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State Dept. forms group to handle Iran post-nuclear deal policy

By Ed Adamczyk

Aug. 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. State Department has formed a group to coordinate policy toward Iran in the aftermath of the Trump administration's withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal.

The Iran Action Group will be led by senior policy adviser Brian Hook and will direct, review and coordinate all aspects of the department's "Iran-related activity," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday.

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The White House left the Obama-era deal in May, which traded practical denuclearization for the lifting of U.S. economic sanctions on Tehran.

Hook said the group's main focus is applying economic pressure on Iran and facilitating diplomatic isolation. It will also ensure Iran doesn't pursue nuclear research for military use, will cut off Iranian ability to finance terrorist groups and end the practice of "arbitrarily detained" American citizens.

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He said another key objective is building the "broadest level of international support" for the U.S. strategy. Allies like France, Germany and Britain opposed the U.S. withdrawal and have said they intend to continue doing business with Iran.

The group was not formed with the intent of establishing a dialog with Tehran, Hook said, adding any "normal relations can only begin after we see that the Iranian regime is serious about changing its behavior."

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Hook led the unsuccessful attempt of the Trump administration to negotiate changes to the nuclear deal with European allies. After the U.S. withdrawal, sanctions against Iran were re-introduced, and the United States accelerated pressure on Iran to reduce "malign activities" in the region.

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Demands have also included a reduction in Iranian military presence in neighboring Middle Eastern countries. The United States has been critical of Iran's human rights record and is encouraging other nations to reduce imports of Iranian oil.

"Our hope is that one day soon we can reach a new agreement with Iran. But we must see major changes in the regime's behavior both inside and outside of its borders," Pompeo said. "The Iranian people and the world are demanding that Iran finally act like a normal nation."

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