Pompeo draws a hard-line list of demands from Iran but experts sceptical about compliance

Although Pompeo did not call directly for regime change in Iran, he made it clear that new leadership was his goal.
Sunday 27/05/2018
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks on the Trump administration’s Iran policy in Washington, on May 21. (Reuters)
Maximum pressure. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks on the Trump administration’s Iran policy in Washington, on May 21. (Reuters)

WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has issued a litany of demands on Iran to escape American punishment but, as admirable as the list may be, there is almost no chance Tehran will comply, analysts said.

In an aggressive address May 21, Pompeo vowed to “crush” Iranian operatives around the world and demanded a dozen “major changes” aimed at turning Iran from a regional military power into a peaceful neighbour that sits on the sidelines of regional conflicts. Pompeo acknowledged his list was “pretty long.”

In Washington, the demands were widely criticised as unrealistic by both liberals and conservatives. Members of Congress had little public reaction.

“He was articulating complaints and demands and that’s not policy,” said Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council think-tank. US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement leaves the United States “less well-placed to exert pressure on Iran than we were a few years ago,” she said.

Pompeo signalled that the Trump administration’s policy towards Iran will be to foment political unrest to prompt regime change but Slavin said the strategy “leads to more misery and resentment and not regime change.”

Echoing the criticism, former State Department Iran adviser Suzanne Maloney, in a posting on the Brookings Institution website, said Pompeo’s address was “not a strategy at all but rather a grab bag of wishful thinking wrapped in a thinly veiled exhortation for regime change in Iran.”

In demanding major changes from Iran, Pompeo “offered no realistic pathway to achieving them,” Maloney wrote. “It’s magical thinking to suggest that after 40 years and at the apex of its regional reach, the Islamic Republic will proffer a blanket capitulation in exchange for the promise of a future treaty with a government that has just jettisoned an existing agreement.”

Conservative analyst James Carafano was more succinct about Pompeo’s speech. Asked by a Fox News host whether Iran would take any of the dozen steps Pompeo demanded, Carafano replied: “Heck, no.”

“This is literally a diplomatic body slam,” said Carafano, a foreign policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, where Pompeo delivered his address. “This is actually a counterpunch strategy [in which] we’re actually going in and knocking out pins under what makes Iran a regional power.”

Two analysts said Pompeo achieved an “intellectual breakthrough” by recognising that Washington cannot negotiate a nuclear accord without addressing Iran’s other threats.

“He identified the problem: A regime that is bent on extending its imperial frontiers, developing nuclear arms and abusing its citizens. All of these issues are connected, as the guardians of the theocracy believe that their revolution succeeds only if it is relentlessly exported,” wrote Ray Takeyh, a former State Department Iran adviser, and Mark Dubowitz, who has advised several US presidents on Iran.

In a column in Foreign Policy magazine, Takeyh and Dubowitz praised Pompeo for outlining steps “to deplete Iran’s treasury, bolster local alliances and assist the Iranian people in their persistent quest to emancipate themselves from the clutches of the clerical tyranny.”

Although Pompeo did not call directly for regime change in Iran, he made it clear that new leadership was his goal. Pompeo vowed to impose “the strongest sanctions in history” that would leave Iran “battling to keep its economy alive.” He highlighted Iran’s ongoing economic problems and said they were “compounded by enormous corruption.”

Noting that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is 78, “will not live forever,” Pompeo added: “Nor will the Iranian people abide the rule of tyrants forever.” Speaking directly to Iranian citizens, he criticised Iranian President Hassan Rohani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif — two men seen as moderates seeking to open Iran to the world — as being responsible “for your economic struggles.”

In Washington, the focus was on the 12 demands made by Pompeo for the United States to ease sanctions and resume diplomatic and economic relations with Tehran.

The steps include providing nuclear inspectors “unqualified access” to every nuclear plant; ending its programme to develop ballistic missiles; ending its support of Middle East militant groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas and the Houthi rebels in Yemen; withdrawing Iran-controlled forces in Syria; and ending “threatening behaviour” against neighbours, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and international shipping lanes.

At a hearing in the US Congress a day after the speech, Michael Doran, an analyst at the conservative Hudson Institute, said: “Iran will not take these steps willingly. Truth be told, the day it complies with all of them will be the day after the Islamic Republic ceases to exist.” Doran said the Trump administration’s policy was one of “long-term, aggressive containment, not unlike the policy the United States adopted towards the Soviet Union in the Cold War.”

The strategy of new sanctions to weaken Iran’s economy is not likely to lead to regime change, Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior fellow at the Centre for Middle East Policy at the liberal Brookings Institution, said at the hearing.

“The weaker the government revenue stream becomes and the more domestic pressure it faces, the more powerful the IRGC will become as the regime’s last line of defence against domestic dissent as well as external enemies,” she said, referring to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which protects Tehran’s Islamic Republic system.