The Trump government has launched an offensive with speeches and online bulletins to stir up turmoil and pressure Iran to end its nuclear program and support militant groups.
More than half a dozen current and former officials said the campaign, backed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and security adviser John Bolton, is set to work in unison with US President Donald Trump's urgency to rein in Iran economically to penalize tough sanctions. Tension has intensified since Trump resigned from a 2015 seven-nation agreement on May 8 to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
The current and former officials said the campaign paints a glaring light on Iranian leaders and sometimes uses information that is exaggerated or contradicts other official statements, including comments from previous governments.
The White House declined to comment on the campaign. The State Department also declined to comment specifically on the campaign, including on Pompeo's role.
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A high-ranking Iranian official rejected the campaign, saying that the United States had been trying in vain to undermine the government since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. He spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Your efforts will fail again," the official said.
More Critical Contributions
An overview of the US Department of State's Farsi Twitter account and its ShareAmerica website – which describes itself as a platform for debates about democracy and other issues – shows a number of critical points in Tehran.
Iran is the subject of four of the five main topics on the website "Combating violent extremism". They include headlines such as "This Iranian airline is helping to spread violence and terror."
In social media contributions and speeches Pompeo also appeals directly to Iranians, the Iranian diaspora and a global audience.
On June 21, Pompeo tweeted graphics with the headline: "Protests Are Growing in Iran," "Iranians deserve respect for their human rights" and "Iran's Revolutionary Guard is getting rich while Iranian families are fighting." The tweets were translated into Farsi and published on the ShareAmerica website.
On Sunday, Pompeo will hold a speech entitled "Supporting Iranian Voices" in California and meet Iranian Americans, many of whom fled the Islamic revolution that ousted Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
"Let me make it clear that we are not seeking a regime change, we are looking for changes in the behavior of the Iranian government," a State Department official said in response to questions from Reuters.
"We know that we're getting Iran to make hard decisions, either changing their way or getting more and more difficult to engage in their vicious activities," the official said on condition of anonymity. "And we believe that we have a very positive vision of what we could achieve and what the Iranian people could have."
Some of the information circulated by the administration is incomplete or distorted, said current and former officials.
Speaking in Washington on May 21, Pompeo said the Iranian leaders had refused to spend money on their people released by the nuclear deal, and used it instead for proxy wars and corruption.
In contrast, US Defense Department Director Robert Ashley said in a testimony to a US Senate committee in March that Tehran's social and economic spending remains a short-term priority despite some spending on security forces.
Pompeo also accused "Iran-backed Shia militias and terrorists" of infiltrating the Iraqi security forces and jeopardizing Iraq's sovereignty throughout the period of the nuclear deal.
While the Iranian-backed Iraqi militias blame human rights violations against civilians denying the groups, the militias fought Islamic state extremists and helped ensure that they did not overrun Iraq in 2014 following the collapse of the Iraqi army , They then supported the US-backed offensives that exempted the ISIS-held territory, and some units are being integrated into Iraqi security forces.
The State Department official confirmed that the "Popular Mobilization Forces" militias are by law part of the Iraqi security forces and played a role in 2014 in fighting the Islamic State.
"However, we understand that some of the undisciplined PMF are particularly close to Iran, in line with Iranian policies, and have a history of criminal activity and terrorism," the official said. "These groups are just as problematic for the Iraqi state as they are for us."
Experts say the government is exaggerating the closeness of relations between the militant Taliban in Iran and al-Qaeda, calling it a co-conspirator.
The Department of State did not respond to requests for comment on the accuracy of the information it disseminates.
It's too early to determine the impact of the government's communications campaign, US officials said.
Two Possible Results
Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert on the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, said the strategy was to strangle Iran economically and fuel public dissatisfaction with leadership aimed at achieving one of two outcomes.
"One is the capitulation that forces Iran to further restrict not only its nuclear program but also its regional ambitions," Sadjadpour said. "Result two is the implosion of the Islamic Republic."
But some US officials and other experts have warned that the US administration's intensification of the turmoil in Iran could promote stronger authoritarian rule and a more aggressive foreign policy, creating the danger of confrontation between the US and Iran.
Washington has long termed Iran the world's leading "state sponsor of terrorism" because Tehran is armed and funded by deputy militant groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah. Iranian leaders are pushing for the destruction of the United States and Israel, and Iranian deputies have killed hundreds of US soldiers and diplomats since the Islamic Revolution.
This record provided plenty of material for the previous governments to promote their own PR campaigns against Tehran, including an attempt to communicate directly with the Iranian people.
The administration of President George W. Bush founded Radio Farda, a US-funded broadcaster broadcasting in Iran, calling it "objective and accurate news and information against state censorship and ideological media coverage." The Obama administration launched a 2011 Farsi Twitter account – @USAdarFarsi -.