Defense

Pompeo announces 'Iran Action Group' to steer post-nuclear deal policy

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Thursday the creation of an "Iran Action Group" to coordinate the State Department's post-nuclear deal Iran policy.

"Our hope is that one day soon we can reach a new agreement with Iran, but we must see major changes in the regime's behavior, both inside and outside its borders," Pompeo said in a brief address at the State Department. "The Iranian people and the world are demanding that Iran finally act like a normal nation. The Iran Action Group will drive daily progress on these objectives, and I hope do much more."

The group will report directly to Pompeo and be led by Brian Hook, the newly minted special representative for Iran, who as the State Department's director of policy planning had steered ultimately failed efforts to try to renegotiate the nuclear deal before Trump withdrew.

Trump announced in May he was withdrawing the United States from the 2015 accord that gave Iran billions of dollars of sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. The Obama administration-negotiated deal also included Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and China.

Last week, the first set of U.S. sanctions that had been lifted as part of the deal were reimposed.

More substantial sanctions, including those on oil sales, are set to be re-imposed in November.

Ahead of the November deadline, the State Department is working to convince countries and companies to reduce or eliminate their imports of Iranian oil, pledging that those that don't will face sanctions. Still, officials have left the door open for the possibility of waivers.

The Iran Action Group will "lead the way in growing efforts with nations which share our understanding of the Iranian threat," Pompeo said Thursday.

The group will have a particular emphasis on the issues of nuclear weapons, terrorism and the detention of American citizens, Hook said, though it will work to advance all 12 of the goals Pompeo laid out in a May speech.

Thursday's announcement falls on the 65th anniversary of the 1953 Iranian coup, stoking international speculation that the Trump administration is advocating regime change.

Hook pushed back on the suggestion, saying it was "pure coincidence" the action group is being announced on the anniversary of the coup.

Hook would not name specific people working in the group now, but said it is launching with a "core staff of several permanent personnel" with more department experts being detailed to it later.

"This team is committed to a strong global effort to change the Iranian regime's behavior," Hook said.

Asked how the group can with other countries when the United States is threatening sanctions, Hook downplayed any potential rifts. 

"The purpose of the sanctions is simply to deny the Iranian regime revenues to finance terrorism," he said. "That's the purpose of maximum economic pressure. The point is not to create any rifts with other nations."

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