U.S. Secretary of State names special representative for Iran

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has named Brian Hook as the new "special representative" for Iran, who will head up an 'Iran Action Group'.

Ever since U.S. sanctions on Iran were reactivated on August 7, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has been struggling to balance Iraq's relations between the United States and Iran so as not to lose either of them as a supportive ally.

Hook, accusing Iran of being "a force for instability and violence", said he would also keep the door open to talks but made clear that U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran both economically and diplomatically would not end until its leadership changed policies.

Hook is expected to be replaced as policy planning chief by Kiron Skinner, a foreign policy academic and adviser to several Republican presidential candidates who served on Mr. Trump's national security transition team and very briefly at the State Department after Trump took office, according to the officials who were not authorized to publicly discuss personnel matters and spoke on condition of anonymity. "You know our concerns about Iran and about trading with Iran, and we will continue to hold countries accountable for any violation of sanctions", Nauert replied.

"We are prepared to impose secondary sanctions on other governments that continue this sort of trade with Iran".

Hook said the timing was "pure coincidence" and rejected comparisons between the Iran group and an earlier State Department initiative known as the "Future of Iraq Project" that was undertaken when U.S. policy was to promote the downfall of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Back in May, the U.S. withdrew from a 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran and said it would re-introduce the sanctions that had been lifted under the accord.


Pompeo further said that the goal of these sanctions was to get Iran to stop supporting the ill- governance and uprisings in the Middle-East, adding that "enormous change" was required by the Iranian government to break free of the U.S. sanctions. "But we must see major changes in the regime's behavior both inside and outside its borders".

When AP's Matt Lee noted that the announcement of the Iran Action Group is taking place on the anniversary of the 1953 US-backed coup, and asked if this suggested "regime change", Hook responded that the timing is "pure coincidence" and that the IAG is aimed at "changing the Iranian regime's behavior".

Overall, he said, the new team will concentrate on implementing the policy outlined by Pompeo in a speech in May.

The strategy is similar to the administration's policy on North Korea, where Trump sat down with leader Kim Jong Un but has continued stringent sanctions against that country.

Harvard scholar and Iranian-affairs expert Majid Rafizadeh said the regime in Tehran is in deep trouble at home as the sanctions, which came into effect last week, are working.

The secretary of state and former Central Intelligence Agency director also accused several members of Iran's leadership, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, of participating in widespread corruption.

US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement, and the initial round of reimposed sanctions, has already impacted the Iranian economy and exacerbated popular unrest there. He added, "The Iranian people and the world are demanding that Iran finally act like a normal nation". Companies from France, Britain and Germany, all remaining signatories to the agreement, have withdrawn their investments in Iran, fearing problems with the United States, although Russian Federation and China, who also signed, have said they will remain active in the Iranian economy.

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