WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - Until this week, the Trump administration talked a good game in denouncing Iran’s malignant and aggressive behavior, but action was lacking. Kurds know that all too well from Baghdad’s assault on Kirkuk last fall, when the US turned a blind eye to an Iraqi army operation—backed by Iranian-supported militias and organized by Qasim Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
However, that changed dramatically on Monday, when Mike Pompeo, named Secretary of State just last month, laid out a new US stance on Iran. Building on President Donald Trump’s decision, announced May 8, to leave the Iranian nuclear deal, Pompeo laid out a tough, comprehensive framework for confronting the rogue regime.
In fact, it is so tough that it verges on a call for “regime change.”
In a major address, delivered at the conservative Heritage Institute, Pompeo explained that the US was re-imposing its old sanctions on Iran “and new ones are coming.”
They will “end up being the strongest sanctions in history, when we are complete,” Pompeo affirmed.
Pompeo listed 12 steps that the regime will need to take to bring about the lifting of those sanctions.
Three deal with Iran’s nuclear program, while a fourth addresses its missile program. The fifth is a call for Iran to release all US citizens, “as well as citizens of our partners and allies,” all of them “detained on spurious charges.”
The final seven required changes involve Iran’s aggression and expansionism in a large swath of the Middle East, including Iraq.
“Iran must respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government,” Pompeo said, “and permit the disarming, demobilization and reintegration of Shi’a militias.”
Until recently, the US did not really acknowledge that Iranian influence in Iraq was a problem! The Trump administration inherited from its predecessor a policy of accommodating Iran in Iraq.
So it tended to skirt the issue, complaining of Iran’s role in countries like Syria and Yemen, but silent about Iran’s role in Iraq.
This was Pompeo’s first major foreign policy address, and its effect was to raise Iran to a much higher priority on the US agenda—approaching that of North Korea, which has been a top priority since Trump assumed office.
With North Korea, the administration offered both a carrot—normalization of relations—and a stick—intensified economic and diplomatic isolation, along with the threat of military action.
With Iran, Pompeo has raised only the prospect of intensified economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation.
It was “a very ambitious speech in terms of goals,” Zalmay Khalilzad, former US ambassador to the UN, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan, told Kurdistan 24.
“A lot of the means were alluded to, but details need to be worked out,” he said, “and I’m sure the inter-agency process is busy trying to develop those.”
Iran’s response to Pompeo’s speech, was, not surprisingly, quite negative.
“America wants to pressure Iran to surrender and accept their illegal demands,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters. “His remarks showed that America is surely after regime change in Iran.”
Khalilzad did not disagree, but offered a more nuanced understanding.
“It wasn’t a direct call” for a change of regime, he said. But the speech seemed to aim at confronting Iran “with a choice of either changing its behavior, or, perhaps, face the potential for regime change.”
Parallels exist between the US posture toward the Soviet Union in the 1980s and its posture toward Iran now.
As Khalilzad noted, the US “paid attention to internal opponents” of the Soviet Union then, “supported them and stood for human rights.”
“The same thing could be replicated,” with regard to Iran, he suggested, although “these are complex issues,” which the administration will likely consider.
Describing the coalition against Iran that the US seeks to build, Pompeo said, “We welcome any nation which is sick and tired” of the regime’s brutality and aggression “to join in this effort” to confront its malign activities.
Until now, America’s Middle East allies were obliged to confront Iran on their own, in an uncoordinated, disjointed fashion.
The US, however, is now “saying we are back in the game and if you are fed-up, join us,” an informed source suggested to Kurdistan 24.
The US has said that “it is now ready to lead the efforts to counter Iran,” he continued. Certainly, “welcome news” for Kurds.