Top U.S. official to Post: No Iran regime change, but keeping max pressure

Sales announces $5 million reward for help capturing al-Qaeda leaders.

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Trump administration is not seeking regime change, but rather to maintain its “maximum pressure campaign to get Iran back to the table” for a “better deal than the JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action),” Nathan Sales, a top US state department counter-terror official, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Speaking on the sidelines of the ICT-IDC Herzliya counter-terror conference only days after US National Security Adviser John Bolton was fired and Trump himself hinted to a lighter hand with Iran, Sales tried to clear the air.
He said that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s 12 principles remained the standard for an acceptable improved deal, and that it would be a major change and not merely cosmetic. Sales said Iran’s ballistic missile testing and aggressive behavior in the region would need to be part of such a deal, without limiting a deal to those additions.
Pressed on whether Trump is intent on meeting with Iran President Hassan Rouhani, and on whether he might agree to a French compromise of temporarily restoring some waivers to sanctions while leaving most sanctions in place, Sales demurred, not wanting to discuss whether a Rouhani meeting at the UN later this month could advance the goal of getting a better deal with Iran.
Waiving aside theories that Bolton’s leaving the administration signaled a shift toward easing up on Iran, Sales said that the “US Iran policy is the president’s Iran policy. The president has been very clear that it is the worst state sponsors of terrorism… and imposed historically severe sanctions on Iran.”
While the US is not looking for a regime change in Tehran, “we want them to behave like a normal state that doesn’t use terror[ism] as a basic tool of statecraft,” he said.
For example, Sales slammed Iran for continuing to host al-Qaeda operatives on its soil and permitting it to move funds around the region.
He also noted that sanctions against Iran and Hezbollah are separate. In other words, in a theoretical scenario where the US and Iran were on a negotiation track with reduced sanctions, “Hezbollah and its front companies and its leaders are sanctioned in their own right as a terror[ist] organization. Those designations remain in place for as long as it engages in terror[ist] activity. This is fundamental to what Hezbollah is. It is not a political party, [and] not a defender of Lebanon. It is a terror[ist] organization. Full stop.”
Sales was also in Israel to commemorate the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and to announce the US was offering a $5 million reward for information on al-Qaeda’s senior leaders Faruq al-Suri, Abu Abd’ al-Karim al-Masri, and Sami al-Uraydi.
The US “has decimated the core of the [original] al-Qaeda leadership in South Asia,” he said. “The group adapted to that pressure. We are increasing the use of civilian tools” in addition to heavy “kinetic [often drone strikes] pressure” against a range of al-Qaeda affiliated groups across the world.