Good Friday Austin:
In today’s paper I wrote a story about U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s town hall last Saturday in Gonzalez.
GONZALES —Midway through a rousing Ted Cruz town hall meeting at Baker Boys Boys BBQ on Saturday, Yesi Melcher, a slight 10-year-old standing small in the packed house, raised her hand. “Hon, what are you doing?” her grandfather asked. “Papa, I’m going to ask a question,” she replied.
And when Cruz called on her, she did.
“Why do Democrats always blame their mistakes on us Republicans and Trump?” the fifth-grader asked.
“It’s an awfully good question,” Cruz replied. “When Donald Trump was elected there were a whole lot of people in this country who just about lost their minds, who are so filled with anger, they hate him so much, that nothing good can happen. We have record low unemployment, and they hate Trump. We defeat ISIS, and they scream, `We hate Trump.’”
But, Cruz said: “We don’t have to respond in the same way. We don’t have to respond with anger. We can respond with joy. We can be joyful warriors.”
I spoke with Yesi and her family afterward and they were great.
But, the first question to Cruz was about Kerry, it was delivered with some anger, drew a crowd reaction with a hint of string-him-up menace. and a response from Cruz that was less than joyful.
Here was the question from the back of the room.
Why does John Kerry still have a security clearance and a passport?
(Traitor! Treason! Lock him up!)
CRUZ: I’ve got to say that’s an awfully good question. Look. It is shameful to see John Kerry running around, trafficking with Iranian dictators and enemies of America and to be actively colluding with the government of Iran on how to evade U.S. sanctions.
Look I understand that Democrats, that we saw eight years of weakness and appeasement in foreign policy during the Obama presidency. We had Hillary Clinton and John Kerry as secretary of state. Our friends didn’t trust us and our enemies didn’t fear us.
In fact, I’m reminded of a political cartoon I saw at the time that had the Ayatollah Khamenei in Iran going “Death to America.” It had John Kerry saying, “Can we meet you halfway?” And it is very difficult to look at the foreign policy scene we have today and not recognize that it has improved dramatically from where we were two years ago.
Two days later, I was on the phone with Kerry for an interview about his new book in advance of his visit to Austin next week, where he will be the Texas Tribune Festival keynoter Thursday night at The Moody Theater.
I covered Kerry in Massachusetts when he was first elected lieutenant governor in 1982 and to the U.S. Senate in 1984, and, in Washington in his first years in the Senate.
After asking Kerry what he’s been up to the last 30 years, I told him about how just two days earlier I was at a Cruz town hall in Gonzales at which the first question was about why he still had a security clearance and passport, that there were some shouts of treason, traitor and lock him up, and that Cruz had quite agreed that Kerry was shamefully colluding (oh that word) with Iran.
Kerry seemed incredulous.
KERRY: He said that? Ted Cruz said that?
I read him the full quote.
KERRY: Well you know these guys, what can you say.?
I haven’t talked to the Iranians since the day that Trump pulled out of the deal. I haven’t had any conversations with them .
At the time that I met with then it was at international conferences where everybody talked to them. The UN General Assembly. The Munich Security Conference. And the Peace Conference in Oslo, Norway, where invited guests were. Those were the only places that I’ve been in any conversation with them, and it’s pretty normal for an ex-Secretary and other people to have those kinds of conversations.
These guys are dangerous. They are incredible liars. They don’t hesitate to gin up that kind of frustration or anger or whatever you want to call it. I mean they just bring out the worst in people.
And by the way, when I had a conversation with them (the Iranians) I raised Yemen, missiles, Israel, their threats against Israel, their interference in other countries and told them point-blank that they are making life difficult for themselves in the world. So I stood up for American principles and it’s a disgrace that these guys play, just lie to people like that and try to energize it.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joined in the criticism of Kerry.
From Matthew Lee at the AP on Sept. 15.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has unloaded on his Obama-era predecessor John Kerry for “actively undermining” U.S. policy on Iran by meeting several times recently with the Iranian foreign minister, who was his main interlocutor in the Iran nuclear deal negotiations.
In unusually blunt and caustic language, Pompeo said Friday that Kerry’s meetings with Mohammad Javad Zarif were “unseemly and unprecedented” and “beyond inappropriate.” President Donald Trump had late Thursday accused Kerry of holding “illegal meetings with the very hostile Iranian Regime, which can only serve to undercut our great work to the detriment of the American people.”
Pompeo said he would leave “legal determinations to others” but slammed Kerry as a former secretary of state for engaging with “the world’s largest state-sponsor of terror” and telling Iran to “wait out this administration.” He noted that just this week Iranian-backed militias had fired rockets at U.S. diplomatic compounds in Iraq.
