Trump: Kerry’s Meetings With Iranians ‘Illegal,’ ‘Can Only Serve to Undercut Our Great Work’

By Patrick Goodenough | September 14, 2018 | 4:34 AM EDT

Then-Secretary of State John Kerry talks to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the nuclear talks, in Vienna on July 3, 2015. (Photo: State Department, File)

(CNSNews.com) – President Trump on Thursday night described former Secretary of State John Kerry’s meetings with Iran’s foreign minister since leaving the State Department as “illegal,” and said that they “can only serve to undercut our great work to the detriment of the American people.”

In recent interviews promoting his memoirs, Kerry confirmed he has met several times with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif – his interlocutor during the negotiations that produced the nuclear deal in 2015 – although he also indicated he has not done so since Trump withdrew from the agreement last May.

“John Kerry had illegal meetings with the very hostile Iranian Regime, which can only serve to undercut our great work to the detriment of the American people,” the president tweeted.

“He told them to wait out the Trump Administration! Was he registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act? BAD!”

On Wednesday, Fox News’s Dana Perino asked Kerry about the Zarif meetings, and about claims that he has been telling the Iranians to “wait out” Trump.

“There are people in the intelligence community who say that you’ve been telling the Iranians to wait out President Trump and the administration, and to wait until there’s a Democratic president in 2021,” she said. “Is that accurate?”

Kerry did not directly deny it, but replied, “I think everybody in the world is sitting around, talking about waiting out President Trump.”

Kerry told Perino he had met with Zarif “two or three times,” and had spoken to him about Iran’s conduct in the region, “and what are the ways forward in order to try to redefine a security arrangement for the region that works for everybody.”

He stressed that he had met with the Iranians before Trump pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal.

“Let me be crystal clear: When I met with the Iranians, the policy of the United States was still to be in the Iran deal because the president had not decided, not pulled out.”

Kerry said every former secretary of state meets with foreign officials, attends security conferences, and has conversations.

“We don’t negotiate. We’re not involved in interfering with policy, but we certainly have reasonable discussions – about nuclear weapons, the world, China, different policies, obviously.”

‘Hell bent for leather determined to pursue a regime change strategy’

Earlier, Kerry told conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt he had met with Zarif “three or four times,” and made reference to “a conference in Norway,” “a conference in Munich” and the World Economic Forum.

Asked whether the intention was to “coach him through the Trump administration’s rejection of the JCPOA?” Kerry said that was not his job.

“My coaching him would not, you know – that’s not how it works. What I have done is tried to elicit from him what Iran might be willing to do in order to change the dynamic in the Middle East for the better.”

Kerry told Hewitt it appeared the Trump administration “is hell bent for leather determined to pursue a regime change strategy, to bring the economy down and try to isolate further.”

He said the U.S. historically did not have a good record when it came to regime change strategies, and the administration’s approach would make it difficult, if not impossible, for any Iranian leader to negotiate.

Kerry also underlined again his view that Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani are moderates.

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA “fails to understand is there’s this fight going on in Iran itself for the future of the country,” he said.

Exiting the deal, Kerry argued, “makes it harder for President Rouhani and those who are trying to move in a more reasonable, moderate direction, it makes it harder for them to be able to carry the day.”

Kerry and Zarif both attended the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany on February 18 this year.

On June 13-14 last year, both men attended the Oslo Forum, an annual meeting focusing on mediation of armed conflict.

Kerry and Zarif were also both at the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 19, 2017, in one of Kerry’s last engagements before leaving the State Department.

A fourth meeting, which Kerry did not mention to Hewitt, took place in New York last April, just weeks before Trump’s JCPOA withdrawal announcement.

The Boston Globe reported on that meeting some days after it took place, prompting a sharp-worded tweet from Trump.

The United States does not need John Kerry’s possibly illegal Shadow Diplomacy on the very badly negotiated Iran Deal,” he said. “He was the one that created this MESS in the first place!”

After the Boston Globe 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 they included former officials involved in the nuclear negotiations and “political elites and decision makers.”

Iran’s foreign ministry then confirmed the Zarif-Kerry meeting had taken place.

“We don’t see the U.S. just as Mr. Trump,” said ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi. “The United States is not just the current ruling administration and there are many figures who have different views on international and regional issues.”

The Foreign Agents Registration Act referred to in Trump’s tweet is a pre-World War II-era law requiring agents who represent the interests of a foreign power to disclose the relationship, along with financial and other information.

According to the Justice Department, “The purpose of FARA is to inform the American public of the activities of agents working for foreign principals to influence U.S. government officials or the American public with reference to the domestic or foreign policies of the United States, or with reference to the political or public interests, policies, or relations of a foreign country or a foreign political party.”


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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow