Pompeo shining light on Iran’s nefarious activities

Pompeo shining light on Iran’s nefarious activities

Pompeo shining light on Iran’s nefarious activities
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., January 12, 2021. (Reuters)
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America’s top diplomat, Mike Pompeo, is ending his time as secretary of state with a bang. In the past couple of weeks, he has delivered a number of major speeches and fired off a salvo of tweets highlighting the accomplishments from his time at the State Department.
He has also been announcing some robust, albeit at times controversial, policy decisions. For example, he revealed that the US was changing a more than four-decades-old set of guidelines regarding how American officials engaged with Taiwan. No doubt this decision had Beijing in mind.
He also announced that the US was redesignating Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism (former American President Barack Obama’s administration removed Havana from the list in 2015) and designating the Houthis as a terrorist organization.
With the finish line fast approaching for US President Donald Trump’s administration, Pompeo has seemingly announced several months’ worth of major policy changes in only a few days. His sharpest focus in recent weeks has been on Iran — and rightfully so.
The world is barely through the first weeks of 2021, and already Iran has wasted no time setting a terrible tone for the rest of the year.
Earlier this month the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps navy seized a South Korean-flagged tanker sailing near the Strait of Hormuz. Iran justified this blatant act of piracy on dubious claims of maritime pollution violations by the South Korean ship. The tanker and its crew are currently being held in Iran. The real reason for Tehran’s actions was more likely linked to the almost $7 billion in Iranian assets that are frozen in South Korea because of US sanctions.
In addition to acts of piracy, Iran also started enriching uranium to 20 percent concentration of Uranium-235. This violates the restrictions laid out in the Obama-era 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal), which capped uranium enrichment at 3.67 percent.
While this might seem complicated, or even confusing to some, in simple terms the move places Iran dangerously close to having a nuclear weapon. This is because enriching uranium to 20 percent represents approximately 90 percent of the effort in producing the weapons-grade fissile material required for a bomb.
Last week, Pompeo also took the opportunity to place the spotlight on Iran’s dangerous relationship with Al-Qaeda. During a speech, he said: “For Al-Qaeda, Iran is the new home base. Tehran gives sanctuary to the terror group’s senior leaders as they plan attacks against America and our allies.”
Although Pompeo announced publicly for the first time that Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Abu Mohammed Al-Masri, was killed on Aug. 7 in Iran, there was very little new in his speech. Some might question why a country of Shiite extremists would back a Sunni terror organization, but the reason is simple: They both have a common enemy in the US and its allies.
For years there has been mounting evidence linking those two unlikely bedfellows. The evidence dates back to America’s 9/11 Commission in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the US. During the daring raid to kill Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011, correspondence was found linking Al-Qaeda with Iranian intelligence.
Pompeo’s actions in recent days will have implications for the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden. On the campaign trail, Biden criticized the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran deal, along with the killing of the head of Iran’s Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, and the “maximum pressure campaign” against Tehran.
Many in Iran were hoping that Trump would lose the election to see if a Biden administration would change tactics. There is no doubt that in the coming months many of America’s friends in the Gulf and in Israel will be watching events closely and nervously.
The spotlight that Pompeo is shining on Iran’s nefarious activities is a reminder for Biden and his national security team that there is no easy answer to dealing with Tehran.
The American public, and indeed the world, was sold the Iran deal in 2015 with the bold claim that the agreement would moderate Tehran’s behavior and that it would become a more responsible actor in the region. However, nothing since the deal was inked has shown this to be the case.
Iran has funded, and continues to fund, proxy groups in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. It continues to back elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Iranians launched a strike against an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia and have illegally commandeered several oil tankers in international waters. These are not the acts of a responsible country.

The world is barely through the first weeks of 2021, and already Iran has wasted no time setting a terrible tone for the rest of the year.

Luke Coffey

Many who are expected to serve in the next US administration in national security roles have a personal stake in ensuring that the Iran deal is brought back to life, mainly because they were involved in the drafting of the accord to begin with. However, the world has changed since 2015. The incoming Biden administration needs to deal with, and confront, the Iran that it has and not the Iran it wants.
Some are questioning Pompeo’s approach during his final days in office. After all, announcing such important policy decisions with only days left in the administration is certainly unconventional. But for better or for worse, the Trump administration has been unconventional from Day 1.
Pompeo’s critics also argue that his recent actions are first about shoring up his political legacy at the State Department with an eye on the next presidential race in 2024. Others might suspect he is creating a distraction from the domestic crisis in America. Perhaps there is some truth to both these arguments. Even so, there is never a bad time to remind the American public and the world about Iran’s nefarious activities.
The next US administration should not let the messenger distract from the truth of the message.

  • Luke Coffey is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation. Twitter: @LukeDCoffey
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