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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

U.S. Call for Supporting Human Rights in Iran

Heather Nauert
   Department Spokesperson
Brian Hook
   Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State and Special Representative for Iran 
Michael G. Kozak
   Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

New York, New York, United States
September 28, 2018



FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2018, 9:00 A.M. EST


MODERATOR: Welcome to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. On behalf of the New York Foreign Press Center, I want to thank you for joining us this morning for a special press conference with senior State Department officials who will outline U.S. efforts to supporting human rights in Iran. Defending human rights and supporting the Iranian people is a key priority for the U.S. Government. Regrettably, the number of Iranian prisoners of conscience, including human rights lawyers, students, activists, and others, have been unlawfully incarcerated solely for expressing their opinion.

It’s my honor to introduce the Acting Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Heather Nauert, who will lead our program today.

MS NAUERT: Thank you so much. Good morning, everyone. It’s nice to see you all and thank you so much for the nice introduction. I’d like to welcome our members of the press corps. Some of you are from Washington, so great to see you up here in New York and hope that you’re having a good week at the UN.

I’d like to open with a short video that will help us to visualize the reality of the situation on the ground for many people in Iran. Let’s take a look.

(Video is played.)

MS NAUERT: Powerful, but the reality that people face every day. I’d also like to welcome the members of the Iranian diaspora community who’ve joined us here today and recognize your contributions. As nations from around the world gather this week, I’d like to highlight the plight of more than 800 prisoners of conscience who are still languishing in Iranian prisons for exercising their universal human rights and their religious freedoms. We stand with them, we remain deeply concerned about their well-being, and we call on the Iranian regime for their immediate release.

More than 20 protesters were killed and 5,000 arrested during the brutal government crackdown on nationwide protests beginning in December 2017. Hundreds more have been arrested throughout the year. Women protesting the mandatory hijab law, environmental activists, Ahwazis, wanting clean water to drink, Isfahan farmers, and Gonabadi Sufis face spurious charges and contrived trials. Some have been killed.

Once in prison, the regime singles out these individuals for harsh torture and abuse. Suspicious suicides go uninvestigated. Many of those detained were seeking only to bring about positive change for their society by calling attention to the government’s lack of transparency and waste of public funds. Some of these activists dared to highlight that the regime was ignoring looming environmental catastrophes in favor of funding proxy wars throughout the region. Others are jailed for nothing more than their religious beliefs. Evangelical Christian converts and all Christians experience high levels of detention on account of their faith. Sunnis are denied permission to build houses of worship and also pray in public. Leaders of the Baha’i faith suffer harsh jail sentences and severe treatment.

As Americans, as some of us who are here as Americans, that is very, very difficult for us to understand what that would be like: suffering for your faith. But it is the reality of the situation on the ground in Iran.

Their access to public education and employment is restricted, their property confiscated, businesses closed, and their cemeteries desecrated. The regime limits access to legal representation. It arrests attorneys fighting for the rights of those whose voices it seeks to silence. Earlier this year prominent human rights attorneys Nasrin Sotoudeh and Zeinab Taheri were arbitrarily arrested on claims that their routine legal work endangered national security. Sadly, these imprisoned change-makers are the very people that Iran needs to fulfill its potential and honor its proud history. Their imprisonment shows the regime’s insecurities.

I’d like to take a moment to recognize the work of Asma Jahangir, a former UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ms. Jahangir passed away suddenly in early February. We are grateful for her lifetime of service advocating for universal human rights. She worked to show the true face of the regime by gathering numerous reports about the use of torture and cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment of prisoners. These include allegations of physical and mental torture to coerce confessions and the authorities’ routine denial of medical care to those are in need, and also the rights of prisoners to see their families.

We are confident that her successor, Mr. Javaid Rehman, will continue to document the regime’s manifest abuses. We urge our partners and allies in all nations to publicly support the Iranian people and their demands for human rights and fundamental freedoms. As President Trump has said, the longest-suffering victims of Iran’s leaders are Iran’s own people. The regime can’t continue its institutionalized abuse without the help of others. That includes international businesses continuing to invest in a government with a horrendous record of corruption, discrimination, and abuses against its own people and also foreign citizens. Foreign investment in a criminal regime will only delay the reforms the Iranian people so desperately need.

Let’s be clear: The Iranian regime spreads instability around the globe and is alone to blame for the problems that are facing their people now. The United States stands with the Iranian people who long for a country of economic opportunity, transparency, fairness and greater liberty.

I would like to introduce Ahmad Batebi and Mohsen Sazegara. Ahmad is here today. Ahmad, are you here? Sir, welcome. Thank you so much for being here. Ahmad was jailed in Iran after there was a photo that you had taken – it was published on the cover of The Economist magazine back in 1999 – protesting the regime. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison during a secret trial for creating street unrest. That’s what you were accused of for a photograph that ran on the cover of The Economist. While on furlough for medical treatment, he fled from Iran to Iraq in 2008 and was eventually granted asylum in the United States, and he would like to share his story with you. And we are so proud to have you here.

My understanding is that some of my colleagues from the State Department and a prior administration, during the Bush administration, had helped facilitate your eventually coming to the United States. And I know they’re looking forward to reuniting with you today and over the next few days, so we’re tremendously proud to have you here.

Mohsen, I just mentioned, is an Iranian journalist and a pro-democracy political activist. Are you here, Mohsen? Thank you, sir. Thank you. Welcome as well. We’re proud to have you here. He served as an elected official until his pro-democracy views got him banned from public office by the regime back in 2001. He was arrested in 2003 and served several months in jail. Upon his release, he fled to the United Kingdom and eventually to the United States.

