Fri, May 11, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Pompeo to pursue talks with allies on Iran

NEW DEAL:A senior US Department of State official said discussions would focus on how to pressure Tehran in a ‘constructive and conducive’ way to re-enter negotiations

Reuters, WASHINGTON

Immediately on returning from North Korea yesterday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was to embark on talks with allies in Europe, the Middle East and Asia to try to persuade them to press Iran to curb its nuclear and missile programs, US officials said.

The open question is whether the allies, and above all Iran, will agree to resume full-fledged talks having just seen the US withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and renege on its promises under the landmark arms control accord.

The US hope is that Iran will be dragged to the table by the resumption of US sanctions — and possibly the imposition of more — which would penalize European and other companies, and likely cripple Iran’s oil-driven economy.

A senior US Department of State official said discussions with Britain, France and Germany, as well as Japan, Iraq and Israel, on the next steps had already taken place since US President Donald Trump on Tuesday pulled out of the nuclear pact.

“There will be an effort to go out globally and talk to our partners around the world who share our interests. That is the first stage,” the official said of plans for talks by Pompeo and his chief Iran negotiator, department Director of Policy Planning Brian Hook.

“The composition of what happens when we sit down with the Iranians is several stages out,” the official said, adding that talks would focus on how to raise pressure on Iran “in a way that is constructive and conducive to bringing them to the negotiating table.”

Trump’s decision opens the door to greater US confrontation with Tehran and strains relations with Washington’s closest allies, current and former diplomats said.

Washington has given grace periods of 90 days to six months for companies to wind down their trade with Iran. Some allies, like France, are likely to push for exemptions from US sanctions to protect their companies.

Even though companies can seek US Department of the Treasury licenses to continue operating in Iran beyond the deadlines, the threat of US sanctions would likely force them out, experts said.

Companies would also have to assess whether they could face revived secondary sanctions, which would target sectors of the Iranian economy, including energy, petrochemicals, shipping, financial and banking, experts said.

“The goal is ultimately to reach a point where we sit down with the Iranians and negotiate a new deal, but I don’t think we’re at that point today, or will be tomorrow,” the official said. “The ultimate goal is to lay the groundwork for getting everyone back to the table and negotiating a new deal.”

Several US officials have acknowledged that there is no “Plan B” if Washington cannot win the support of allies — and Iran — to negotiate a new expanded agreement, which would end Iran’s nuclear program, restrain its ballistic missiles program and curb its support for groups in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq.

“The goal is to prevent Iran from ever developing or acquiring a nuclear weapon, and the detail beyond that is something we are going to have to flesh out,” the official said.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs William Peek denied the pressure campaign aimed to force regime change in Iran.

“No, we are trying to change the regime’s behavior,” Peek told reporters on a conference call, adding that Washington would use diplomacy to convince allies to follow the US’ sanctions lead.

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