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Secretary Of State Pompeo Announces Creation Of Iran Action Group


The Iran Action Group - that's what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is calling a team he's just formed. Its purpose - to counter what Pompeo sees as Iran's nefarious behavior in the Middle East. This is the Trump administration's latest effort to apply pressure on that country after the U.S. pulled out of the deal that had placed limits on Iran's nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. NPR's Michele Kelemen has more on the announcement at the State Department today.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Three months after President Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, Secretary of State Pompeo is beefing up his team in hopes of building up more economic and financial pressure on Iran.


MIKE POMPEO: Our hope is that one day soon we can reach a new agreement with Iran, but we must see major changes in the regime's behavior, both inside and outside of its borders. The Iranian people and the world are demanding that Iran finally act like a normal nation.

KELEMEN: He's putting Brian Hook in charge of an interagency team. Up to now, Hook has been policy planning director and was the diplomat who tried to work with the Europeans, who were parties to the nuclear deal, to fix it before Trump pulled out. Now Hook will need some of those same countries to work with him.


BRIAN HOOK: When you look at the range of Iranian threats, especially around missiles and cyber, maritime aggression, terrorism, these are concerns of other nations. The United States is not alone in that regard. And I find that when we sit down and talk with other nations, there are shared interests that we're able to pursue, and we'll continue doing it.

KELEMEN: The ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, has his doubts. While he was no fan of the nuclear deal, Menendez argues it was a mistake to walk away alone without a strategy. And he's worried that the administration's trade wars with allies will get in the way.


ROBERT MENENDEZ: It's a little difficult when you slap tariffs on your closest allies and when you walk away without engaging them in a process that will bring you multilateralized efforts.

KELEMEN: Senator Menendez was speaking at the nomination hearing for a high-ranking foreign service officer, David Hale, who agrees that the U.S. needs to build what Hale calls a web of allies to maximize financial and diplomatic pressure on Iran. For now, the other signatories of the Iran nuclear deal - the Europeans, Russia and China - say it's working to limit Iran's nuclear program, and they're trying to salvage it. The Trump administration, though, is reimposing sanctions and trying to get countries around the world to stop buying Iranian oil by November. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.