U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reiterated that his country will keep the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf open to maritime traffic, amid high tensions with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In a talk at the Economic Club of Washington D.C. on July 29, Pompeo responded to a question about the U.S. commitment to keep the vital waterway open at any cost militarily, saying, “We are gonna keep it open”, adding, “We are going to build up a maritime security plan. Countries from all across the world who have a vested interest in keeping those waterways open will participate”.
Iran began threatening oil shipping in the Persian Gulf region after the U.S. strengthened its sanctions on Iranian oil exports in May. Multiple tankers were attacked in mysterious circumstances in May and June. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia blamed Tehran for the incidents.
Eventually, Iran shot down a U.S. drone over the Persian Gulf on June 20 and in July seized a British oil tanker, claiming it broke maritime transit rules. There were no military responses in both cases.
Pompeo called on other countries to assist the U.S. in protecting shipping in the region.
But asked if the U.S. will intervene if a third-party ship is seized, Pompeo responded that in the case of the British tanker seized by Iran, Washington is working with London “to find a solution to, A, right that injustice, second, preventing that from happening again, so to establish a deterrence”.
The U.S. has so far acted carefully not to have a military clash with Iran, but that has given an opportunity to Tehran to show its naval muscle in the region.
Pompeo was also asked if there were any direct or indirect contacts with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during his recent trip to New York. The U.S. secretary of state categorically said, “no talks”, adding, “Although he spoke. The American media decided to give him the megaphone to talk about things that are untrue…and lie vociferously to the American people”.
Asked whether U.S. sanctions have a chance to achieve their aim, Pompeo reiterated that the sanctions are part of a broader Middle East policy and the administration decided to “take a 180 degree turn” from the Obama policies, which according to Pompeo gave “opportunities to Iran”. The Trump policy is to reduce Iran’s resources to hinder its interventionist regional activities.
Pompeo underscored that sanctions have been effective and reminded his host that many in Washington were saying unilateral American sanction won’t work, “Well they have worked”, Pompeo quipped.
In responding to another question about when a new agreement with Iran would come about, Pompeo refused to mention a time frame.
Pompeo avoided a direct answer to whether he is concerned about a possible Israeli attack on Iran, as Tehran churns up uranium enrichment based on its new policy of reducing commitments made under the 2015 nuclear agreement.
About enrichment, he said Washington is not concerned about levels of enrichment set out in the nuclear agreement known as JCPOA. What the administration cares about is the time frame in which Iran would be able to build nuclear weapons.