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New Trump strategy makes Iran choose between economy and U.S. demands

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo painted Iran's government as the source of Middle East instability in a speech and laid out a new strategy that targets Iran's economy. Pompeo said if Iran gave into 12 fundamental demands, the U.S. would offer Iran a sweeping new relationship with economic support and full diplomatic normalization. Nick Schifrin talks with State Department official Brian Hook.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    But first, two weeks ago, President Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, which limited the Islamic republic's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

    Today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unveiled the administration's new Iran strategy.

    Here's foreign affairs and defense correspondent Nick Schifrin.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In his first major speech as secretary of state, Mike Pompeo painted Iran's government as the source of Middle East instability.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    The regime reaps a harvest of suffering and death in the Middle East, at the expense of its own citizens.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The new strategy targets Iran's economy. The Trump administration believes reimposing sanctions will cripple Iran's finances, so it can't afford its nuclear program or its support regional proxy groups.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    Iran will be forced to make a choice, either fight to keep its economy off life support at home, or keep squandering precious wealth on fights abroad. It will not have the resources to do both.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Targeting Iran's economy could end up targeting European companies that sell Iran products, like aircraft manufacturer Airbus, French oil company Total, and French automaker Peugeot.

    Pompeo said the U.S. would not be swayed if U.S. policy hurt economic interests.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    I know that they may decide to try and keep their old nuclear deal going with Tehran. That is certainly their decision to make. They know where we stand.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The strategy also calls for the U.S. military to counter small Iranian boats that threaten U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf and Hezbollah fighters based in Lebanon and Syria.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    We will track down Iranian operatives and their Hezbollah proxies operating around the world, and we will crush them.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The U.S. also wants to increase internal pressure on the Iranian regime. Pompeo said the U.S. — quote — "stood with" anti-government protesters, who, like some in the administration, have called for the overthrow of the Iranian regime.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    We hope, indeed, we expect, that the Iranian regime will come to its senses and support, not suppress, the aspirations of its own citizens.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And Pompeo said, if Iran gave into 12 fundamental demands, permanently abandoning the nuclear program, ending the missile program, ending support of proxy groups, the U.S. would offer Iran a sweeping new relationship with economic support and full diplomatic normalization.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    It is America's hope that our labors toward peace and security will bear fruit for the long-suffering people of Iran.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And joining me now is Brian Hook, who helped develop the policy on Iran. He is the senior policy adviser to the secretary of state and the director of policy planning.

    Earlier this month, he was in Pyongyang, ahead of the planned summit with Kim Jong-un, and he also led negotiations with the Europeans ahead of the president's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

    And, Brian Hook, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

  • Brian Hook:

    Thanks. Good to be here again.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thanks very much.

    We just heard from Secretary Pompeo the list of 12 demands. Now, I talked to some people today who criticized some of the speech. They talked about it as magical thinking, ultimatums, not diplomacy, dead on arrival.

    This seems to be a wholesale transformation of Iranian policy. Are those demands dead on arrival?

  • Brian Hook:

    No, the list of 12 demands that Secretary Pompeo laid out today have been agreed to at one time or another by our European allies.

    If you were to break down this list into categories, it's around ending Iran's nuclear program, so that they can't enrich. It's denying them the ability to support terrorism, to fund proxy wars, to destabilize other countries, to detain citizens arbitrarily.

    These — this whole list of 12, a lot of it grew out of our negotiations with our European allies, and these are all very reasonable demands.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The speech specifically mentions the Iranian people multiple times. And at one point, Secretary Pompeo said: "It is up to the Iranian people to make this change quickly. If it doesn't happen, then we will continue the U.S. pressure on Iran."

    Is the goal, therefore, actually either for the Iranian people to overthrow their own government, or for the U.S. somehow to get some kind of regime change?

  • Brian Hook:

    We are looking for a change in the behavior of the Iranian regime. And if they can change their conduct in a number of the key areas that Secretary Pompeo outlined, there can be a much better future for the Iranian people.

    And the United States is prepared to enter into an entirely new relationship with Iran, one that completely lifts all of the sanctions, that has full diplomatic ties, that welcomes Iran into the global economy.

    But they can't do that if they are — if they still intend to acquire a nuclear weapon, if they want to destabilize and stoke violence and instability across the Middle East, and violate the human rights of their own people.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    How do you get China, Russian, and the Europeans to create the same economic pressure on Iran that existed in 2013 today, when it's not clear they're willing to do that?

  • Brian Hook:

    Well, it's very early. We have just started this process.

    And so the plan is to continue working with our allies, as we have been over the last few months, to create a new security architecture.

    And, as that process unfolds, you will see more countries entering into those discussions. And we — we're very hopeful about the diplomacy ahead. We think that, over time, as we work for a new and better deal, that we will have more countries supporting us.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Secretary Pompeo today talked about trying to get a new deal that would be a treaty in the U.S. Senate with Iran. Does the U.S. want a treaty with Kim Jong-un that would be confirmed by the Senate?

  • Brian Hook:

    We are very open to a treaty with North Korea.

    The president has talked about a very bright future for the North Korean people, if the regime can end its nuclear missile program, among other things. But we are open to a treaty relationship with North Korea under the right conditions.

    And, as Secretary Pompeo has said, we're also open to a treaty relationship with Iran, again, under the right conditions. But we're trying to set forth a very positive and hopeful vision for the North Korean people and for the Iranian people.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The national security adviser, John Bolton, brought up Libya when talking about Kim Jong-un. He talked about the Libya model, referring to 2003 efforts to try and get Libya to denuclearize.

    But, of course, Gadhafi, the head of Libya, ended up dead in a ditch a few years later. Was it not understandable that Kim Jong-un might hear the words Libya model and think, oh, this isn't going to end well for me?

  • Brian Hook:

    I think what we're trying to accomplish there about the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea, that's our objective.

    And there's a lot of different ways to describe achieving denuclearization. Libya made the decision to get rid of its nuclear weapons. You have also had South Africa get rid of its nuclear weapons. A number of countries have decided that the cost-benefit of having a nuclear program just isn't there.

    And so we are very focused on creating a framework where it's in North Korea's interest to denuclearize. And we are ready to discuss a range of benefits for North Korea, if they are willing to denuclearize.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    How do you convince Kim Jong-un that denuclearization doesn't end up with his death, if you're going to bring up Libya?

  • Brian Hook:

    Well, Secretary Pompeo has now met with Kim Jong-un twice.

    And I think it's — that's really been the center of the discussions, have been those two people to date. Those have been very good meetings.

    And I think that they are doing a good job to create the right kind of positive framework, so that President Trump and Kim Jong-un can have a very productive meeting in Singapore.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    There is some doubt within the administration about the summit that's scheduled for a few weeks from now.

    And I'm wondering what's changed, because you were in Pyongyang meeting with Kim Jong-un, with Secretary Pompeo. And you received some reassurance about what North Korea sees as denuclearization.

    So, what's changed to create the doubts about this summit today?

  • Brian Hook:

    I think we did have very good discussions in North Korea.

    And the purpose of that trip was to set the table for the discussion between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Is there a chance this summit might not happen?

  • Brian Hook:

    I'm always hopeful on diplomacy. And we're going to keep at it until we get to June 12.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Brian Hook, thank you very much.

  • Brian Hook:

    Thank you.

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