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Pompeo Calls a Former Diplomat’s Meetings with Iranians ‘Unseemly and Unprecedented’

Category: Diplomatic Relations,Politics

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday excoriated John Kerry, who was the top American diplomat in the final years of the Obama administration, for meeting with Iranian officials in what he described as “unseemly and unprecedented” discussions.

“Actively undermining U.S. policy as a former secretary of state is literally unheard-of,” Mr. Pompeo said in a brief appearance at the State Department’s press briefing room.

His remarks came amid a Twitter spat between Mr. Kerry and President Trump over the American withdrawal this year from the Iran nuclear deal that the Obama administration had brokered.

While promoting his new book, a memoir of his career, Mr. Kerry said this week that he had met with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran “three or four times” since leaving office. He said the discussions included the nuclear deal that Mr. Trump jettisoned in May, and defended the talks on Wednesday by saying that it was not uncommon for former secretaries of state to continue meeting with world leaders long after leaving government service.

On Thursday, Mr. Trump criticized the meetings as “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,” the president wrote on Twitter. “He told them to wait out the Trump Administration!”

Mr. Pompeo told reporters on Friday that he saw Mr. Kerry in February at a security conference in Munich. He said that the former senior diplomat Wendy R. Sherman and former Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz — both of whom helped negotiate the 2015 nuclear deal — were also there and that he was “confident” that the three met with their Iranian counterparts.

“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,” Mr. Pompeo said of Mr. Kerry.

The security conference in Munich was held more than two months before Mr. Trump announced his decision to abandon the nuclear pact.

In an interview, Ms. Sherman said that while she met with Mr. Zarif at the conference, she did so without Mr. Kerry or Mr. Moniz. She said she made it a practice to alert and brief the State Department before and after any meetings with Iranian diplomats.

“The criticism of us is ludicrous on so many levels,” Ms. Sherman said.

Mr. Pompeo does not always agree with Mr. Trump on foreign policy priorities. His advisers have said he strongly disagrees with the president’s strategy toward North Korea. But Mr. Pompeo remains in Mr. Trump’s good graces by taking crucial opportunities to vigorously support the president in public.

Later Friday, a spokesman for Mr. Kerry said the former diplomat described the details of the meetings with Iranian officials in a long phone call with Mr. Pompeo. And in his own Twitter post on Friday evening, Mr. Kerry seized on the criticism to keep promoting his book.

“Mr. President, you should be more worried about Paul Manafort meeting with Robert Mueller than me meeting with Iran’s FM,” Mr. Kerry wrote. He was referring to Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman who agreed on Friday to cooperate with Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election to benefit Mr. Trump.

“But if you want to learn something about the nuclear agreement that made the world safer, buy my new book,” Mr. Kerry wrote.

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