(CNSNews.com) – As the November election nears, President Trump could decide, in the Middle East or elsewhere, to “act in provocative ways that may provide him electoral benefit,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said at a security conference in Germany at the weekend.
“I think many of us worry that as the election approaches, the president may also be interested in sort of rattling sabers, whether it’s in the Middle East or in other regions of the world,” Murphy said at the Munich Security Conference.
“We certainly worry that while the window closes for mediation [between the U.S. and Iran] the aperture may open for the president to act in provocative ways that may provide him electoral benefit,” he added.
Murphy took part in a panel discussion with the foreign ministers of Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman, directly after Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif left the stage after criticizing U.S. policy in the region, including the killing of Qassem Soleimani.
Murphy and his office have not commented on claims that the senator met with Zarif on the sidelines of the conference. Citing a source briefed by one of the delegations to the MSC, The Federalist reported Monday that Murphy and other Democratic senators “had a secret meeting” with Zarif in Munich.
“Such a meeting would mean Murphy had done the type of secret coordination with foreign leaders to potentially undermine the U.S. government that he accused Trump officials of doing as they prepared for Trump’s administration,” commented senior editor Mollie Hemingway, who wrote the story.
Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has positioned himself as a leading opponent of Trump’s Mideast policies, slamming his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, and to order the killing of Soleimani – but also criticizing U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
In response to an audience member’s question during Saturday’s panel discussion, Murphy stressed that he was “not here to be a defender of the administration’s policy in the Middle East.”
“He’s a critic,” interjected the panel moderator, BBC correspondent Lyse Doucet. “I would be characterized as a – as a critic,” the Democratic senator agreed.
Murphy said that to the extent he agreed with anything Zarif had said during the earlier segment, “I do believe this administration believes in regime change [in Iran] and believes that its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign will ultimately effectuate that.”
“I think that it’s unrealistic, I think that it’s unwise,” he said.
Murphy also criticized the administration for taking sides in what he called “the fight for supremacy” between Iran and Saudi Arabia – a dispute that worsened last fall with a cruise missile and drone attack on Saudi oil infrastructure blamed by the kingdom and the U.S. on the Iranian regime.
He bemoaned the “decision to weigh in dispositively on one side of this fight – on the side of the Saudis.”
“It is not that we don’t consider them [the Iranian regime] an adversary, and it is not that Saudi Arabia isn’t an ally, but ultimately our interest is in de-escalation, not in ramping this up until one side wins.”
Iranian media outlets and the foreign ministry said nothing about Zarif having met with any Americans at the Munich conference. (Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also attended, but left after giving a speech earlier on Saturday.)
Zarif himself posted photos of his meetings with more than a dozen participants, including European, Russian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern government ministers.
“Wrapping up three days in Munich, where I met with my counterparts from across the globe, as well as many other officials, think tanks, NGOs and media representatives on the sidelines of the [conference],” he tweeted. “Advancing the cause of peace and de-escalation in our region and beyond.”
Other U.S. senators who took part in various events at the conference include Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), and Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Rob Portman (Ohio), and Mitt Romney (Utah).