U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized predecessor John Kerry for meeting several times recently with Iran's foreign minister, saying the Obama-era official was "actively undermining" U.S. policy toward Tehran.
Pompeo on September 14 said Kerry's meetings with Mohammad Javad Zarif were "unseemly and unprecedented" and "beyond inappropriate."
A day earlier, President Donald Trump had accused Kerry of holding "illegal meetings with the very hostile Iranian regime, which can only serve to undercut our great work to the detriment of the American people."
Pompeo bashed Kerry as a former secretary of state for engaging with "the world's largest state-sponsor of terror" and telling Iran to "wait out this administration."
"You can't find precedent for this in U.S. history, and Secretary Kerry ought not to engage in that kind of behavior," Pompeo told reporters.
"It's inconsistent with what foreign policy of the United States is as directed by this president, and it is beyond inappropriate for him to be engaged," he added.
Kerry responded on September 14 in a tweet, writing: "Mr. President, you should be more worried about Paul Manafort meeting with Robert Mueller than me meeting with Iran's FM."
Kerry was referring to an announcement earlier in the day that Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, had pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and witness tampering and agreed to cooperate with Special Counsel Mueller.
During a radio interview this week, Kerry said he had met with Zarif “three or four times” since leaving office, and that their discussions included the nuclear deal.
He insisted the talks were appropriate, telling Fox News that “every secretary of state, former secretary of state, continues to meet with foreign leaders, goes to security conferences, goes around the world.”
Kerry and Zarif were part of negotiations that led to the 2015 nuclear deal that Iran signed with the United States and five other world powers.
The pact led to an easing of financial sanctions on Tehran in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program.
Trump attacked the deal during his presidential campaign and into his presidency, accusing Tehran of violating the spirit of the deal by testing ballistic missiles and by supporting militancy in the region. He pulled out of the deal in May and began to reimpose sanctions.
Tehran denied the U.S. allegations and said its nuclear program was strictly for civilian purposes.
Kerry has been highly critical of the president’s decision to pull out of the nuclear deal.
Some political observers have speculated that Kerry, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2004 against George W. Bush, could run against Trump in the 2020 election.