Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday announced the formation of a new Iran Action Team, which, he said, is intended to help realize President Donald Trump’s strategy of maximum pressure on the Iranian regime as a show of “solidarity” with the “long-suffering Iranian people.”
The team will be lead by Director of Policy Planning Brian Hook, who got his start on Iran in 2006, when he was adviser to then U.N. Ambassador (now National Security Advisor) John Bolton. Bolton has long advocated for bombing Iran and strongly opposed the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal.
In the very brief press conference, Hook declined to name any of the “elite team” assigned to work with him and repeated the Trump administration’s lines on being willing to talk to Iran (a gesture viewed with skepticism by Tehran) provided the government fell in line with the 12 demands Secretary Pomepeo outlined in a speech in May. Those demands had to do with Iran’s nuclear program, ballistic missiles program, and foreign policy in the region.
President Donald Trump pulled the United States out the nuclear deal in May, and threatened anyone — including other parties to the deal: China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany — with secondary sanctions should they continue to do business with or invest in Iran.
All of the other countries in the deal support it and have criticized the United States for walking away.
In violating the nuclear deal, President Trump also reimposed sanctions on Iran, which have hit the economy there hard. The worst of the sanctions — the one targeting Iranian oil sales — will come into effect on November 4, with the aim of cutting Iran’s oil exports down to zero.
However, China, which is embroiled in its own trade war with the Trump administration, has declined to cut back on its purchase of Iranian oil, and has hinted that it might even increase its imports. To this, Hook had no response other than to repeat lines about hoping to work with other countries on the issue.
Hook, who will be replaced by foreign policy academic Kiron Skinner, said the Trump administration was prepared to impose secondary sanctions on those who did not comply. When asked by a reporter if this was basically “the North Korea strategy,” Hook said he was there to speak about the Iran strategy.
In meeting those demands, Iran would, among other things, include its ballistic missile program in any new deal negotiated and dramatically curtail its influence with regional allies such as Lebanon and Syria.
The announcement was made on the anniversary of the 1953 Iranian coup, known as Operation Ajax, when the United States and the United Kingdom worked in concert to bring down Prime Minister Mohamad Mossadeq, who had nationalized Iran’s oil.
The timing, Hook, said, was “pure coincidence,” with Iran watchers finding the timing questionable:
Iran Action Group on the 65th anniversary of Operation Ajax and toppling of Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq. Timing couldn’t be more suitable ! https://t.co/DsPrJizgb3
— Sina Azodi (@Azodiac83) August 16, 2018
The coup is seen by Iranians as a subversion of their democracy and led to decades of strife, ultimately leading to the 1979 Revolution.