 nuclear weapons deal that former President Obama and Mr. Kerry negotiated. Russia is one of the deal’s principal supporters. There are other examples that are far too numerous to catalogue here.
Messrs. Zarif and Kerry share one big lie: their unending claim that the 2015 Obama-Iran deal is a path to peace.
Because Mr. Zarif injected a few truthful statements into the interview, his accusation that Mr. Kerry informed him of the Israeli strikes in Syria is probably no less truthful than Mr. Kerry’s denial.
The hours-long interview during which Mr. Zarif made that accusation also included complaints that, as foreign minister, his policies are subject to whatever changes the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Council’s leaders impose. He bitterly complained about the influence of the late Qassem Soleimani, the former IRGC commander killed by a 2020 US drone strike ordered by Mr. Trump. Between the bits and pieces that are true how much of the rest is just more Iranian disinformation designed to mislead the West?
The intensive Russian, Chinese, Iranian and North Korean propaganda and disinformation campaigns now underway have created a sort of “liars’ Olympics.” In that competition, Messrs. Kerry and Zarif are already gold medalists.
• Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of Defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”