TEHRAN (Press Shia Agency) – The Trump administration has launched an offensive of speeches and online communications meant to foment unrest inside Iran and support anti-Iranian groups, US officials familiar with the matter said.
More than half a dozen current and former officials said the campaign, supported by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, is meant to work in concert with US President Donald Trump’s push to economically throttle Iran by re-imposing tough sanctions, according to Reuters.
The drive has intensified since Trump withdrew on May 8 from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
The current and former officials said the campaign paints Iranian leaders in a harsh light, at times using information that is exaggerated or contradicts other official pronouncements, including comments by previous administrations.
The White House declined comment on the campaign. The US State Department also declined to comment on the campaign specifically, including on Pompeo’s role.
A review of the State Department’s Farsi-language Twitter account and its ShareAmerica website – which describes itself as a platform to spark debate on democracy and other issues – shows a number of posts critical of Tehran over the last month.
Iran is the subject of four of the top five items on the website’s “Countering Violent Extremism” section. They include headlines such as “This Iranian airline helps spread violence and terror.”
In social media posts and speeches, Pompeo himself also appeals directly to Iranians, the Iranian diaspora and a global audience.
“Let me be clear, we are not seeking regime change. We are seeking changes in the Iranian government’s behavior,” a State Department official claimed in response to questions from Reuters.
The Saudi regime has also launched a misinformation campaign against Iran at Washington’s bidding.
According to a recent report, Saudi Arabia has hired the UK-based Independent media corporation to launch a slew of news websites in Persian and other languages.
Under the deal, the British outfit would create up to four websites for the Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG), which is tied to the Saudi royal family and often promotes the regime's agenda.
Despite ownership by the SRMG, the news outlets — Independent Arabia, Independent Urdu, Independent Turkish, and Independent Persian — would follow the editorial standards of The Independent.
"Four new websites will offer the highest-quality, free-thinking, independent news, insight and analysis on global affairs and local events," the daily said in a statement.
"These will be published in Arabic, Urdu, Turkish and Persian. Each site will feature direct translations of articles from independent.co.uk alongside content from teams of SRMG journalists based in London, Islamabad, Istanbul, and New York," the statement added.
This is not the first time the kingdom is approaching British media outlets to expand its propaganda machine.
The SRMG struck a similar agreement with Bloomberg last year to launch an Arabic outlet.
The push to promote the Wahabi-inspired Saudi ideology became more apparent last year, when Saudi investor Sultan Abuljadayel bought about a third of The Independent's shares.
The move sparked concerns about the independence of the website, which is owned by British-Russian billionaire Evgeny Lebedev.
Lebedev, the son of a former KGB spy, tried to play down the concerns by calling Abuljadayel a "minority shareholder" and promised that his money would not influence the company's direction down the road.
However, Lebedev will have a harder time explaining the new decision since the SMRG is clearly tied to Saudi authorities.
The firm had been chaired by Prince Bader bin Abdallah bin Mohammad bin Farhan, a close confidant of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who is currently serving as the kingdom's minister of culture.
The prince made the headlines earlier this year when he bought a Da Vinci painting for $450 million, reportedly on behalf of none other than bin Salman.
The SRMG already owns several major Arabic news outlets, including Asharq Al-Awsat and Arab News, which promote the Saudi position on regional issues.
Saudi Arabia has been linked with various anti-Iranian groups and is widely believed to have provided them with financial and logistic support to fuel sectarianism in the Islamic Republic.
The kingdom has openly supported the People's Mujahedin of Iran (MKO) terror group, which has killed thousands of Iranians since 1979.