Iran says Zarif met with US senator for ‘public diplomacy’

Iran’s foreign minister says his weekend meeting with a US senator in Germany was a diplomatic effort to get his nation’s voice heard by the American people.

al-monitor Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks with the media on the sidelines of a security conference in New Delhi, India, Jan. 15, 2020. Over the weekend, he met with US Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., while at the Munich Security Conference in Germany. Photo by REUTERS/Alasdair Pal.

Feb 19, 2020

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has confirmed that he met with US Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy to convey “facts about Iran” to the American people. The meeting, which took place on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference last week, has already drawn the ire of US President Donald Trump, who suggested that the Connecticut senator may have acted against US law by engaging in official diplomacy as a private citizen. Also, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said such a meeting was sitting down with “the foreign minister of a country who is the largest world sponsor of terror and the world’s largest sponsor of anti-Semitism.”

“It is not news,” Zarif told reporters after a Cabinet meeting in Tehran on Feb. 19. According to the top diplomat, the reactions from Trump and Pompeo indicated how they are afraid of “facts about Iran being heard by an American senator.” The Iranian foreign minister also dismissed the US administration’s ban on him as a diplomat. “The Iranian foreign minister is not an individual, rather a representative of his nation, who have always found their way to get their voice out,” he said.

Earlier, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi reacted to US media reports about the “secret” meeting between Zarif and Murphy. “Such moves are part of [Zarif’s] public diplomacy, which includes meetings with the elites, attending academic centers and interviews with the press.”

The US-educated Iranian foreign minister did not shy away from defending his earlier interactions with American senators. Those meetings, he said, date back to over 20 years ago, when he headed Iran’s UN mission in New York.

But Zarif’s hard-line critics at home have shown little tolerance for such engagement. The architect of the Iran nuclear deal came under particular pressure last month after an interview with the German paper Der Spiegel in which he declared that Iran is “still at the negotiation table” and could talk with the Trump administration if the latter lifts the sanctions on Tehran.

The meeting with Murphy was not the entire episode of Zarif’s sideline activities at the Munich Security Conference. Iran’s Foreign Ministry announced that the top diplomat’s “intense negotiations” secured the release of Iranian national Ahmad Khalili from Germany before his imminent extradition to the United States over circumventing American sanctions on trade with Tehran. As Zarif and Khalili flew back home together, the Foreign Ministry remained muted on further details, including the fact that the release was not one-sided. Iran’s judiciary, however, confirmed that a German national sentenced to three years in prison after he was found guilty of “taking pictures from prohibited sites” in Iran returned home as part of a prisoner swap deal between Tehran and Berlin.

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