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Pompeo expected in Israel amid bid to hike Iran sanctions before Biden takeover

Washington, Jerusalem and Gulf states said backing raft of new measures; Iran tells its neighbors to ignore effort: ‘Trump’s gone in 70 days. But we’ll remain here forever’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on October 18, 2019. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on October 18, 2019. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected in Israel next week as Jerusalem and Washington plan a last-minute spate of sanctions on Iran in a bid to stymie efforts by the incoming Biden administration to reenter the Iran nuclear deal.

Pompeo will arrive in Israel on November 18 and will probably visit other countries in the region, the Walla news site reported. An English version was published on the Axios site.

The reports said the Trump administration — in coordination with Israel and Arab states in the Persian Gulf — was planning a bevy of wide-ranging sanctions on Iran to make it more difficult for the incoming administration to reenter the nuclear deal, which was negotiated when Biden served as vice president under Obama.

Quoting Israeli and Arab sources, Walla said US Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela Elliot Abrams is planning to announce a raft of fresh sanctions on Iran every week from now until January 20. These sanctions will reportedly target Iran’s missile program and its support for terrorist groups, as well as focus on its human rights violations, making it harder for Biden to roll back such punishments.

Missiles are fired in an Iranian military exercise by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, July 28, 2020,. (Sepahnews via AP)

Abrams met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Sunday and was expected to hold talks with other senior Israeli officials.

According to the report, Israel and Gulf states believe Biden will swiftly lift other sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program to restart diplomacy with Tehran, shedding some of the US’s leverage over the cash-strapped country. New sanctions, therefore, would keep up pressure on Tehran to compromise and likely keep Biden out of the international pact unless he lifts them.

“The goal is as many sanctions as possible by January 20,” an unnamed Israeli official was quoted as saying.

An Arab official involved in the negotiations told the news site, “The goal of the Trump administration is to impose sanctions that Biden cannot lift.”

Iran meanwhile, urged its Gulf neighbors to stop coordinating with the Trump administration and called on Biden to reenter the deal.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif smiles during talks in Moscow, Russia, September 24, 2020. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)

“A sincere message to our neighbors: Trump’s gone in 70 days. But we’ll remain here forever,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif tweeted late Sunday.

“Betting on outsiders to provide security is never a good gamble. We extend our hand to our neighbors for dialog to resolve differences.”

Earlier, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani called on Biden to “compensate for past mistakes” and return the US to Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

“Now, an opportunity has come up for the next US administration to compensate for past mistakes and return to the path of complying with international agreements through respect of international norms,” the state-run IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.

“The people of Iran, though their heroic resistance against the imposed economic war, proved that the U.S. maximum pressure policy was doomed to fail,” Rouhani said. He added Iran “considers constructive engagement with the world as a strategy.”

Earlier Sunday, a senior minister in Netanyahu’s Likud party called for “dialogue with the new administration” to ensure that Biden does not reenter the pact under its previous terms.

Netanyahu has been a strident critic of the nuclear deal, arguing it did not put in place sufficient safeguards to prevent Iran from seeking nuclear weapons capabilities, and cheered Trump’s decision to withdraw from the accord.

A former senior aide to Joe Biden said rejoining the Iran nuclear deal was “high on his agenda” and that the US president-elect would move to do so shortly after taking office.

“I believe that in the first months [of Biden’s presidency], we’ll either see him rejoin the deal fully, or what I would call ‘JCPOA-minus,’ meaning lifting sanctions in exchange for suspending some of the Iranian nuclear programs [developed] in the past three years,” Amos Hochstein said Sunday in an interview in Hebrew with Channel 12 news.

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