In Depth

‘Nuclear plan B’: how the US intends to confront Iran

Mike Pompeo threatens ‘strongest sanctions in history’ and hints of long-term regime change

Mike Pompeo has used his first big speech as US Secretary of State to set out the Trump administration’s ‘Plan B’ for dealing with Iran following its decision to withdraw from the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal.

Speaking at the conservative Heritage Foundation policy group in Washington, the former CIA director said the US would never allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon and would impose the “strongest sanctions in history” to force the regime to submit to its demands.

What will change?

“The sting of sanctions will be painful if the regime does not change its course from the unacceptable and unproductive path it has chosen to one that rejoins the league of nations,” Pompeo said.

Among what Al Jazeera has called an “onerous” list of 12 “basic requirements” the regime must sign up to, Pompeo insisted Iran must stop developing ballistic missiles, release Americans currently held in prisons in the country, and stop support of militant and terrorist groups in the Middle East and beyond.

He also crucially called for a ban on a heavy-water reactor, which is the most basic way to develop nuclear energy, says CNBC.

Is there any incentive for Iran?

While the harsh rhetoric was aimed squarely at leaders in Tehran, he also offered an olive branch to the Iranian people, saying that unlike previous administration, “The United States believe you deserve better”.

Pompeo pointed to the administration’s ongoing nuclear negotiations with North Korea as a model for a new agreement with Iran, with administration officials saying the plan is to assemble a global coalition to pressure Iran into negotiations on “a new security architecture” that goes beyond its nuclear programme.

Will it work?

“It is certainly tough but may be totally unrealistic” says the BBC’s Jonathan Marcus, arguing that “for sanctions to work they must be comprehensive”, but “compelling allies and other countries to abandon trade with Iran risks damaging a whole series of wider diplomatic relationships”.

Despite overtures to the Iranian people and paying lip-service to a continued diplomatic dialogue with the regime “many former officials, foreign diplomats and analysts are sceptical, both of the chances a broader pact can come together, and of the administration's interest in diplomacy with Iran” says CNN.

Is there an ulterior motive?

Many claim the real objective of the White House is to force Iran to pull back from regional activities in Syria and the Yemen, and ultimately push for regime change within Iran.

Trump’s new National Security Adviser John Bolton has previously advocated overthrowing Iran’s government.

Other have warned the new US approach is a hugely destabilising move, with CNN saying that “regardless of the administration's goals, the chances of miscalculation, especially with Israel and Saudi Arabia urging Trump to confront Tehran, are high”.

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