US in drive to stir unrest in Iran, say officials

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani warned his US counterpart against  threatening the Persian Gulf nation's oil exports, claiming that war with Iran would be the "mother of all wars".
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani warned his US counterpart against threatening the Persian Gulf nation's oil exports, claiming that war with Iran would be the "mother of all wars".PHOTO: REUTERS

Campaign said to be working in tandem with Trump's push to throttle Iran economically

WASHINGTON • The Trump administration has launched an offensive of speeches and online communications meant to foment unrest and help pressure Iran to end its nuclear programme and its support of militant groups, US officials familiar with the matter said.

More than half a dozen current and former officials said the campaign, supported by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, is meant to work in concert with US President Donald Trump's push to economically throttle Iran by re-imposing tough sanctions.

The drive has intensified since Mr Trump withdrew on May 8 from a 2015 seven-nation deal to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The current and former officials said the campaign paints Iranian leaders in a harsh light, at times using information that is exaggerated or contradicts other official pronouncements, including comments by previous administrations.

The White House declined comment on the campaign. The State Department also declined to comment on the campaign specifically, including on Mr Pompeo's role.

A senior Iranian official dismissed the campaign, saying the United States had sought in vain to undermine the government since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. He spoke on condition of anonymity. "Their efforts will fail again," the official said.

A review of the State Department's Farsi-language Twitter account and its ShareAmerica website - which describes itself as a platform to spark debate on democracy and other issues - shows a number of posts critical of Teheran over the last month.

Iran is the subject of four of the top five items on the website's "Countering Violent Extremism" section. They include headlines such as "This Iranian airline helps spread violence and terror".

In social media posts and speeches, Mr Pompeo himself also appeals directly to Iranians, the Iranian diaspora and a global audience.

On June 21, Mr Pompeo tweeted out graphics headlined "Protests in Iran are growing", "Iranian people deserve respect for their human rights" and "Iran's revolutionary guard gets rich while Iranian families struggle". The tweets were translated into Farsi and posted on the ShareAmerica website.

Mr Pompeo was yesterday due to give a speech, titled "Supporting Iranian voices", in California and meet Iranian Americans, many of whom fled the Islamic Revolution that toppled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

"Let me be clear, we are not seeking regime change. We are seeking changes in the Iranian government's behaviour," a State Department official said.

"We know we are driving Iran to make some hard choices. Either they can change their ways or find it increasingly difficult to engage in their malign activities," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "And we believe we are offering a very positive vision for what we could achieve and what the Iranian people could have."

 
 

Some of the information the administration has disseminated is incomplete or distorted, the current and former officials said.

Some US officials and other experts cautioned that by fuelling turmoil in Iran, the US administration could foster greater authoritarian rule and a more aggressive foreign policy, raising the threat of a US-Iran confrontation.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani yesterday warned his US counterpart, Mr Trump, not to threaten the Persian Gulf nation's oil exports, saying that war with Iran would be the "mother of all wars".

"No one who really understands politics would say they will block Iran's oil exports, and we have many straits, the Strait of Hormuz is just one of those," Mr Rouhani said, referring to a shipping chokepoint at the mouth of the Gulf, which is a conduit for tankers.

"Mr Trump! We are the honest men who have throughout history guaranteed the safety of this region's waterways," he said. "Do not play with the lion's tail. It will bring regret."

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2018, with the headline 'US in drive to stir unrest in Iran, say officials'. Print Edition | Subscribe