Stories by Barbara Slavin

Expert Voices

In Cairo speech, Pompeo tries to straighten out Trump's Mideast policy

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart following their meeting at the ministry of foreign affairs in Cairo on January 10, 2019.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a press conference in Cairo, Jan. 10. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did his best on Thursday to paper over the contradictions in the Trump administration’s Middle East policy, in a speech that was heavy on Iran bashing and light on criticism of U.S. allies.

The big picture: Pompeo performed his greatest verbal gymnastics when seeking to project an image of U.S. resolve against both Iran and the Islamic State, or ISIS, despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria — the main purpose of the secretary’s current Mideast tour. But given varying White House statements, Pompeo’s claims that withdrawing the 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria doesn't constitute “a change in mission” deserve skepticism.

Expert Voices

Trump administration blinks on "zero" oil exports from Iran

John Bolton, National Security Adviser to the US President, gives a press briefing in Tbilisi.
National security adviser John Bolton gives a press briefing in Tbilisi, Georgia, on Oct. 26. Photo: Mikhail Japaridze/TASS via Getty Images

Days before U.S. secondary sanctions against Iran’s central bank and oil industry go back into effect, U.S. officials are conceding that they will allow certain countries to continue to import Iranian oil. National security adviser John Bolton, an uber-hawk on Iran, told a Washington audience on Oct. 31, “We want to achieve maximum pressure, but we don’t want to harm friends and allies either.”

Why this matters: After six months of fearsome demands that foreign countries completely stop importing Iranian oil by Nov. 5, the Trump administration is bowing to the hard realities of geopolitics and economics.

Expert Voices

Trump administration's hostile rhetoric undercuts its Iran strategy

President Donald Trump addresses the 73rd United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly on September 25, 2018
President Trump addresses the 73rd UN General Assembly on September 25, 2018, in New York City. Photo: Spencer Platt via Getty Images

Among the many targets of the Trump administration’s ire this week at the UN, Iran stood out. “We cannot allow the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism to possess the planet’s most dangerous weapons,” Trump told the General Assembly on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he reiterated, “a regime of this track record must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon.”

The big picture: The Trump administration is angry that most of the world — including key allies Britain, France and Germany — have rejected its withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal and are attempting to circumvent sanctions on Iran. But overemphasizing the challenge Iran poses only further undercuts U.S. credibility and makes it easier for other nations, such as China, to actively oppose U.S. policy.

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