Pompeo vows US, Mideast allies will 'crush' Iranian operatives around the world

WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday launched a sweeping broadside against the Iranian government, vowing to use all U.S. economic and military might to destroy its economy and "crush" its operatives and proxies around the world.

In his first major foreign policy address as secretary of state, Pompeo listed a dozen demands, an agenda encompassing Iran's foreign policy ventures as well as its nuclear and missile programs. If Iran agrees to those demands, he said, the United States would lift sanctions, re-establish diplomatic relations with Tehran and provide it access to technology.

Pompeo said he will work with the Defense Department and regional allies - a group that includes Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States - to "deter Iranian aggression in the region, including at sea and in cyberspace.

"We will ensure freedom of navigation on the waters in the region," he said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank whose ideas have been embraced by the Trump administration. "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. Iran will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East."

State Department officials say the aim of the speech is to outline a path forward after President Donald Trump announced he would withdraw the United States from the 2015 landmark nuclear deal with Iran and reimpose sanctions, a decision that immediately puts the United States in breach of its commitments.

The Treasury Department already has reimposed sanctions on the head of Iran's Central Bank and other companies and groups, and Pompeo warned, "The Iranian regime should know that this is just the beginning."

"After our sanctions come into full force, it will be battling to keep its economy alive," he added. "Iran will be forced to make a choice: either fight to keep its economy off life support at home or keep squandering precious wealth on fights abroad. It will not have the resources to do both."

In his speech, Pompeo gave short shrift to what the administration has been calling "fixes" to the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Rather, he demanded Iran's complete capitulation on 12 points. Judging by its reaction to similar proposals made previously, Tehran is likely to reject most, if not all, of them.

Among the items on Pompeo's wish list is a full acknowledgment of its previous attempts to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran has denied ever wanting to build nuclear arms. Even though U.S. negotiators tried to get Iran to admit it tried to build one in the early 2000s, Tehran refused.

The Iranians are unlikely to go along with any of Pompeo's demands, including a stop to uranium enrichment and ballistic missile tests, and allowing international inspectors access to all sites. He also demanded Iran release all U.S. citizens imprisoned on a variety of charges, including espionage, as well as citizens of countries allied with the U.S.

Pompeo was aiming to answer the question of what happens next following Trump's announcement this month that he was pulling the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal. Many European allies have not disguised their irritation at the Trump administration over its positions on Iran, the Paris climate accord, moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and trade tariffs. "With friends like that, who needs enemies," European Council President Donald Tusk said recently.

The Iran deal has drawn some of the starkest lines yet between the United States and its allies. Every other country that negotiated the landmark 2015 deal, which eased sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran's nuclear program, intends to adhere to the agreement. The Europeans are searching for ways to protect their own companies from sanctions that Trump reimposed, though some big multinational firms already were avoiding business in Iran due to the uncertainty over the deal's fate.

State Department officials have brushed off the differences between the U.S. and its allies, arguing they have common ground on other issues involving Iran, including its ballistic missile tests, its support for militant groups like Hezbollah and its involvement in the civil wars in Syria and Yemen.

"Our broad approach now that we've been emphasizing is that we need a new framework that's going to address the totality of Iran's threats," Brian Hook, the State Department's head of policy planning, told reporters.

Hook repeatedly called Trump's decision to withdraw from the deal an "opportunity" to seek a "better deal" than was forged under the Obama administration.

"We have a period of opportunity to work with our allies to come up with a security architecture, a new framework," he said. "People, I think, are overstating the disagreements between the U.S. and Europe."

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