US unveils action group to run policy on ‘malign’ Iran

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has named Brian Hook as the new 'special representative' for Iran. (AFP)
Updated 17 August 2018

US unveils action group to run policy on ‘malign’ Iran

  • Brian Hook led the Trump administration's unsuccessful attempt to negotiate changes to the Iran nuclear deal
  • Pompeo and other officials have denied that the administration is seeking to foment regime change in Iran

WASHINGTON/JEDDAH: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has named Brian Hook as the new 'special representative' for Iran, who will head up an 'Iran Action Group.'

Pompeo declared he is forming the dedicated group to coordinate and run US policy toward Iran as the Donald Trump administration moves ahead with efforts to force changes in the country's behavior after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.

Officials said the group will be headed by Brian Hook, who is currently the State Department's director of policy planning. Hook led the Trump administration's ultimately unsuccessful attempt to negotiate changes to the nuclear deal with European allies before the president decided in May to pull out of the accord.

Since withdrawing, the administration has re-imposed sanctions that were eased under the deal and has steadily ramped up pressure on Iran to try to get it to stop what it describes as "malign activities" in the region. 

In addition to its nuclear and missile programs, the administration has repeatedly criticized Iran for supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, Shiite rebels in Yemen and anti-Israel groups. It has also in recent weeks stepped up criticism of Iran's human rights record and is working with other nations to curb their imports of Iranian oil.

The administration is warning Iran's oil customers that they will face US sanctions in November unless they significantly reduce their imports with an eye on eliminating them entirely. 

It has also told businesses and governments in Europe that they may also be subject to penalties if they violate, ignore or attempt to subvert the re-imposed US sanctions.

In his new job, Hook is to oversee implementation of the administration's entire Iran policy, the officials said. Pompeo and other officials have denied that the administration is seeking to foment regime change in Iran and maintain they only want to see the government change course. Pompeo created a similar group dedicated to working on North Korea policy while he was director of the CIA.

Hook is expected to be replaced as policy planning chief by Kiron Skinner, a foreign policy academic and adviser to several Republican presidential candidates who served on President Donald Trump's national security transition team and very briefly at the State Department after Trump took office, according to the officials who were not authorized to publicly discuss personnel matters and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, two leading German firms are the latest to pull out of projects in Iran as the sanctions take a toll on foreign investment. Rail operator Deutsche Bahn and Deutsche Telekom said they would end their involvement because firms investing in Iran will be barred from doing business with the US. Oil firm Total, and carmakers PSA, Renault and Daimler have said they will also withdraw.

Harvard scholar and Iranian-affairs expert Majid Rafizadeh said the regime in Tehran is in deep trouble at home as the sanctions, which came into effect last week, are working.  

“More companies and firms are halting their business deals with Iran,” he said. “Foreign investors are also withdrawing. This is significant due to the fact that many foreign investors have invested billions of dollars in Iran’s debt market as Tehran’s economy is cash-strapped.

“On the surface, Iran’s leaders are brushing aside the sanctions as trivial, but Tehran is significantly wary as the sanctions are affecting its economy negatively. If the Iranian regime does not alter its destructive behavior, the sanctions will cripple its economy.”

The first wave of sanctions focuses on preventing Iran from purchasing US dollars and precious metals, and targeting the automotive and other sectors. A second wave in November will target energy, the main source of Iranian state revenues.

(With AP)

Israel touts air defense system to South Korea

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, lieft, speaks to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, right, during their meeting at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, July 15, 2019. (AP)
Updated 4 min 20 sec ago

Israel touts air defense system to South Korea

  • South Korea and Israel established diplomatic ties in 1962 and the latter opened an embassy in Seoul in 1992

SEOUL: President Reuven Rivlin extolled the virtues of Israeli air defense missile systems during a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul on Monday at the presidential Blue House, citing the need to defend the country against its nuclear-armed northern neighbor.
Rivlin noted “big similarities” between the two countries, both having survived conflicts to become global economic powers.
“Both South Korea and Israel faced catastrophic events after World War II, but we have built great nations and people, rising from the ashes of war,” the Israeli president said in a statement ahead of his talks with Moon.
“We didn’t have powers to defend ourselves in 1948, but we have our own defense powers now.”
While stressing the importance of efforts to build trust with neighboring countries, Rivlin warned countries “should not be naive” in dealing with military threats.
“In the past, the threat of missiles existed only on the frontlines of battlefields, but now civilians have become the subject of such threats,” the Israeli leader said.
“We should protect our people with missile defense systems capable of intercepting enemy missiles that could threaten the lives of our people.”
Rivlin did not specify the name of the system he described, but local experts believe the Israeli head of state was referring to the country’s Irone Dome air defense system.
“Iron Dome is a wish list item of the South Korean military to help thwart the threats of North Korea’s long-range artillery deployed near the border,” Kim Dae-young, a weapons analyst at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, told Arab News.
“Israeli forces operate the air defense systems to defend against rockets fired by Hamas. The system is considered a useful option to thwart North Korea’s artillery attacks, especially against targets in the metropolitan area.”
South Korea has already deployed key Israeli-built weapons systems in the field in bids to complement its theater air and missile defense system (KAMD), which consists of US Patriot missile interceptors, as well as locally-built medium and long-range interceptors. To detect and track incoming missiles, KAMD operates Israel’s ground-based EL/M-2080 missile defense radar equipment.


South Korea has already deployed key Israeli-built weapons systems in the field in bids to complement its theater air and missile defense system (KAMD)

But Israel’s potential arms pitch would not kick in yet, Kim said, since Moon’s administration was prioritizing engagement with Pyongyang.
The leaders of the divided Korean Peninsula have met four times since the inauguration of Moon’s administration in May 2017, making substantial progress in reducing military tensions. 
Still, the North’s artillery batteries, deployed near the border, pose significant threats to the South, as the weaponry is capable of hitting Seoul and surrounding areas.
According to the latest South Korean defense white paper, published in 2016, the North Korean military has about 14,000 artillery weapons, including 5,500 multiple rocket launchers, the majority of which have been deployed near the border.
On the economic front, Moon and Rivlin agreed to sign a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) to expand cooperation in investment, services and technology.
“The two countries have a mutually supplementary economic cooperation structure and share the common goal of nurturing future and cutting-edge industries,” Moon said. Bilateral trade between the two hit a record high of $2.7 billion last year.
Seoul and Jerusalem started FTA talks in May 2015 and have had several rounds of negotiations.
Moon expressed hope that Israel would share its experience in nurturing high-tech startups, which could foster substantive partnerships in sectors like the hydrogen economy, artificial intelligence and 5G wireless communication networks.
The two leaders also signed memorandums of understanding to promote cooperation in hydrogen energy and higher education exchanges.
Rivlin is accompanied by two delegations from Israel’s business and academic sectors, led by Adiv Baruch, chair of the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute, and Professor Yaffa Zilbershats, chair of the Council for Higher Education Planning and Budgeting Committee.
South Korea and Israel established diplomatic ties in 1962 and the latter opened an embassy in Seoul in 1992.