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Pompeo Threatens 'Strongest Sanctions In History' Against Iran


OK. So it looks like President Trump's decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal may have been just a first step in reshaping U.S. policy towards Iran. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo outlined some new thinking this morning. And I want to bring in NPR's State Department correspondent Michele Kelemen.

Hi, Michele.


GREENE: All right. So what were the highlights from Pompeo's speech?

KELEMEN: Well, he laid out a list of demands - 12 of them to be exact - not just about an end to Iran's uranium enrichment program, but also an end to its ballistic missile program, support for Hezbollah, Hamas, Shia militias in Iraq, Houthi rebels in Yemen. It was a very long list. And to get there, his strategy seems to be ramping up sanctions again. Just listen to what Pompeo said he thinks - how he thinks sanctions are going to bite.


MIKE POMPEO: These will indeed end up being the strongest sanctions in history when we are complete.

KELEMEN: And he thinks countries are going to go along with this because they share U.S. concerns about Iran's bad behavior in the region.

GREENE: So did he address the big question of what new sanctions might mean for some U.S. allies? I mean, there are European countries who are really wondering how businesses in Europe may or may not be able to keep doing business with Iran if there are new, tough sanctions in place.

KELEMEN: Yeah. I mean, he's making clear that they're not going to be immune from these sanctions. And it really is going to make it hard for Europeans who want to keep this nuclear deal in place to do so. You know, the deal gives Iran sanctions relief in exchange for limits to Iran's nuclear program. But how can the Europeans keep the deal if Iran doesn't get any of the economic benefits? That's the dilemma that Europeans are facing today.

GREENE: Just listening to that long list of demands on Iran, I mean, it really feels like this is going beyond getting out of the Iran nuclear deal, that President Trump and the administration really thinking about a new, tougher policy to counter Iran's influence. Is that risky?

KELEMEN: Well, it is a gamble. I mean, it's hard to see how you do this without a strong unified coalition that shares all the same goals. I talked to one former Obama administration official, Jake Sullivan, who says, you know, this could give the green light for more aggressive actions from our allies in the region - think Israel or Saudi Arabia. And Pompeo also seems to be goading Iranians to kind of rise up against the regime. And it's not clear how something like that could play out and whether that would draw the U.S. into some sort of conflict.

GREENE: All right. NPR's State Department correspondent Michele Kelemen, talking to us this morning about a speech delivered by U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Iran.

Michele, thanks a lot.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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