The Facts on John Kerry’s ‘Shadow Diplomacy’

By No Labels
May 9, 2018 | Blog

When The Boston Globe reported that former Secretary of State John Kerry engaged in “some unusual shadow diplomacy” to save the Iran nuclear deal, President Trump objected loudly on Twitter, saying his administration did not need Kerry’s help.

As the nuclear deal that Kerry helped negotiate and that Trump pulled out of this week takes center stage, here’s what you need to know about Kerry’s recent actions.


What did Kerry do?

Kerry met at the United Nations in New York with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to discuss how to preserve the Iran nuclear deal that both men helped create. He also spoke with officials from Germany, France and other countries in order to “try to apply pressure on the Trump administration” to maintain the deal, the Globe reported. While the U.S. sometimes uses envoys outside the government to negotiate, Kerry was on no such mission and the U.S. has no diplomatic ties with Iran. Former secretaries of State do often keep up ties with their international colleagues, but Kerry’s move was unusual because it was reportedly meant to influence the administration on a specific issue.


Were Kerry’s actions unprecedented?

Others have engaged in unsanctioned diplomacy over the years, but it is almost always met with criticism. When the Iran deal was being struck in 2015, 47 Republican senators wrote to Iran to oppose the deal (a vote to quash the deal later failed). Former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn came under federal scrutiny for his conversations with a Russian ambassador during the 2016 presidential campaign. And history has many examples, from Jesse Jackson’s visit to Cuba to the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s conversations with the Soviet Union in the 1980s.


What’s the problem with Kerry’s meetings? 

There are those who argue that Kerry is well within his rights to advocate as a U.S. citizen and a former top diplomat. The counter-argument is that it could undermine administration efforts at a time when the Iran nuclear deal was very much on the table.  Some critics say the Trump administration deserves to execute its foreign policy without interference.


Were Kerry’s actions illegal?

It’s a matter of interpretation, and not a question that is likely to get answered. The Logan Act, which was created in 1799, prohibits private citizens from interfering with U.S. diplomatic relations. Conviction is a felony punishable by jail time. But in more than 200 years, there have only been two prosecutions under the act and there has never been a conviction. Some scholars say the act is unconstitutional.


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