Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid out the Trump administration’s truculent new approach to Iran in a speech to the Heritage Foundation two weeks after the U.S. pulled out of the nuclear deal negotiated by President Obama.
The speech mostly served as a series of warnings. Pompeo said that America was on the verge of rolling out “the strongest sanctions in history,” and that the U.S. would be countering Iranian influence at every turn.
“We will ensure freedom of navigation on the waters in the region. 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,” he said. “Iran will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East.”
He laid out a list of 12 demands for the Iranian regime, which included the cessation of all uranium enrichment, an end to support for Hamas, and the withdrawal of proxy forces in Syria.
But the idea that Iran, which was cooperating with the nuclear deal before the U.S. violated its end of the bargain, will accede to any of these diktats is a mirage, as Pompeo surely knows.
And if Pompeo’s strategy of ultrastrict sanctions were to work, it would likely have to involve cooperation with Europe, China, and Russia, all of whom were parties to the original nuclear deal. Instead, all of those parties are attempting to salvage the deal or even construct a new one, leaving the U.S. isolated, again, in its approach.
Pompeo is likely fully aware that his requests will be ignored. Rather than forcing Iran to the table, the American approach is likely to embolden Iranian hardliners, who have accused President Hassan Rouhani of naïveté for agreeing to the nuclear deal in the first place.
This could set up a dynamic ripe for the full-on regime change that National Security Adviser John Bolton has advocated for in the past, and which Pompeo seemed to be getting closer to explicitly endorsing on Monday.
Pompeo’s speech is also unlikely to soothe the nerves of North Korea, which is already having second thoughts about meeting with a president who, in his dealings with Iran, is showing enthusiasm for violating agreements and delivering impossible ultimatums.