WASHINGTON – The Trump administration has launched a “maximum pressure campaign” targeting the Iranian government, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, in an effort to collapse the regime and its economy in support of a disempowered Iranian people.

Speaking at the Reagan Presidential Library in California on Sunday, Pompeo sought to appeal to the diaspora of Iranians that had fled the country after the 1979 revolution. He claimed that President Donald Trump is “willing to talk to the regime in Tehran” if it shows signs of change. But no signs are forthcoming, he said.

“The mission set for our team is clear,” Pompeo told gathered guests, including selectively invited Iranian Americans, donors, senators and congressmen: The administration will pursue a “diplomatic and economic pressure campaign” that will support the “shoots of liberty” growing through Iran’s rocky soil.

It was the secretary’s second major speech on the topic of Iran, following the first major foreign policy speech of his tenure, on the path forward on Iran policy after Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement in May.

That decision, Pompeo said, has freed the US to reimpose crushing financial sanctions on the regime – and on those doing business with it. He repeated on Sunday that the administration seeks to force Iranian crude exports “as close to zero as possible by November 4,” when the harshest US sanctions lifted by the 2015 nuclear accord snap back into place.

Earlier in the day, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, warned that Trump’s efforts to pressure the regime were tantamount to a war cry – and that “war with Iran would be the mother of all wars.” But Pompeo hit back several times on Sunday night with biting language on the regime leadership, characterizing them as “hypocritical holy men” operating secret hedge funds “driven by a desire to conform all of the Iranian society to the tenets of the Iranian revolution.

“Fighting the United States and destroying are at the heart of the regime’s philosophy,” he said, questioning whether “statesmen or moderates” have any place in the current government. “It’s like an Iranian unicorn,” he quipped, calling the leadership – including Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, “polished frontmen for the ayatollah’s international con-artistry.”

He called them wolves in sheep’s clothing that dispatched “intolerant, black-robed enforcers” in the streets to enforce their rule. And yet he said the US was monitoring the most enduring protest moving across the country that it had seen since 1979, when the country’s Islamist mullahs took power.

“Iranians want to be governed with dignity, accountability and respect,” he said. “A constitution that enshrines the export of Iranian revolution is not normal.”

Thus the administration would work to support grassroots protests in the country, Pompeo said, in part by targeting the people with US government broadcasts and by offering Iranians tools to circumvent Iranian government censors of the Internet.
Already, supporters of the regime likened that effort to foreign campaigns to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election, spreading the hashtag #StopMeddlingInIran on Twitter.

And domestic critics of the administration, including veteran diplomats behind the 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran, were quick to criticize the speech.

Pompeo’s words “were meant to assure the Iranian diaspora that the Trump administration stands with the Iranian people,” said Diplomacy Works, an organization that campaigns for the preservation of the nuclear accord. “Instead of providing reassurance, however, his speech only underscores the counterproductive nature of this administration’s Iran strategy and parallels efforts by the G. W. Bush administration to prepare for war in Iraq by exploiting the voices of exiled Iraqis to validate their destabilizing plan.
“Data show that the sanctions regime this administration plans to impose following the president’s decision to violate the [Iran deal] will hurt the Iranian people – the very people Secretary Pompeo routinely promised to protect – far more than it will impact the IRGC or the government of Iran,” the statement continued.