Over the last weekend, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that there are “no indications” that Iran is willing to change its “malign behavior” as the Iranian regime continues to act aggressively on the world stage.
“In the end, the Iranians, the regime, has to make a decision that it wants to behave like a normal nation,” Pompeo told reporters during a press conference with Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno. “And if they do that, we’re prepared to negotiate across a broad spectrum of issues with no preconditions and I hope that they will do that.”
Pompeo added that the U.S. has tried to de-escalate the situation and create the space for negotiations, but added that “we have seen no indications that the Iranians are prepared to fundamentally change the direction of their nation, to do the things we’ve asked them to do with their nuclear program, their missile program, their malign behavior around the world.”
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The secretary of state’s remarks came one day after Iran seized a British-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. Senior Iranian officials said that the seizure of the Stena Impero as well as the brief detainment of a second UK-flagged vessel were a “reciprocal” measure for the July 4 seizure of an Iranian tanker by British Royal Marines off the island of Gibraltar.
That official statement was in stark contrast to the message that was put out by the state-run news agency IRNA which claimed the British vessel was seized because it had “rammed an Iranian fishing boat.”
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said last week that he had spoken with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, and “it’s clear from talking to him and also statements made by Iran that they see this as a tit-for-tat situation … Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Hunt said the Iranian tanker that Britain had captured, the Grace1, was in clear violation of the European Union sanctions imposed on Iran, by carrying oil to Syria, making its detention in the waters of a Gibraltar, which is a British territory, perfectly legal.
On the other hand, “The Stena Impero was seized in Omani waters in clear contravention of international law,” Hunt said. “It was then forced to sail into Iran. This is totally and utterly unacceptable…”
“Our priority continues to be to find a way to de-escalate the situation,” the foreign secretary went on. ” … But, we need to see due process happening in Iran as well. We need to see the illegal seizing of a British-flagged vessel reversed, we need that ship released, and we continue to be very concerned about the safety and welfare of the 23 crew members.”
Maritime security in the Strait of Hormuz has deteriorated in recent weeks after six attacks on oil tankers that the U.S. has blamed on Iran – an allegation the Tehran government denies. The U.S. pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal last year and has imposed waves of economic sanctions on Tehran as part of an effort to curb Iranian aggression in the region.
President Trump said Friday that Iran is “nothing but trouble” shortly after the news broke of the seized tankers, though he remained hopeful the standoff will work out “very nicely.”
Trump added, Iran “is showing their true colors” by seizing the tankers and that it’s in “big trouble right now” due to the crushing sanctions imposed by the U.S.
Pompeo on Saturday said the administration holds out hope that Tehran will come to the negotiating table and further escalation of tensions can be avoided.