June 25, 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C.: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he wants to build a global coalition against Iran during urgent consultations in the Middle East, following a week of crisis that saw the United States pull back from the brink of a military strike on Iran.
Pompeo spoke Sunday (Monday in Manila) as he left Washington for Saudi Arabia, followed by the United Arab Emirates, Sunni Arab allies that are alarmed by Shiite Iran’s increasing assertiveness and are working to limit its influence in the region.
His stops in Jeddah and Abu Dhabi were hastily arranged late last week as additions to a trip to India from where he will join President Donald Trump in Japan and South Korea.
But they were not announced until immediately before his departure in a sign of fast-moving and unpredictable developments.
“We’ll be talking with them about how to make sure that we are all strategically aligned, and how we can build out a global coalition, a coalition not only throughout the Gulf states, but in Asia and in Europe, that understands this challenge as it is prepared to push back against the world’s largest state sponsor of terror,” Pompeo said about Iran.
But, even as Pompeo delivered his tough talk, he echoed Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in saying the US is prepared to negotiate with Iran, without preconditions, in a bid to ease tensions.
Those tensions have been mounting since Trump last year withdrew the US from a global nuclear deal with Iran and began pressuring Tehran with economic sanctions. A fresh round of Iran sanctions is to be announced Monday in a bid to force the Iranian leadership into talks.
“They know precisely how to find us,” Pompeo said.
It was a week of topsy-turvy pronouncements on US policy toward Iran that careened between the bellicose, the conciliatory and back again after Iran shot down an American military drone and boasted it would not bow to Washington’s pressure.
Trump initially said Iran had made a “very big mistake” and that it was “hard to believe” that shooting down the drone on Thursday was not intentional. He later said he thought it was an unintentional act carried out by a “loose and stupid” Iranian and called off retaliatory military strikes against Iran. On Saturday, Trump reversed himself and claimed that Iran had acted “knowingly.”
But Trump also said over the weekend that he appreciated Iran’s decision to not shoot down a manned US spy plane, and he opined about eventually becoming Iran’s “best friend” if Tehran ultimately agrees to abandon its drive to build nuclear weapons and he helps the country turn around its crippled economy.
Then Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton stepped in Sunday with a blunt warning from Jerusalem, where he was traveling.
Bolton said Iran should not “mistake US prudence and discretion for weakness” after Trump called off the military strike. Trump said he backed away from the planned strikes after learning that about 150 people would be killed, but he said the military option remained.
In a related development, Iran said Monday that no cyberattack against the Islamic republic has ever succeeded, after American media reported the US launched one last week amid a standoff between the two countries.
“The media are asking about the veracity of the alleged cyberattack against Iran. No successful attack has been carried out by them, although they are making a lot of effort,” telecommunications minister Mohammad Javad Azarari Jahromi said on Twitter without referring to any US attack.
US media on Saturday said Washington launched cyber attacks against Iranian missile control systems and a spy network this week after Tehran downed an American surveillance drone.
The Washington Post said after the drone shooting, Trump authorized US Cyber Command to carry out a retaliatory cyber attack on Iran.
The attack crippled computers used to control rocket and missile launches, but caused no casualties, according to the Post, which cited people familiar with the matter.
Yahoo cited two former intelligence officials as saying the US targeted a spying group responsible for tracking ships in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
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