US creates 'Iran Action Group' to up pressure on Tehran
A new high-level team to focus US and international efforts to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran was announced by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday.
The Iran Action Group will drive Washington's "maximum pressure" strategy to change Tehran's behaviour, including potentially sanctioning other countries which trade with the country.
The group will be headed by Brian Hook as the State Department's Special Representative for Iran.
Hook, currently director of policy planning at the State Department, was in charge of the failed effort to get support from US allies for Washington's decision in May to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.
"For nearly 40 years the regime in Tehran has been responsible for a torrent of violence and destabilising behaviour against the United States, our allies, our partners and indeed the Iranian people themselves," said Pompeo.
"Our hope is that one day soon we can reach a new agreement with Iran. But we must see major changes in the regime's behaviour both inside and outside its borders."
The US has laid out a long list of activities it demands Tehran changes, including halting support for the Syrian government and the Lebanese Hizballah movement, shutting down its nuclear development program, and freeing detained Americans.
"This team is committed to a strong global effort to change the Iranian regime's behaviour," Hook said.
"We want to be closely synchronised with our allies and partners around the world."
Hook held out the possibility of the US engaging directly with Iranian leaders if they demonstrate a "commitment" to changing their behaviour, Hook said, without being specific.
He also said that Washington is stepping up its effort to get other countries to fall in line with economic pressure on Tehran, including the crackdown on Iran's oil trade, financial sector and shipping industry announced for early November.
"Our goal is to reduce every country's import of Iranian oil to zero by November 4."
"We are prepared to impose secondary sanctions on other governments that continue this sort of trade with Iran."
But tensions have been running high between the two countries.
Earlier this month, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said it was hard to imagine new talks with the US after it lost the trust of the world with its erratic decision-making.
"Imagine negotiating now - how can we trust them?" Zarif told reporters on state broadcaster IRINN. "America has zig-zagged constantly, so now no one trusts them."