How US sanctions hit ordinary people in Iran

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on how ordinary Iranians are being affected by US sanctions.

Posted: Aug 17, 2018 2:52 AM
Updated: Aug 17, 2018 3:12 AM

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Thursday that the Trump administration is establishing an interagency task force aimed at cracking down on Iran.

"We are committed to a whole-of-government effort to change the Iranian regime's behavior, and the Iran Action Group will ensure that the Department of State remains closely synchronized with our interagency partners," Pompeo told reporters at the State Department.

The group will be responsible for directing, reviewing and coordinating all aspects of the State Department's Iran-related activity and it will report directly Pompeo, the top US diplomat said.

"For nearly 40 years, the regime in Tehran has been responsible for a torrent of violent and destabilizing behavior against the United States, our allies, our partners, and indeed the Iranian people themselves," Pompeo said, painting the effort as part of a campaign being conducted "in solidarity with the Iranian people."

'A new agreement'

"Our hope is that one day soon we can reach a new agreement with Iran," Pompeo said. "But we must see major changes in the regime's behavior both inside and outside of its borders. The Iranian people and the world are demanding that Iran finally act like a normal nation."

The group will be led by Brian Hook, a senior policy adviser at the State Department who will report directly to Pompeo. He said the administration was taking "a comprehensive approach to Iran because the scope of Iranian malign activity is so wide-ranging."

Hook cited Tehran's "aspiration for nuclear weapons" and support for terrorist activity.

Hook insisted that any overlap between Thursday's announcement and the anniversary of the US-backed 1953 coup against Iran's democratically elected government was "pure coincidence," despite speculation about the administration's views on regime change.

"Secretary Pompeo's establishment of the Iran Action Group led by Brian Hook, one of his most trusted advisers, is further evidence that the Trump administration sees Iran as one of its top foreign policy and national security priorities," according to Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "The group will be empowered to leverage all instruments of national power to squeeze the regime in 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," Dubowitz told CNN. "The supreme leader has said negotiations will have to wait in order to soften up America. This Iran group will bring all of the US government's resources to bear on softening up the Islamic Republic."

In May, Pompeo outlined what many analysts saw as a policy of regime change in everything but name -- saying the US will aim to "crush" Iran with economic and military pressure unless it changes its behavior in the Middle East.

Those remarks came just weeks after President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. The 2015 Obama-era accord, signed by the US, Iran, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, restricted Iran's nuclear program in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

Trump has since warned that countries doing business with Iran will "NOT be doing business with the United States" as his administration re-imposed sanctions on Iran earlier this month.

Hook also said Thursday that the US is willing to impose secondary sanctions on governments that continue to deal with Iran.

In July, Pompeo delivered another scathing speech, this time targeting Iran's leadership, accusing Tehran's ruling ayatollahs of spreading violence across the Middle East and lining their own pockets with ill-gotten gains at the expense of ordinary Iranians.

"To the regime, prosperity, security and freedom for the Iranian people are acceptable casualties in the march to fulfill the revolution," Pompeo said at the time.

The secretary of state and former CIA director also accused several members of Iran's leadership, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, of participating in widespread corruption.

Pompeo has also tweeted his apparent support for Iranian anti-government protestors in recent months.

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