We’ve detected that you’re using Internet Explorer. Please consider updating to a more modern browser to ensure the best user experience on our website.

ACLJ Obtains New Memo in State Department Lawsuit Unveiling Unreported Obama-Era Officials' Secret Meeting With Iran's Zarif During Trump Administration


Jordan Sekulow

May 24, 2022

The Boston Globe put it this way:  “Kerry is quietly seeking to salvage Iran deal he helped craft.”

The ACLJ put it a bit more bluntly: “John Kerry tried to undermine President Trump in order to support Iran, putting our national security at risk.”

Remember the stories that former Obama Secretary of State John Kerry – no longer in office as of January 20, 2017 – engaged in shadow diplomacy with Iran promoting foreign policy contrary to that of America’s sitting President, Donald Trump? As the story continued to unfold, and more information about the Left’s counter-diplomacy was revealed even just last year, the ACLJ went to work. 

We launched a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the State Department, seeking records of State Department awareness of or involvement with Obama-era U.S. officials – aka, the Deep State – employing undercover backchannels in an effort to undercut President Trump’s cornerstone foreign policy of withdrawing the United States from the disastrous Obama/Biden Iran Deal.

In the FOIA lawsuit against the State Department that ensued, the ACLJ just obtained a never-before-seen “unclassified” October 2018 memo entitled, “Notes From ‘Iran and the US: An Off-the-Record Conversation with Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif.’”

According to this memo, the previously unreported “off-the-record meeting” took place at the “Iranian Ambassador’s Residence, NYC,” on October 4, 2018 – just days after major media coverage of Kerry’s admission of the secret efforts. The memo we unearthed contains notes on the former U.S. diplomats’ conversation with Zarif and his responses “to questions posed by a group of US former ambassadors and policy analysts.” 

The key here is “former” – and the date, October 2018, right in the middle of the Trump Administration.

The newly obtained memo, regarding the secret meeting between Zarif and these former U.S. officials, included discussions of nuclear weapons, potential prisoner swaps, Afghanistan withdrawal and negotiations with the Taliban, Houthi rebels, Syria, Suleimani’s popularity in Iran, and the “region in turmoil.”

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – now ACLJ Senior Counsel for Global Affairs – reviewed this memo and reacted by calling this discovery “a big deal for sure.” He continued: “This is exactly what we were fighting. . . .  The arrogance.  The indecency.  The hatred of Israel.”

This is precisely why we sent this FOIA request: to uncover actions of then-former U.S. diplomats – those who worked for the Obama-Biden Administration but who then went to work undermining President Trump and the core policies he campaigned on and succeeded. Kerry himself admitted his part in this scheme. And here we obtained a memo showing just that: an off-the-record meeting between Zarif and “former” U.S. diplomats right in the middle of the Trump Administration and during the time President Trump was working through the aftermath of withdrawing the United States from the farce known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the Iran nuclear deal.

Further, this record was only responsive to our FOIA request if it involved former high level Obama officials John Kerry, Robert Malley (key Iran Deal negotiator and currently President Biden’s U.S. Special Representative to Iran), or Ernest Moniz (Obama’s Secretary of Energy) in some way. This in and of itself is a key piece of this shadow diplomacy puzzle.

In the ACLJ’s FOIA request sent to the State Department last year, we sought records of these former high level Obama officials engaged in secret, “off the record” diplomacy with Iran, and particularly, with Mohammad Javad Zarif. To be specific, we sought:

All records, communications or briefings created, generated, forwarded, transmitted, sent, shared, saved, received, or reviewed by any DOS official or employee that regard in any way John Kerry, Robert Malley, or Ernest Moniz, and Mohammad Javad Zarif or U.S. relations with Iran.

When the State Department ignored our requests, failing to comply with the law, we took it to federal court in Washington, D.C., as we’ve done so many times before.

There are many more documents to be produced in this case; and once the production is complete, we’ll have to litigate against the State Department to force it to reveal what it has redacted and withheld along the way.

One question we will pursue: In whose custody was this memo? Another one is, what conversations did Obama-era holdovers still at the State Department have with the “former” U.S. diplomats who went to this meeting?

The memo we uncovered shines a light, not just on the secret meeting itself, but also on Zarif’s rhetoric and unbelievable assertions as he attempts to persuade his listeners. For instance, he claims “Iran will never seek atomic weapons.” Well, I guess there’s no cause for concern here. And, “It is almost impossible to turn fuel rods into nuclear weapons.” Almost impossible. He goes on and on, spouting off his distorted pro-Iran view as if it’s fact.

Interestingly, record productions we’ve received in this case also include a series of sensitive but unclassified (SBU) emails revealing that Kerry had State Department staff working to send correspondence to Zarif, described as a farewell letter, two weeks after Kerry had left office on January 20, 2017.  It is clear from the emails that the State Department staff were struggling with how to send the letter, we presume because the United States had no official diplomatic relations with Iran.

As of now, the State Department has withheld the contents of Kerry’s secret February 2017 letter to Zarif, so we will continue to litigate to gain access.

We will keep you up to date as this case progresses.

close player