“You can’t find precedent for this in U.S. history, and Secretary Kerry ought not to engage in that kind of behavior,” an agitated Pompeo told reporters at the State Department. “It’s inconsistent with what foreign policy of the United States is as directed by this president, and it is beyond inappropriate for him to be engaged.”
In a statement, (Kerry’s_ spokesman, Matt Summers, said: “There’s nothing unusual, let alone unseemly or inappropriate, about former diplomats meeting with foreign counterparts. Secretary (Henry) Kissinger has done it for decades with Russia and China. What is unseemly and unprecedented is for the podium of the State Department to be hijacked for political theatrics.”
KERRY: But senators, when I met with (Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif) at the UN General Assembly, other senators, a group of sitting senators met with him. He gave a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations and loads of people did a Q-and-A with him. That’s no difference than what I was going. Period.
Matt Viser wrote a story in the Boston Globe that appeared on May 4, days before Trump withdrew from the Iran deal.
WASHINGTON — John Kerry’s bid to save one of his most significant accomplishments as secretary of state took him to New York on a Sunday afternoon two weeks ago, where, more than a year after he left office, he engaged in some unusual shadow diplomacy with a top-ranking Iranian official.
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.
With the Iran deal facing its gravest threat since it was signed in 2015, Kerry has been on an aggressive yet stealthy mission to preserve it, using his deep lists of contacts gleaned during his time as the top US diplomat to try to apply pressure on the Trump administration from the outside. President Trump, who has consistently criticized the pact and campaigned in 2016 on scuttling it, faces a May 12 deadline to decide whether to continue abiding by its terms.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.
The rare moves by a former secretary of state highlight the stakes for Kerry personally, as well as for other Obama-era diplomats who are dismayed by what they see as Trump’s disruptive approach to diplomacy, and who view the Iran nuclear deal as a factor for stability in the Middle East and for global nuclear nonproliferation. The pact, which came after a marathon negotiating session in Vienna that involved Iran and six world powers, lifted sanctions in return for Iran stopping its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
“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 declined to be interviewed for this story. The quiet lobbying campaign — by him and others — is being conducted below the radar because he and his allies believe a high-profile defense of the deal by prominent Democrats would only backfire and provoke Trump, making it more likely the president would pull the United States out of the deal.
From Matt Viser’s story.
The Logan Act prohibits US citizens from having private correspondence with a foreign government “with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government . . . in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States.”
Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, said the law is a red herring — since it’s never been used to prosecute anyone — and almost certainly would not apply to anything Kerry is doing.
“The act only applies to conduct that is designed to ‘defeat the measures of the United States’ or influence the conduct of foreign governments,” Vladeck said. “If all Kerry is doing is working to keep in place something that’s still technically a ‘measure of the United States,’ I don’t see how the statute would apply even if someone was crazy enough to try it.”
The controversy around Kerry was stirred by his Sept. 12 interview with Hugh Hewitt about his book.
HH: Let’s move to Iran. Every Day Is Extra is full of detail about the JCPOA. And if I’m correct, did you spend more time talking in person or on the phone with Javad Zarif than any other foreign minister? Maybe Lavrov, but was he your number one interlocutor?
JK: I’m not sure. I never did a tally of the numbers, but I spent a lot of time with my European colleagues also at NATO in many other meetings. We spent a lot of time on Syria in the international Syria support group with our other colleagues. I mean, certainly Javad was up there. But I spent a lot of time with France, Germany, Britain, China, Russia. Those were the principal interlocutors, and I’ve never divided it up.
HH: Okay, it’s been reported you’ve met with him a couple of times at least since leaving office as well. So you still…
JK: Yes, I have. That’s accurate.
HH: And is it a half-dozen times, a dozen times?
JK: No. No, no, no. I met with him at a conference in Norway. I think I saw him in a conference in Munich at the World Economic Forum. So I’ve probably seen him three or four times.
HH: Are you trying to coach him through the Trump administration’s rejection of the JCPOA?
JK: No, that’s not my job, and my coaching him would not, you know, that’s not how it works. What I have done is tried to elicit from him what Iran might be willing to do in order to change the dynamic in the Middle East for the better. You know, how does one resolve Yemen? What do you do to try to get peace in Syria? I mean, those are the things that really are preoccupying, because those are the impediments to people, to Iran’s ability to convince people that it’s ready to embrace something different. I mean, and I’ve been very blunt to Foreign Minister Zarif, and told him look, you guys need to recognize that the world does not appreciate what’s happening with missiles, what’s happening with Hezbollah, what’s happening with Yemen. You’re supporting you know, an ongoing struggle there They say they’re prepared to negotiate and to resolve these issues. But the administration’s taken a very different tack. I don’t know as I talk to you today if there’s been any dialogue or sit down. I don’t think there has, which would open up any kind of diplomatic channel. And it appears right now as if the administration is hell-bent for leather determined to pursue a regime change strategy to bring the economy down and try to isolate further. And I would simply caution that the United States historically has not had a great record in regime change strategies, number one. And number two, that makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for any Iranian leader to sit down and negotiate anything, because they’re not going to do it in a capitulatory, you know, situation. It’s just not going to happen.
