Former Vice President Mike Pence took the rare step of directly criticising his successors in the White House this weekend and opened up a broadside attack on the Biden administration’s foreign policy.
It was a move that hinted strongly of Mr Pence’s own future political ambitions, even if it came on an issue that may not resonate with Mr Trump’s base.
The ex-VP and potential 2024 candidate was speaking on Saturday to the Organization of Iranian-American Communities (OIAC), a group that largely aligns its views with the “maximum pressure” campaign pursued by the Trump administration against Iran for four years. The OIAC events regularly feature Republicans and Democrats alike who favour a stronger stance against Tehran than is represented by the 2015 accord signed under the Obama administration. In recent years that has included Democrats like Eliot Engel, former Foreign Affairs panel chief.
The group is currently rallying support for a bipartisan House resolution, which looks poised to pass with overwhelming support, that urges the Biden administration to change its tactics and put further pressure on Tehran by urging European allies to shutter Iranian consulates and send home diplomats.
Because of the bipartisan nature of the events, speakers generally keep their messages focused on supportive remarks about the Iranian people, statements cheering the widespread protests that have swept the country in recent months and years, and condemnations of the authoritarian Tehranian regime. Mr Pence broke from both that order as well as the typical reluctance that former presidents and vice presidents show towards weighing in on the new administration’s decisions on Saturday, assailing what he said was a “foolish” attempt by the Biden White House to reignite hope for the 2015 nuclear deal.
“President Biden and his administration are threatening to unravel all of the progress we made in marginalising the tyrannical regime in Tehran,” Mr Pence warned.
“They are working overtime to restore the Iran Nuclear Deal,” he claimed, before adding: “These actions are foolish and dangeroush — appeasement has never worked, and it never will.”
He went further, calling the Obama administration’s support for the Iranian people’s demands for freedom during the Arab Spring “halfhearted” and warning that rejoining the nuclear accord his administration tore up would lead to “more terrorism, death and destruction” while paving a “path in gold” to the Iranian government developing nuclear weapons.
There’s some debate to be had as to whether the vice president’s remarks can be called accurate. Some figures within the Biden administration are thought to still be pursuing an agreement to return to the now-distant 2015 nuclear agreement, but the White House has signalled pretty clearly that those talks are not going anywhere at the moment — at the same time, hinting that rejoining the accord may not be on Mr Biden’s list of priorities.
The US envoy to Iran derided the negotiations over returning to the deal as a waste of time amid the resurgent protests across the country late last year, and President Joe Biden himself declared the deal kaput in December.
“It is dead, but we are not gonna announce it. Long story,” he was seen telling a woman on a ropeline in California.
Still, it was a sharply political message that signaled Mr Pence’s clear desire to remain a player in national conservative circles — perhaps even a 2024 contender. But the activist base of the GOP, which so far appears to firmly remain in Mr Trump’s camp, has never been meaningfully riled up by the kind of hawkish foreign policy rhetoric Mr Pence delivered on Saturday.
Mr Pence has not ruled out a 2024 bid for the presidency and said in late February that he was nearing a decision on whether to run. He’d be a longshot candidate for the GOP nomination, particularly if Florida’s popular Governor Ron DeSantis jumps in the race to soak up the voters looking for a Trump alternative.
The ex-VP would likely be one of several former Trump administration figures in the race; ex-UN Ambassador Nikki Haley is already running, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is similarly thought to be readying his own campaign.
His own hurdle to winning the nomination coalesced on January 6, when Mr Pence refused to interfere in the process of certifiying Joe Biden’s election victory after a massive wave of Mr Trump’s supporters attacked the US Capitol.
Headlining Saturday’s event was an appearance by the National Council of Resistance of Iran’s president-elect, Maryam Rajavi.
In her own remarks, she declared that the Iranian people would be free of all “fascist” forms of government and embrace democratic rule.
“The Iranian people are fully aware that they must distance themselves from all forms of dictatorship,” said Ms Rajavi.
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