Pompeo on John Kerry: Past Secretaries of State Should ‘Get Off the Stage’

By Patrick Goodenough | May 13, 2019 | 4:23 AM EDT

Then-Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at the U.N. in New York on April 27, 2015. (Photo by Jason DeCrow-Pool/Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – Former secretaries of state should “get off the stage” and leave foreign policy to their successors, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday, when asked about John Kerry’s interactions with the Iranian regime since leaving the State Department.

Asked by CNBC’s Hadley Gamble whether Kerry’s reported conversations with his former Iranian counterpart made his job difficult, Pompeo replied, “It’s inappropriate. It’s not consistent with what a former secretary of state ought to be doing, and I’ll leave it at that.”

Then, he added, “Suffice it to say, previous secretaries of state ought to just get off the stage – when their day is done they ought to leave foreign policy to their successors.”

Asked whether Kerry should potentially be prosecuted under the Logan Act – as President Trump suggested last week – Pompeo said he would “leave to the Department of Justice to make decisions about prosecutions.”

“I know only this,” he said, “If you’re out talking to someone that you did a deal with before, and you’re urging that country to behave in a way that is inconsistent with American policy, that’s not right.”

Kerry confirmed last fall having met several times with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif – his negotiating partner during the talks that produced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015 – although he said at the time he had not done so since Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal four months earlier.

Trump said on Thursday he would like the Iranians to “call me,” but that Kerry has been dissuading the Iranians from doing so.

“That's a violation of the Logan Act. And, frankly, he should be prosecuted on that.”

Trump also accused Kerry of having had “many meetings and many phone calls” with the Iranians.

A spokesman for Kerry called Trump’s comments “simply wrong, end of story.”

Signed into law in 1799, the Logan Act prohibits unauthorized persons from negotiating with foreign governments which have a dispute with the United States.

Kerry and Zarif developed a rapport and close working relationship during the marathon JCPOA negotiations, and Kerry later praised his counterpart as “a patriot.”

Pompeo has taken a far more critical view of Zarif. In a speech last July he described Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani – both purported “moderates” – as “polished front men for the ayatollah’s international con-artistry.”

Days before he left the State Department, Kerry on January 19, 2017 attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, as did Zarif.

Kerry and Zarif both attended the Munich Security Conference in Germany on February 18 last year, and four months later both attended a meeting in Oslo, Norway, focused on mediating armed conflict.

They met again in New York in April last year, the Boston Globe reported shortly afterwards.

After the news story appeared, Zarif confirmed that during a visit to New York he had lobbied influential Americans about the possibility of a JCPOA withdrawal.

He did not name Kerry, but said his interlocutors included former officials involved in the nuclear negotiations and “political elites and decision makers.” The Iranian foreign ministry later confirmed that Kerry had been one of them.

‘Our aim is not war’

In the CNBC interview, Pompeo also spoke about the decision to have “deterrent forces” deployed in the region in case the Iranian regime decided to target U.S. interests.

“An attack on American interests from an Iranian-led force, whether it’s an Iranian proper or it’s an entity that is controlled by the Iranians, we will hold the responsible party accountable,” he said. “President Trump has been very clear about that: Our response will be appropriate.”

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) transits the Suez Canal on May 9. (Photo: U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Dan Snow)

National Security Advisor John Bolton a week ago announced that the U.S. was sending ships and warplanes to the region to send a message to Iran, “in response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.”

Later last week U.S. Central Command confirmed that the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group had transited the Suez Canal on its way the region, and that B-52 strategic bombers from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana had arrived at Qatar’s Al-Udeid air base.

Pompeo attributed the decision to “increased threats” from the Iranians.

“We’ve seen this reporting – it’s real. It appears to be something that is current. It is things that we’re worried about today. So we’ve done all the right things to increase our security posture to the best of our ability.”

The U.S. wanted to ensure it had deterrent forces in place, he continued, “so in the event that Iran decided to come after an American interest – whether that be in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or in Yemen, or any place in the Middle East – we were prepared to respond to them in an appropriate way.”

Asked how worried he was about the “potential for miscalculation,” Pompeo replied, “We’re not going to miscalculate: Our aim is not war, our aim is a change in the behavior of the Iranian leadership.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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