In reporting upon the speech and the relevant policy initiatives, Reuters made reference to 12 specific demands that had previously been made of the Iranian regime by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Now, in light of Hook’s remarks before the foreign policy think tank, the Trump administration’s defined goal is to pursue commitment to these changes in the form of a treaty between the US and Iran.
Such an agreement would require approval by the US Senate, effectively making it immune to the sort of unilateral withdrawal that President Trump initiated with regard to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in May.
The withdrawal set into motion the re-imposition of suspended sanctions, a process that will be concluded in November with sanctions on the banking sector and oil industry, by which time the White House hopes to secure multilateral agreement on the need for a high-pressure strategy aimed at comprehensively changing the behavior of the Iranian regime.
Among the objections that Trump and others used to justify withdrawal from the nuclear agreement was the fact that it failed to address arguably related issues such as the Iranian ballistic missile program, which could theoretically be used to provide the delivery mechanism for a nuclear bomb.
The new White House policy initiatives outlined by Pompeo and clarified by Hook specifically address this issue along with the Iranian regime’s financing of militant proxies in Syria and Yemen, and its human rights abuses against minorities and dissidents inside the Islamic Republic.
Naturally, many critics of the Trump administration doubt the ability of the White House to secure the envisioned treaty, in light of Iran’s prior condemnation of the US for pulling out of an agreement with which Tehran was supposedly complying.
The ongoing commitment to that agreement by its other signatories – the UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China – is a further complication. But Reuters and other news outlets have consistently depicted the administration as being confident in its ability to put pressure directly on Iran to negotiate, and on the US’s traditional partners to join in forcing such negotiation.
Indeed, notwithstanding the European Union’s efforts to limit the effects of US sanction while incentivizing the Iranian regime to remain in compliance with the nuclear deal, many European companies have already ended their relationships with Iranian counterparts over fear of penalties that could be imposed by the US.
Of course, Iran’s persistently provocative behavior may be a factor in this decision-making, as well, and the same may be true of policy decisions within leading European capitals.
Politico acknowledged some level of uncertainty regarding the long-term European responses to the developing American strategy on Wednesday, albeit in the context of an article anticipating significant defiance of that strategy during meetings and speeches at the United Nations General Assembly, which began this week.
If such defiance does emerge, it will be in response to tough language from the US president and his foreign policy principals, who have confirmed that they will place strong focus on Tehran’s malign behavior both at the General Assembly and at the concurrent meeting of the UN Security Council, which will be chaired by the US.
Politico claimed that the Europeans do not believe the Trump administration’s repeated claims that it is not seeking regime change in Iran.
But it is not clear whether this perception of broader-than-acknowledged aims will seriously affect whether the European cave into pressure from the US, as the administration expects them to.
For many critics of the Iranian regime, this goal and the acknowledged goal of changing the regime’s behavior are indistinguishable, since the worst of the existing regime’s behaviors are arguably ingrained in its structure and ruling philosophy.
This is, in fact, a point that the Trump administration has recognizably been striving to emphasize in its public statements and dialogue with fellow world powers.
The Washington Post noted on Wednesday that the State Department had released a report identifying the Iranian regime as the world’s leading state sponsor and specifically as having a “near-global reach” including operatives inside the US, some of whom have been arrested in recent months.
The report quoted counterterrorism coordinator Nathan Sales as saying, “Iran uses terrorism as a tool of its statecraft. It has no reservations about using that tool on any continent.”
Such language is reminiscent of reports issued by non-governmental opponents of the Iranian regime such as the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which has mad particular efforts to highlight the terrorist role of Iranian diplomats in the wake of a foiled plot to blow up the NCRI’s international rally outside Paris on June 30.
The revelation of that plot suggests that relevant statements by both the White House and the Iranian Resistance may prove persuasive to France and other potential European targets of Iranian terrorism, regardless of their ongoing commitment to the nuclear deal.
Politico indicated that European policymakers are sensitive to some of the Trump administration’s warnings about Iran, especially those involving the regime’s support for terrorist groups that are active across Europe. And this sensitivity has already had at least a modest influence on policy.
Another report published by Reuters on Wednesday indicated that France has declined to appoint a new ambassador to Tehran following the summertime departure of the previous occupant of that post.
One diplomatic source declared that the appointment was suspended specifically as a result of the foiled terror plot, and that the position would likely remain open at least until the Iranian government provided substantial information to France about the incident.
Furthermore, in August, the French Foreign Ministry instructed its diplomats to indefinitely postpone all non-essential travel to the Islamic Republic, a move that was more recently emulated by the United Kingdom, according to a report by The Independent.
The UK also extended that recommendation to all of its citizens, and both countries appeared to be acting in response to hardening attitudes among the Iranian leadership, accompanied by widespread unrest as the country contends with a worsening economic crisis, accompanied by foreign pressure on the clerical regime.
A spokesperson for the UK’s Foreign Office indicated that practically any behavior by Western nationals in the Islamic Republic could be criminalized – a point that is underscored by the cases of existing political prisoners such as the Iranian-British charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was apparently targeted for arrested more than two years ago largely on the basis of her former employment by the charitable arm of the British Broadcasting Corporation, whose Persian service is banned in Iran.
The spokesperson went on to say, “The threat to travelers is likely to be higher if there’s any national unrest, terrorist incident or an increase in tensions between Iran and the international community.”
Such remarks almost certainly express recognition of the domestic unrest that has been spanning the entirety of the Islamic Republic since the end of last year, when a nationwide uprising gave rise to chants of “death to the dictator” and other recognizable calls for regime change.
But the Foreign Office’s reference to increased tensions could also be perceived as setting the stage for more broad-based international pressure on the Iranian regime, involving participation from the European governments that have been most subject to US lobbying.
Brian Hook’s speech to the Hudson Institute on Wednesday suggested that that lobbying has come to emphasize the US government’s “strong, clear, robust” support of the Iranian people in a conflict against their repressive, theocratic government.
While the nations of Europe might have been understandably worried about a shift in Iran policy that seems to promote regime change by means of foreign intervention, they may prove to be more receptive to a policy that specifically endorses a change of government driven by the Iranian people themselves.
In any event, this prospect is certainly of concern to the Iranian regime, and it is presumably driving the observed shift toward greater repression of dissent, more stringent anti-Western attitudes, and even an upsurge in terror plots and acts of espionage against foreign targets affiliated with the Iranian Resistance.
Those behaviors may in turn push Western governments further in the direction of assertive policies like those currently being pursued by the Trump administration.
This is somewhat ironic since the long-term effect is only to increase the prospect of the very outcome that is dreaded by the clerical regime.
A report by Think Progress quoted Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies as saying of the Trump administration’s assertiveness, “If I’m Iran, I look at it as a prelude to regime change.”