Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is forming a dedicated group to coordinate and run US policy toward Iran as the Trump administration moves ahead with efforts to force changes in the Islamic Republic's behavior after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the group will be responsible for directing, reviewing, and coordinating "all aspects of the State Department's Iran-related activity, and it will report directly to me".
Hook will lead a newly established Iran Action Group to coordinate the State Department's pressure campaign on Iran, Pompeo told a news conference. "But sanctions relief, re-establishment of full diplomatic and commercial relations with the USA and economic cooperation with the USA can only begin after we see the Iranian regime is serious about changing its behavior".
Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, described the announcement as "heavy on accusations and demands, and rather empty on substance", saying it was "not clear what exactly the group would be doing beyond what already has been announced".
"We are committed to a whole-of-government effort to change the Iranian regime's behavior, and the Iran Action Group will ensure that the Department of State remains closely synchronized with our interagency partners", he added.
Brian Hook, a veteran diplomat, will lead the group with the new title of special representative for Iran. He said that the group will be comprised of an "elite team" of foreign affairs professionals at State and across the administration.
"We are prepared to impose secondary sanctions on other governments that continue this sort of trade with Iran".
Trump withdrew the USA from the P5+1 nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in May. It has also in recent weeks stepped up criticism of Iran's human rights record and is working with other nations to curb their imports of Iranian oil. In November, a second round of "snap-back" sanctions will inflict far more pain on Iran by prohibiting all other countries from buying its oil, at the risk of being sanctioned themselves by the United States.
For its part, Tehran has said that the US side is unreliable and it will not talk with Washington. To keep countries from turning away, this month Iran announced it would slash its oil prices for all markets, specifically targeting Asian markets, starting in September.
Earlier this month the United States managed to secure a promise from China that it will not expand its Iranian oil imports, but given the tariff escalation between the two, it's possible that China could revoke this promise.
"The United States certainly hopes for full compliance by all nations in terms of not risking the threat of U.S. secondary sanctions if they continue with those transactions", he said.
The Trump administration's exit from the Iran deal is also creating internal divisions within Iran's leadership.
Trump later offered to speak with Iranian leaders without preconditions in the hope of securing a new U.S.
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.
"More companies and firms are halting their business deals with Iran", he said. "Today this is not the case". He added that Hook will lead an Iran Action Group to "galvanize global support for our efforts".
Hook said that if "the Iranian regime demonstrates a commitment to make fundamental changes in its behavior, then the president is prepared to engage in dialogue in order to find solutions". Pompeo created a similar group dedicated to working on North Korea policy while he was director of the Central Intelligence Agency.