WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the growing tensions with Iran Wednesday, tweeting: “[US President Donald] Trump does not want war with Iran. We will continue to communicate that message while doing the things that are necessary to protect American interests in the region.”
Brian Hook, the US Special Representative for Iran, conveyed a similar message during his testimony at the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “This administration has implemented an unprecedented pressure campaign with two primary objectives,” he said.
“First, to deprive the Iranian regime of the money they need to support its destabilizing activities. Second, to bring Iran back to the negotiating table to conclude a comprehensive and enduring deal as outlined by Secretary Pompeo. No one should be uncertain about our desire for peace or our readiness to normalize relations. Should we reach a comprehensive deal, we have put the possibility of a much brighter future on the table for the Iranian people – and we mean it.”
According to Hook: “The comprehensive deal we seek with the Iranian regime should address four key areas: Its nuclear program; its ballistic missile development and proliferation; its lethal support and financial support to terrorist groups and proxies; and its arbitrary detention of US citizens.”
He spoke about the Iranian involvement in Syria and the threat it posed for Israel, and mentioned the support that Iran gives to Hezbollah. “Our pressure is aimed at reversing these trends,” he added.
“Today, by nearly every metric, the regime and its proxies are weaker than when our pressure began,” he said. “Shia militant groups in Syria have stated that Iran no longer has enough money to pay them as much as they have in the past. Hezbollah and Hamas have enacted unprecedented austerity plans due to a lack of funding from Iran. The IRGC cyber command is now low on funding, and the IRGC has told Iraq’s Shia militia groups that they need to start looking for new sources of revenue.
“Our pressure campaign is working. It is making Iran’s violent and expansionist foreign policy cost prohibitive. And I would say that our policy at its core is an economic and diplomatic one, but Iran has not responded to this in a diplomatic fashion" Hook continued. "It has responded to it with violence, and we very much believe that Iran should meet diplomacy with diplomacy, not with terrorism, bloodshed and extortion. Our diplomacy, our economic pressure and diplomatic isolation do not entitle Iran to undertake violence against any nation or to threaten maritime security.”
This comes after the Islamic republic announced it would go through with a threat to enrich uranium to a higher level if Europe did not save its nuclear deal by shielding it from US sanctions by July 8. The spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Behrouz Kamalvandi, said that “Iran’s two-month deadline to remaining signatories of the JCPOA [nuclear deal] cannot be extended, and the second phase will be implemented exactly as planned.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the actions were the “minimum” measures Tehran could adopt one year after the US withdrawal from the deal, but said they were reversible.
“If our demands are not met, we will take new measures after 60 days, calculated from May 8,” Rouhani said in a cabinet meeting broadcast on state television.
“But if they return to their commitments, we will cancel all measures taken in the first 60 days or possibly the second 60 days, and there won’t be any problem.”
WORRIES ABOUT a confrontation between Iran and the United States have mounted since attacks last week on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, near the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane. Iran has denied any involvement in the tanker attacks.
Speaking about the incident, Hook said that: “Our intelligence confirms that Iranian vessels operating in and around the Strait of Hormuz on June 12 and 13, approached both the Front Altair and the Kokuka Courageous before each vessel suffered explosions. We assess this activity is consistent with an Iranian operation to attach limpet mines to the vessels. I could also say that a senior IRGC official confirmed that lRGC personnel had completed two actions. So we’re going to keep doing what we can to declassify intelligence without compromising sources and methods. But those who have been able to see the intelligence come away without any question that Iran is behind these attacks.”
Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel (D-New York), warned that miscalculation could lead to war. “Iran’s recent attacks on tankers in the Straits of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman are setting the region on a course to war,” he said. “We obviously need to deescalate the situation before the worst happens. However, the administration’s most recent steps seem to be pushing us more toward confrontation then negotiation.”
Engel added that “coming up with a phony emergency to circumvent Congress and admit these missiles to Saudi Arabia, putting more boots on the ground for supposedly defensive reasons, all a frame by increasingly belligerent rhetoric – it does bother me because we should be trying to prevent confrontation.
“I see a growing risk of miscalculation,” he continued. “I see more, in more and more scenarios, that could spark a conflict. It could lead to the United States stumbling into a war. And what I’d like to hear from the administration is the clearest possible statements that the United States is not looking for war with Iran and how we can get Iran back to the negotiating table. And if we can’t hear that from the administration, I want to make it very clear, Mr. Hook, that military action against Iran without the approval of Congress is absolutely not an option. Congress has coequal power under the constitution.
“We went through 20 years of going along with wars because we were told certain things were fact when, in fact, they weren’t. So I think that Congress has to play a major role.”
US SECRETARY OF ENERGY Rick Perry told The Jerusalem Post that he hopes US and Iran are not headed to military confrontation.
“I would hope not. We have a lot of allies and friends in the neighborhood, and I think that would be a very bad outcome for Iran, bad for the neighborhood. So, hopefully, the cooler heads will prevail here,” he told the Post in a conversation on the sidelines of the Chabad Lamplighter Awards dinner in Washington on Tuesday, in which he received the public service award.
“Here’s what’s most important,” he continued. “The Iranians need to learn to live in the neighborhood. To be good neighbors, and to not be engaged in acts of terrorism like we’ve seen over the course of the last few weeks with the attacks on the oil tankers. So this is really in Iran’s hands, and they know what the rules of good conduct are. And if they will follow those rules, everyone can get along in the neighborhood, and we can live in peace.”
When asked if there is any chance to see negotiations with Iran, Perry responded: “I’ll leave that up to the White House and the secretary of state.”
In his speech at the Chabad dinner, Perry added: “We need to combat antisemitism wherever it is. We need to stand against this growing bigotry against Jews.” He also vowed to fight BDS on college campuses and elsewhere.
“The award is presented to a public servant who distinguishes themselves in their tenure and with our community,” Rabbi Levi Shemtov of Chabad told the Post. “Rick Perry has done both. He’s someone outside the Jewish community who has shown strong support for the Jewish community and Israel. We believe that leaders like that must be recognized in our community, both to give us the reinforcement and to give them the appreciation that they deserved.”
Reuters contributed to this report.
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