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President says John Kerry should be prosecuted for meeting with Iranians

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Thursday said that John Kerry, the former secretary of state, should be prosecuted for discussing the Iran nuclear deal with officials from that country after leaving office.

Trump raised the issue during a freewheeling exchange with reporters after an event on health care at the White House, accusing Kerry of telling Iranian officials not to speak with members of the Trump administration.

‘‘I’d like to see — with Iran, I’d like to see them call me,’’ Trump said. ‘‘You know, John Kerry speaks to them a lot. John Kerry tells them not to call. That’s a violation of the Logan Act. And frankly, he should be prosecuted on that.

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“But my people don’t want to do anything that’s — only the Democrats do that kind of stuff, you know? If it were the opposite way, they’d prosecute him under the Logan Act.’’

As President Barack Obama’s secretary of state, Kerry helped craft the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump scrapped.

Trump has long accused Kerry of holding ‘‘illegal’’ meetings with Iranian officials and has argued that the former secretary of state violated the Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from negotiating on behalf of the US government without authorization.

But Thursday appears to mark the first time that Trump has publicly acknowledged he asked members of his administration to examine whether they could prosecute Kerry.

Matt Summers, a spokesman for Kerry, disputed Trump’s accusations and urged the president to ‘‘focus on solving foreign policy problems for America instead of attacking his predecessors for theater.’’

‘‘Everything President Trump said today is simply wrong, end of story,’’ Summers said in a statement. ‘‘He’s wrong about the facts, wrong about the law, and sadly he’s been wrong about how to use diplomacy to keep America safe. Secretary Kerry helped negotiate a nuclear agreement that worked to solve an intractable problem. The world supported it then and supports it still.’’

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A Justice Department spokeswoman did not respond to a message seeking comment on Trump’s remarks.

In a radio interview in September, Kerry said he had met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif ‘‘three or four times’’ since leaving office and that their discussions included the Iran nuclear deal.

Kerry also defended the meetings in an interview on Fox News Channel, stating that ‘‘every secretary of state, former secretary of state, continues to meet with foreign leaders.’’

Days after the interviews, Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, wrote to the attorney general at the time, Jeff Sessions, urging the Department of Justice to investigate whether Kerry was in violation of the Logan Act or the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The latter applies to those who represent the interests of foreign governments in a ‘‘political or quasi-political capacity.’’

‘‘The American people deserve to know that US laws are enforced regardless of any individual’s past position,’’ Rubio wrote.

Shortly after Trump’s remarks about Kerry on Thursday, Matt Wolking, a spokesman for Trump’s presidential campaign, sent a tweet citing Rubio’s letter, which he said ‘‘details Kerry’s attempts to thwart the Trump Administration’s foreign policy and save Obama’s disastrous Iran deal.’’

Meanwhile, the European Union on Thursday urged Iran to respect the international agreement curbing the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions, and added that the bloc aims to continue trading with the country, despite US sanctions.

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The EU and major European powers — Britain, France, and Germany — also said they ‘‘note with great concern the statement made by Iran concerning its commitments’’ to the nuclear deal, stressing that they ‘‘reject any ultimatums’’ coming from Tehran.

The joint statement came as the bloc struggles to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, a day after a new deadline from Tehran on finding a solution to make up for last year’s unilateral US withdrawal from the accord and reimposed US sanctions on Iran.

‘‘We remain fully committed to the preservation and full implementation’’ of the deal, endorsed by the UN Security Council, said the EU statement.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised address Wednesday that signatories to the deal now have 60 days to come up with a plan to shield his country — already laboring under economic hardship — from the sanctions imposed by Trump.

As the sanctions bite, domestic pressure is increasing on Rouhani to demonstrate that Iran can still benefit from an agreement based on providing it with economic opportunities in exchange for limiting nuclear development.

‘‘Iran must remain in this agreement and we must do everything we can to ensure that it stays in,’’ French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters at an EU summit in Romania, where leaders were to discuss the standoff.

In their statement, the EU powers said they ‘‘regret the re-imposition of sanctions’’ by the United States and remain ‘‘determined to continue pursuing efforts to enable the continuation of legitimate trade with Iran.’’

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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zaris said Thursday that the United States has bullied Europe and the rest of the world with its Iran policy.

‘‘Instead of demanding that Iran unilaterally abide by a multilateral accord, EU should uphold obligations — including normalization of economic ties,’’ he wrote on Twitter.

The Europeans have set up a complicated barter-type system to skirt direct financial transactions with Iran and so evade possible US sanctions. The workaround, dubbed INSTEX, is not yet operational as Iran has not completed its part of the scheme.


Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.