US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a scathing speech on Iran’s leadership Sunday, accusing Tehran’s ruling ayatollahs of spreading violence across the Middle East and lining their own pockets with ill-gotten gains at the expense of ordinary Iranians.
“The ideologues who forcibly came to power in 1979 and remain in power today are driven by a desire to conform all of Iranian society to the tenants of the Islamic Revolution. The regime is also committed to spreading the Revolution to other countries, by force if necessary,” said Pompeo during a highly anticipated address at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
Southern California is home to a significant portion of the Iranian diaspora living in the United States. Many of them fled Iran after the revolution that brought Iran’s ayatollahs to power.
“To the regime, prosperity, security, and freedom for the Iranian people are acceptable casualties in the march to fulfill the Revolution,” said Pompeo.
The secretary of state and former CIA director accused several members of Iran’s leadership, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, of participating in widespread corruption.
Khamenei, Pompeo alleged, maintains a personal off-the-books hedge fund worth $95 billion, that is untaxed and used as a “slush fund” by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Crops (IRGC). The IRGC is a branch of the country’s armed with influence over practically every aspect of Iranian life.
“The level of corruption and wealth among regime leaders shows that Iran is run by something that resembles the mafia more than a government,” Pompeo said.
“These hypocritical holy men have devised all kinds of crooked schemes to become some of the wealthiest men on Earth while their people suffer.”
Pompeo’s speech came just hours after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told diplomats in Tehran that the United States “must understand that war with Iran is the mother of all wars and peace with Iran is the mother of all peace,” according to Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA.
“Do not play with the lion’s tail, because you will regret it eternally,” Rouhani said.
Shortly after Pompeo’s speech, Trump tweeted that Iran will “suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before” if it were to threaten the United States again. Though the tweet was addressed to Rouhani, it’s unclear if he was responding to the Iranian President’s comments earlier Sunday.
Pompeo’s speech was briefly interrupted by protesters shouting “think about the children,” likely a reference to US President Donald Trump’s immigration policies that have led to children being separated by their family at the border.
Once they were done, Pompeo said “if there was only so much freedom of speech in Iran.”
A handful of prominent Iranian-Americans were in the audience, including Washington Post columnist and former Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian.
Rezaian spent months in Iranian detention on what many believed were spurious charges of spying on behalf of the United States.
Also in attendance for the speech, titled “Supporting Iranian Voices,” was Makan Delrahim, a US assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice’s antitrust division. Delrahim came to the United States at 10 years old.
Since his time in Congress, Pompeo has been a vocal critic of the Iranian regime and the internationally negotiated deal to limit Tehran’s nuclear program and subject it to international verification in exchange for sanctions relief.
A new pressure campaign
The Trump administration backed out of that deal in May. Among the President and Pompeo’s many criticisms of the accord was that it did not do enough to limit Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region, such as funding Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon, a powerful political force in that country. The United States considers Hezbollah a terror group.
The Trump administration is now expected to re-enact many of the punishing sanctions that were in place before the 2015 agreement was reached, including limiting Iran’s ability to sell oil.
“We are asking every nation who is sick and tired of the Islamic Republic’s destructive behavior to join our pressure campaign. This especially goes for our allies in the Middle East and Europe, people who have themselves been terrorized by violent regime activity for decades,” Pompeo said.
“The goal of our efforts is to one day see Iranians in Iran enjoying the same quality of life that Iranians in America enjoy.”
Rouhani has warned that the deal could fall apart and hinted that Iran could restart its nuclear efforts if the US were to re-enact sanctions, though the European signatories of the accord have pledged to honor it.
’Wolves in sheep’s clothing’
Many in the international community consider Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as moderates within Iran, owing to their support of the nuclear deal.
In his speech, Pompeo criticized the notion that Zarif and Rouhani could be considered moderate when Iran has continued to fund Shiite-backed groups engaged in violence across the region.
Presidential candidates in Iran must be vetted by a clerical body, and once elected the head of government answers to the Supreme Leader.
“The regime’s revolutionary goals and willingness to commit violent acts hasn’t produced anyone to lead Iran that can remotely be called a statesman. Some believe that President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif fit the bill. The truth is they are merely polished front men for the ayatollahs’ international con artistry. Their nuclear deal didn’t make them moderates, it made them wolves in sheep’s clothing,” Pompeo said.
“These so-called moderates within the regime are still violent Islamic revolutionaries with an anti-America, anti-West agenda.”