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US strategy on Iran entails new regime

von Hein Matthias Kommentarbild App
Matthias von Hein
May 22, 2018

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wants to impose the "strongest sanctions in history" on Iran. The Trump administration isn't eyeing America's safety as much as a regime change, says DW's Matthias von Hein.

Symbolic erosion of flags of Iran and the EU with US dislike thumb
Image: Imago/Ralph Peters

Mike Pompeo chose to hold his first major foreign policy speech on familiar territory. With regard to content, the new US secretary of state also remained true to himself. Only three years ago, Pompeo had ranted against the Iran deal at the right-wing conservative Heritage Foundation. On Monday, he took the very same line — though this time, he carried the weight of his office and had the backing of the president.

Read morePompeo unveils US Iran plan: Economic strife, break with EU

One can and must be critical of many of Iran's actions in the Middle East region, and of how the regime rules the country. But the lopsidedness of Pompeo's remarks detracts from their credibility. The selective compilation of alleged facts, twisting and even ignoring certainties, raises doubts whether Europeans and the US share a common basis for talks on Iran — not to mention talks between Tehran and Washington.

Washington insists it is negotiating from a position of strength. Pompeo and the Trump administration, however, aren't negotiating at all — they are dictating. Pompeo's 12 demands directed at Iran amount to forcing the regime to capitulate — otherwise it faces complete economic strangulation. Basically, Pompeo has declared economic war on Tehran and added a list of a "coalition of the willing, hinting that European partners join that coalition, fully aware that Europe wants to stick to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal. At the end of the day, Pompeo's speech amounted to an appeal to Brussels to please leave future decisions on trade, security and foreign policies to Washington.

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Matthias von Hein
DW's Matthias von HeinImage: DW/M. von Hein

The Iranian people Pompeo addressed several times during his speech can only avert looming disaster with a change of regime – that is the crystal clear subtext. The speech leaves little doubt that Washington wants to expedite regime change. The US may have forgotten that Washington toppled Iran's first democratic government back in 1953, replacing it with the Shah's dictatorship — but the Iranians haven't.

Hardliners strengthen hardliners

The EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, has declared, correctly, that the nuclear deal was never meant to clarify every single controversial matter in relations with Iran. Most of all, Pompeo's speech didn't have a word on how the unilateral termination of the nuclear deal is supposed to make the region safer, and how it aims to increase pressure on Tehran.

Read moreIran deal: The European Union's ugly options 

One thing is clear: the hardliners in Washington are strengthening the hardliners in Tehran. Before it could even take effect in Iran, Washington gave up on "change through rapprochement," a concept Germany successfully adhered to during the Cold War. And if a reminder were needed: Trump's sabotage of the JCPOA denied Iran dividends of the deal from the start.

Europe faces tough decisions: Washington demands loyalty for policies deemed erroneous by European leaders. Should Europe stay true to itself and its convictions, the transatlantic gap will widen and Brussels will move closer to Moscow and Beijing, the other nuclear deal signatories. However, there are worries, that in the long run, Washington will use a subtle game of "divide and conquer" to dissemble the unity Europeans currently display. And, lest it forgets, the EU has little to offer in response to American pressure on European companies concerning sanctions on Iran.