The New York Times reported today that the White House has developed a plan to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo and appoint Senator Tom Cotton the new C.I.A. chief. The news will certainly alarm Tehran. Iran’s Fars News Agency was quick to report on the potential cabinet shake-up in Washington. “Both Pompeo and Cotton are famous for pursuing a very aggressive anti-Iran policy and are Trump’s allies in foreign policy issues,” warned the outlet, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.). It added that Tillerson differed with Trump on many foreign policy issues such as on how to deal with Iran and North Korea. According to the New York Times, Cotton has hinted that he would accept the C.I.A. job if offered. It, however, added that it is not clear if Trump has given final approval to the plan. Recently, Iranian media, particularly those close to the I.R.G.C., have been warning that the Trump administration may play a more assertive role vis-à-vis Iran and the region if Pompeo replaces Tillerson at the State Department and Cotton heads to the C.I.A.
Comment: The potential shake-up of Trump’s national security team and the promotion of two Iran hawks to top positions would certainly worry Tehran. Last month, Tasnim News Agency, another I.R.G.C. outlet, published a detailed biography of Cotton and analyzed what implications his potential appointment to the top position at C.I.A. might have for Iran. “Cotton is a firm supporter of the Zionist regime [Israel] and the most anti-Iran American senator,” it warned. Tasnim also pointed out that Cotton believes that the Trump administration should consider a military confrontation with Iran. It further noted that Cotton wants the removal of the embattled regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and a tougher U.S. policy to confront Hezbollah. “In summary, the appointment of Cotton rings the alarm bell for West Asia,” it concluded.
Both Cotton and Pompeo have been strongly critical of the Iran nuclear deal. Their promotion, therefore, would add to Tehran’s worry about the Trump administration’s threat to annul the accord unless Iran agrees to renegotiate parts of the agreement.
Iranian officials have not reacted to the news, but Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has engaged in Twitter wars with Cotton in the past. A top aide to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei also claimed today that Major General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, rejected a letter he received from the C.I.A. when he was in the Syrian city of Abu Kamal earlier this month.