Pompeo Sets Up ‘Iran Action Group’ to Press Sanctions Campaign

(Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced the creation of a group responsible for ramping up economic and political pressure on Iran now that President Donald Trump has withdrawn from the 2015 nuclear accord.

The so-called “Iran Action Group” will focus on setting conditions to pressure Iran back to the negotiating table for a more comprehensive deal than the multinational Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which Trump faulted as too narrowly focused on Iran’s nuclear program and because some of its clauses expire over time.

“Our hope is that one day soon we can reach a new agreement with Iran, but we must see major changes in the regime’s behavior both inside and outside of its borders,” Pompeo said Thursday in brief remarks at the State Department. “The Iranian people and the world are demanding that Iran finally act like a normal nation.”

The group will be led by Brian Hook, who oversaw the administration’s failed efforts with European leaders to beef up the 2015 accord before Trump quit it in May. Hook will leave his post as the State Department’s director of policy planning, a job he also held under Pompeo’s predecessor, Rex Tillerson.

Hook and other officials from the administration have visited more than 20 countries recently, pressuring them to cease doing business with Iran and stop buying its oil before punitive sanctions on energy trade, shipbuilding, and other sectors go back into effect on Nov. 4.

The challenge will be getting sufficient compliance from other countries to ensure the sanctions squeeze off the regime’s sources of revenue. The European nations that were also party to the deal with Iran -- along with China and Russia -- have said they want to remain in the accord and make sure Iran gets the benefits promised it.

In a speech in May, Pompeo laid out 12 demands that he said Iran must fulfill to become what he called a “normal” country. Those include Iran giving nuclear inspectors unfettered access to the country, and cutting off funding for rebels in Yemen as well as to Hezbollah, Hamas, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“We need to get at drying up those revenue streams,” Hook told reporters Thursday. He said the U.S. is fully prepared to impose secondary sanctions on other nations that continue to trade with Iran.

Iran’s leaders have swatted down those demands. Last week, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif rejected the possibility of any meetings with the Trump administration at the United Nations General Assembly in September, saying “the Americans are not honest.”

The U.S. approach to Iran has also been clouded by mixed messages. In recent weeks, Trump said he’d be willing to negotiate with Iran “without preconditions.” But Pompeo made clear no talks would take place without Iran first taking steps to end what the U.S. calls the “totality of its malign activities.”

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