LONDON — The U.S. is not pursuing a policy regime change in Iran, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who says the Trump administration is committed to a strategy of applying economic pressure to get the Islamic republic’s existing leadership to “behave like a normal nation.”
“The administration has been unambiguous,” Mr. Pompeo said when pressed with the regime change question in an interview with The Washington Times this week as he rounded out a visit to Europe, where frustration over Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal hung in the backdrop.
“You can ask us another 50 times,” Mr. Pompeo said on Tuesday. “The objectives are to change the behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran. … No terror around the world, no expeditionary terror around the world, put your missile program back inside a set of constraints that had been identified in U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 and … have a permanent commitment not to develop your nuclear program.”
The secretary of state’s reference to Resolution 2231 — the Security Council motion that brought the Obama-era nuclear deal into force between Iran, the U.S. and other world powers, including Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — underscored the Trump administration’s view that Tehran had violated the deal with a series of ballistic missiles tests over the past four years.
The Security Council resolution states outright: “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”
European leaders have also criticized Iran’s missile tests, but have sought to keep the nuclear deal alive despite Mr. Trump’s decision to pull out of it last year and begin imposing a widening slate of sanctions on Iran that analysts say are biting the Islamic republic’s economy.
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A recent military escalation between the U.S. and Iran has put Europe on edge, meanwhile, with some leaders claiming Washington is being led into dangerous brinkmanship by hawkish National Security Adviser John R. Bolton, a longtime former advocate of regime change.
While Mr. Bolton was known prior to joining the administration for giving fiery speeches in favor of the National Council of Resistance of Iran — an Iranian exile organization that advocates for regime change — he publicly shifted his position last year, saying the U.S. is not seeking to topple the government in Tehran but wants it to change its behavior.
Despite the recent escalation in tensions, Mr. Trump has said he seeks dialogue with Iran and without preconditions. Mr. Pompeo echoed the message on a stop in Switzerland this week, but stressed the administration will continue to increase pressure on the Islamic republic unless it ends its “malign activity” around the world, including its support for Hezbollah.
Administration officials say their goal is to negotiate a new deal with Iran that would address not just nuclear weapons, but Tehran’s support for proxy militias in places like Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
As for the regime change question, Mr. Pompeo told The Times the administration’s position is “pretty straightforward.”
“The Iranian people will choose who the leadership is,” he said. “We’ve been very clear about this.”