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Fmr. US Sec. of State John Kerry recently admitted to carrying out 'shadow diplomacy' in order to 'save' the Iran Deal, for which he was lambasted by the Trump administration for undermining its hard-line anti-Iran policy. Kerry is almost certainly in violation of the Logan Act prohibiting civilians from conducting diplomacy on any issue that is contrary to the government's position. The Logan Act, which dates from 1799, is unlikely to be used against Kerry, but a more recent precedent saw Trump's initial National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, punished for a far less serious diplomatic transgression (namely, speaking on the phone with the Russian ambassador in Washington, DC). editor Niall Bradley joined Andrew Korybko on his Sputnik 'Trendstorm' show this week to discuss what Kerry's game-plan might be here, concluding that, whichever Iran policy 'wins' in Washington, the race is on between US 'good cops' and 'bad cops' to prevent Iran from achieving strategic military deterrence, thereby 'containing' its economic and military development, and thus its influence in the wider southwest Asian region.

Originally published as an .mp3 Trendstorm podcast on Sputnik


John Kerry admitted to carrying out what some are euphemistically calling "shadow diplomacy" in trying to save the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran, which Trump and Pompeo described as being potentially illegal and unprecedentedly undermining the foreign policy of the present administration. The former Secretary of State has a personal stake in the survival of this agreement because it defines his legacy of service under the Obama Administration, but as a Democrat, he also has political reasons for trying to thwart Trump's plans. Even so and regardless of intent, the case can be made that Kerry is in violation of the 1799 Logan Act prohibiting civilians from conducting diplomacy contrary to the government's position on any issue.

There are of course very serious domestic political implications over Kerry's "shadow diplomacy", especially in relation to the "deep state's" incessant efforts to obstruct the implementation of Trump's policies just for the sake of it, but it also speaks to the wariness that some have of the overall strategic consequences of the nuclear deal's failure. The forthcoming reimposition of energy-related sanctions against Iran in November is expected to hit its economy very hard, potentially catalyzing even more wide-scale unrest than what's already on display in the country and possibly leading to more security challenges for its government.

Iran is one of the lynchpins of contemporary Mideast affairs, with Trump assessing its regional role very negatively while Kerry is apparently a bit more pragmatic. These contrasting perceptions are also partially responsible for the "deep state" divide in the State Department, as many Obama-era supporters share Kerry's views while some of them - and especially Trump's appointees and those ideologically loyal to him - stand with the current President. The first-mentioned faction isn't as eager to see Iran destabilized as the latter one is, hence why it's behind Kerry's unprecedented "shadow diplomacy", while the second group is regarded as hawks and is eagerly awaiting the Hybrid War consequences that Trump's aggressive policies might have for Iran.

Korybko: What exactly does Kerry's "shadow diplomacy" with Iran aim to achieve in tangible terms, and how successful do you think he'll be?

Niall Bradley: Kerry has a history with Iranian foreign minister Mohamad Zarif - developed in the course of negotiating the JCPOA - the Iran Deal. I imagine Kerry is telling Zarif something like this: 'Hang in there! Trump isn't forever! Even when Trump's hardline policy shortly kicks in, don't do anything rash! We can still salvage this!'

Now, I don't think Iran would do anything rash - like, blockade oil and gas transit through the Strait of Hormuz, as rumors suggest it is poised to do. Iran - much like Russia, actually - largely needs to just ride out the US' unilateral sanctions while continuing to build capacity in all areas - military, infrastructure, trade, diplomatic relations, etc.

So, if we go with this and assume that Kerry is holding out to Iran the promise of a return to the pre-Trump status quo, and thus the normalization of US-Iranian relations, we immediately see that its success is highly contingent on US domestic political developments. And that front is so chaotic right now, there's no telling which Iran policy would succeed in the long-term.

At root, I think the US establishment is so schizophrenic on Iran because it has learned - the hard way, over the course of its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - that Iranian cultural and political influence in the region is a fact of life, an immovable object. The dispute in Washington over what to do about that fact is whether cooperation with Iran, or undermining it - up to and including regime change or war - is the best, least risky way to contain, or manage, said Iranian influence.

Korybko: Kerry's outreaches to the Iranian leadership are historically unprecedented in the sense of just how much they undermine the sitting US President's policy, so what domestic consequences could this have for America's ever-intensifying "deep state" war against Trump?

Niall Bradley: As I hinted at before, Kerry is probably 'going rogue' because his faction is emboldened by the prospect of 'victory' over Trump. But this brazen undercutting of Trump then feeds back into the highly polemic atmosphere in the US, where pro-Israeli, anti-Iranian views in the US Christian right - Trump's support base - are further antagonized, which further polarizes the US domestic front.

US politics has come to evolve so much around the question of who loves Israel more - the Republicans or the Democrats - that, on the face of it, I can only see this undermining the Democrats' goal of retaking Congress in this November's midterm elections.

Here we approach what I suspect may have been Trump's original strategy when setting out to challenge said deep state: unequivocal support for whatever Israel and its powerful lobby network wants, in return for breathing space to effect at least some fundamental changes in US domestic policy and geopolitical outlook.

Korybko: Just like there's a "rogue" American diplomat negotiating with Iran in secret in a bid to retain the nuclear deal against the wishes of his country's sitting leader, how likely do you think it is that there's an Iranian counterpart doing the same in trying to mitigate the effect of Trump's sanctions and possibly probe a deal between the two countries despite Tehran's formal opposition to talks?

Niall Bradley: Possibly. I would imagine though that no significant Iranian faction would push this line of inquiry too far, lest they signal to Trump that 'yes, we are amenable to tearing up the JCPOA'. Remember, this stand-off hinges on Trump's bet that Iran will back down and agree to a new deal - one that's more favourable to US investment opportunities in Iran, and also more stringent in checking Iran's military development.

I think that Trump is emboldened in taking this hardline stance with Iran because of his apparent success when playing this game of 'chicken' with North Korea. You remember how that went, right? From 'imminent nuclear Armageddon' to 'unprecedented peace' in the blink of an eye!

How this stand-off develops probably hinges on the question of how close the Iranians are to achieving nuclear weapons - and, more importantly, I believe, because I suspect the Iranians already have a bomb or two - at what stage is their delivery system, their ballistic missile capability?

And so, in light of how we saw an about-turn after North Korea announced completion of its ballistic missile program, here the race is on to check Iran before it reaches some equivalent threshold of military deterrence - which in this case might be defined by its ability to successfully repel a combined Israeli-US attack. Thereafter, with its core security needs met, then we may see Iran apparently succumb to Trump's arty deal-making.