WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration is preparing to impose “the strongest sanctions in history” on Tehran after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal earlier this month, as he laid out a laundry list of demands for a new treaty.
“We will apply unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime,” Pompeo told the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in the nation’s capital, in his first major speech outlining Washington’s strategy for curtailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its “malign” regional behavior.
“The sting of sanctions will only grow more painful if the regime does not change course from the unacceptable and unproductive path it has chosen for itself and the people of Iran,” he added.
“Sanctions are going back in full effect, and new ones are coming,” he warned further. “The Iranian regime should know this is just the beginning.”
Fulminating against the landmark international agreement brokered under the Obama administration, Pompeo said US President Donald Trump was “willing, ready and able” to negotiate a new deal, but not inside the context of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the deal is formally known.
“We will not renegotiate the JCPOA itself,” he said.
The JCPOA “put the world at risk because of its fatal flaws,” he said, arguing that the weak sunset provisions of the JCPOA merely delayed Iran’s nuclear weapons capability. After the countdown clock ran out on the deal’s sunset provisions, he said, Iran would be free for a quick sprint to the bomb.
While certain restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program expire under the deal, including its ability to enrich uranium, the prohibition on Iran’s building a nuclear weapon is permanent. Former Obama officials who negotiated the pact object to the assertion that the JCPOA enables Tehran to go fully nuclear once those portions of the agreement sunset.
Trump’s newly installed top diplomat also hinted at the possibility of military action should Iranian leaders reconstitute their nuclear program.
“If they restart their nuclear program, they will have big problems, bigger problems than they’ve ever had before,” he said. Pompeo also threatened to “crush” Iran’s terrorist proxies around the world.”
“We will ensure freedom of navigation on the waters in the region,” said the former CIA director. “We will work to prevent and counteract any Iranian malign cyber activity. We will track down Iranian operatives and their Hezbollah proxies operating around the world and crush them. Iran will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East.”
Pompeo, one of the administration’s most strident critics of the pact, vowed to never let Iran develop a nuclear weapon while ticking off “12 conditions” that the United States considers prerequisites for any firm agreement with the Islamic Republic. He said the length of the list was simple testament to the “scope of the malign behavior of Iran.”
Pompeo demanded that Iran come clean about all of its past nuclear work, completely stop its uranium enrichment, provide the International Atomic Energy Agency “unqualified access to all sites throughout the country,” halt its ballistic missile development and testing, end its support for Middle East terrorist groups and respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi government.
“We will continue to work with our allies to counter the regime’s destabilizing activities in the region, block their financing of terror, and address Iran’s proliferation of missiles and other advanced weapons that threaten peace and stability,” Pompeo said. “We will also ensure Iran has no possible path to a nuclear weapon — ever.”
He added said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) must end its support for terrorists and that Iran must “end its threatening behavior against its neighbors, including Israel.”
Iran, he continued, must also remove all its forces from Syria. The IRGC “has flown an armed drone into Israeli airspace and launched salvos of rockets into the Golan Heights from Syria,” he said. “Our steadfast ally Israel has asserted its sovereign right of self-defense in response, a stance the US will continue to unequivocally support.”
At the same time, Pompeo offered Iran a series of dramatic potential US concessions if it agrees to make “major changes.” Under a new agreement, the US 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.
Repeatedly trying to draw a distinction between the Trump and Obama administrations’ approaches to the Iranian nuclear challenge, Pompeo said Washington would seek a treaty with Iran, ensuring that any agreement is ratified by a majority of both houses of Congress, unlike the JCPOA, which had been an executive agreement. “A treaty would be our preferred way to go,” he said.
“The Obama administration made a bet. That bet was a loser with massive repercussions,” he said. “The bet was a bad one for the US, for Europe, and for the world. Iran’s leaders saw it as a starting gun for the march across the Middle East.”
Should Iran fully comply with the Trump administration’s demands, Pompeo said, all the sanctions about to be imposed would be removed and the United States would be “prepared to support the modernization and reintegration of Iran’s economy into the international system.”
Such a response, he said, would yield better outcomes for the Iranian people, who have suffered under the oppression of Iran’s tyrannical, theocratic leaders.
Pompeo urged Iran to “look into the mirror” and “come to its senses.”
US President Donald Trump has long said the 2015 deal with Iran — also signed by Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — did not go far enough, and now wants the Europeans and others to support his hardline strategy.
“In the strategy we are announcing today, we want the support of our most important allies and partners in the region and around the globe,” Pompeo said. “I don’t just mean our friends in Europe.”
The secretary of state also warned that European businesses that work with Iran, in violation of US sanctions, will be held “to account.”
The re-establishment of the US sanctions will force European companies to choose between investing in Iran or trading with the United States, setting up a possible rift with allies across the Atlantic.
For now, the European Union is trying to persuade Iran to stay in the 2015 agreement, even without Washington’s participation.
“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.”
Pompeo also spoke directly to the citizens of Iran, distinguishing them from the regime: “Today, we ask the Iranian people: Is this what you want your country to be known for? For being a co-conspirator with Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda?” he asked. “The United States believes you deserve better.”