scandal over Mr. Zarif, whose criticism of internal decision-making recently leaked, apparently in an effort to damage his reputation and any chance he had to run for the presidency.
Ayatollah Khamenei refuted the criticism without naming Mr. Zarif, but he said the comments were “a big mistake that must not be made by an official of the Islamic Republic” and “a repetition of what Iran’s enemies say.”
At the same time, by downplaying Mr. Zarif’s role, the supreme leader reaffirmed his support for the talks while also sheltering them from criticism by hard-liners, said Ellie Geranmayeh of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Steven Erlanger reported from Brussels, and David E. Sanger from Washington. Farnaz Fassihi contributed reporting from New York.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, meeting with counterparts from both China and Russia on Friday, said that the United States would “push back forcefully” against breakers of international rules, even as he acknowledged his own country’s violations under the Trump administration.
Mr. Blinken’s counterparts, Foreign Ministers Wang Yi of China and Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia, took their own diplomatic swipes at the United States, accusing it of hypocrisy and of defining international rules in terms designed to assert Western dominance in the world.
The exchanges came at a United Nations Security Council meeting, convened by China and held virtually via videoconference link, on the theme of multilateral cooperation against the pandemic, global warming and other common threats.
It was in some ways a rematch between Mr. Blinken and Mr. Wang, who was part of a top Chinese delegation that brusquely lectured the United States at a meeting in Alaska two months ago. That unscripted confrontation was regarded heroically in China, where the government has stoked rising anti-Americanism and nationalism.
“defending democratic values and open societies” — a signal of the Biden administration’s intent to challenge China and Russia on human rights, disinformation and other issues that had been de-emphasized or ignored by the administration of President Donald J. Trump.
In another clear signal from the Biden administration, Mr. Blinken also visited Ukraine, where he pledged support for its fight against a Russian-backed insurgency that has claimed 13,000 lives since 2014.
Mr. Blinken asserted in his Security Council remarks that the United Nations remained a critical force for good in the world, responsible since its founding at the end of World War II for the most peaceful and prosperous era in modern history, but was now under severe threat.
“Nationalism is resurgent, repression is rising, rivalries among countries are deepening — and attacks against the rules-based order are intensifying,” Mr. Blinken said. “Some question whether multilateral cooperation is still possible. The United States believes it is not only possible, but imperative.”
seeking to rejoin the U.N. Human Rights Council.
“We’re also taking steps, with great humility, to address the inequities and injustices in our own democracy,” he said. “We do so openly and transparently, for people around the world to see. Even when it’s ugly. Even when it’s painful.”
Mr. Wang, whose country holds the rotating Security Council presidency for May, sought to depict China as a responsible global citizen that adhered to international law. Without mentioning the United States by name, he chided countries that he said had defined international rules as a “patent or privilege of the few.”
economic sanctions that the United States and European Union have imposed on Russia and others they disagree with, which Mr. Lavrov said were designed to “take opponents out of the game.”
WASHINGTON — In early 2020, members of a Taliban-linked criminal network in Afghanistan detained in raids told interrogators that they had heard that Russians were offering money to reward killings of American and coalition troops.
The claim, that Russia was trying to pay to generate more frequent attacks on Western forces, was stunning, particularly because the United States was trying at the same time to negotiate a deal with the Taliban to end the long-running war in Afghanistan. C.I.A. analysts set out to see whether they could corroborate or debunk the detainees’ accounts.
Ultimately, newly declassified information shows, those analysts discovered a significant reason to believe the claim was accurate: Other members of the same Taliban-linked network had been working closely with operatives from a notorious unit of the G.R.U., the Russian military intelligence service, known for assassination operations.
“The involvement of this G.R.U. unit is consistent with Russia encouraging attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Afghanistan given its leading role in such lethal and destabilizing operations abroad,” the National Security Council said in a statement provided to The New York Times.
U.S. sanctions and other punishments against Russia. The White House took diplomatic action — delivering a warning and demanding an explanation for suspicious activities — about the bounty issue, but did not base sanctions on it. The Biden administration did impose sanctions for Russia’s SolarWinds hacking and election interference.
The Times had reported last summer that different intelligence agencies, while agreeing on the assessment itself, disagreed on whether to put medium or lower confidence in it. The evidence available to analysts — both alarming facts and frustrating gaps — essentially remains the same.
