Secretary of State Mike R. Pompeo discussed the current administration’s Iran strategy during a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California Sunday evening. His remarks reiterated White House talking points disparaging the Islamic Republic and defended President Donald J. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the multinational Iran nuclear deal.
Since Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA on May 8, his administration has declared a new strategy toward the Near Eastern country, including reinstated sanctions and a concerted messaging front directed toward the public, the media, and Iranian expats in particular.
This speech was part of that push to "erode support for Iran’s leaders," according to Reuters. Leading up to the Sunday evening remarks, Pompeo’s Twitter feed and the State Department’s ShareAmerica propaganda website have shared various graphics and articles denouncing the Islamic Republic and touting the liberties enjoyed by Iranians living in the United States.
Pompeo’s remarks focused on reprising the Islamic Republic’s many ills, both real and exaggerated, and asserting that the Iranian-American community and the Trump administration both desire the same outcome for Iran: the emergence of a free and democratic society.
"To our Iranian-American friends tonight, I want to tell you that the Trump administration dreams the same dream for the people of Iran that you do. And through our labor and God’s providence, that day [sic] will come true," Pompeo said to applause from the mostly non-Iranian audience.
The aim for tonight’s speech was to convince Iranian-Americans to support the administration’s means to this end, namely economic and diplomatic isolation of Iran after the U.S. departed from the JCPOA. "We have an obligation to put maximum pressure on the regime’s ability to move money, and we will do so," Pompeo said.
Pompeo has long maligned the Iran nuclear deal in favor of more violent measures, including his call for an air assault on Iranian nuclear facilities in 2014. More recently he has dialed back those remarks — somewhat. Ahead of the Reagan Library address, an unnamed senior State Department official told reporters that the administration is pressing Iran’s so-called leaders only to change their behavior, and that this is "not a proxy for regime change."
In light of the economic affront that has caused Iran’s currency to trough abysmally and emboldened hardline clerics to decry American interjections, there remains a vital question: What is the United States preparing to do if Iran rejects the Trump administration’s new approach? Some analysts suggest Iran may further strengthen economic ties with other countries, such as China and Russia, now that the US has declared its intention to reduce Iran oil sales to zero by November. If such a pivot is successful, Iran may not need to heed any American demands for "behavior change."
At no point did Pompeo mention or rule out the possibility of regime change in Iran if the country does not comply. He mentioned that US officials have been searching for years for an Iranian moderate to support in opposition to the ruling clerics, referring to such a figure as a "unicorn."
When asked what he made of the Trump administration’s options for effecting change within the Iranian government, he said, "The mission set for our team is clear: It’s to deny the Iranian leadership the resources, the wealth, the funds, the capacity to continue to foment terrorism around the world and deny the people inside of Iran the freedoms that they so richly deserve."
Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, criticized these remarks after the event, saying they are not compatible with any policy other than fomenting unrest in and destabilizing Iran.
"Mindful of America’s past negative interference in Iran, it is not surprising to see that many Iranians and Iranian-Americans reject Trump and Pompeo’s meddling," Parsi said. "They reject Pompeo’s effort to present them with a binary choice: Either you are with Trump or with the clerical regime in Tehran. Most Iranian-Americans reject both."
Julie Ershadi is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles. She covers Iran-U.S. relations, Iranian-American issues, the video games industry, and pop culture. Her Twitter is @jershadi and her email is email@example.com.