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Senate Republicans Call for Investigation into John Kerry's Conduct: Did He Expose Israeli Secrets to Iran?

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More than a dozen Senate Republicans on Thursday sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to investigate allegations that former Secretary of State John Kerry, the current special presidential envoy for climate, disclosed covert Israeli actions against Iranian interests in Syria to Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. 

As CBN News reported Tuesday, the Iranian foreign minister said in the recording, reported by The New York Times on Sunday, that Kerry told him Israel had attacked Iranian targets in Syria "at least 200 times." 

As Secretary of State, Kerry spoke with Zarif constantly while the U.S. and Iran negotiated the 2015 nuclear accord. Zarif claimed in the 3-hour leaked recording that he was often kept in the dark about foreign policy issues and was astonished to hear that Israel had attacked Iranian interests in Syria hundreds of times. Kerry himself does not appear in the recording and Zarif did not specify when Kerry allegedly shared this information.  

Kerry currently serves as a member of the National Security Council with access to classified intelligence. In the letter to Biden, the 19 senators called for the president to suspend Kerry's access to sensitive information until the investigation is completed:

"Dear Mr. President,

We write to convey our grave concerns over US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry's position as a member of your administration's National Security Council and his record – both past and present—of potentially working with America's adversaries against our national security interests and those of our allies. We ask you to investigate recent allegations that Secretary Kerry revealed sensitive information to the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and if true, call for his removal from your national security team.

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 adversaries. The most recent egregious allegation, is the purported claim in a leaked recording by Foreign Minister Zarif, that Secretary Kerry relayed covert Israeli actions against Iranian interests in Syria. 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 – the largest state sponsor of terrorism, responsible for the killing, wounding, and maiming of thousands of American servicemen and women—is reason alone to remove Secretary Kerry from your administration. 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 US posture towards Iran.

Given the gravity of these allegations, in addition to investigating these claims, we call on you to suspend Secretary Kerry's access to sensitive information until this investigation is faithfully resolved."

The letter was signed by Senators James Lankford (R-OK), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Steve Daines (R-MT), Joni Ernst (R-IA), John Barrasso (R-WY), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Braun (R-IN), Rick Scott (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Tom Cotton (R-AR).

Other prominent Republicans have also questioned Kerry's alleged actions. 

Nikki Haley, who was President Trump's ambassador to the UN, called the claims in the New York Times report "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," Haley said on Twitter.

Former Secretary of State under the Trump administration, Mike Pompeo, said the audiotape proves "what I've said for years: That Zarif continued to engage with former Secretary of State Kerry on policy matters after Kerry's public service and, according to Zarif, Kerry informed the Iranians of Israeli operations."

"Before we cut a deal with Iran that reduces Americans' security," Pompeo said, "it would be good to know what the arrangement, if any, may have been between these two leaders."
Kerry has denied the conversation ever happened.

"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," Kerry said on Twitter.

Current Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called the claims against Kerry "utter nonsense."

As CBN News reported, it is unclear if the alleged conversation would have revealed any classified information since Israel has done little to deny reports of the hundreds of strikes it has carried out against Iranian interests in Syria over the years. Israel publicly reported that it carried out more than 200 airstrikes in Syria in 2018, and the recording does not specify if Kerry allegedly told Zarif about the operations before or after Israel made these airstrikes public information.

But a former official who worked on Iran issues suggested to The Washington Examiner earlier this week that even a statement following any Israeli announcements could conflict with the rules governing the handling of classified information.

"Just because information is published by a foreign government or the press doesn't change its classification status within the U.S. government," said Gabriel Noronha, who worked at the State Department under then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The recording of Zarif, originally leaked by a London-based news channel, offers a rare look inside Iran's government and set off a firestorm in the Islamic Republic. 

It also comes as the Biden administration tries to resurrect the nuclear deal with Iran after Trump pulled out of the agreement in 2018. Republicans oppose making a nuclear deal with the terrorism-sponsoring Islamic regime and have criticized Biden's diplomatic efforts to limit Iran's nuclear program.

In the tape, Zarif says his country is basically run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG) and claims that he was left out of important decisions by Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2020.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Zarif's comments about the IRCG's power is further proof that the U.S. should not lift its sanctions on Iran in exchange for a better nuclear deal.

"We know that preemptive concessions will not secure a better deal, or make America or our allies more secure," McConnell said on Monday.