TEHRAN, IRAN - Iran's foreign minister said Wednesday that he believes his recent meeting with a U.S. senator had spooked the Trump administration because it was an opportunity to talk directly to "the American nation."
Mohammad Javad Zarif met last week with Sen. Chris Murphy on the sidelines of an international security conference in Germany. The Connecticut Democrat defended the meeting on Tuesday after his actions were questioned in conservative media, and as President Donald Trump suggested they may have violated U.S. law. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped anyone who meets with Zarif would be reflecting the U.S. position with Iran.
"Trump and Pompeo are afraid of a senator hearing facts from the Iranian foreign minister," Zarif said, speaking to reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting. He said this wasn't his first face-to-face chat with an American lawmaker in the last 20 years. It was not immediately clear which senators he'd met with.
Murphy said meeting Zarif was important because it is "dangerous not to talk to one's enemies," adding: "I have no delusions about Iran - they are our adversary."
Tehran and Washington came close to an open conflict in January, when a U.S. drone strike in Iraq killed Iran's top general. Iran retaliated with missile strikes on a base housing U.S. troops in Iraq.
Tensions have been escalating steadily since 2018, when Trump pulled the U.S. out of Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers. The Trump administration reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran as part of its "maximum pressure campaign" on the Islamic republic.
On hearing of Saturday's meeting, Trump said it sounded as though Murphy had violated an obscure, little-used federal law known as the Logan Act, which bars private citizens from conducting official diplomacy.
Pompeo said the U.S. has long designated Iran a state sponsor of terrorism, and pointed out Iran's recent accidental shootdown of a Ukrainian passenger jet over Tehran. Pompeo has criticized other Americans for meeting with Zarif, including his immediate predecessor, John Kerry.