WASHINGTON – The Trump administration on Monday demanded that Iran make wholesale changes in its military and regional policies or face “the strongest sanctions in history,” as it sought to turn up heat on Tehran after President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from a landmark nuclear deal.
In speech that called Iran out for a wide range of “malign activities” apart from its nuclear program, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for the negotiation of a new deal that would go far beyond the single focus of the 2015 agreement and would have the status of a formal treaty. The 2015 deal concluded under the Obama administration dealt only with the nuclear program and was not a treaty but rather a U.N.-endorsed executive agreement between the parties.
Unless such a treaty can be reached, Pompeo warned that Iran would face tough sanctions that would leave it “battling to keep its economy alive.” But he laid out no strategy for convincing Iran, the other participants in the original deal – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the European Union – or others to open such a negotiation.
“These will end up being the strongest sanctions in history by the time we are complete,” Pompeo said at the conservative Heritage Foundation in his first major policy speech since taking over as top diplomat.
Pompeo vowed Trump’s approach would ensure Iran would never develop a nuclear weapon. A new pact should require that Iran stop enrichment of uranium, which was allowed within strict limitations under the previous deal. Iran would also have to walk away from core pillars of its foreign policy, including its involvement in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Afghanistan, he said.
“This list may seem long to some, but it is simply a reflection of the massive scope of Iranian malign behavior,” Pompeo said. “America did not create this need for changed behavior. Iran did.”
In response, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani described Pompeo’s speech as unacceptable and took issue with the fact that the secretary of state previously led the CIA, long demonized in Iran for its role in a 1953 coup.
“A guy who had been active in an espionage center for years now wants to make a decision for Iran and other countries from the position of a foreign minister. It is not acceptable under any circumstance,” Rouhani said to a group of university teachers in Tehran. “Who are you to make a decision for Iran and the world and to tell Iran what to do and what not to do in the nuclear field?”
Pompeo did offer Iran a series of dramatic potential U.S. concessions if it agrees to make “major changes.” Under a new agreement, the U.S. would be willing to lift all sanctions, restore full diplomatic and commercial ties with Iran, and even support the modernization of its economy, Pompeo said.
“It is America’s hope that our labors toward peace and security will bear fruit for the long-suffering people of Iran,” Pompeo said.
Still, Pompeo’s list of 12 requirements included many that Iran is highly unlikely to consider. He said Iran must allow nuclear inspectors “unqualified access to all sites throughout the country,” Pompeo said, alluding to military sites that were off-limits under the 2015 deal except under specific circumstances. To that end, he also said Iran must declare all previous efforts to build a nuclear weapon, reopening an issue that the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency has already deemed a closed matter.
Pompeo also demanded that Iran cease from a range of activities throughout the Middle East that have long drawn the ire of the U.S. and its allies. He said Iran must end support for Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, “withdraw all forces” from Syria, halt support for its ally Hezbollah and stop threatening Israel.
Iran must also “release all U.S. citizens” missing in Iran or being held on “spurious charges,” he said.
Taken together, the demands would require a complete transformation by Iran’s government, and they hardened the perception that the administration is really seeking regime change. A longtime Iran hawk, Pompeo has spoken positively about regime change in the past, but in his confirmation hearing last month he sought to soften that stance.
Laying out Trump’s new approach Monday, Pompeo said he couldn’t put a timeline on how long the strategy might take.
“At the end of the day, the Iranian people will get to make their choice about their leadership,” Pompeo said. “If they make the decision quickly, that would be wonderful. If they choose not to do so, we will stay hard at this until we achieve the outcomes that I set forward today.”
In another departure from the Obama administration’s approach, Pompeo said that “a treaty is our preferred way to go.” Former President Barack Obama did not seek a Senate-ratified treaty with Iran because of the dim prospects for getting approval from a Republican-run Congress.
Pompeo’s speech came after Trump earlier this month infuriated U.S. allies in Europe by withdrawing from the 2015 deal brokered by Obama, Iran and world powers. Europeans allies had pleaded with Trump not to scuttle that deal and are now scrambling to keep the deal alive even without the U.S.
But the Trump administration has held out hope that those same allies will put aside that frustration and work with the U.S. to ramp pressure back up on Iran through sanctions in a bid to bring Tehran back to the negotiating table for a stronger deal.
Pompeo said he understood that Trump’s decision “will pose financial and economic difficulties for a number of our friends.” But he warned them that the U.S. planned to follow through with threats to punish European companies that continue doing business with Iran that is allowed under the deal but will violate reimposed U.S. sanctions.
“I know our allies in Europe may try to keep the old nuclear deal going with Tehran. That is their decision to make,” Pompeo said. “They know where we stand.”
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