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August 16, 2018 4:18 pm

Secretary of State Pompeo Announces ‘Iran Action Group’ to Coordinate US Strategy Toward Tehran Regime

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo . Photo: Reuters / Aaron Bernstein.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Thursday that a veteran foreign policy strategist will lead the Trump administration’s efforts to counter the Iranian threat.

At a special State Department briefing, Pompeo named Brian Hook — a lawyer who served in senior positions during the George W. Bush Administration and is presently the State Department’s director of policy planning — as the Trump administration’s special representative for Iran.

Hook will lead the “Iran Action Group,” a new body that will drive what Pompeo called “our new strategy [that] addresses all manifestations of the Iranian threat.”

“Our hope is that one day soon we can reach an agreement with Iran but we must see major changes in the regime both inside and outside of its borders,” Pompeo said.

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In an apparent reference to the ongoing anti-regime protests across Iran, Pompeo added, “The Iranian people and the world are demanding that Iran finally act like a normal nation.”

Hook told the briefing that the Iran Action Group will be comprised of an “elite team” of foreign affairs professionals at the State Department and across the administration. “The team will have all the necessary resources to do its job and drive implementation of the new strategy,” Hook said.

At the heart of the strategy are the twelve demands made of Iran by Pompeo in a May 21 speech — delivered two weeks after President Trump announced America’s withdrawal from the July 2015 nuclear deal and the reimposition of tough sanctions on the Tehran regime.

“We must begin to define what it is that we demand from Iran,” Pompeo declared in that speech, proceeding to list twelve specific demands the US was making of the regime. Among these were issues that were left unaddressed by the 2015 deal, such as unrestricted access to nuclear sites for international inspectors, a verifiable end to Iranian support for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, and a halt of the regime’s ballistic missile program.

Pressed on Trump’s recent suggestions that he would be prepared to meet with Iran’s leaders, Hook said that if Iran “demonstrates a commitment to make fundamental change in its behavior, the president is willing to engage in dialogue.”

He emphasized at the same time that sanctions relief and the re-establishment of commercial and security ties with the US could “only begin after we see that the Iranian regime is serious about changing its behavior.” Hook also described the prospect of talks with Iran and the implementation of the State Department’s new Iran strategy as “parallel tracks.”

Hook was adamant that the US would not waver on its stance on sanctions, reiterating that comprehensive measures, including the elimination of oil exports from Iran and a ban on transactions with Iran’s central bank, will be in place by Nov. 4.

While Hook was hopeful that American allies would cooperate in implementing the sanctions, he warned that countries that continued to trade with Iran risked the ire of the US. “We are prepared to impose secondary sanctions on other governments that continue to trade with Iran,” Hook said.

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