The release of the full talking points as a statement is the government’s most detailed public explanation yet about how the C.I.A. came to the judgment that Russia had most likely offered financial incentives to reward attacks on American and allied troops. It also sheds new light on the gaps in the evidence that raised greater concerns among other analysts.
not intercepted any smoking-gun electronic communication about a bounty plot. (The Defense Intelligence Agency shares that view, while the National Counterterrorism Center agrees with the C.I.A.’s “moderate” level, officials have said.)
But the statement reveals that despite that disagreement over how to rate the quality of available information underlying the core assessment, the intelligence community also had “high confidence” — meaning the judgment is based on high-quality information from multiple sources — in the key circumstantial evidence: Strong ties existed between Russian operatives and the Afghan network where the bounty claims arose.
“We have independently verified the ties of several individuals in this network to Russia,” the National Security Council statement said. It added, “Multiple sources have confirmed that elements of this criminal network worked for Russian intelligence for over a decade and traveled to Moscow in April 2019.”
The declassified statement also opened a window into American officials’ understanding of the Russian operatives, known as Unit 29155 of the G.R.U. The government has previously resisted talking openly about group, although a Times investigation in 2019 linked it to various operations, citing Western security officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
By contrast, the National Security Council statement identified other “nefarious operations” around the world that the government thought the squad had carried out — to explain why the discovery of its involvement with the Afghan network was seen as bolstering the credibility of the detainees’ claims about Russian bounties.
the 2018 poisoning of a former G.R.U. officer, Sergei V. Skripal, in Salisbury, England, and of “assassinations across Europe.”
Unit 29155 was involved in two explosions at ammunition depots that killed two Czechs in 2014. He said the government would expel nearly 80 Russian diplomats.
Days later, the prosecutor general’s office in Bulgaria announced that it was investigating a possible connection between Unit 29155 and four explosions at ammunition depots over the past decade. At least two happened while members of the unit were frequently traveling in and out of Bulgaria, the office said.
Some of the destroyed arms in both countries, according to officials, belonged to Emilian Gebrev, a Bulgarian arms manufacturer who was poisoned in 2015 along with his son and an executive in his company. Officials have previously accused Unit 29155 in that attempted assassination.
While most previous reports about Unit 29155’s activities have centered in Europe, its leader, Maj. Gen. Andrei V. Averyanov, has experience in Central Asia. He graduated in 1988 from the Tashkent Military Academy in what was then the Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, a year before the Soviet pullout from bordering Afghanistan.
The government apparently did not declassify everything. The White House statement described but did not detail certain evidence, keeping its sources and methods of information-gathering secret. It did not specify the G.R.U. unit’s number, but officials have said it was Unit 29155, and the two prior operations the statement mentioned have been attributed to it elsewhere.
as a middleman for the Russian spies, and Habib Muradi. Both escaped capture and are said to have fled to Russia.
And it made no mention of other circumstantial evidence officials have previously described, like the discovery that money was transferred from a G.R.U. account to the Afghan network.
In an interview published April 30 in a Russian newspaper, Nikolai Patrushev, the chairman of Russia’s Security Council, again said it was false that Russia had covertly offered bounties for killing American troops in Afghanistan, adding that there was no evidence that it had done so.
The White House statement also brought into sharper focus two gaps in the available evidence that analysts saw as a reason to be cautious.
Military leaders have repeatedly pointed to one in public: The intelligence community lacks proof tying any specific attack to a bounty payment. “We cannot confirm that the operation resulted in any attacks on U.S. or coalition forces,” the National Security Council said.
The other reason for caution is an absence of information showing that a Kremlin leader authorized Unit 29155 to offer bounties to Afghan militants. “We do not have evidence that the Kremlin directed this operation,” the statement said.
The Biden administration’s briefing to reporters last month reignited a debate over the political implications of the C.I.A.’s assessment — and the Trump White House’s handling of it — that unfolded last year and dwelled in part on confidence levels.
reported last June on the existence of the C.I.A. assessment and that the White House had led an interagency effort to come up with options to respond but then authorized none.
Facing bipartisan criticism, the Trump administration defended its inaction by playing down the assessment as too weak to take seriously, falsely denying that it had been briefed to President Donald J. Trump. In fact, it had been included in his written presidential daily briefing in late February, two officials have said.
In congressional testimony, military leaders based in the United States who regularly interacted with the Trump White House said they would be outraged if it were true, but they had not seen proof that any attack resulted from bounties. But some military officials based in Afghanistan, as well as some other senior Pentagon and State Department officials, thought the C.I.A. was right, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations at the time.
Among those who found the evidence and analysis persuasive was Nathan Sales, the State Department’s politically appointed top counterterrorism official during the Trump administration.
