Happy belated Groundhog Day, everyone.
Sorry about being a bit late about it. To be honest, until Sunday, when The Washington Times broke the news that former Obama Secretary of State and current climate czar John Kerry was involved in backchannel talks with Iran’s foreign minister in 2019, potentially undercutting the attempts of the Trump administration to curb the world’s most infamous state sponsor of terrorism, I didn’t even know we were in yet another time loop.
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The Washington Times article describes meetings in New York during the summer of 2019 between Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and various Obama-era officials, including Kerry, Obama Middle East advisor Robert Malley and Obama-era Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, aimed at building a parallel track of diplomacy behind the back of the Trump administration.
“The attempt at counter-diplomacy provides a glimpse into Mr. Zarif’s deep relationships over the past decade with prominent U.S. liberals,” the Washington Times noted.
These relationships developed into what high-level sources of national security and intelligence claim enabled the Iranian regime to circumvent Mr. Trump and work directly with veterans of the Obama administration that Tehran hoped would be able to do.
This was obviously preferable to negotiating with the Trump administration for the mullahs of Tehran, which had pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2018, colloquially referred to as the Iran nuclear agreement, citing the flaws of a treaty that did not resolve the conventional arms production of Tehran or its support for militant groups and proxy wars.
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Though Iran’s economy was decimated by the subsequent reimposition of those sanctions, Zarif was not really a desperate man. Sources told The Washington Times that he has cultivated a “network” of academic and think-tank sympathetic figures who want the United States to seek rapprochement with Iran.
“The newspaper claimed that “A former U.S. official described Mr. Zarif as ‘the bat signal’ for a network that includes left-leaning university professors, think tank analysts, and other corners of civil society calling for a less-confrontational relationship with the Tehran regime.
“He is the international signal for an echo chamber which has been developed over time.”
This looks terrible enough on his own, but remember the fact that this dual-track diplomacy was occurring as Iran launched missions in neighboring Iraq against U.S. troops and funneled money to terrorist groups like Hamas released by sanctions relief.
In close cooperation with a sitting administration to open up and promote sensitive diplomatic networks, former administration officials can play a very helpful role,” Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the think tank Foundation for the Protection of Democracies, told The Washington Times.”
But it is not good practice for senior officials working at the highest levels of a former administration, Democratic or Republican, to attempt to weaken a sitting administration’s policy by deliberately interacting with a recognized adversary of the United States.
That is particularly true as numerous administrations have agreed that this enemy is the leading supporter of terrorism by the state,” he added.”
And yet, this is not the first time we have heard of the former Obama administration engaging with Iran in dual-track talks, undercutting the Trump administration that was installed.