Iran FM confirms 'secret meeting' with US Democratic senator
The Iranian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday confirmed that Mohammad Javad Zarif had met with US Democrat Senator Chris Murphy at the side-lines of the Munich Security Conference last week – a move described by US President Donald Trump as a "violation" of law.
Zarif had "repeatedly" made clear his intention to take up offers for talks from members of US congress, Abbas Mousawi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, said on Twitter.
These meetings, he said, were an opportunity for the Islamic Republic to put forward its "stance and perspectives on the realities of the region".
Senator Murphy had enraged US conservatives when he published details of the secret discussions, which took place on Saturday, on online publishing platform Medium.
Murphy raised contentious issues with Zarif in the meeting, which according to his post, included the issue of Iranian-backed forces in Iraq, the war in Yemen and US prisoners being held in Iran.
Murphy said the meeting was "important" because it was "dangerous not to talk to one's enemies".
"I have no delusions about Iran - they are our adversary, responsible for the killing of thousands of Americans and unacceptable levels of support for terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East," he wrote in a Medium post.
"If Trump isn't going to talk to Iran, then someone should," he also said.
Trump slammed the meeting, claiming Murphy had violated a federal law, known as the Logan Act, through his citizen diplomacy, which outlaws unauthorised negotiations with governments in disputes with the US.
"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 said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also weighed in on Murphy's controversial meeting with the Foreign Minister of a state with whom the US lacks any diplomatic channel, since Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal two years ago.
Speaking to reporters in Ethiopia on Tuesday, Pompeo said: "If they met, I don't know what they said. I hope they were reinforcing America's foreign policy, not their own," adding that US had long designated Iran a state sponsor of terrorism.
For his part, Murphy stressed that it was not his intention to carry out diplomacy on behalf of the US government.
"I cannot conduct diplomacy on behalf of the whole of the US government, and I don’t pretend to be in a position to do so. But if Trump isn't going to talk to Iran, then someone should," he wrote.
|I cannot conduct diplomacy on behalf of the whole of the US government, and I don't pretend to be in a position to do so. But if Trump isn't going to talk to Iran, then someone should
- US Democrat Senator Chris Murphy
The development comes as the Trump administration continues its policy of maximal pressure against Iran, through re-imposing crippling sanctions.
A military confrontation between the United States and Iran nearly escalated into war in January, after Trump ordered a drone strike that killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, and Iran retaliated with a missile strikes on an Iraqi military base, where over 100 US sustained brain injuries.
According to details of the meeting published on Medium, Murphy, who has been a long-time critic of Trump, said he raised the issue of the US airstrike against Soleimani.
He also told Zarif that despite differences, congress and the administration stood united in sending a message that any Iran-backed attack on American troops in Iraq would be "an unacceptable escalation".
The senator also said he had raised Iran's support for Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen and Americans imprisoned in Iran.