(JTA) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized John Kerry, who once held the same role, for talking to senior Iranian officials after the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
Speaking to reporters Friday in Washington, D.C. Pompeo called Kerry’s contact with the Iranian officials since President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017 “unseemly” and “unprecedented.” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was among the officials who met with Kerry.
Kerry, who served under President Barack Obama in his second term, was telling the Iranians “to wait out this administration,” Pompeo said. He added that “actively undermining U.S. policy as a former secretary of state is literally unheard of.”
Kerry, who led the negotiations that led to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, said earlier Friday in a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt that he had met with Zarif “three or four times” in the last year and a half.
He later told Bloomberg News that his conversations with Iranian officials are no different than those of his predecessors, such as Henry Kissinger, with foreign leaders.
In his remarks to reporters, Pompeo also said “You can’t find precedent for this in U.S. history, and the secretary ought not – Secretary Kerry ought not to engage in that kind of behavior. It’s inconsistent with what foreign policy of the United States is, as directed by this president, and it is beyond inappropriate for him to be engaged in this.”
Pompeo referred to Kerry and two other Obama officials — Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and undersecretary of state Wendy Sherman — as “the troika,” and charged that they met with “their [Iranian] troika counterparts” at the Munich Security Conference in February.
“I wasn’t in the meeting, but I am reasonably confident that he was not there in support of U.S. policy with respect to the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo said.
A spokesman for Kerry said in a statement sent to JTA: “Let’s cut through the distractions and talk about real facts, not alternative facts. Secretary Kerry stays in touch with his former counterparts around the world just like every previous Secretary of State, and in a long phone conversation with Secretary Pompeo earlier this year he went into great detail about what he had learned about the Iranian’s view. No secrets were kept from this administration.
The statement continued: “Like America’s closest allies, Kerry believes it is important that the commitments Iran made under the nuclear agreement, which took the world years to negotiate, remain effective. He was advocating for what was wholly consistent with US policy at the time. There’s nothing unusual, let alone unseemly or inappropriate, about former diplomats meeting with foreign counterparts. Secretary Kissinger has done it for decades with Russia and China. What is unseemly and unprecedented is for the podium of the State Department to be hijacked for political theatrics.”
On Thursday, Trump tweeted that 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 ended the tweet with “BAD!”