Pompeo Concedes Challenges on ISIS and North Korea

The Islamic State has gained ground in some areas, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged on Tuesday, despite President Trump’s proclamation that the extremist group had been vanquished.

Mr. Pompeo also conceded, in a television interview, having some frustration in dealing with North Korea.

But he said he believed the administration was finding success with the intensified sanctions against Iran that were set in motion after Mr. Trump repudiated the 2015 nuclear agreement with that country.

“We’ve put in place a set of sanctions that have denied the Iranian regime wealth,” Mr. Pompeo said in the interview, on “CBS This Morning.” In the administration’s view, he said, “that is working.”

Mr. Pompeo spoke ahead of an appearance later Tuesday at a United Nations Security Council meeting on the Middle East, where he sought to portray Iran as the region’s principal wrongdoer.

“Failing to confront the Iranian regime’s malign activities will only grow the regime’s multicontinental body count,” Mr. Pompeo told reporters outside the Security Council.

In prepared remarks before the Council, he accused Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, of having “gone all-in on a campaign of extortion diplomacy” to frustrate the administration’s intention to bring all Iranian oil purchases to zero. Among the examples he cited were the Iranian seizures of foreign-flagged oil tankers traversing the Strait of Hormuz last month.

There are expectations that Iran will release one of those vessels, the British tanker Stena Impero, in coming days, following the release over the weekend of an Iranian tanker, the Grace 1, by the British territory of Gibraltar, despite American pressure. That vessel, which has been renamed the Adrian Darya-1 by Iran, has been reported heading to Greece.

But the State Department said Tuesday that it had warned Greece and other countries that the Iranian vessel was in violation of American sanctions and that any providers of assistance could be vulnerable to criminal prosecution in the United States.

“The United States has a set of sanctions that preclude crude oil from being shipped to any country,” Mr. Pompeo told reporters at the Security Council. “We’ve made clear, anyone who touches it, anyone who supports it, anyone who allows a ship to dock is at risk of receiving sanctions from the United States.”

Iran’s United Nations ambassador, Majid Takht Ravanchi, who also spoke at the Security Council meeting, attributed the Middle East’s instability to what he described as the history of American interventionism and Washington’s support for Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The United States, he said, had “persistently sowed division between the regional countries,” and “the Iranophobic statements of the U.S. officials serve also the same purpose.”

The tensions between the United States and Iran have raised fears of a new armed conflict in the Middle East.

All other major powers, including the American allies Britain and France, support the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran and have urged the United States to rejoin it. The agreement limited Iran’s nuclear activities in return for an end to most economic sanctions against the country.

The Trump administration has argued that the agreement is weak and merely delays the time when Iran would be able to make a nuclear weapon. The administration’s position is not widely shared. Iran promised under the agreement that it would never seek nuclear arms.

Mr. Trump’s declarations of success in some other high-profile issues — notably in terminating the Islamic State and ending the menace of North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities — have faced increased skepticism.

Mr. Pompeo offered a mixed answer in the CBS interview when asked about reports, including a New York Times article, on the revival of the Islamic State in the Middle East, five months after Mr. Trump declared that the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq had been defeated.

“It’s complicated,” Mr. Pompeo said. “There are certainly places where ISIS is more powerful today than they were three or four years ago. But the caliphate is gone and their capacity to conduct external attacks has been made much more difficult.”

Regarding North Korea’s threats to the United States, which Mr. Trump said he had eliminated after having met the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, in Singapore last year, Mr. Pompeo also offered a mixed picture.

“We haven’t gotten back to the table as quickly as we would have hoped, but we’ve been pretty clear all along we knew there would be bumps along the way,” he said in the CBS interview.

Mr. Pompeo also acknowledged having some frustration over the recent, repeated firing of short-range missiles by Mr. Kim’s forces, in what has been seen as a warning. North Korea, analysts say, is seeking leverage in a new round of talks that Washington hopes to start soon.

“Yes, I wish that they would not,” Mr. Pompeo said. “But in the end, Chairman Kim made a commitment to President Trump, in Singapore in June of last year, where he said he was prepared to denuclearize.”

Also on Mr. Pompeo’s New York agenda on Tuesday was a meeting at the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, a conservative group that includes the billionaire Steve Forbes and the economist Arthur B. Laffer. The meeting added to speculation that Mr. Pompeo was weighing a Senate candidacy in his home state of Kansas.

Asked in the CBS interview about his political aspirations, Mr. Pompeo did not rule out anything but emphasized his fealty to Mr. Trump: “I would love to serve for him just as long as I can,” he said.

Source: NYT

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