WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo excoriated his Obama-era predecessor on Friday, calling John Kerry’s meeting with Iranian officials — in which he may have advised them to “wait out” the Trump administration — an unprecedented violation of diplomatic protocol.
“Actively undermining US policy as a former secretary of state is literally unheard of,” Trump’s top diplomat told reporters. “What Secretary Kerry has done is unseemly and unprecedented. This is a former secretary of state engaged with the world’s largest state sponsor of terror … telling them to ‘wait out’ this administration. You can’t find precedent for this in US history.”
A principal architect of the Iran nuclear deal, Kerry, who is promoting a new book, told Fox News recently that he had met with Iranian officials after leaving office “a few times, two or three times.” He denied discussing the nuclear issue, but said, “Every former secretary of state has meetings. We don’t negotiate and we don’t interfere with policy, but we talk, we have reasonable discussions about the world.”
When asked if he advised the Iranians to wait out President Donald Trump, he did not directly answer, saying only: “I think everybody in the world is talking about waiting out President Trump.”
Pompeo’s criticizing of the former Massachusetts senator followed a scolding tweet from Trump, who accused Kerry of breaking American law by meeting with the Iranians, including with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
“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!”
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. He told them to wait out the Trump Administration! Was he registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act? BAD!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2018
Pompeo stopped short of calling Kerry’s meetings a violation of FARA, saying he would “leave the legal determinations to others.”
“Secretary Kerry ought not to engage in that kind of behavior,” Pompeo said. “It’s inconsistent with what foreign policy in the United States is, as directed by this president and it is beyond inappropriate for him to be engaged on this.”
Meetings between a private US citizen and foreign official are not against the law and are not necessarily inappropriate or a violation of federal regulations, but Trump and other GOP officials argued that such conduct showed that Kerry is trying to subvert the administration’s hard line on Iran.
The law Trump invoked — the Foreign Agents Registration Act — requires registration and transparency by people or companies acting on behalf of foreign governments, political parties or individuals.
But Josh Rosenstein, a partner with the Washington law firm Sandler Reiff and a specialist in lobbying compliance, said there was too much missing information as to whether the law applies to Kerry’s interactions with Zarif. “The devil’s always in the details,” Rosenstein told the AP. “Simply offering advice to a foreign government doesn’t make you a foreign agent.”
It was first reported by the Boston Globe that Kerry met with Zarif after leaving office in May. The president responded with equal disdain and derision then.
“The United States does not need John Kerry’s possibly illegal Shadow Diplomacy on the very badly negotiated Iran Deal,” Trump tweeted. “He was the one that created this MESS in the first place!”
A day later he added: “John Kerry can’t get over the fact that he had his chance and blew it! Stay away from negotiations John, you are hurting your country!”
The Iran agreement, struck in 2015 between the United States, Iran, and five other world powers lifted most US and international sanctions against the country. In return, Iran agreed to restrictions on its nuclear program, along with rigorous inspections, arguably making it impossible for the Islamic regime to produce an atomic bomb.
Trump withdrew the US from the landmark agreement forged under former president Barack Obama, saying it was “defective” and unable to rein in Iranian behavior or halt the Islamic Republic’s quest to develop nuclear weapons.
The president also reimposed some sanctions and emphasized that they would also apply to other nations that did business with Iran.
As of this writing, Kerry, who is currently promoting his new book “Every Day is Extra,” has not responded to Trump’s or Pompeo’s broadsides.
Pompeo on Friday said he saw Kerry at the Munich Security Conference last February with two other Obama officials — former secretary of energy Ernest Moniz and former undersecretary of state Wendy Sherman. “The troika,” he called them, referring to a group of three working together on something.
“I am confident that they met with their troika [Iranian] counterparts,” he said. “I wasn’t in the meeting, but I am reasonably confident that [Kerry] was not there in support of US policy with respect to the Islamic Republic of Iran, who, this week, fired kaytusha rockets toward United States rockets in Baghdad and took action against our consulate in Basra.”
AP contributed to this report.