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In Hard-Line Speech, Pompeo Criticizes Iran’s Behavior

Posted May 21, 2018 7:09 p.m. EDT
Updated May 21, 2018 7:13 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used his first major policy address to deliver a hard-line speech on Monday, in which he demanded that Iran change just about everything regarding its behavior on the world stage.

He insisted that Iran end all nuclear enrichment programs and close its heavy water reactor, saying it did not have the right to such a program. He also appealed directly to the Iranian people, suggesting they should reject the clerical government in Tehran, the capital.

“What has the Iranian revolution given to the Iranian people?” Pompeo asked at one point, and then offered an answer: “The hard grip of repression is all that millions of Iranians have ever known.”

Iran’s right to enrich uranium, as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, is debatable. More than a dozen countries in the world enrich uranium, with several doing so solely for civilian purposes, such as energy generation and medical uses.

But Pompeo’s speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation was intended to throw down the gauntlet against Tehran, following President Donald Trump’s withdrawal earlier this month from the Iran nuclear deal that was negotiated with world powers in 2015. While he did not directly threaten the use of military force, Pompeo said that if Iran restarts its nuclear program “we will respond.”

He also demanded that Iran admit to the military purposes of its now-moribund nuclear weapons program, end its support of Hezbollah, Hamas and Yemen’s Houthis, and withdraw all of its forces from Syria.

“You know, the list is pretty long,” Pompeo conceded. But, he added, “we didn’t create the list. They did.”

Iran quickly rejected Pompeo’s speech, describing it as the type of American arrogance and bullying behavior that has alienated other nations, not just the Iranians.

“Who are you to decide for Iran and the world?” President Hassan Rouhani responded in remarks quoted on Iran state media.

As for European allies who hope to preserve the Iran nuclear deal, Pompeo offered no concessions.

“Every country is going to have to participate” in the new U.S. sanctions against Tehran, Pompeo said. He said the new policy sought to strangle Iran’s “economic capacity to do harm to the Middle East and to the world.”

European leaders have vowed to continue economic engagement with Iran, and Pompeo conceded that many allies see the nuclear deal as essential to their own national security.

“They know where we stand,” Pompeo said.

European multinational companies have already signaled that they intend to comply with reimposed U.S. sanctions. Total, the French oil giant, announced last week it is canceling planned contracts in Iran.

Indeed, Europe’s relative powerlessness in preserving a deal in which it is deeply invested has only increased its leaders’ fury at the Trump administration’s decision to scrap the accord.

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, tweeted last week in a reference to Trump: “With friends like that who needs enemies?”

By negotiating the nuclear deal, world powers sought to eliminate the most consequential threat that Iran posed to Israel and the rest of the region, which was its effort to obtain nuclear weapons.

In exchange, it gave Iran’s clerical government an economic lifeline — which, Pompeo promised, has now been cut.

Boris Johnson, Britain’s foreign secretary, said on Monday that he was skeptical that the United States could manage to create a successor diplomatic agreement with Iran that would include limits not just on Tehran’s nuclear program but also its ballistic missiles and regional activities — something he referred to in a deprecating way as a “new jumbo Iran negotiation.”

“I don’t see that being very easy to achieve in anything like a reasonable time scale,” he said.