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Pompeo to pursue talks with allies on Iran

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US detainees Tony Kim (centre L) receives a hug from Mike Pompeo upon their return after they were freed by North Korea. AFP

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Immediately on returning from North Korea yesterday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will embark on talks with allies in Europe, the Middle East and Asia to try to persuade them to press Iran to curb its nuclear and missile programs, US officials said.

The open question is whether the allies, and above all Iran, will agree to resume full-fledged talks having just seen the US withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and renege on its promises under the landmark arms control accord.

The US hope is that Iran will be dragged to the table by the resumption of US sanctions – and possibly the imposition of more – which would penalise European and other companies and likely cripple Iran’s oil-driven economy.

A senior State Department official said discussions with Britain, France and Germany, as well as Japan, Iraq and Israel on next steps had already taken place since US President Donald Trump on Tuesday pulled out of the nuclear pact.

“There will be an effort to go out globally and talk to our partners around the world who share our interests. That is the first stage,” a senior State Department official said of plans for talks by Pompeo and his chief Iran negotiator, Brian Hook.

“The composition of what happens when we sit down with the Iranians is several stages out,” the official said, adding that talks would focus on how to raise pressure on Iran “in a way that is constructive and conducive to bringing them to the negotiating table.”

Trump’s decision opens the door to greater US confrontation with Tehran and strains relations with America’s closest allies, current and former diplomats said.

Washington has given grace periods of 90 days to six months for companies to wind down their trade with Iran. Some allies, like France, will push for exemptions from US sanctions to protect their companies.

Even though companies can seek US Treasury licenses to continue operating in Iran beyond the deadlines, the threat of US sanctions will likely force them out, experts say.

Companies will also have to assess whether they could face revived secondary sanctions, which would target sectors of the Iranian economy, including energy, petrochemicals, shipping, financial and banking, experts say.

“The goal is ultimately to reach a point where we sit down with the Iranians and negotiate a new deal, but I don’t think we’re at that point today, or will be tomorrow,” the State Department official said.

“The ultimate goal is to lay the groundwork for getting everyone back to the table and negotiating a new deal.”

Several US officials have acknowledged there is no “Plan B” if Washington cannot win the support of allies – and Iran – to negotiate a new expanded agreement, which would end Iran’s nuclear program, restrain its ballistic missiles program, and curb its support for groups in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq.

“The goal is to prevent Iran from ever developing or acquiring a nuclear weapon and the detail beyond that is something we are going to have to flesh out,” the official added.

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