Trump has given up on Iran policy in his last weeks in office and told Pompeo he can do anything he wants, as long as it doesn't 'start World War III,' report says

Bill Bostock
Pompeo Trump
President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February 2019. Tuan Mark/Getty Images
  • President Donald Trump has "checked out" on his Iran policy, giving Secretary of State Mike Pompeo freedom to dictate policy short of "start[ing] World World III," The Daily Beast reported, citing US officials.

  • According to the outlet, Trump is looking to undermine President-elect Joe Biden by putting the US-Iran relationship beyond repair before he leaves the White House.

  • Trump wants to deter Iran from rejoining the 2015 nuclear deal, a key plan of Biden's incoming administration.

  • Former US diplomats previously told Insider the November 27 hit on Iran's top nuclear scientist — believed to be perpetrated by Israel — was also designed to damage Biden's plan.

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President Donald Trump has tired of overseeing US actions on Iran, telling foreign-policy chiefs they can do anything they want as long as they don't "start World War III," The Daily Beast reported, citing administration officials.

One White House official told the outlet that Trump has "checked out" over Iran, handing the reigns to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other Iran hawks in the administration.

Trump has been deeply involved in the US "maximum pressure" policy toward Iran throughout his time in office, approving scores of sanctions and ordering a hit on the regime's top general, Qassem Soleimani, in January 2020.

Since losing the US election last month, reports have detailed how Trump has looked to put the US relationship with Iran beyond repair - a tactic to scupper President-elect Joe Biden's plan to bring Iran back to the 2015 nuclear deal brokered by former President Barack Obama.

donald trump ali khamenei iran iraq 2x1
A graphic showing Trump and Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images; Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images; Samantha Lee/Business Insider

Trump pulled the US out of the agreement - formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action - in May 2018, calling it a bad deal and opting to impose heavy sanctions on Iran to force its leadership to comply with US demands instead.

That plan has not been successful: While Iran was believed to be following the terms of the deal before the US withdrew, it later threatened to resume enriching uranium. Earlier this month the International Atomic Energy Agency found that Iran's uranium stockpile was more than 12 times the limit under the agreement.

Evidence that Trump was keen to reignite the sort of US-Iran tensions seen after the Soleimani assassination in January came in mid-November, when Trump asked top aides how the US could attack Iran's main nuclear site, according to The New York Times.

But the news that Trump has given up on directing Iran policy indicates that his attention has run its course.

According to The Daily Beast, companies and individuals linked to the Islamic republic can expect to be hit by new US sanctions in the coming week.

On Friday, the US introduced sanctions on entities in China and Russia that were facilitating Iran's missile program.

Beyond sanctions, the US is believed to have been aware and even supportive of the November 27 assassination of Iran's top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Iran has blamed Israel - the main US ally in the Middle East - for the attack, and experts and former US diplomats told Insider the hit was specifically designed to damage Biden's plan to negotiate with Iran and return it to the nuclear deal.

TEHRAN, IRAN - NOVEMBER 30: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - "IRANIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY / HANDOUT" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) A funeral ceremony of Iranian Top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh Mahabadi, held at Defense Ministry of Iran in Tehran, Iran on November 30, 2020. Fakhrizadeh, who headed research and innovation at the defense ministry, was attacked Friday in Damavand county near Tehran. (Photo by Iranian Defense Ministry/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A funeral ceremony for assassinated Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on November 30, 2020, in Tehran. Iranian Defense Ministry/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The level of US involvement in the hit is unknown, but a White House official told The Daily Beast that Pompeo was supportive of measures like "the quiet backing of covert actions carried out by other actors."

Retired Navy Admiral William McRaven, a top Navy SEAL who oversaw the Osama bin Laden raid, said there will be retaliatory attacks and that Iran will think the US is involved.

"The Iranians are going to be in a position where they have to retaliate. I don't see any way around it," he told ABC.

"They're going to assume that we [the US] either collaborated with it or at a minimum were witting of the Israeli actions."

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