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Media launders hawks’ absurd claims that John Kerry spilled secrets to Iran’s foreign minister

It’s easy to distract Washington reporters from the realities of high stakes diplomacy.

The United States is engaging in diplomacy with Iran so that means it’s silly season once again in Washington. 

The latest episode this week originated from a Sunday New York Times article reporting on leaked audio to the Saudi owned Persian news outlet Iran International of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif discussing behind-the-scenes intrigue of Iranian politics and power.

The highlight of this leaked audio was Zarif’s supposedly controversial comments about Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps General Qassam Suleimani, whom the U.S. military assassinated last year.

But buried toward the end of the piece, the Times reported: “Former Secretary of State John Kerry informed [Zarif] that Israel had attacked Iranian interests in Syria at least 200 times, to his astonishment, Mr. Zarif said.”

Assuming Zarif is telling the truth — it’s entirely possible he is not, and Kerry himself has since denied that any such conversation took place — Kerry had informed Zarif of events that had already taken place. Moreover, the media has been reporting on these kinds of attacks since at least 2013, and the Israelis themselves acknowledged their role in them back in 2018

But, facts and logic be damned, right-wing media quickly picked up on this particular passage and went crazy, allegeding that Kerry had revealed “Israeli covert operations” and that he was “‘ratting out’ our allies.” 

It’s to be expected that right-wing media would go nuts and seize on this opportunity to attack President Biden and any sort of diplomatic outreach to the Iranians. 

But then hawks on Capitol Hill kicked into gear and reporters there couldn’t help themselves but take the bait. 

Politico ran with the sensational “GOP tears into Kerry amid Iran controversy” headline, and relayed wild claims like “[p]eople are talking about treason.” There was very little skepticism about the claims, other than saying “Zarif’s version of events has not been independently corroborated,” and noting in passing that the attacks were revealed years ago.

But Politico still wondered whether Kerry “revealed the Israeli operations to Zarif before they were publicly reported by Israel itself in 2018.”

The Hill followed suit. “Kerry faces calls to step down over leaked Iran tapes,” its headline reads, later relaying one GOP lawmaker’s claim that Kerry should be “prosecuted.” 

While, unlike Politico, the Hill piece was more explicit in pointing out that these attacks had been previously made public, it’s quite astonishing that mainstream reporters have been so warped by hysterical partisan mania, particularly when it comes to Iran, that they would speculate and/or relay unsubstantiated claims that John Kerry — a former U.S. senator, Democratic presidential nominee, and secretary of state — would play fast and loose with U.S. intelligence in such a way, particularly in a conversation with Iran’s foreign minister. 

But they’re also missing the bigger picture here. None of these stories pointed out that Iran International — the London-based Persion news outlet that the Zarif tapes were originally leaked to — was, according to a Wall Street Journal report in 2019, funded and helped launched by “individuals connected to the Saudi royal court.” 

It’s well-known that Saudi Arabia — like Israel and the United Arab Emirates — strongly opposes the Iran nuclear deal and the United States’ re-entry into it. Therefore, it’s likely that this leak, along with other acts like the recent attack on an Iranian nuclear facility allegedly carried out by Israel, is part of a campaign to gum up the talks between Iran, the United States, and other world powers on restoring the 2015 accord. 

It’s a shame that reporters in Washington who should know better can’t see what’s actually going on here, and seemingly without hesitation get caught up in the distraction and take the bait. Thankfully it appears that those tasked with working on a return to the JCPOA aren’t. 

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