For his first foreign policy speech on Monday morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo chose a target he knew he could not miss: Iran.
Pompeo spoke about the future of the Iran deal at the conservative Heritage Foundation, taking questions from neither the press nor audience members, and answering only a few friendly ones from Heritage Foundation President Kay Cole James.
In her introduction of Pompeo at the top of the program, James reminded the room that he had been there before, as a congressman in 2015, pointing out the flaws with the Iran nuclear deal — the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which President Donald Trump violated earlier this month by pulling the United States out and promising to re-impose sanctions.
Secretary Pompeo spoke for about 25 minutes in a talk billed as “After the Deal: A New Iran Strategy,” sticking to written notes that saw him blaming Iran for virtually everything that has gone wrong in the region, from violence in Iraq (where Iran supports Shia fighters and has gained leverage after the United States invaded in 2003) to the Syrian refugee crisis (there, Iran is fighting in Syria in support of troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad).
The deal, Pompeo said, repeating the Trump administration lines, is flawed because it does not go into perpetuity, allowing Iran a “quick sprint to the bomb” as some of its terms expire.
The JCPOA, he said, “failed to guarantee the safety of the American people … no more.”
Pompeo accused Iran of entering the JCPOA “in bad faith” and painted a picture of Iran as a hegemonic power that saw the deal as “a starting gun for the march across the Middle East.” This picture is virtually stenciled from the same one painted by Saudi Arabia, whose crown prince has repeatedly compared Iran’s Supreme Leader to Adolf Hitler.
Even as Pompeo alluded to Iran’s “proud” and “ancient’ history, his speech described a country that seems not to have existed prior to the Islamic Revolution of 1979 — one with deep and complicated relationships throughout the region and with its own security and sovereignty concerns.
“So, the path forward,” he said, some 10 minutes into the speech.
And what a path: Pompeo laid out the multiple conditions the United States was seeking in order to lift the sanctions it has already slapped on Iran, as well as those it is about to re-impose.
Via “unprecedented pressure,” Iran would never have a military nuclear program, cease all plutonium enrichment (currently curbed under the JCOPA), close its heavy water facilities, continue to be subject “unqualified” inspections by the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog agency across the country, end proliferation of ballistic missiles, release all U.S. citizens and citizens of U.S. allies from Iranian prisons, pull back its troops from Syria, withdraw all support from groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Palestine’s Hamas, and Yemen’s Houthi rebels (thereby leaving the playing field open for Israel and Saudi Arabia), and much, much more.
The proposal goes far beyond the “fixes” President Trump had articulated in his demands that the European partners on the JCPOA — France, Germany and the United Kingdom — seek in order to maintain the deal. They reportedly came up with those fixes, but the president walked away from it anyway.
Pompeo noted that the “list was pretty long,” but it appeared that Iran was essentially punching itself in the face when he added, “We didn’t create the list — they did.”
He also said that the European partners agree with the U.S. assessment, but did not elaborate further. If Iran is indeed such a massive, immediate threat, why are the European partners, as well as China and Russia — most of whom are far closer to Iran, geographically than the United States — still trying to save the deal?
The sanctions are meant to “sting” said Pompeo, as he spoke about the struggling Iranian economy.
“Workers aren’t getting paid. Strikes are a daily occurrence, and the riyal is plummeting. Youth unemployment is at a staggering 25 percent,” he said, with a slight smile.
Pompeo also mentioned the Iranian people several times, worrying about their human rights and the crushing lack of of opportunity, never mentioning the fact that Iranians remain on President Trump’s Muslim ban. He also pointed out the currently flailing diplomatic efforts with North Korea as an example of “the Trump administration’s commitment to diplomacy” — even though prior to his very new role as Secretary of State, he had advocated for regime change in North Korea and called for military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Noting that many U.S. allies are “angry, some disappointed” with the Trump administration’s stance on the JCPOA, Cole asked, “How are you going to use your best diplomatic skills to bring them along with us?”
In response, Pompeo provided no specifics — like, how the U.S. plans to sanction its trade and diplomatic allies, while simultaneously trying maintain those very important relationships.
“The United States intends to work hard at the diplomatic pieces of working alongside our partners,” he said, adding his team would “work diligently” to address the concerns of those partners and to get Iran to “rejoin the civilization.” (Although this reporter, as well as multiple news outlets, heard Pompeo’s words as “rejoin the civilization,” the administration’s transcript of the speech claims he said “rejoin the league of nations.”)
Secretary Pompeo, who also accused the Iranian regime of “terror and torture” then left abruptly to attend the swearing-in ceremony for his replacement as director to the Central Intelligence Agency, Gina Haspel.