One day after the State Department confirmed to Congress that Iran is abiding by the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran nuclear deal), Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made forceful remarks about Iran’s wider regional meddling. The BBC:
The US secretary of state has accused Iran of “alarming ongoing provocations” aimed at destabilising the Middle East and undermining America’s interests.
“An unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea and to take the world along with it,” Rex Tillerson said.
The US has ordered a review of the Iran nuclear deal, although it admits Iran is complying with its commitments.
Tillerson’s statement went on to describe some of those provocations, including support for terrorism, interference in Iraq, backing the Assad regime in Syria, support for the Houthis in Yemen, harassment of U.S. navy ships in the Persian Gulf, and cyber-attacks against U.S. interests and allies.
The “comprehensive review of…Iran policy” that Tillerson is describing points towards a U.S. strategy that recognizes the non-nuclear issues at stake. The nuclear deal granted Iran a number of short term strategic advantages in exchange for compliance on the nuclear issue, and the Obama administration was willing to accept the separation of the nuclear issue from Iran’s other activities in order to get the deal signed and subsequently was unwilling to confront Iran in its pursuit of regional hegemony for fear of undermining the deal. From what we’ve seen of how this Administration is approaching the world, the “comprehensive review” likely will take steps to change that calculus.
And more than likely, the Trump Administration’s response to Iranian meddling will lean towards kinetic action, as opposed to hoping to somehow re-impose sanctions while the world is busy opening its doors to Iran’s beleaguered economy. We’ve already seen Trump launch the first U.S. strikes against the Russo-Iranian proxy the Assad regime. While he’s since distanced himself from the suggestion, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster reportedly favors a much larger U.S. troop presence in Syria. Secretary Mattis met with the Saudis this week ahead of a planned Saudi/UAE assault on the Houthi-controlled Red Sea port of Hodeidah. While Mattis publicly stated that the U.S. seeks a diplomatic solution in Yemen, privately he has advocated for greater U.S. support to the Saudi-led coalition and has long-warned of the threat that Iran’s non-nuclear activities pose to U.S. interests. Mattis’ agenda in Israel, where he’ll land Friday morning, is reported to be “Iran, Iran, Iran.”
This will all come as welcome news for American allies across the region who finally have an administration that sees the Iranian threat the way they do—and is willing to do something about it.