HH: Oh, that makes sense. Part of Every Day Is Extra which is useful training for diplomats is you can’t say you make people do things. They have to say they agree to things. I get all that. But does Zarif at least acknowledge to you they’re running arms through Oman to the Houthis that are becoming missiles that land in the UAE and Saudi Arabia? Do they, are they open about that?
JK: They are open about the fact that they are supportive of the Houthi, but they also say they are prepared to, that they don’t expect the Houthi to be running the government of Yemen. They don’t expect anything except a representative process in which they’re represented as a minority, but they’re able to be safely part of governance. So in effect, I think there could be a capacity to have a process in place that could resolve this. In fact, the negotiations that took place in Kuwait came close to a resolution. And when I went to Oman and met with the Houthi and others, we got them to agree to go back to that discussion and be prepared to accept the outlines of a peace process that we put on the table. I regret to say that it was Hadi, President Hadi who balked and refused to go forward with what he had previously agreed to in Kuwait.
HH: Now I really hope as you continue to talk with Zarif or with the Sultan of Oman, who’s clearly a good friend of yours, that this has just got to stop. To me, it’s as bad as they’re cheating on the JCPOA or sponsoring a terrorist attack on the expats in Paris. They are sending sophisticated weaponry that can kill a lot of people in these missiles that the Houthis are there. And Zarif and the Sultan, they’ve just got to stop that. Do you agree, Secretary?
JK: And we, absolutely, and we made it very, very clear to them, and the issue’s been raised with the Omanis and others. I think there are ways to get at that, but you’re to again have to engage. But I made it crystal clear that that’s unacceptable. In fact, Hugh, it’s not well-known, but we kept in place in the JCPOA negotiations, we kept the sanctions in place for human rights. We kept the sanctions in place for the missile testing. We kept sanctions in place against their transfer of weapons in Yemen. And we raised those sanctions during, even during the time we were negotiating the JCPOA. So we never relented with respect to accountability on those issues. But we believe that having an Iran that didn’t have a nuclear weapon or a pathway to a nuclear weapon was a better place to be in negotiating on those other issues. And our theory of the case was you get JCPOA in place, you prove you’re going to enforce it as you agreed to, and then you put all those other issues on the table. So from my point of view, I think President Trump would have been much better advised to have kept the JCPOA, which would have kept China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain together with you, united. So you keep it in place, and you say to the Iranians hey, guys, we’ve told you you’ve got to stop these other things. I’m going to give you two years or a year or whatever. We’re willing to negotiate on these other things. But if you don’t, if you haven’t done it by then, I’m out of this agreement. And that way, you have China, Russia, these other countries with you in the effort to leverage this different behavior from Iran rather than unilaterally pulling out and isolating yourself and making it much more difficult to sit down with any Iranian.
HH: Now when you get done talking to Zarif in Norway or Munich, do you call up Pompeo and talk with him about this sort of stuff and how…
JK: Well, those conversations took place before Pompeo became Secretary of State. And I haven’t seen him since then. But I did have a fairly long conversation with Secretary Pompeo before the Iran decision was made. And I made the argument that I just made to you. I made it very clearly, and it was clear that he disagreed with that approach, or President Trump disagreed. I don’t know which. But the bottom line is that is not the approach they took.
Kerry’s book barely mentions Trump.
The first mention is of Trump calling for the death penalty for the Central Park Five, who were later determined to be innocent.
But Trump does not figure importantly in the book.
KERRY: No, it’s not about Trump. It’s about my life and about things that actually matter. I’m not fixated on Donald Trump. I think people are wasting their time following all the tweets and engaging. What we need to do is to talk to America about a better agenda for the country What do we need to do in America. Not Donald Trump. Everybody knows about him, everybody has a sense – it’s just a waste of time.
But, I said, I could only imagine how dispiriting it must be to have President Trump do all that he could to undo the two greatest achievements of his time as secretary of estate – the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord.
KERRY: I’m going to surprise you. I’m going to surprise you. I really don’t have heartache about it. I have motivation, a certain amount of anger about what the consequences are for our country but that’s why I’m out there.
I’m going to keep fighting because that’s what I’ve always done and I believe that … you know I’m actually encouraged because everybody knows what his attitude is, everybody knows what he wants to do, but the fact is the British, the French, the Germans, the Russians, the Chinese are all trying to keep the agreement. What does that tell you?
