Obama's Secretary of State, John Kerry and a group of his former State Department officials, have been busy unofficial diplomats in recent weeks. While President Trump prepares to pull the plug on the infamous Iran deal, Kerry has been sneaking around the world trying to salvage the pact he presided over ahead of its May 12 renewal deadline, the Boston Globe reported Friday.
John Kerry’s bid to save one of his most significant accomplishments as secretary of state took him to New York on a Sunday afternoon two weeks ago, where, more than a year after he left office, he engaged in some unusual shadow diplomacy with a top-ranking Iranian official.
He sat down at the United Nations with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to discuss ways of preserving the pact limiting Iran’s nuclear weapons program. It was the second time in about two months that the two had met to strategize over salvaging a deal they spent years negotiating during the Obama administration, according to a person briefed on the meetings. -Boston Globe
Kerry has also met with leaders from Europe, including German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, EU official Federica Mogherini and French President Emmanuel Macron in both Paris and New York, where they discussed sanctions and regional nuclear threats in both French and English.
This type of "rogue" diplomacy is very rare for a former Secretary of State.
As The Globe notes, the effort to salvage the Iran deal "highlight the stakes for Kerry personally, as well as for other Obama-era diplomats who are dismayed by what they see as Trump’s disruptive approach to diplomacy, and who view the Iran nuclear deal as a factor for stability in the Middle East and for global nuclear nonproliferation."
“It is unusual for a former secretary of state to engage in foreign policy like this, as an actual diplomat and quasi-negotiator,” said foreign policy expert Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. “Of course, former secretaries of state often remain quite engaged with foreign leaders, as they should, but it’s rarely so issue-specific, especially when they have just left office.”
Kerry has flown under the radar in this quiet lobbying campaign in order to avoid provoking President Trump into pulling the United States out of the deal.
Criticizing Iran deal, Trump mocks John Kerry for the time he broke his leg in a bike ride pic.twitter.com/25HQWhRuSk— Marcus Gilmer (@marcusgilmer) May 4, 2018
“Part of the equation is if Ernie [Ernest Moniz, the former US energy Secretary] or John made a bold statement, [Trump] is . . . crazy, and he might do the opposite just to spite them,” one source who has worked with Kerry told The Globe. “You’re liable to spur this guy in a direction you don’t want him to go in, just to be spiteful.”
Moniz was a key negotiator of the Iran deal, along with his Iranian counterpart, as they hammered out some of the technical scientific details.
Democratic lawmakers in Congress also have been relatively quiet, and not all share Kerry’s belief that the deal is essential for preventing a nuclear arms race in the volatile region. Kerry has quietly tried to bolster support in Congress. In recent weeks he’s placed dozens of phone calls and, often with Moniz by his side, has lobbied members of Congress, including House Speaker Paul Ryan. While he is not negotiating as he did as secretary of state, he is attempting through quiet advocacy to preserve what he accomplished.
Kerry supporters see in this campaign some of his trademark traits, especially his unflagging energy even in the face of potential failure. Critics see something else, a former office holder working with foreign officials to potentially undermine the policy aims of a current administration. -Boston Globe
Logan act violation?
Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz says Kerry's push to salvage the Iran deal would be violating the Logan Act, if it was enforced.
The act prohibits private citizens from acting on behalf of the United States while negotiating with foreign governments without authorization. Fortunately for Kerry, nobody has ever been prosecuted under the 200+ year old act.
“Fortunately for everybody, the Logan Act [is a] dead letter but if it were in existence, my friend John Kerry would be violating the Logan Act,” Dershowitz told Fox & Friends, adding “He is negotiating, though he is not in the administration, and there are real problems with doing that."
Hey @SallyQYates. Remember that Logan Act you were so worried about? You were concerned about incoming NSA Mike Flynn talking to the Russians about sanctions. Here's out-of-office John Kerry talking to everyone in Europe about sanctions. https://t.co/WMObNKp5pr via @BostonGlobe— Joel B. Pollak (@joelpollak) May 4, 2018
Meanwhile, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Iran of developing a secret project to "test and build nuclear weapons" before the 2015 Iran deal was reached.
In a global televised address, Netanyahu unveiled a cache of 55,000 pages of documents and 183 CDs, comprising Iran's alleged "atomic archive" of documents on its nuclear program; the files allegedly prove Tehran ran a secret program, called Project Amad, to "test and build nuclear weapons."
While Iranian leaders have long said their nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, Netanyahu claimed this was not the case according to tens of thousands of pages of documents, which he said were copied from a "highly secret location" in Iran.
Those files allegedly detail Project Amad, which Netanyahu described as "a comprehensive program to design, build and test nuclear weapons."
“These files conclusively prove that Iran is brazenly lying when it says it never had a nuclear weapons program,” Netanyahu said. “The files prove that.”
Kerry responded to Netanyahu's evidence - stating that the documents were nothing new, and simply prove that all that's needed are inspections to ensure that Iran is complying with the current agreement.
“Every detail PM Netanyahu presented yesterday was every reason the world came together to apply years of sanctions and negotiate the Iran nuclear agreement — because the threat was real and had to be stopped,” Kerry tweeted Tuesday. “It’s working!”
Every detail PM Netanyahu presented yesterday was every reason the world came together to apply years of sanctions and negotiate the Iran nuclear agreement - because the threat was real and had to be stopped. It's working! That’s why Israeli security experts are speaking out. 1/4— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) May 1, 2018
Kerry is coordinating his push with a group of officials who were his top advisers at the State Department, and who helped craft and negotiate the Iran deal in the first place. The group, called Diplomacy Works, has an advisory council that includes lead Iran-deal negotiator Wendy Sherman, former State Department chief of staff Jon Finer, and former spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
The group claims to be responsible for 100 news articles, 34 television and radio hits, and 37 opinion pieces on the Iran question. They do fact checks of criticisms of the agreement and blast them out to an e-mail list of nearly 4,000 policy makers and foreign policy experts. -Boston Globe
In other words, a former US Secretary of State is working with his former colleagues to conduct United States diplomacy with foreign leaders with no official permission. We can only guess what the pitch is "He'll be out in 2020, just hang on..."
Critics of Kerry's rogue diplomacy had some choice words for the former Secretary of State:
I have a deal for #Iran.— John Cardillo (@johncardillo) May 4, 2018
They can keep John Kerry
Dear Jeff Sessions:— thebradfordfile™ (@thebradfordfile) May 5, 2018
Please investigate John Kerry for Iranian collusion.
PS: I heard Kerry likes marijuana.
RETWEET for John Kerry.— thebradfordfile™ (@thebradfordfile) May 5, 2018
Still working in Iran. ✔️
Violating the Logan Act. ✔️ pic.twitter.com/kstBIVP3r1
John Kerry talking with international— Carrie ❤️ America 🇺🇸 (@carrieksada) May 5, 2018
leaders about preserving Iran nuclear deal:
(Although he is no longer SofS 🤨)
Seems to violate the Logan Act 🧐@afbranco
Report https://t.co/narP4BiqBY pic.twitter.com/fF5RTweL0f