Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on the sidelines of this weekend’s Munich Security Conference, the senator confirmed Tuesday.
In a post on Medium, Murphy said he wanted to discuss Iranian-backed forces in Iraq, the war in Yemen and U.S. prisoners being held in Iran.
“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,” Murphy wrote. “But I think it’s dangerous to not talk to your enemies. Discussions and negotiations are a way to ease tensions and reduce the chances for crisis.”
The meeting was first reported by conservative outlet The Federalist and quickly criticized by right-wing circles.
Speaking to reporters at Joint Base Andrews, President Trump questioned whether Murphy violated the Logan Act, which bans private U.S. citizens from conducting unauthorized diplomacy with foreign governments.
Legal scholars generally agree the Logan Act does not apply to members of Congress, and there is lengthy precedent of lawmakers meeting with foreign government officials.
“Sen. Murphy met with the Iranians; is that a fact? I just saw that on the way over. Is there anything that I should know? Because that sounds like, to me, a violation of the Logan Act,” Trump said.
Asked about reporting on the meeting before Murphy’s post, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo highlighted U.S. sanctions against Zarif, as well as Iran’s recent shooting down of a Ukrainian commercial airliner.
“If they met, I don’t know what they said. I hope they were reinforcing America’s foreign policy, not their own,” Pompeo said during a news conference in Ethiopia.
In his post, Murphy stressed that he does not conduct diplomacy on behalf of the U.S. government, but added that Congress is a co-equal branch of government that sets foreign policy.
“I cannot conduct diplomacy on behalf of the whole of the U.S. government, and I don’t pretend to be in a position to do so. But if Trump isn’t going to talk to Iran, then someone should,” he wrote.
The meeting comes after a military confrontation between the United States and Iran nearly escalated into war in January. A drone strike ordered by Trump killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and Iran retaliated with a missile strike on an Iraqi military base that gave more than 100 U.S. service members brain injuries.
Murphy said he wanted to meet with Zarif to “gauge whether he thinks the reprisals for the Soleimani assassination are over.”
“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 added.
The pair also discussed the civil war in Yemen, where Iran supports the Houthi rebels, Murphy said.
“I tell him that I know it is not a coincidence that the recent uptick in attacks from Iranian-aligned Houthis in Yemen started right after the Soleimani killing,” he wrote.
Murphy also said he raised the issue of a 2 percent tax the Houthis had planned to impose on humanitarian assistance, a plan the Houthis said Friday they dropped.
Finally, Murphy said he raised the issue of U.S. prisoners in Iran; he said he and Zarif spent “a few minutes discussing how the situation could be resolved.”