Updated 12 p.m. Wednesday Trump tweet.
Washington – Sen. Chris Murphy on Tuesday defended his meeting with Iran’s foreign minister, while President Donald Trump accused the Connecticut Democrat of violating a law that bars U.S. citizens from conducting unauthorized negotiations with nations that have disputes with the United States.
Murphy led a delegation of Democrats to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif during the Munich Security Conference last Saturday.
Trump on Tuesday said he had just heard of the meeting and said it sounded like Murphy violated an obscure, little-used federal law known as the Logan Act that bars private citizens from conducting unauthorized diplomacy.
“Is there anything that I should know? Because that sounds like to me a violation of the Logan Act,” Trump said.
Wednesday the president added in a tweet that Murphy and former Secretary of State, who was reportedly with Murphy at the time, were the reason Iran wasn’t capitulating to a “deal” with the United States.
Murphy dismissed Trump’s comments.
“Members of Congress meet with foreign leaders all the time, even when we disagree with the president’s policy toward that nation, and even when that nation is an adversary,” said Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a frequent critic of Trump foreign policy. “I met with the Iranian Foreign Minister to underscore the importance of protecting the safety of U.S. troops in Iraq, releasing unlawful detainees, and delivering humanitarian aid in Yemen. ”
Muphy said his discussion with Zarif were “all apolitical priorities. ”
“It’s too bad the administration isn’t having these same conversations,” Murphy said.
Murphy’s office said the senator had advised the U.S. embassy in Germany about his plans to meet with Zarif.
“For years, I have met on occasion with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, during both the Obama and Trump Administrations,” Murphy said in notes he released Tuesday about his trip, which included a visit to Kiev. “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. But I think it’s dangerous to not talk to your enemies,” Murphy said.
Murphy said he wanted to meet with the Iranian official for several reasons, including to “gauge whether he thinks the reprisals for the Soleimani assassination are over.”
The United States killed top Iranian commander Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani in a drone attack in January. Iran responded with an air strike against U.S. bases in the Middle East, causing a number of American soldiers traumatic brain injury.
“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 said.
Murphy was not the only Democratic senator to meet with Zarif, but his office declined to identify the others.
Murphy said he wanted to make it clear to Zarif that he knows the “recent uptick” in attacks from Iranian-aligned Houthis in Yemen began right after the Soleimani killing. Murphy is a proponent of efforts to establish peace in Yemen.
Murphy also said he also wanted to raise with Zarif the issue of American prisoners held in Iran. “He is ready for this inquiry — he already knows how much I care about releasing innocent Americans from custody — and we spent a few minutes discussing how the situation could be resolved,” Murphy said.
On Sunday, several conservative news outlets ran critical stories, based on anonymous sources, that said Murphy and other Democrats had met “secretly” with Zarif.
Speaking to reporters in Ethopia, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had read one of those stories.
“If they met, I don’t know what they said,” Pompeo said. “I hope they were reinforcing America’s foreign policy and not their own.”
Murphy has opposed the Trump administration’s foreign policy often, criticizing its decision to withdraw from a nuclear accord negotiated by former President Barack Obama.
“Unfortunately, President Trump’s Iran policy has been a total disaster,” Murphy said. “His policy is just making Iran stronger and more menacing in the region, and I wish he could have the guts to see what is right in front of his eyes – blind escalation, with no diplomatic pathway, isn’t working.”
Zelensky’s ‘new beef’
While in Munih, Murphy also attended a dinner honoring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Murphy and two Republican senators, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and John Barrasso of Wyoming, had traveled to Kiev to meet with Zelensky.
They said the Ukrainian president has “a new beef with the United States.”
Zelensky told the senators that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a U.S.-funded news outlet that broadcasts overseas, aired a story reporting that Zelensky had secretly met with a Russian official during his recent trip to the Middle East.
“He says this is not true, and he worried that since the outlet is funded by the U.S. government, there will be an impression that the U.S. government is trying to find another way to undermine his government,” Murphy said.
Ukraine is in armed conflict with Russian-backed forces over Crimea; and Murphy said Zelensky’s complaint “is a sign of how fragile our relationship with Ukraine is, and how even the smallest slights now can do so much damage to Zelensky’s need to show that, post-impeachment, he has U.S. support again.”
President Donald Trump was impeached on allegations he held up U.S. military aid to Ukraine and a coveted White House meeting to pressure Zelensky to investigate political rival Joe Biden, whose son Hunter had had a seat on the board of an Ukrainian energy company.
Murphy said he promised Zelensky the senators would look into the matter of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcast.
“’If it matters to you,’ I tell him, ‘then it matters to us.’ He seems pleased with our response,” Murphy said.
The bipartisan group of senators also promised to seek an increase of U.S. military aid to Ukraine.
Murphy and Johnson had visited Kiev together in September, but returned with very different accounts of their trip. In accounts that were included in the impeachment process, Johnson said there was no indication Zelensky felt pressure from the Trump administration to investigate the Bidens. Murphy said his impression was that Zelensky did.
Murphy said he reached out to Johnson during the impeachment trial and proposed visiting Zelensky again before the start of the Munich Security Conference. “Wouldn’t it be important for you and me to go there directly after impeachment, to send a signal that there is no distance between us, or Democrats and Republicans in general, on supporting Ukraine?” Murphy said he told Johnson.
Murphy said on his September trip he made a point of telling Zelensky that getting involved with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani or the Trump reelection campaign “was potentially disastrous for Ukraine.”
“And I knew that I had to deliver the same message to Zelensky now,” Murphy said.
Zelensky wanted to steer clear of talking about any pressure he might feel from Trump, Murphy said. But the Ukrainian president did say “though Giuliani has long wanted a meeting with him, he has always stayed clear of Giuliani and intends to keep it that way” Murphy said.
“He has no intention of getting involved in American politics any more than he already has, unintentionally,” Murphy said.
Murphy also said Zelensky, breaking away from Ukrainian and speaking English. told the senators “as an actor, I always dreamed of becoming famous in America.”
“And now I’m famous in America. But not the way I wanted!” Zelensky said.