US not afraid to tackle Iran regime at 'highest level' says Mike Pompeo; calls country's religious leaders 'hypocritical holy men'

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday said that the United States is not "afraid to tackle" Iranian officials with sanctions at the "highest level" of its government. Pompeo, in his speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum also called the religious leaders of Iran "hypocritical holy men" who amassed vast sums of wealth while allowing their people to suffer.

Following the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord that stunned even Washington's closest European allies, Pompeo on 21 May unveiled a "new strategy" intended to force Iran to yield to a dozen stringent demands. "We weren't afraid to tackle the regime at its highest level," Pompeo said, referring to sanctions levelled in January against Sadeq Larijani, the head of Iran's judiciary.

 US not afraid to tackle Iran regime at highest level says Mike Pompeo; calls countrys religious leaders hypocritical holy men

File image of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. AP.

He also confirmed that Washington wants all countries to reduce their imports of Iranian oil "as close to zero as possible" by 4 November, part of US efforts to increase economic pressure on Tehran. "There's more to come," Pompeo said.

US president Donald Trump on 8 May decided to restore all the sanctions that had been lifted as part of a multi-national agreement, signed on to by former president Barack Obama's administration, in exchange for curbs on Iran's nuclear programme. "Regime leaders — especially those at the top of the IRGC and the Quds Force like Qasem Soleimani — must be made to feel painful consequences of their bad decision making," the top US diplomat said, referring to Iran's special forces and Revolutionary Guards.

Pompeo called the religious leaders of Iran "hypocritical holy men" who amassed vast sums of wealth while allowing their people to suffer, part of a highly critical broadside issued as the republic approached the 40th anniversary of its Islamic revolution and America prepared to reimpose economic sanctions.

"Sometimes it seems the world has become desensitised to the regime's authoritarianism at home and its campaigns of violence abroad, but the proud Iranian people are not staying silent about their government's many abuses," Pompeo said.

"And the United States under President Trump will not stay silent either. In light of these protests and 40 years of regime tyranny, I have a message for the people of Iran: The United States hears you. The United States supports you. The United States is with you," he said. Pompeo castigated Iran's political, judicial and military leaders, too, accusing several by name of participating in widespread corruption.

He also said the government has "heartlessly repressed its own people's human rights, dignity and fundamental freedoms." America's top diplomat was particularly barbed in his remarks about "the Ayatollahs," saying they "are in on the act, too." He said Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi has generated more than USD 100 million for himself in the illicit trade of sugar; that Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani is worth millions after the government transferred several lucrative mines to his foundation; and that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has an off-the-books hedge fund, Setad, worth $95 billion.

"The level of corruption and wealth among regime leaders shows that Iran is run by something that resembles the mafia more than a government," he said. Pompeo's remarks were aimed in part at Iranian-Americans and Iranians living in the US. He assured them that the Trump administration shared their dreams for the people of Iran. He also expressed support for those Iranians who have protested their government's actions and called its response "brutal."

"The specific grievances differ. But all those voicing dissatisfaction share one thing: they have been ill-treated by a Revolutionary regime. Iranians want to be governed with dignity, accountability and respect," he said. Pompeo said the US is undertaking a diplomatic and financial pressure campaign to cut off funds, focusing on reimposing sanctions on its banking and energy sectors. President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal in May and the first sanctions to be reimposed were expected to hit on August 4.

"We are asking every nation, every nation who is sick and tired of the Islamic Republic's destructive behavior to join our pressure campaign. This especially goes for our allies in the Middle East and Europe, people who have themselves been terrorised by the violent regime's activity for decades," he said.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Jul 23, 2018 11:44:09 IST