Republican operatives claimed to have definitive proof that the chief American architect of the Iran nuclear deal met secretly with Iranian officials in Paris just days after President Donald Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from the international accord.
A lobbyist with the firm Turnberry Solutions tweeted a photo on May 12 that appeared to show former Secretary of State John Kerry walking near the trendy L’Avenue restaurant in the French capital’s Champs-Elysées neighborhood.
“So John Kerry just left a meeting @ L’Avenue in Paris w/3 Iranians. A friend was sitting next to their table and heard JK blasting @realDonaldTrump. The Iranians had a 5 person security detail and left in diplomatic vehicles. Is he FARA registered?” Jason Osborne tweeted, referring to the Foreign Agents Registration Act that requires Americans to disclose activities taken on behalf of foreign governments.
The allegation came on the heels of reports about Kerry’s unsuccessful 11th hour bid to preserve a deal he played an instrumental role in crafting, as Trump moved closer to fulfilling his campaign vow to shake up the pact.
Kerry was in Paris at the time. But his team vehemently denied any Paris meeting with Iranians took place
“That’s completely made up,” David Wade, Kerry’s former chief of staff, tweeted May 12. “Total fiction.”
We looked into it. Here’s what we found: The claim rests on a former Trump adviser’s source who claimed to have eavesdropped on the conversation. However, we did not uncover definitive proof that a meeting went down.
Osborne, a former adviser to the presidential campaigns of Trump and Ben Carson, told PolitiFact his purported source began listening midway through Kerry’s conversation.
“He had no idea who Kerry was meeting with but was annoyed about what he overheard so he started paying attention,” Osborne said by email. “Then he noticed the (diplomatic) cars and security when the folks left and realized they were Iranian.”
Osborne gave us a phone number for his source, so we called it. Multiple calls to the number were not returned.
A day after Kerry’s alleged meeting, Osborne tweeted photos that he said depicted the three Iranians who met with Kerry, and asked Twitter users to help identify the men.
“Just got pictures of the 3 Iranians who met with John Kerry yesterday. They are entering their hotel the ‘Prince De Galles,’ ” Osborne tweeted May 13. “Anyone know who they are?”
An Iranian dissident named M. Hanif Jazayeri identified the photographed Iranians as former Foreign Affairs Minister Kamal Kharazi and Iran’s Ambassador to France Abolghassem Delfi.
None of the photos showed Kerry and the Iranians together.
‘Shadow diplomacy’ or Twitter incitement?
In the weeks before Trump’s May 8 decision to exit the deal and re-impose sanctions on Iran, Kerry had worked frantically behind the scenes to preserve the deal he helped craft in 2015, according to the Boston Globe. Ahead of the U.S. withdrawal, Kerry, who was secretary of state under President Barack Obama, met with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, courted European officials and made dozens of calls to members of Congress in hopes of salvaging the accord.
Trump and right-wing backers challenged Kerry’s actions as violating the 18th century Logan Act, which prevents U.S. citizens from privately meeting with a foreign government to sway its decisions on matters involving the United States.
Legal scholars consider the Logan Act a “dead letter” law — meaning that while it’s still technically on the books, it would be highly unlikely to be enforced.
Nonetheless, as the Trump administration learned after national security adviser Michael Flynn was accused of violating the Logan Act for appearing to undermine Obama-era sanctions against Russia, the law still has political resonance.
But Wade, Kerry’s former chief of staff, said the supposed Paris meeting never happened.
He emailed conservative media outlet The Blaze the following morning to bat down a report that carried the headline, “John Kerry caught meeting with Iranians in France — and there’s a photo to prove it.”
“Kerry had no such meeting or encounter in Paris — no meeting with Iranians,” Wade wrote in a May 13 email to an editor at The Blaze. “Nor does a photo of what looks like him walking down a street alone show any such thing.”
Kerry spokesman Matthew Summers acknowledged the former secretary of state was in Paris during the relevant time frame, but denied any meeting with Iranians occurred — and backed up his denial with a fairly detailed itinerary of Kerry’s brief stay in the French capital:
“Secretary Kerry was in Europe for a few days last week – he gave a speech in Milan, flew to London for a charity dinner and then took a train to Paris on the 11th and returned home to Boston on the 13th, just in time to spend Mother’s Day with his wife.
“He was in Paris to see his friend Tim Collins and they had a few meals together, including one with Ted Snyder, the dean of Yale’s business school – and he had no meetings with any Iranians whatsoever. His trip was completely unrelated.
“Not surprisingly, he still travels overseas frequently. It certainly appears to be him in the photo but is just a random shot of him on a sidewalk – no proof of any sort of meeting – people take photos of him everywhere he goes on their phones.”
An Iranian government official called allegations that Kerry and Kharazi met in Paris “total lie.” The official acknowledged Kharazi was in the French capital at the time, but said he was there to attend a meeting for a group called “Leaders for Peace Foundation.”
We tried multiple times to reach the restaurant L’Avenue, where the alleged meeting occurred. The restaurant declined to comment, saying they don’t “give this kind of information.”
The State Department and White House declined to comment.