John Kerry, President Joe Biden’s climate envoy, on Thursday defended his decision to conduct backdoor negotiations with Iranian officials during the Trump administration in a bid to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal.
Kerry, who was not in government at the time, held at least three secret meetings with former Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, during which he attempted to undermine the Trump administration’s hardline policies towards Tehran. Kerry defended these powwows under questioning from Rep. Michael Waltz (R., Fla.) during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Thursday.
"Shadow diplomacy," Kerry said, is permissible "depending on what it does. Shadow diplomacy has also saved us from a war," Kerry said, referring to back-channel discussions that helped diffuse the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
Kerry’s behavior, Waltz said, "undermined current administration diplomacy." At the time Kerry met with Zarif, then-president Donald Trump was working to kill the nuclear accord and reimpose tough sanctions on Tehran. Kerry’s meetings drew widespread scrutiny after Zarif claimed the former secretary of state passed him sensitive information about Israeli strikes in Syria.
Kerry denied disclosing that information, saying that conversation "never took place," but also claimed details about Israel’s attacks on Iranian positions were "in public circulation" at the time.
Waltz dismissed this rationale, saying, "I would posit that your shadow diplomacy now has us on the verge of Iran having a nuclear weapon."
Kerry also declined to elaborate on how he communicated with Zarif, and whether any conversations took place via encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, or Signal.
"I don’t recall how I communicated with him," Kerry said.