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March 13, 2018 6:30 pm

Experts and Critics Say Pompeo Appointment at State Signals Tougher Stance on Iran

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo. Photo: CIA.

President Donald Trump’s appointment of CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State was both hailed and condemned on Tuesday due to the belief that Pompeo will take a much harder line against Iran than his predecessor.

Pompeo is known for his hawkish views on the Islamic republic and its nuclear program. He has said that former president Barack Obama’s nuclear accord with Iran will not “stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb” and “places Israel at more risk.” Shortly after President Trump was elected, Pompeo tweeted, “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.” He also strongly condemned the Obama administration’s claim that the nuclear deal would lead to a less aggressive Iran, saying, “The theory that post-sanctions Iran will moderate is a joke – they want to annihilate Israel.” In addition, Pompeo stated, “Ceasing to call for the destruction of Israel should have been a condition of the Iran Deal.”

Pompeo will likely take a hard line against Iranian expansionism in general, as he has called Iran “a despotic theocracy” and “the vanguard of a pernicious empire that is expanding its power and influence across the Middle East.”

On Tuesday, Trump himself hinted that he dismissed Tillerson because his views on Iran were too dovish. “We got along actually quite well but we disagreed on things,” he told the press. “When you look at the Iran deal: I think it’s terrible, I guess he thinks it was OK. I wanted to break it or do something, and he felt a little bit differently.”

Supporters and opponents of the Iran deal agreed that Pompeo’s appointment will have a major influence on the future of the agreement.

Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, an NGO that pushed hard for the Iran deal, told The Independent, “This is a disaster for American diplomacy. … For all his faults, Tillerson was a supporter of military restraint and negotiated solutions to our key security threat. … He will now be replaced by an inexperienced hawk who opposed the Iran Deal in Congress.”

Journalist Barak Ravid of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz tweeted, “The appointment of Mike Pompeo as SecState is expected to strengthen the Anti-Iran line of the Trump administration and especially the Anti-JCPOA line. Pompeo is a mega Iran hawk.”

Philip Klein, Managing Editor of the Washington Examiner, directly linked Tillerson’s firing to the Iran issue, stating, “Pompeo is fiercely opposed to Iran deal, which Tillerson was fighting to preserve.”

Mike Doran, a former senior US official who is now an analyst at the Hudson Institute, laconically tweeted, “It will be interesting to see what this portends for May 12, Iran decision.”

Jackson Diehl of The Washington Post was more explicit, tweeting, “One big consequence of Tillerson/Pompeo switch: the chances that US will scrap the Iran nuclear deal just went up a lot.”

Iranian-American journalist Negar Mortazavi concurred with Diehl, saying, “Pompeo is a big hawk on Iran, both in policy and rhetoric, has always been against the Iran deal, and has spoken in favor of regime change and military intervention in Iran. He will push Trump to further increase pressure on Iran on all fronts. The #IranDeal might not last long.”

A report at the Washington Free Beacon appeared to confirm this, stating, “In the weeks leading up to Tillerson’s departure, he had been spearheading efforts to convince European allies to agree to a range of fixes to the nuclear deal that would address Iran’s ongoing ballistic missile program and continued nuclear research. While Trump had prescribed a range of fixes that he viewed as tightening the deal’s flaws, Tillerson recently caved to European pressure to walk back these demands and appease Tehran while preserving the deal, according to these sources.” With Tillerson’s exit, these concessions will likely be abandoned.

Former Obama-era State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki expressed apprehension at Tillerson’s exit, noting, “The difference between Tillerson and Pompeo? Like @realDonaldTrump Pompeo favors military intervention over diplomacy=scary given DPRK and Iran deal. Tillerson more mainstream, but not seen as speaking for @realDonaldTrump=powerless on global stage.”

Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon was even more strident, saying, “Nothing in Pompeo’s record indicates he believes in diplomacy as an effective tool. He’s acted as a hardline partisan, defended torture & warrantless surveillance, and tried to blow up the deal that has kept Iran from developing nuclear weapons. So this news is deeply concerning.”

National security journalist Jordan Schachtel, in contrast, pointed approvingly to the difference between Tillerson and Pompeo, saying, “Pompeo is the polar opposite of Tillerson, in a good way. He’s tough on Iran, much better on Israel, and is a proven Reaganite. Tillerson was an unenthusiastic Arabist who appeared way in over his head. Conservatives will celebrate Pompeo’s nomination.”

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