WASHINGTON, U.S. - On Monday, the new U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made one of his most controversial speeches, in which he detailed America’s demands on Iran, weeks after the U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the Obama era Iran Nuclear Deal.
Pompeo warned that the U.S. would impose "the strongest sanctions in history" against Iran if it did not agree to change course.
In what was his first major foreign policy address, delivered at the conservative Heritage Foundation, Pompeo said, “We will apply unprecedented financial pressure on the regime. The leaders in Tehran will have no doubt about our seriousness."
Outlining an alternative path, Pompeo said that if Iran meets a list of 12 demands aimed at the heart of Iran's foreign policy agenda, the country could expect reprieve from sanctions and restoration of full diplomatic and economic relations.
Pompeo said that Iran must end all military aspects of its nuclear program, stop uranium enrichment, completely withdraw from Syria and end support for terrorist groups.
Pompeo also demanded the release all U.S. citizens and those of U.S. partners and allies “detained on spurious charges or missing in Iran.”
Referring to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal adopted under the Obama administration, Pompeo said, “While to some, the changes in Iranian behavior we seek may seem unrealistic, we should recall that what we are pursuing was the global consensus before the JCPOA. We are not asking anything other than Iranian behavior that is consistent with global norms and the elimination of its capacity to threaten our world with its nuclear activities."
Trump had faced intense pressure from America’s European allies, who urged him to reconsider his decision to exit the deal, which the EU nations felt was their only chance to limit Iran’s ballistic missile program.
However, on May 8, despite threats from Iran and pleas from European allies, Trump made the highly-criticised decision of withdrawing from the Obama-era Iran Nuclear Deal, which was signed with the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China, Germany, and the European Union.
Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), claiming there is Israeli intelligence proving Iran is not in compliance with the agreement.
Trump declared, ”In just a short period of time, the world's leading state sponsor of terror will be on the cusp of acquiring the world's most dangerous weapons. Therefore, I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal."
He insisted, "America will not be held hostage to nuclear blackmail. We will not allow American cities to be threatened with destruction and we will not allow a regime that chants 'death to America' to gain access to the most deadly weapons on Earth."
Then, days after withdrawing from the Deal, the U.S. Treasury said Washington would reimpose a wide array of Iran-related sanctions after the expiry of 90- and 180-day wind-down periods.
Further, sanctions aimed at Iran's oil sector and transactions with its central bank are also to be reimposed.
While EU leaders have conceded that it would not be easy, they have pledged to try to keep Iran's oil trade and investment flowing.
On Tuesday, a senior Iranian military commander poured scorn on U.S. threats to tighten sanctions.
Ismail Kowsari, the deputy commander of the Sarollah Revolutionary Guards base in Tehran said that the Islamic Republic’s people would respond by punching Pompeo in the mouth.
Kowsari was quoted as saying in a report in the Iranian Labour News Agency, “The people of Iran should stand united in the face of this and they will deliver a strong punch to the mouth of the American Secretary of State and anyone who backs them.”
Commenting on Pompeo’s main demand of limiting Iran’s missile capabilities, Kowsari said, “Who are you and America to tell us to limit the range of ballistic missiles? History has shown that with the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, America is the top criminal with regard to missiles.”
In his speech, Pompeo specifically called Qassem Soleimani, who is the head of the branch of the Revolutionary Guards that carries out operations outside Iran’s borders, as a top troublemaker in the Middle East.
Kowsari thrashed Pompeo for his statement and said that the Iranian people back Soleimani.
He said, “Soleimani is not a single person. The great people of Iran support him.”
Meanwhile, Iran’s government spokesman also commented on Pompeo’s speech and said that the plan outlined would exacerbate the public’s hostility to the United States.
The Iranian State Media quoted Mohammad Baqer Nobakht as saying, “Do the Americans think that the silk glove that they’ve taken out and the iron hand that they’ve extended to the people, a hand that’s backed by Israel and the [Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization], will make Iranian people think that America wants democracy?”
Apart from Iran, America’s European allies too expressed alarm at Pompeo’s stance.
Pompeo’s demands were met with formidable opposition among European allies, who are worried that renewed sanctions could harm European businesses.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson responded to Pompeo’s speech by committing to shield European companies from renewed sanctions.
He said, “We are going to do everything we possibly can. I’m not totally pessimistic about the situation."
Johnson added, "I think if you try now to fold all those issues — ballistic missiles, Iran's behavior, Iran's disruptive activity in the region, nuclear activity — if you try to pull all of those into a giant negotiation, a new jumbo Iran negotiation, a new treaty. I don't see that being very easy to achieve in anything like a reasonable timescale."
Meanwhile, Federica Mogherini, the high representative of the European Union, explained that Europeans will remain committed to "full and effective implementation" of the JCPOA so long as Iran upholds its commitments.
She said that Europeans are still unsure of the U.S. rationale for leaving the deal.
She added, “Pompeo's speech has not demonstrated how walking away from the JCPOA has made or will make the region safer from the threat of nuclear proliferation or how it puts us in a better position to influence Iran's conduct.”
Earlier last week, Donald Tusk said, “Looking at the latest decisions of President Trump, some could even think: 'With friends like that, who needs enemies?"
In his speech, Pompeo, however, clarified, “I have spent a great deal of time with our allies in the past week and they may try to keep the old nuclear deal going with Tehran. That is their decision to make. They know where we stand."
The Secretary of State is pursuing a bigger Iran deal with a broader international coalition, asking for the support of U.S. allies beyond Europe, such as Australia, Japan, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.