Democrat Senator Chris Murphy met in secret with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif last weekend. While discussion is preferable to escalation, Murphy has slated Republicans for attempting similar backchannel diplomacy before.
As world officials gathered in Germany last weekend for the annual Munich Security Conference, Murphy (D-Connecticut) sat down to a secret meeting in the hotel suite of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, along with a group of his fellow Democratic lawmakers.
Murphy didn’t inform American media – or the public – about the meeting. Instead, the rendezvous was revealed by Federalist reporter Mollie Hemmingway on Monday.
1/ Attached is my usual account of my latest trip abroad, this one to Ukraine and Munich.
I met w the Iranian Foriegn Minister in Munich. It’s dangerous not to talk to adversaries, esp amidst a cycle of escalation.
Quick thread on what I told Zarif.https://t.co/2oYjiXfZ7J
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) February 18, 2020
The senator confirmed the meeting on Tuesday, declaring “if Trump isn’t going to talk to Iran, then someone should.” Murphy, who has met with Zarif several times during the Obama and Trump administrations, said that he spoke to him about the US’ assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, warned him against further escalation of military tension, and disussed the release of American prisoners held in Iran.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized Murphy for the meeting, telling reporters on Tuesday that he hoped the Democrats “were reinforcing America’s foreign policy and not their own.”
“We set foreign policy too,” Murphy responded. “Many of us have met w Zarif over the years, under Obama and Trump. So though no one in Congress can negotiate with Zarif or carry official US government messages, there is value in having a dialogue.”
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Murphy’s meeting with Zarif comes at a low point for relations between Washington and Tehran. Soleimani’s assassination provoked a military response from Iran, which pounded with ballistic missiles two Iraqi military bases used by American troops. Though President Donald Trump opted not to retaliate, his administration slapped fresh economic sanctions on Iran, continuing its “maximum pressure” campaign against the Islamic Republic.
That campaign kicked off in 2018, when the US unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or Iran nuclear deal). The US has since stepped up its economic sanctions, and although these penalties have pummelled the Iranian economy, the country remains defiant, and has steadily rolled back its JCPOA commitments.
While Murphy’s rationale for meeting Zarif is sound, the Connecticut Democrat has a drastically different view when Republicans are the ones holding closed-door meetings.
As the Obama administration worked to seal the Iran deal in 2015, a host of Republican Senators wrote a letter to the Iranian government, warning it that a Republican president could simply “revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen,” as Trump did three years later.
Murphy didn’t defend the right of the GOP Congressmen to “set foreign policy too.” Instead he accused them of “undermining the authority of the president.”
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However, when John Kerry – one of the chief architects of the 2015 deal – met with Iranian officials in 2018 in an effort to save the deal, Murphy didn’t see his “shadow diplomacy” as an effort to undermine Trump.
Similarly, when retired general Michael Flynn was appointed National Security Advisor by Trump in 2016, Murphy led the charge against him, once it emerged that he had spoken to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak by phone. The Democrat lawmaker warned that “any effort to undermine our nation’s foreign policy – even during a transition period – may be illegal and must be taken seriously.”
Negotiation is undoubtedly a better approach than escalation. However, in Washington, or so it seems, partisan hypocrisy still trumps effective policy.
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