In two interviews, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emphasized that U.S. sanctions are aimed at changing the Iranian government’s behavior. “Our aim is not to harm the Iranian people, but to change the behavior, the malign activity of this regime,” he told Laura Ingraham on October 31. On November 5, the United States will re-impose sanctions on Iran's energy and shipping sectors, as well as transactions by foreign financial institutions with Iran's Central Bank. Iran had received relief from such sanctions under the 2015 nuclear deal. President Trump, however, withdrew the United States from the agreement in May 2018. In August, the administration imposed a first wave of sanctions on Iran’s automotive sector and on its trade in gold and precious metals, as well as sanctions related to its currency, the rial.
On October 29, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned that “the Americans will have a bigger problem on their hands” if they convince China and India to not buy Iranian oil. Zarif did not elaborate. “As President Trump said, I want to keep him guessing,” he told CBS News. Pompeo said it was difficult to know what Zarif had in mind, but that it was “not the first time Mr. Zarif has made threats against the United States.” The following are excerpted remarks by Pompeo.
QUESTION: Today is an important day in U.S.-Iranian relations. Tell us why.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So we are now just a handful of days from all of the sanctions that the previous administration had relieved against Iran snapping back, coming back into effect, and it’s having a real impact on the Iranian leadership. This is important. The Iranians are – just yesterday or the day before, Denmark announced that Iran had plotted an assassination attack in their country. Same has happened in France and Albania. They are the world’s largest state sponsor of terror and they are squandering the people’s money, the Iranian people’s money, on these silly malign activities. And our effort is to get them to change that behavior.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, let’s talk about what you just glazed over, an assassination attempt inside Denmark and now the Danes are asking for the European Union to take action. Could you tell us more about this?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So that’s right. So an Iranian intelligence officer was in Denmark seeking to conduct an assassination attempt inside of Europe on the EU’s soil. This is the third effort of just recent times. There’s a long history of this. We talk about assassinations around the world. The Iranians are the leading actor conducting these assassination attempts in Europe and that kind of behavior needs to stop, and we have offered our support and effort to help the Europeans in preventing these kinds of assassination attempts from taking place.
QUESTION: So back to what led to the JCPOA, which is an agreement the President promised to rip up that you didn’t like when you were congressman and now it’s gone. Now, there was no obvious breach of this agreement according to the United Nations by the Iranians, but this time it’s harder for you because the deal was done, the Russians were on board with the sanctions, as were the Chinese, as was the European Union. But now once they signed onto this, they’re reluctant to sign off of this. How hard a job has it been to try to get, number one, our allies of the EU to step away with us?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So, so far, Brian, the Europeans have stayed in the deal. They’ve taken a fundamentally different position than ours. But we talk to them nearly every day. We’re working with them to explain things like what just happened in Denmark yesterday and why we have to have a completely different policy with respect to Iran. The problems – and the President has talked about this at great length – the challenge of the worst deal ever was that it didn’t address Iranian missile programs, it didn’t address Iranian terror, it did none of those things. And you can see the fruits of that today where Iran is running rampant in Syria and in Iraq and in other places in the Middle East. That’s the reason that the JCPOA made no sense and the reason President Trump made the bold decision to withdraw from it.
QUESTION: So the Iranian foreign minister was on CBS, Mohammad Zarif, and he’s got a problem with this – with the Trump administration and you. Cut one. (An audio clip was played)
QUESTION: So what do you think he’s talking about?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Boy, it’s difficult to know. We know this: This is not the first time that Mr. Zarif has made threats against the United States. President Trump has been unambiguous that we will defend American interests all around the world, and that what we’re looking for is Iran to become a normal nation. We’re not asking for much, Brian, right? We’re asking the same thing of Iran that we ask for every nation. Don’t cause trouble, don’t commit terror acts around the world, don’t engage in this kind of malign activity.
We are hopeful that Zarif’s boss, the ayatollah, the man who actually makes all the decisions – it’s not Mr. Zarif, it’s the ayatollah – that the ayatollah will see the error of his ways and will come to understand that it’s in Iran’s best interest to change the nature of the activities that Iran is conducting all around the world and become a normal nation.
When they do, President Trump’s made very clear we’re happy to talk with the Iranians and bring them back into the community of nations, but they’ve got to do about a dozen things, simple things like stop launching missiles into airports in the Middle East, before such things – such a thing can take place.
QUESTION: Any indication – have they reached out to you guys at all that they might be willing to talk at any level?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve seen no indications of any change in their behavior, Brian. None at all.
—Oct. 31, 2018, in an interview with Brian Kilmeade of The Brian Kilmeade Show
QUESTION: So what do you make of that comment from the foreign minister?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So it’s not the first time that Mr. Zarif has made these kinds of threats, but the real decision-making there isn’t him, it’s the ayatollah. That’s who our counterparty is. That’s who is making all of these decisions. You referred to the assassination attempts all throughout Europe. They’re not just the couple from these past months, this has been going on for some time. They’re the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. We saw that their nuclear program continues to present risk to the United States. That’s why the President made the right decision withdrawing from the JCPOA. We ask for one simple thing, right? We want the Islamic Republic of Iran to behave like a normal nation. If they’ll do that, we’re happy to allow them to enter the community of nations, but we have to continue to apply pressure. On Monday on the week ahead, we will put back in place sanctions that will be very severe on the leadership of Iran, and we hope that that will convince them to change their ways.
QUESTION: So right now the Europeans – there’s developing persistence, split in opinion on what to do with this Iranian menace. Where is Germany today given the fact that Merkel is out as her party leader? She’s in her last term. Clearly, opposition forces in Germany, more populist anti-migration political elements.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Laura, so far the German Government has not changed its position. It still wants to stay inside of the JCPOA, but nearly every German company – folks with real money at risk – made the opposite decision. They have fled. They have left. They have decided they are not going to run through the Iranian sanctions that President Trump will put back in place on Monday. And there are other countries in Europe who are with us, and I am convinced that over time all of the European countries will come to see that Iran is indeed the force creating instability in the Middle East and that we must apply all possible pressure to push back against that to fix it.
QUESTION: So the sanctions go in place on Monday, correct?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, ma’am, Monday.
QUESTION: Okay. And they’ll feel them immediately or will it take a little time to settle in?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So, Laura, they’re already feeling them. But as the days go on, the pressure will increase. We will substantially drop the amount of crude oil, their primary revenue source, that they can ship around the world. Treasury will put back in place sanctions on financial institutions there. And we hope that the sanctions we put on individuals and in other places will convince the leadership. We want the Iranian people to be successful. We want this to be a successful country. We want to restore democracy there. We think the Iranian people want that same thing. And so our aim is not to harm the Iranian people, but to change the behavior, the malign activity of this regime.
—Oct. 31, 2018, in an interview with Laura Ingraham of The Laura Ingraham Show