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US Concocts Action Group to Pile Pressure on Tehran

Hook, who has pushed for tough action against Iran, has been leading the department’s talks with allies in Europe and Asia to persuade them to support US sanctions and cut off Iran’s oil supplies from November
US Concocts Action Group to Pile Pressure on TehranUS Concocts Action Group to Pile Pressure on Tehran

US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has formed a so-called “Iran Action Group” to coordinate and run Washington’s increasingly aggressive policy against the Islamic Republic.

Pompeo announced the creation of the Iran Action Group at a news conference on Thursday, naming Brian Hook, the state department's director of policy planning, as its head.

Formation of the group comes on the eve of the 65th anniversary of a previous American action against Iran–the CIA-led 1953 coup against the democratically-elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh.

The move came as the Trump administration prepared to increase economic pressure on Iran by restoring sanctions to force Tehran to end its nuclear weapons program and support for resistance groups in the Middle East, Reuters reported.

The announcement was not a surprise. Hook, who has pushed for tough action against Iran, has been leading the department’s talks with allies in Europe and Asia to persuade them to support US sanctions and cut off Iran’s oil supplies from November.

“The Iran Action Group will be responsible for directing, reviewing and coordinating all aspects of the state department’s Iran-related activity, and will report directly to me,” Pompeo said.

***Change of Behavior

“We are committed to a whole-of-government effort to change the Iranian regime’s behavior, and the Iran Action Group will ensure that the department of state remains closely synchronized with our interagency partners,” he added.

President Donald Trump announced in May the United States was unilaterally withdrawing from the nuclear deal sealed in 2015 between Tehran and six world powers. The US has said it would end the sanctions only if Iran agrees to a new deal. Tehran has rejected the idea.

Hook, who was a close adviser to former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, worked with national security advisor John Bolton on the sanctions while Bolton was the US ambassador to the United Nations under Republican president George W. Bush.

Hook also served as assistant secretary of state during Bush’s administration and was an adviser to the Republican presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty.

Trump has said he would be willing to meet President Hassan Rouhani, although Tehran said the way back to talks was for the US to return to the nuclear deal.

Asked whether he supported such a meeting and whether his brief would be to set up those talks, Hook said if Iran showed that it was willing to change its behavior, then Trump “was prepared to engage in dialogue in order to find solutions.”

Iran and other signatories, including Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, have been working to find a way to salvage the nuclear agreement, even as the US started reimposing sanctions on Iran.

***Bureaucratic Maneuver

Dennis Ross, a former US official in Democratic and Republican administrations, said Hook’s new post might be a bureaucratic maneuver to try to inject more clarity into Washington’s policy toward Tehran.

It creates an address within the administration for ... making the approach a more coherent one, with someone being given broader responsibility across departments to try to shape the policy,” said Ross, now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank. “At least that would be theory.”

“The real question is ... is the policy going to continue to be just, basically, strong tough rhetoric and sanctions ... or is it going to be something more” to curtail what Washington sees as Iran’s destabilizing actions in Syria, Yemen and Iraq?” he added.

 

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