New Elite Diplomatic Team to Promote U.S. Pressure Policies against Iran

A new “elite team of foreign affairs specialists,” led by the State Department, will coordinate and promote U.S. pressure policies against Iran across the government and with other nation, Washington Post reported.

The department’s current director of policy planning, Brian Hook, will lead the team as the administration’s “special representative for Iran.” The announcement comes as the administration last week reimposed a range of sanctions that had been lifted as part of the 2016 Iran nuclear deal, from which President Trump withdrew earlier this year.

In November, a second round of “snap-back” sanctions will inflict far more pain on Iran by prohibiting all other countries from buying its oil, at the risk of being sanctioned themselves by the United States, the Post adds.

“Our goal is to reduce every country’s import of Iranian oil to zero by Nov. 4. The United States certainly hopes for full compliance by all nations . . . in terms of not risking the threat of U.S. secondary sanctions if they continue with those transactions,” Hook said in his opening remarks.

Several major purchasers of Iranian oil and gas, including China and Turkey, have indicated they will not abide by the energy sanctions, while others have objected or asked for exemptions from what some have described as U.S. efforts to unilaterally impose its own foreign policy on them.

The new team will have the duty to explain its policies and convince others to comply with it, as the administration has already dispatched teams of diplomatic and financial officials to two dozen countries. “We will continue to build on those areas where we are in agreement, and we will work to find consensus where we are not,” Hook stressed.

Hook stressed that the group would work to pursue changes in 12 aspects of Iran’s behavior as outlined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in May – with the issues of Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons, its perceived support for terrorism and its arbitrary detention of Americans would get most of his team’s attention, Voice of America informed.

Hook, who had been the State Department’s director of policy planning since February 2017, said the Iran group would begin with several permanent personnel, and that additional experts would be detailed to it later.

In introducing Hook, Pompeo told reporters the Trump administration hoped it could reach a new agreement with Iran “one day soon.”

Hook cited his work with Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as part of his expertise on Iran, and he was already leading negotiations with allies to muster support for the administration’s approach to Iran, Los Angeles Times writes.

The National Iranian American Council, which advocates for a detente with Tehran, likened the creation of the action group to the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, when flawed intelligence and poor policy were used to make the case for war.

The new group is an attempt to bypass normal channels at the State Department “to implement Pompeo’s dangerous vision to destabilize Iran and close diplomatic” options, said Jamal Abdi, the council’s president. However, critics of the Iran nuclear deal praised the decision, saying the new group establishes Iran as a major priority and will make it possible to marshal resources to squeeze Iran.

“This is a strong rebuke to the mullahs who are betting that the Trump administration may become weaker over time, too preoccupied with domestic politics to pay much attention to Iran,” said Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which advocates a hard line on Iran.

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