This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he would be willing to go to Tehran to address the Iranian people and explain how their leaders’ actions have “harmed” their country.
“Sure, if that’s the call, [I’ll] happily go there,” Pompeo told Bloomberg Television on July 25 in a wide-ranging interview that also addressed the North Korea crisis and Turkey’s purchase of a Russian missile system.
“I’d like a chance to go [to Tehran], not do propaganda but speak the truth to the Iranian people about what it is their leadership has done and how it has harmed Iran,” he said.
Pompeo said that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is often able to communicate with the American people during trips to New York to visit the United Nations.
However, Pompeo appeared to ridicule Zarif’s lack of influence in Iranian policy matters, saying that is left to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
“Foreign Minister Zarif is no more in charge of what’s going on in Iran than a man in the moon,” Pompeo said.
“At the end of the day, this is driven by the ayatollah. He will be the ultimate decision-maker here.”
Tensions have surged between Washington and Tehran since U.S. President Donald Trump last year withdrew from a landmark international deal under which Iran scaled back its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Since Trump reimposed sanctions against Iran, the country’s economy has taken a substantial hit and its currency has plummeted in value.
Pompeo said Washington is “trying to apply sufficient pressure to show [Iranian leaders] that the cost just isn’t worth it, to convince them that if they simply behave like a normal nation that the Iranian people can live normal lives.”
Incidents in and around the Strait of Hormuz off Iran — one of the world’s key waterways — has intensified tensions further, leading to concerns by some observers of a possible armed conflict.
Trump has driven up the rhetoric against Tehran while at the same time suggested he might be willing to talk to Iranian leaders. Iran has said it would not engage in negotiations until Washington lifts its crippling sanctions.
Tehran has rejected accusations that it or its proxies have been involved in attacks on vessels in and around the Persian Gulf and has blamed the United States for ramping up tensions.
Turkey’s Air-Defense System
Meanwhile, Pompeo urged Turkey to not make operational the S-400 air-defense system that it purchased from Russia.
U.S. and NATO military officials have long opposed Turkey’s involvement with the S-400, saying it is incompatible with the transatlantic military alliance’s systems and would endanger NATO warplanes.
Ankara refused to cancel the purchase and has begun taking delivery of parts related to the missile system.
Washington said a purchase would automatically require it to set sanctions and said it would block Turkey’s order of more than 100 F-35 stealth fighters.
“There could be more sanctions to follow, but frankly what we’d really like is for the S-400 not to become operational,” Pompeo told Bloomberg.
Pompeo also said the door to diplomacy was still open with North Korea, despite its launch early on July 25 of two missiles into the sea.
It was Pyongyang’s first projectile launch in more than two months since Trump and leader Kim Jong Un agreed to renew denuclearization talks.
“Everybody tries to get ready for negotiations and create leverage and create risk for the other side,” Pompeo said.
“We remain convinced that there’s a diplomatic way forward, a negotiated solution to this.”