The U.S. says it is looking for allied support to force Iran into new negotiations over its nuclear weapons development and military advances in the Middle East in the aftermath of President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the 2015 international pact restraining Tehran's nuclear program.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is planning discussions with allies in Europe, the Middle East and Asia in an effort to win their support to pressure Iran to open talks, Reuters reported Thursday. A day earlier, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told a congressional hearing the U.S. would "continue to work alongside our allies and partners to ensure that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon, and will work with others to address the range of Iran's malign influence."
The U.S., according to a senior State Department official, already has started discussions with Britain, France and Germany — three other signatories to the Iran nuclear deal that unsuccessfully lobbied Trump to keep the U.S. in the deal — as well as Japan, Iraq and Israel.
"There will be an effort to go out globally and talk to our partners around the world who share our interests," the official told Reuters. "That is the first stage. The composition of what happens when we sit down with the Iranians is several stages out."
The official said the focus of the talks is to increase pressure on Iran "in a way that is constructive and conducive to bringing them to the negotiating table."
Trump has vowed to soon reimpose economic sanctions against Iran that were ended in 2015 when Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program, and stiffen them in hopes of forcing Iran into new talks. The earlier sanctions had hobbled the Iranian economy, and renewed sanctions could pose more problems.
"Iran will come back and say, 'We don't want to negotiate,'" Trump said Wednesday. "And of course they're going to say that. And if I were in their position, I'd say that, too, for the first couple months: 'We're not going to negotiate.'"
"But they'll negotiate, or something will happen," Trump said. "And hopefully that won't be the case."
The U.S. leader said that if Iran restarts work on nuclear weaponry, there would be a "very severe consequence."
John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, said in an opinion piece Wednesday in The Washington Post that the U.S. believes the Iran deal is a failure because Tehran, with sanctions lifted, used the economic windfall to create military chaos in the Middle East rather than improve the plight of its people.
"Rather than focusing on behaving responsibly, Tehran has poured billions of dollars into military adventures abroad, spreading an arc of death and destruction across the Middle East from Yemen to Syria," Bolton said. "Meanwhile, the Iranian people have suffered at home from a tanking currency, rising inflation, stagnant wages and a spiraling environmental crisis."
Bolton said Trump "has been willing to take unconventional action to turn momentum to America's favor. The Iran deal is not an inescapable trap — it's merely an inadequate deal that couldn't withstand serious scrutiny."