US announces Iran Action Group to coordinate sanctions policy
17 August 2018
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has formed a dedicated group to coordinate the country's policy towards Iran following President Donald Trump's unilateral withdrawal from a multinational nuclear deal with Tehran, a move, which analysts say, puts US “on path to war with Iran”.
Pompeo announced the creation of the Iran Action Group (IAG) with Brian Hook, director of policy planning at the Department of State, as its head, at a news conference on Thursday.
"We are committed to a whole of government effort to change the Iranian regime's behaviour and the Iran Action Group will ensure that the Department of State will remain closely synchronised with our interagency partners," he said.
"The IAG will also lead the way in growing efforts with nations which share our understanding of the Iranian threat."
Speaking to reporters after Pompeo, Hook said Iran's "malign activities" were "wide-ranging" and Washington's new strategy was addressing all manifestations of "the Iranian threat".
"The new Iran Action Group will be focused on implementing that strategy," added Hook, who will have the formal title of the Special Representative for Iran.
Reports quoting Sina Toossi, a research analyst at the Washington-based National Iranian American Council (NIAC), said appointing Hook to head the new policy initiative puts the US "on the path to war with Iran".
"Nonetheless, Hook stands to play an instrumental role in facilitating US-Iran diplomacy if President Trump follows through on his call for negotiations," Toossi told Al Jazeera.
He pointed to Pompeo walking back some of President Trump's comments in late July. Trump, who has repeatedly criticised Iran's leaders, had later said he was willing to meet with them with no preconditions.
Toossi cited a lack of sinciarity on the part of the Trump administration in pursuing talks, saying that it should "reverse course" on its decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal first.
In a separate statement on social media, NIAC said the programme announced by Pompeo was "another echo" of the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when the George Bush administration tried to "cherry-pick intelligence and make the case for war".
Earlier on Thursday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani questioned the wisdom of Trump's decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal.
"America took some steps that removed the conditions for talks. They destroyed the bridge themselves, and now they are standing on the other side asking, 'How can I cross?' Why destroy the bridge when you wanted to walk across?"
On Monday, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in the country's most important political decisions, ruled out negotiations with the Trump administration.
He said that as demonstrated in the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran will only enter into negotiations in the position of strength "so that US' pressures and uproars won't affect us".
"Recently, US officials have been talking blatantly about us. Beside sanctions, they are talking about war and negotiations. In this regard, let me say a few words to the people: "There will be no war, nor will we negotiate with the US," Khamenei said in a Twitter post.
Hook is also responsible for the unsuccessful attempt of the Trump administration to negotiate changes to the nuclear deal with European allies before the president decided in May to pull out of the landmark accord.