Pompeo slams Iran’s ‘hypocritical holy men,’ says US ‘not afraid’ to tackle them

US secretary of state says Iranian political and religious leaders have amassed vast sums of wealth while allowing their people to suffer

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Sunday, July 22, 2018, in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Sunday, July 22, 2018, in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The United States is not “afraid to tackle” Iranian officials with sanctions at the “highest level” of its government, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday.

Following the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord that stunned even Washington’s closest European allies, Pompeo on May 21 unveiled a “new strategy” intended to force Iran to yield to a dozen stringent demands.

“We weren’t afraid to tackle the regime at its highest level,” Pompeo said in a speech in California, referring to sanctions leveled in January against Sadeq Larijani, the head of Iran’s judiciary.

In a highly critical broadside issued as the republic approached the 40th anniversary of its Islamic revolution and the US prepared to reimpose the economic sanctions, Pompeo said the government has “heartlessly repressed its own people’s human rights, dignity and fundamental freedoms.”

Going beyond the Iranian political and military echelon, Pompeo called the religious leaders of Iran “hypocritical holy men” who he said amassed vast sums of wealth while allowing their people to suffer.

“Sometimes it seems the world has become desensitized to the regime’s authoritarianism at home and its campaigns of violence abroad, but the proud Iranian people are not staying silent about their government’s many abuses,” the US’s top diplomat charged.

“And the United States under President Trump will not stay silent either. In light of these protests and 40 years of regime tyranny, I have a message for the people of Iran: The United States hears you. The United States supports you. The United States is with you,” he said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sits next to US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley while he visits UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres office at the UN headquarters on July 20, 2018 in New York City. (Kena Betancur/Getty Images/AFP)

Pompeo was particularly barbed in his remarks about “the Ayatollahs,” saying they “are in on the act, too.” He said Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi has generated more than $100 million for himself in the illicit trade of sugar; that Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani is worth millions after the government transferred several lucrative mines to his foundation; and that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has an off-the-books hedge fund, Setad, worth $95 billion.

“The level of corruption and wealth among regime leaders shows that Iran is run by something that resembles the mafia more than a government,” he said.

Pompeo’s remarks were aimed in part at Iranian-Americans and Iranians living in the US. He assured them that the Trump administration shared their dreams for the people of Iran. He also expressed support for those Iranians who have protested their government’s actions and called its response “brutal.”

“The specific grievances differ. But all those voicing dissatisfaction share one thing: they have been ill-treated by a Revolutionary regime. Iranians want to be governed with dignity, accountability and respect,” he said.

Pompeo said the US is undertaking a diplomatic and financial pressure campaign to cut off funds, focusing on reimposing sanctions on its banking and energy sectors. President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal in May and the first sanctions to be reimposed were expected to hit on August 4.

“We are asking every nation, every nation who is sick and tired of the Islamic Republic’s destructive behavior to join our pressure campaign. This especially goes for our allies in the Middle East and Europe, people who have themselves been terrorized by the violent regime’s activity for decades,” he said.

Pompeo said Washington wants all countries to reduce their imports of Iranian oil “as close to zero as possible” by November 4, part of US efforts to increase economic pressure on Tehran.

“There’s more to come,” Pompeo said.

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