White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki evaded answering a question about Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jevad Zarif revealing in a leaked phone call that John Kerry told Iran that Israel—America’s top ally in the Middle East—was responsible for hundreds of attacks on Iranian assets in Syria.
An official with the State Department also refused to entertain the question when asked during a separate conference.
“Former Secretary of State John Kerry informed him that Israel had attacked Iranian interests in Syria at least 200 times, to his astonishment, Mr. Zarif said,” the New York Times reported on Sunday.
The leaked audio tape was a product of a private talk that Zarif had with an economist. Zarif revealed that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps effectively runs the country and that former President Donald Trump’s strike on Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani—the then commander of the Guard’s elite Quds Force—was a bigger blow to Iran than if a whole city had been wiped off the map.
On Monday, a reporter asked Psaki about the portion of the story relating to Kerry, which was apparently buried near the bottom of the Times report.
“I have one question about foreign policy, and then another about COVID here,” the reporter said. “So, the first one is: In tapes obtained by the New York Times, Iran’s foreign minister says that former Secretary of State John Kerry informed him that Israel attacked Iranian interests at least 200 times.”
“You know, as the secretary has shifted roles, he still continues to represent the United States on a world stage,” he continued. “Does the president have any comment or reaction to Kerry telling the Iranians about covert military action on the part of Israel?”
“We’re not going to comment on leaked tapes,” Psaki responded.
State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters earlier in the day that he would not comment on “purportedly leaked material” and could not “vouch for the authenticity of it or the accuracy of it” or what motives might be concealed behind its emergence.
“There’s been some criticism of John Kerry, who, according to Mr. Zarif, when he was Secretary of State, had spoken to Mr. Zarif about 200 hundred Israeli operations in Syria and Foreign Minister Zarif said he was astonished to hear about this,” a reporter said.
“Can you say anything about whether John Kerry as secretary of state was talking about Israeli operations in Syria that were not supposed to be discussed?” the reporter asked.
“Again, these are, this is purportedly leaked material, can’t speak to the authenticity, can’t speak to the accuracy of it, can’t speak to any motives that may be behind its dissemination,” Price responded. “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.”
Psaki’s evasion of the question has not put the issue to rest. Many are curious as to why this was not made public to US journalists if this information had been made on the record, according to Price.