John KerryJohn KerryOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — Senate Finance chair backs budget action on fossil fuel subsidies Kerry: 'We can't get where we need to go' in climate fight if China isn't joining in MORE, 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 SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanGOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization More Republicans call on Biden to designate Taliban as terrorist group Overnight Energy: Judge blocks permits for Alaska oil project MORE (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 BidenJoe BidenFord to bolster electric vehicle production in multi-billion dollar push Protesters demonstrate outside Manchin's houseboat over opposition to reconciliation package Alabama eyes using pandemic relief funds on prison system MORE’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."
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. https://t.co/BTOdFE1khW— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) April 26, 2021
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 NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE, 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 RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — PennEast drops pipeline plans despite Supreme Court victory Graham tries to help Trump and McConnell bury the hatchet GOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase MORE (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 StefanikElise Marie StefanikWyoming county GOP rejects effort to rescind Cheney's party status Stefanik in ad says Democrats want 'permanent election insurrection' GOP leader taking proxy voting fight to Supreme Court MORE (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.
This is a criminal act and John Kerry must be immediately investigated and PROSECUTED.— Elise Stefanik (@EliseStefanik) April 26, 2021
President Biden must immediately remove John Kerry from any government or advisory position.https://t.co/lO7ReFVCZS
Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems attempt to tie government funding, Ida relief to debt limit Poll: Trump dominates 2024 Republican primary field Harris to hold fundraiser for McAuliffe ahead of Virginia governor's race MORE, 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.
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. https://t.co/ZLWnQRZkrG— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) April 26, 2021
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 BlinkenAntony BlinkenOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Republican lawmakers warn against more military coordination with Russia Uyghur Tribunal is a litmus test of the human rights establishment MORE 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.
Jordain Carney contributed. Updated at 7:57 p.m.