“The reporting that Russia was placing bounties on American soldiers’ heads was so serious that it warranted a robust diplomatic response,” Mr. Sales said this week in an email.
A top Pentagon official and the secretary of state at the time, Mike Pompeo, later delivered warnings over the issue to their Russian counterparts, effectively breaking with the White House.
After the briefing last month, some Trump supporters — as well as some left-wing critics of the C.I.A. and military interventions — argued that the C.I.A.’s bounty assessment had been debunked as evidence-free “fake news,” vindicating Mr. Trump’s dismissal of the issue last year as a “hoax.” Russian propaganda outlets echoed and amplified those assertions.
Michael J. Morell, a former acting director of the C.I.A., said another factor had fostered confusion. When analysts assess something with low confidence, he said, that does not mean they think the conclusion is wrong. Rather, they are expressing greater concerns about the sourcing limitations, while still judging that the assessment is the best explanation of the available facts.
“A judgment at any confidence level is a judgment that the analysts believe to be true,” he said. “Even when you have a judgment that is low confidence, the analysts believe that judgment is correct. So in this case, the analysts believe that the Russians were offering bounties.”
Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, and Michael Schwirtz from New York. Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting from Washington.
LONDON — The Group of 7 was created to help coordinate economic policy among the world’s top industrial powers. In the four decades since, it has acted to combat energy shortages, global poverty and financial crises.
But as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with fellow Group of 7 foreign ministers in London this week, a key item on the agenda will be what Mr. Blinken called, in remarks to the press on Monday, “defending democratic values and open societies.”
Implicitly, that defense is against China and, to a lesser extent, Russia. While the economic and public tasks of recovering from the coronavirus remain paramount, Mr. Blinken is also employing the Group of 7 — composed of the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan — to coordinate with allies in an emerging global competition between democracy and the authoritarian visions of Moscow and Beijing.
One twist in the meeting this week is the presence of nations that are not formal Group of 7 members: India, South Korea, Australia and South Africa. Also in attendance is Brunei, the current chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations.
Ash Jain, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
Mr. Jain noted the way the group is now emphasizing common values over shared economic interests. “The G-7 is being rebranded as a group of like-minded democracies, as opposed to a group of ‘highly industrialized nations.’ They’re changing the emphasis,” he said.
Many of the countries represented at the meeting do big business with China and Russia, complicating efforts to align them against those nations. China’s pattern of economic coercion was one specific topic of conversation on Tuesday, participants said.
was expelled in 2014 from what was then the Group of 8 after its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
Nor is it likely a coincidence that the expanded guest list matches, with the additions of South Africa and Brunei, a group of 10 countries and the European Union, collectively short-handed as the “D-10” by proponents of organizing them in a new world body. Those proponents include Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, the host of this week’s gathering and architect of its guest list.
Mr. Johnson has also invited India, Australia and South Korea to send their heads of state to this summer’s Group of 7 summit in Cornwall, citing his “ambition to work with a group of like-minded democracies to advance shared interests and tackle common challenges.”
President Biden has similarly suggested that the world is grouping into competing camps, divided by the openness of their political systems. In his address to Congress last week, Mr. Biden said that “America’s adversaries, the autocrats of the world, are betting” that the nation’s battered democracy cannot be restored.
also committed to holding a “Summit for Democracy” during his first year in office, and officials say planning for such an event is underway. Asked in a Tuesday interview with The Financial Times which countries might be invited to such a summit, Mr. Blinken did not answer directly.
And Wednesday’s agenda for the gathering includes a session on open societies, including issues of media freedom and disinformation. Other sessions over the two days include Syria, Russia and its neighbors Ukraine and Belarus, Myanmar, and Afghanistan.
interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” broadcast the night before, Mr. Blinken made clear how the United States views China’s rise.
Jeremy Shapiro, a former State Department official in the Obama administration who is now research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that informally expanding the Group of 7 is far easier than constructing a new body.
“It is always a pain, from a governmental perspective, to invent a new forum, because you need to have an endless discussion about who’s in and who’s out, and how it works, and its relationship to the U.N.,” Mr. Shapiro said.
He added that the Group of 7, whose mission had grown nebulous in recent years, may have acquired a new sense of purpose as it tries to organize a post-Trump democratic world in the face of Chinese and Russian threats.
“You would be hard-pressed to look back the past five years or more since they kicked out Russia to name a single thing the G-7 has done of interest,” Mr. Shapiro said. “It didn’t have much to do.”