No, John Kerry isn’t Secretary of State anymore. But that hasn’t stopped him from engaging in what the Boston Globe dubs “shadow diplomacy”, trotting the globe as he attempts to persuade world leaders and foreign representatives to lobby in favor of maintaining the Iranian nuclear deal that Kerry worked so hard to establish as American Secretary of State.
It’s still considered to be the ‘signature’ foreign policy achievement of Barack Obama’s presidency by most, even though many don’t consider it to be an achievement at all. From the Israeli Prime Minister to President Trump, lifting sanctions that would make nuclear proliferation easier for an Iranian regime that has time and again established itself as an adversary to both the United States and Israel was considered dangerous and reckless, not to mention unnecessary, by many. Even the original reporting of the framework from mainstream outlets such as the BBC outlined the fears of Iran-wary nations within the first paragraphs of their articles.
‘The initial framework lifted crippling economic sanctions on Iran in return for limitations to the country's controversial nuclear energy program, which international powers feared Iran would use to create a nuclear weapon.’ (BBC)
The Trump administration has echoed this sentiment, and then some. December protests in Iran proved to cement the new administration’s allegiance to Israel, which has also meant unabashed criticism of the Iranian regime. Tweets coming from the president’s account seemed to imply that American leadership would even be in favor of regime change in Iran, which is as close to fighting words as one can issue on the global stage.
“The entire world understands that the good people of Iran want change, and, other than the vast military power of the United States, that Iran’s people are what their leaders fear the most…Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever, and the day will come when the Iranian people will face a choice. The World is watching!” (Fox News)
The intervention of American military power in Syria is also a signal that the Trump administration is serious about stymying Iranian influence. This reality has always put into doubt the possibility that the Iranian nuclear deal would be renewed when the May 12th deadline finally comes. Ayatollah-era Iranian regimes have always proven prideful in their dealings with America, and it was their unwillingness to engage in meaningful compromise which contributed to a deal that many world leaders continue to be highly critical of. And, if the deal is not renewed, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s representatives have suggested that a re-negotiation is out of the question.
‘Iran is ruling out new talks, calling the current agreement “non-negotiable.”…“Let me make it absolutely clear once and for all: We will neither outsource our security, nor will we renegotiate or add on to a deal we have already implemented in good faith,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a video message tweeted on his account.’ (Bloomberg)
Iran has also threatened to renew nuclear enrichment activities should the United States remove themselves from the deal, an indication of just how seriously Iran takes its own guarantees of non-nuclear proliferation (not very seriously at all).
It seems most likely that Trump decides to vacate the deal, assuming that his staunchly anti-Iranian words and overt allegiance to Israel to this point are to be taken at face value. But, there’s one American who continues to work to preserve the deal, ostensibly because he is the one who put it in place. That man is former Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been busy talking to non-American influencers in attempts to persuade them to maintain their support for the Iran deal or convince them that renewal is the best course of action.
Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif has apparently been a dining partner of Kerry’s multiple times in the past couple of months. Perhaps Kerry is asking for Iran to come to the table to make sure that the deal gets renewed, as it would certainly allow Kerry to save face in terms of his legacy as Secretary of State.
‘[Kerry] 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.’ (Boston Globe)
Kerry is also launching an offensive on the European contingent with the hopes that outside pressure would force Trump to fall on the side of renewal.
‘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.’ (Globe)
According to experts, it’s rare and a bit strange to see a former Secretary of State lobbying so actively to affect current foreign affairs. But, in the age of Trump, nothing seems strange anymore. And, the Iranian deal is the linchpin of the Kerry/Obama foreign policy legacy, so Kerry’s active yet secretive diplomacy actually is to be somewhat expected.
But regardless of Kerry’s efforts, it’s unlikely Trump will be swayed by any nation other than Israel. In fact, the exposure of Kerry’s efforts could make it more likely that Trump chooses to scuttle the deal. Trump even Tweeted directly about Kerry’s “possibly illegal Shadow Diplomacy”.
“The United States does not need John Kerry’s possibly illegal Shadow Diplomacy on the very badly negotiated Iran Deal. He was the one that created this MESS in the first place!” (IJR via Twitter)
While diplomatic relations in the West are always to be considered, it’s likely that regional ties mean those allies will be there for the foreseeable future. However, should Trump create the perception that he is somehow siding with Iran over Israel – a perception that Israeli PM Netanyahu clearly sensed on some level when the Iranian sanctions were lifted in the first place – those strained relations would likely be nearly impossible to mend.
Until now, President Trump has indicated time and again that he will side with Israel when it comes to matters of foreign affairs in the Middle East. Reversing course and choosing to renew the Iranian nuclear deal would go against everything he’s said and done in terms of Middle Eastern foreign policy, and last-minute diplomacy from a former Secretary of State with much skin in the game is not going to sway a decision that has likely already been finalized.