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Iran reacts to Pompeo as Trump's secretary of State pick: 'Cowboyish' and 'eager to start a war'

Iran reacts to Pompeo as Trump's secretary of State pick: 'Cowboyish' and 'eager to start a war'
CIA Director Mike Pompeo, seen Dec. 6 during a Cabinet meeting, is President Trump's pick for secretary of State. (Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post)

Iranians braced Wednesday for further turmoil in their country's relationship with the United States, and the possible unraveling of the 2015 nuclear agreement, following President Trump's nomination of CIA Director Mike Pompeo as secretary of State.

"The hawks overcame the doves in the American administration," a former diplomat, Ali Khorram, wrote in a column in Arman, a daily newspaper aligned with reformists.

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Khorram described Pompeo — who once called for military strikes on Iranian nuclear targets — as "cowboyish in character and eager to start a war similar to the war with Iraq."

Pompeo, whom Trump chose to replace Rex Tillerson, is a harsh critic of Iran and has called for the United States to leave the landmark nuclear deal, in which Iran agreed to shelve its uranium enrichment program in exchange for relief from international sanctions.

Trump has called it "the worst deal ever" and cited it on Tuesday in explaining why he fired Tillerson.

"When you look at the Iran deal, I think it's terrible. I guess he thought it was OK," Trump said. "I wanted to either break it or do something, and he felt a little bit differently."

"With Mike … we have a very similar thought process," Trump added.

Tillerson, senior Pentagon and military officials, and European allies have argued that the U.S. should not withdraw from the pact, which has granted international inspectors unprecedented access to Iran's nuclear facilities.

But Trump had asked Tillerson to work with European countries to fix what Trump said were "terrible flaws" in the deal, a task that now would appear to fall to Pompeo.

Trump has until May 12 to issue fresh waivers on sanctions against Iran, or the penalties will be renewed, threatening the agreement. Russia, another signatory to the pact, has said it will unravel if one party withdraws.

Iranian hard-liners were defiant, with Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, a former member of Iran's nuclear negotiating team, saying that "if America withdraws from the nuclear deal, Iran will follow suit," the website Khabar Online reported.

But analysts said the Iranian leadership does not want to see the deal fall apart because it has helped end its economic isolation.

"Iran will never withdraw under any circumstances because there is no better option for Iran, and above all there is no international consensus against the nuclear deal," said Nader Karimi Juni, an independent analyst.

But the replacement of Tillerson with Pompeo "shows that Trump is ready to pay the highest price to damage Iran's interests in the nuclear deal and elsewhere, and that is really a danger for Iran."

Pompeo has been one of the strongest voices against Iran in Washington.

In 2014, when nuclear negotiations were going on, Pompeo, then a Republican congressman from Kansas, called for the U.S. and its allies to conduct airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities, saying it would take "under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity."

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"This is not an insurmountable task for the coalition forces," Pompeo said.

Trump's choice of Pompeo was hailed by Iran hawks in Washington, D.C.

"Now there will no daylight between the president and his new secretary of State in demanding a transatlantic deal that fixes the nuclear deal by May 12 or sees the United States walking away and reimposing the most powerful economic sanctions," said Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank.

Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Times staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.

Shashank Bengali covers Iran for The Times. Follow him on Twitter at @SBengali

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