15:30 GMT13 May 2021
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    Republican lawmakers are calling for a probe into John Kerry, the Obama-era Secretary of State and Biden's special envoy for climate, over remarks he allegedly made to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif about Israeli airstrikes against ‘Iranian assets’ in Syria.

    Trump-era CIA chief and secretary of state Mike Pompeo has called on John Kerry to “explain” why he allegedly leaked confidential information about Israel’s illegal bombing operations in Syria.

    “Secretary Kerry, can you please explain to the American people why you disclosed information about Israeli operations to Iranian FM @JZarif? We’ve known for years you were helping him. Americans deserve to know why.” Pompeo tweeted.

    The tweet follows the release of leaked audio of an interview between Zarif and Iranian economist Saeed Laylaz in which Zarif revealed that Kerry had told him about the extent of Israeli operations inside Syria against suspected Iranian-backed forces.

    “Kerry has to tell me that Israel has attacked you 200 times in Syria?” Zarif said, implying that Iran’s military had withheld such information from him. “You did not know?” the interviewer asked. “No, no,” Zarif replied.

    In follow-up remarks to Fox News on Tuesday, Pompeo went on to say he was "unsurprised” but “disheartened” by the allegations against Kerry. “But it reminded me that every leader has a special responsibility to defend their oath to the Constitution,” he said, without clarifying what Israel has to do with the US Constitution.

    Kerry, who met with Zarif repeatedly in the early to mid-2010s to negotiate the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, categorically denied the claim that he had blabbed about Israel’s military operations to the Iranian diplomat.

    “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 tweeted Tuesday.

    The leaked audio, obtained by Iran International – a Saudi-owned media satellite television channel based in London, caused a political scandal inside Iran, with the country’s authorities not denying the audio’s authenticity, but saying Zarif’s comments were ripped out of context and aimed at destabilising the domestic political situation. In the interview, Zarif complained about his limited powers and the alleged outsized influence enjoyed by the Revolutionary Guards in the political and diplomatic decision-making process. President Hassan Rouhani, whose term in office is expected to expire following the upcoming 18 June presidential election, has ordered an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the leak.

    A scandal of a smaller magnitude has also rocked Washington in connection with the audio, with Republican lawmakers including Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan and Senator Rick Scott of Florida calling on Kerry to resign or asking President Biden to revoke his access to classified information while a probe is carried out.

    Meanwhile, GOP Congressman Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin suggested that it was “unfathomable that any US diplomat, past or present, would leak intelligence to the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism at the expense of one of our staunchest allies”.

    Biden National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat on Tuesday, with a White House readout of the conversation indicating that the two countries had agreed to cooperate more closely to counter Iran’s drone and missile programmes, with the US side also indicating its “interest in consulting closely with Israel on the nuclear issue going forward”. The readout made no mention of the Zarif interview.

    Tel Aviv, which lobbied the Trump administration extensively to scrap the nuclear deal, has threatened to take military action to prevent Tehran from building a nuclear bomb. The Islamic Republic has repeatedly denied any intention to do so, and instead asked the international community to do something about Israel’s own suspected nuclear weapons stockpile.

    Israel has publicly admitted to bombing Syria hundreds of times in recent years during the latter's decade-long battle against a wide assortment of jihadist extremists. Damascus has urged the international community to do something about Tel Aviv's aggression, and has vowed to one day regain control over all of its territories, including the Israeli-occupied Golan - the strategic region from which many of Israel's air and missile attacks are launched.


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