WASHINGTON — Last week, Washington further intensified its “maximum pressure” campaign against the Iranian regime.

President Trump issued a new Executive Order targeting Iranian conventional arms transfers, thus reimposing indefinitely the UN arms embargo that was expiring.

Simultaneously, the administration applied targeted sanctions on various Iran military industries, ballistic missile manufacturers and atomic scientists.

To better understand why, I interviewed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for 30 minutes by phone.

Here are excerpts of our conversation:

Pompeo and Rosenberg in Cairo in January 2019. (photo credit: All Arab News staff)

ROSENBERG: Would you say at this stage, the largest radical Islamist threat to the United States and to our allies would be Iran, and how would you assess that threat at this point?

POMPEO: Yes, undoubtedly, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a different kind, this is state sponsored terror. Non-nation state terrorist actors can inflict an enormous amount of harm. Al Qaeda did so. But the Islamic Republic of Iran is a state that has resources and a capacity to attack citizens in a sovereign boundary from which to plot and to develop operations that can threaten not only its regions of the Middle East, but Europe, Africa, Israel and the United States. It’s absolutely key today that the most anti-Semitic and the most terrible institution in the world is sitting in Tehran and under the control of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

ROSENBERG: What do you think is Iran’s ultimate objective, or their top two or three or four objectives?

POMPEO: Well, the objective of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s leadership is to maintain power. That is objective number one – to make sure that the regime remains intact. So they will do whatever they need to do inside of their country.

You have seen this, right, where there is an uprising, protests. We saw this when they executed an innocent man, this wrestler, two weeks back. They will do whatever it takes to send the message to their own people that their repression, their oppression of those people and even killing of those people is well within their power in order for them to maintain their own political control.

So, step one of that is that they will continue to steal money from their own people, create wealth, create a scenario where the leadership is wealthy and the remainder of the people are left with scraps and a very, very difficult set of economic circumstances.

Externally, they continue to do the things that create risk that they will one day choose to move out again on their nuclear weapons program. So, [they’re] creating all the infrastructure necessary to build out such a program where they could use, if they were to go there, they could use a nuclear weapon to create enormous destruction, or create enormous blackmail capacity to get what it is that they want.

Then the final thing is they have every intention of continuing to use their proxy forces around the world to expand their power and influence. Whether that is underwriting Hezbollah both in Syria and Lebanon, or funding Hamas, or Shia Muslims in Iraq — all of those terror proxy forces are under the control of Iran and they give Iran the capacity to protect themselves by threatening Western interests and Middle Eastern interests in a way that is serious and real.

ROSENBERG: When Iranian leaders from the Ayatollah Khamenei to others use the rhetoric of describing the United States as the “Great Satan” and Israel as the “Little Satan,” is that just rhetoric or are the United States and Israel the top two targets ultimately for them. How do you assess that?

POMPEO: They mean what they say. We ought to take them at their word. We’re the top two objectives, because we are capable security operators in both of those two places and present difficult targets for them, difficult targets to get at.

But you’ve seen, you remember, Joel, when they killed hundreds of American soldiers with IEDs in Iraq. They are serious about undermining the West, undermining Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, the Bible land, the Jewish homeland. They are serious about that.

They know that we — the United States and Israel — pose the two nations that are most capable of stopping them from getting a nuclear weapon.

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