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Trump gives nod to hawkish aides to squeeze Iran: Report

The Daily Beast reports that Trump is green-lighting further pressure against Tehran in final weeks of his administration
Officials said Trump left the task of dealing with Iran in the last weeks of the presidency to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (AFP)

US President Donald Trump has given Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a green light to hammer Iran as long as it does not "start World War III", officials told the Daily Beast.

Officials in the Trump administration told the news outlet that the president has left the task of dealing with Iran in the last weeks of the presidency to Pompeo and Elliot Abrams, the special representative for Iran.

One White House official said Trump was largely "checked out" on what has been one of the biggest foreign policy issues of his administration, as he has been focused on countering the results of the 2020 presidential election, which saw Joe Biden elected to take over the office on 20 January.

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This has allowed the administration's biggest Iran hawks to essentially have carte blanche to do what they can to target Tehran.

This has come in the explicit form of additional sanctions aimed at crippling the Islamic Republic's economy, which is also seen as a tactic the administration hopes will make it increasingly difficult for a Biden presidency to restart negotiations and return to the Iran nuclear deal.

On Friday, Pompeo announced new sanctions on Iran that targeted Chinese and Russian entities for transferring technology tied to Tehran's missile programme.

Washington's top diplomat also recently took a trip to Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, where he met with respective leaders to formulate ways in which they could work together to counter Iran.

Punish Iran, pen in Biden

The Daily Beast claimed that Trump told his advisers he wants to avoid a confrontation with Iran where American personnel could be killed. Yet the door was open to allow Israel, Washington's staunchest Middle East ally, to take a lead in targeting and killing officials in the Islamic Republic, it added.

Last week, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran's top nuclear scientist, was killed in an assassination that Tehran blamed on Israel.

American and intelligence officials confirmed to the New York Times that Israel was behind the attack.

While the US has remained quiet about the attack, Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the news outlet that CIA Director Gina Haspel has a working relationship with the head of Israel's Mossad.

Meanwhile, the administration is continuing its economic attacks, with two officials telling The Daily Beast that it is set to announce new sanctions on Iran-linked entities in the coming weeks.

The approach led by Pompeo and Abrams has been seen as both an attempt to assert maximum damage on Iran during the remaining time in office, while also making it increasingly more difficult for Biden to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal.

The sanctions placed on Iran will be difficult for the Biden administration to lift quickly, particularly the ones dealing with terrorism.

While Iran has vowed revenge against Israel for the assassination of Fakhrizadeh, it remains unseen whether the Islamic republic will take the bait.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has emphasised that Iran will seek its revenge in "due time" and will not be rushed into a "trap".

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