Boston Globe: John Kerry engaged in 'shadow diplomacy' to save the Iran deal

The Boston Globe reports that former Secretary of State John Kerry has been engaged in a shadow-diplomacy operation to preserve the Iran nuclear deal he helped set up under President Obama.

He sat down at the United Nations with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to discuss ways of preserving the pact limiting Iran’s nuclear weapons program. It was the second time in about two months that the two had met to strategize over salvaging a deal they spent years negotiating during the Obama administration, according to a person briefed on the meetings…

Kerry also met last month with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and he’s been on the phone with top European Union official Federica Mogherini, according to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal the private meetings. Kerry has also met with French President Emmanuel Macron in both Paris and New York, conversing over the details of sanctions and regional nuclear threats in both French and English…

“It is unusual for a former secretary of state to engage in foreign policy like this, as an actual diplomat and quasi-negotiator,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution. “Of course, former secretaries of state often remain quite engaged with foreign leaders, as they should, but it’s rarely so issue-specific, especially when they have just left office.”…

Kerry is coordinating his push with a group of officials who were his top advisers at the State Department, and who helped craft and negotiate the Iran deal in the first place. The group, called Diplomacy Works, has an advisory council that includes lead Iran-deal negotiator Wendy Sherman, former State Department chief of staff Jon Finer, and former spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

The group claims to be responsible for 100 news articles, 34 television and radio hits, and 37 opinion pieces on the Iran question.

Calling this situation “unusual” seems like an understatement. Kerry isn’t just fielding calls from old friends around the world about current events, he’s a former government official campaigning to undermine the current President of the United States on a specific issue, one he has a clear personal stake in. And he’s doing it with a group of other former officials including former US energy secretary Ernest Moniz who reportedly sits by Kerry side while he makes phone calls to rally support with members of Congress.

The story doesn’t nail down whether Obama himself or his spin-meister Ben Rhodes are involved but it’s not hard to imagine they are, at a minimum, getting updates. It really does begin to sound like a kind of shadow government operation. I’m not a big proponent of the whole “deep state” theory but in this case, it seems to describe what is happening.

The echo chamber 2.0 effort may not be working this time. Reuters reported Wednesday that a decision had been all but made:

U.S. President Donald Trump has all but decided to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear accord by May 12 but exactly how he will do so remains unclear, two White House officials and a source familiar with the administration’s internal debate said on Wednesday.

There is a chance Trump might choose to keep the United States in the international pact under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, in part because of “alliance maintenance” with France and to save face for French President Emmanuel Macron, who met Trump last week and urged him to stay in, the source said.

Usually, when this sort of thing comes up we hear a lot about the Logan Act, a 1799 law preventing private citizens from engaging in foreign policy efforts without the approval of the government. No one has ever been convicted under the law and just last month Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee recommended the Logan Act be repealed. Given that, now would be a bad time for Republicans to start calling for Kerry’s prosecution under the Logan Act. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing President Trump can do. For starters, calling attention to the shadow effort takes it out of the shadows. Maybe it was just a coincidence but earlier today Trump was mocking Kerry and his negotiation of the Iran deal.