That’s the message. That’s a solid agreement. All these nations didn’t turn around and run away, walk away and saying, “Well it didn’t mean anything anyway.” They’re fighting for it.
I think it’s extremely significant that this agreement, that most people in the world think this agreement is one of the strongest nuclear agreements that’s been made and it is. It has the greatest amount of scrutiny, of transparency, of accountability, of any, literally any, nuclear agreement on the planet.
No other signator of the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) has had to do as much as Iran has had to do here. And the fact is that the breakout time (the time required to produce enough weapons-grade uranium) for a nuclear weapon has gone from two months to more than a year and there’s no questions in any rational person’s mind that the world is safer with the agreement.
I’m proud of that. I’m proud of what we accomplished. I’m proud that people are fighting to keep it going.
On the Paris agreement, same thing.
The governors of 38 states in the United States of America have a renewable portfolio law and 29 of those states, the law is mandatory. Those 38 states equal 80 percent of the population of our nation and in those states they are committed to meeting Paris. Governors all across the country are committed to meeting Paris. There’s a movement called We Are Still In – that’s governors, Republicans and Democrats alike.
There are mayors, more than a thousand mayors have signed on to a movement to make their cities clean environmentally, to live up to Paris.
So I’m not sitting around – what I’ve been able to say to the people of the world is Donald Trump may have pulled out of Paris, but the American people have not.
So I’m not sitting around crying in my teacup We’re now about to have a midterm election, we have an enormous opportunity in that election to define the real vision of the future of the country. And I think we can do it, so I’m energized. I’m feeling very focused and I have clarity about the things that we have to do.
This is a political fight. We did our thing for four years. This is where we are. We did out thing for four years. These guys are running around, using the bully pulpit that they have to try disparage everything we did. What can I say.
Because of our leadership, I went around the world putting together the coalition to fight ISIS, and we designed the strategy and we implemented it and we basically turned over a very weakened, extraordinarily decimated ISIS that these guys can finish off.
So I don’t take a second place seat to anyone on what we accomplished.
We stopped Ebola in is tracks in West Africa. We engaged with other countries. We put sanctions on Putin that were tough and stopped him from going to Kiev. And held him accountable for what happened in Ukraine. And even as we did that we got Russia to cooperate on other things we needed to do. So I think we had a robust policy that did a lot of things.
By the way, Donald Trump’s dropped a couple of missiles on Assad, hasn’t stopped him from doing what he was doing. He hasn’t had any diplomacy to try to end the war.
So I’m happy to have a debate about the security of our country, anywhere, anytime.
We also put in place the sanctions with China against North Korea. We told Trump that we need to do more. We said we’ve got as far as we could with the Chinese, you’ve got to continue. He did continue, and I give him some credit for that. He put some pressure, he got the additional two tranches of sanctions but has he does anything with North Korea?
Did that glitzy public relations summit of his actually produce a way forward to find denuclearization? They both disagree on denuclearization still. There’s no definition as to where the missiles are. What’s the declaration? What’s the agreement by which there will be inspections? I mean, here’s a guy who criticizes Iran. He hasn’t got even one thing on paper with North Korea.
Kerry said he will be doing some campaigning for Democratic congressional candidates.
KERRY: I’m in touch with the DCCC. I’m in touch with the DNC. Some campaigns obviously are happier to run against everybody. so are happy for you to come in. It just depends on what the dynamics of the state and the district are. So we’re just playing it by ear.
I noted that he has not ruled out running for president in 2020.
KERRY: Jonathan. let me be as clear as I can on this. You know I haven’t ruled out a lot of things in life. I haven’t ruled out jumping out of plane with a parachute. But I’m not sitting around planning on it, and people somehow take it and run with it.
I think it’s a mistake to be talking about 2020 at all right now, and I’m not in any regard. I’m not sitting around planning to run for office. It’s just not in my deal right now.
Then you’re also not thinking about the possibility of impeachment?
KERRY: I’m not thinking about impeachment. I think it’s a mistake for anybody to be thinking about impeachment because I think that politicizes it. I think it’s a big mistake to put it in the context of an election. Having voted on one impeachment and been through the impeachment process in the Senate, I’d love to see our country not have to do that. I think it’s silly to talk about it unless or until Mueller comes up with a report that kind of puts it in front of you in a way that’s unavoidable.
I don’t think it should be a political strategy. The Republicans did that once and I think the Republicans paid a price for it.
But Kerry, who was a classmate of Mueller at St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., and worked with him on uncovering the BCCI scandal when Kerry was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Mueller was head of the criminal division at the Justice Department, is the right man in the right job.
KERRY: He’s a professional and a terrific public servant and I have great respect and admiration for Bob.