Senatore Murphy in Iran (La Presse)

The Meeting Between Chris Murphy and Iran’s Foreign Minister

U.S Senator Chris Murphy (Dem-Conn) secretly met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference (MSC) as conservative news outlet the Federalist first revealed. However, the news organization did not elaborate more about what both men were apparently discussing at that time. The meeting seemed to upset U.S President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It indicated a stark difference of opinion in the Trump administration about how to handle the ongoing tension with Tehran.

Iran’s Reaction

Iran’s Foreign Ministry responded to the recent meeting between both senior politicians, saying that it occurred in the framework of Iran’s general diplomacy.

“These measures are part of public diplomacy, including meeting with elites, think-tanks, and interviewing and meeting with media associates. These meetings are also an opportunity for the Islamic Republic to put forward its views on “the realities of the region,” foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousawi tweeted.

Trump, Pompeo Slam Meeting: ‘Violation of the Logan Act

Trump criticized the Connecticut-based Senator’s act for violating the seldom-enforced Logan Act, which bans non-governmental figures from having contacts with foreign governments. The bill was ratified following an illegal meeting between U.S senator George Logan and the French government in 1798 during the presidency of John Adams.

“Sen. Murphy met with the Iranians. Is that a fact? I just saw that on the way over. Is there anything that I should know? Because that sounds like, to me, a violation of the Logan Act,” Trump told reporters as reported.

Pompeo also echoed his boss’ statement, wondering about what both Murphy and Zarif were talking about. The former CIA chief hoped the Senator promoted the White House’s policy, not the Senator’s personal view.

“It’s Dangerous Not to Talk to One’s Enemies”

While Murphy argued that there was nothing wrong with his private talk with Zarif, adding that someone should talk to a country dubbed as the U.S’ enemy. “It’s dangerous not to talk to one’s enemies,” he said, adding that if Trump did not want to talk to Iran, then someone should do so.

Murphy explained that he discussed Iran’s support for Houthi rebel groups in Yemen, Tehran’s influence in Iraq, and American prisoners in Iran, The Hill wrote. The Democrats politician also wanted to make sure whether the revenge for the killing of Iran’s influential general Qasem Soleimani was over.

“I want to make sure it is 100 percent clear to him that if any groups in Iraq that are affiliated with Iran attack the United States’ forces in Iraq, this will be perceived as an unacceptable escalation,” Murphy stated.

A Brief Background of U.S-Iran Tension

Trump has repeatedly criticized the Iran nuclear deal or known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed under the Barack Obama administration in 2015. The real estate mogul argued that the agreement was not effective in pushing Iran to halt its nuclear ambition, despite the compliance report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In 2018, the White House announced its formal withdrawal from the JCPOA, a step that sparked criticism from other signatories such as France, Germany, the U.K, Russia, and China. Washington also imposed a series of sanctions on Tehran.

Iran then retaliated by reducing its commitment to the JCPOA. The Middle East nation announced its plan to enrich uranium above the level stipulated in the agreement.

The attack on Saudi’s oil facility in September last year and the killing of Soleimani in early 2020 in Iraq have intensified the tension. Then, Iran was under worldwide condemnation for accidentally shooting a Ukraine passenger airplane after mistakenly assuming the aircraft was an enemy’s aircraft. Tehran apologized for the incident and was ready to be responsible for the horrific incident that killed around 176 passengers, most of them Iranians and Canadians.

Is White House Split over Iran?

Murphy stated Trump’s approach to Iran has failed, indicating the differences between the POTUS and U.S lawmakers in dealing with Tehran. In May 2019, Senator Ruben Gallego revealed that the U.S intelligence has faked and exaggerated Iran’s threat to the U.S and its allies, accusing the then National Security Adviser John Bolton and Republican senator Tom Cotton of creating a false narrative over Tehran.

“What I saw was a lot of misinterpretation and wanting conflict coming from the administration and intelligence community. Intel doesn’t show existential threats. Even what it shows, it doesn’t show threats to U.S. interests,” Gallego told the Washington Post in a telephone interview.

Just a few days after Iran apologized for accidentally shooting down the Ukrainian plane, Pentagon chief Mark Esper refuted Trump’s claim that Iran had planned to attack four U.S embassies, adding that Trump was ready for a dialogue unconditionally.