U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted Iran’s ruling elite and its religious leaders for using their positions to “line their pockets” with riches while the average person "cries out for jobs, reform, and opportunity."
Pompeo on July 22 called Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other Islamic religious leaders in the theocratic government "hypocritical holy men" and pointed out officials who had amassed hundreds of millions of dollars of wealth from their positions.
He said the accumulation of wealth among leaders and the corruption of the “violent” government indicated that Iran is “something that resembles the mafia more than a government.”
He added that the “regime in Iran has been a nightmare for the Iranian people.”
Pompeo was delivering an address titled Supporting Iranian Voices at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute in Simi Valley, California.
There are an estimated 250,000 Iranian-Americans in southern California.
The crowd appeared highly receptive to Pompeo’s comments, but his speech at one point was interrupted by a woman screaming and shouting in protest. It was not immediately clear what the nature of her protest was. The audience booed the woman, and the crowd began chanting, “USA! USA!”
Pompeo vowed that the United States would continue to support the “long-ignored voice of the Iranian people” and would continue to “spotlight the abuses” perpetrated against the country’s citizens by their government.
In May, U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew his country from a landmark 2015 deal between Iran and leading world powers that granted relief from some sanctions in exchange for curbs to Iran's nuclear program.
Trump complained that the terms of the deal were not strong enough to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons and it accused Tehran of violating the spirit of the agreement by continuing to finance militant violence in the region and by testing ballistic missiles.
The other nations in the agreement -- Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China -- unsuccessfully urged Washington to remain a part of the deal, saying it was the best way to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Iran has denied the allegations and said its nuclear program is strictly for civilian purposes. But it also has said it is continuing to acquire uranium since the U.S. pullout and is close to finishing a plant where it can build more centrifuges to enrich it.
In his speech, Pompeo vowed to keep up the financial pressure on Tehran, specifically targeting the banking and energy sectors.
He said the goal of the United States was to work with its partners and to bring their imports of Iranian oil to “zero” by November 4.
He added, without being specific in regard to financial pressure, "There's more to come."
"Regime leaders...must be made to feel painful consequences of their bad decision-making," he said.
The U.S. decision to reimpose sanctions has hit the Iranian economy hard, with many international firms leaving the country since Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal.
Financial hardships have led many Iranians to take to the streets in protests, initially for economic reasons but often morphing into demonstrations against the government itself.
Pompeo called the demonstrations “the most enduring and forceful protests” since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
"In light of these protests and 40 years of regime tyranny, I have a message for the people of Iran: The United States hears you. The United States supports you. The United States is with you," he said.
Pompeo said anger against “widespread” corruption helped encourage the protests.
In naming Iranian officials who have amassed fortunes while the people struggle, Pompeo cited "thieving thug" Sadeq Larijani, head of the Iranian Judiciary, who he said is now worth $300 million.
The U.S. has imposed financial sanctions against Larijani, saying he is "responsible for ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing the commission of serious human rights abuses against persons in Iran or Iranian citizens or residents."
Pompeo said the action showed that U.S. authorities "were not afraid to tackle the regime at its highest level."
"The United States under President Trump will not stay silent," he said.
Pompeo also assailed Iranian President Hassan Rohani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Mohammad Javad Zarif, considered by many to be “moderates.”
“The truth is they’re merely polished front men for the ayatollah’s international con artistry. Their nuclear deal didn’t make them moderates. It made them wolves in sheep’s clothing," he said.