Please join me in welcoming Ahmad and Mohsen. (Applause.)

And I believe you have some remarks. Please, come on up.

MR SAZEGARA: Hello, everybody. My name is Mohsen Sazegara. I have come a long way from Neauphle-le-Chateau, France, accompanying Ayatollah Khomeini victory flight to Tehran in 1979 to here in New York in 2018. I am one of the writers of IRGC Charter and member of the board of IRGC, first commanding board of IRGC, head of national radio, prime minister office political deputy, head of the IDRO, biggest governmental industrial holding company that owns 140 huge manufacturing companies of Iran.

But when I left the government and started to criticize the regime, the pressures started. I published four newspapers: one weekly, two monthlies. All were shut down by the regime. And at last, I ended in Evin Prison and confined. They arrested my son and put pressure on my wife as well. Four times imprisonment, and during the last one I was on two long hunger strikes totaling 79 days.

At last I was released in poor health with heart and eye problems. I succeeded to rescue my family and myself, but many others were not lucky like me and lost their lives or their health. Right now, my main concern as a freedom seeker is the danger of Islamic Republic’s new plan to push the Iranian civil resistance toward violence as they did in Syria to justify their brutality. Democratic opposition to the regime has started a campaign for prevention of regime conspiracy.

Let me finish my few words with informing you about the letter that is ready to be sent to the secretary general of the United Nations with wide spectrum of democratic opposition signatures and starting a campaign in the street. Thank you.

MS NAUERT: Mohsen, thank you. (Applause.) Ahmad, please go ahead.

MR BATEBI: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Ahmad Batebi, a journalist and former political prisoner. 1999, when I was a student, Iran Government shut down a newspaper, and students came – thank you – out of the university to support the newspaper. And IRGC forces, police, and some government supporters attacked to students and dormitory and killed some of them, and the government sent a big group of students to the jail, including me. In the jail, after a few weeks, interrogators show me a picture of me with a bloody T-shirt in front of The Economist magazine. And they said that you, by this picture, show a bad image of our government to the world and we are representative of God on the Earth, so you show a bad image of God to the world. That’s why they gave me capital punishment.

They tortured me and they said that you have to come in the TV – state TV, front of the camera, and talk against the student movement, and you have to say this picture is fake, it’s animal blood, and I got money from U.S. Government and Israel to make this fake picture. I didn’t, actually. I had this chance; I escaped from prison. But at this moment we are talking about the human rights, and this story – we have a lot of people as a political prisoner inside Iran, and Iran Government tortured them.

(Audio interruption.)

I really appreciate it.

(Audio interruption.)

MR HOOK: Good morning. Did we solve the AV problems? Great.Date: 09/28/2018 Description: Brian Hook and Amb. Michael Kozak briefing at ''U.S. Call for Supporting Human Rights in Iran'' - State Dept Image

Thank you very much, Heather, and I’m very pleased to join an old friend of mine and a colleague from the State Department, Ambassador Mike Kozak. I think as you know, we seek a comprehensive deal with Iran to address the full range of Iran’s destructive behaviors. We know it supports proxies around the Middle East, violent proxies that proliferate missiles, maritime aggression, cyber-attacks. One aspect that’s very important to us is pressing the regime to also live up to its human rights commitments.

And it’s fitting that we are echoing this call here at the United Nations. Earlier this week, Secretary Pompeo gave a speech, and he said that the Iranian regime’s track record over the past 40 years has revealed it as among the worst violators of the UN charter and UN Security Council resolutions. The regime’s actions both at home and abroad are an affront to the UN’s core values, and they should be addressed, especially as a member-state.

We must not fall into the trap of complacency, nor should we allow ourselves to be deceived by polished diplomats like Foreign Minister Zarif or President Rouhani. These so-called moderates represent a regime that routinely jails people who exercise their human rights. They jail lawyers for representing women – some moderates. We wish fewer diplomats at the UN General Assembly would accept as normal Iran’s serial violations of human rights. I can assure you there is nothing normal about Iran’s actions. What’s more, the hollow words of the leaders of the Islamic Republic here during the UN General Assembly are of little comfort to the thousands of Iranians who continue to face repression and abuse on a daily basis.

What we are demanding of the Iranian regime is really what this body demands of every member-state. Stop persecuting civil society, please provide all Iranian citizens with due process regardless of their political and religious beliefs, and end the support of terrorist proxies who destabilize other nations.

The activists that we have highlighted today and throughout the days leading up to the UN General Assembly. They are guilty only of having the temerity to stand up and to speak out, and it is time that the international community muster the strength to do the same. And so to all of these courageous Iranians who are languishing in prison, please be certain that the United States stands with you. And I encourage everyone to visit the State Department’s website. We have published a report this week. The Secretary of State rolled it out a couple of days ago. It’s titled ‘Outlaw Regime,’ chronicling – ‘A Chronicle of Iran’s Destructive Activities.’ And if you look at chapter six, it is on human rights abuses in Tehran and here is the photo we have inside and on the cover of a university student in Iran who is being gassed with a smoke grenade. And so we talk here about the targeting of religious minorities, the atrocities abroad, the repressions on very basic freedoms.

It’s also the case that when you look at what the Ayatollah was saying – Ayatollah Khomeini was saying when he was in Paris before going to Iran and then what he said when he got to Iran, he promised an end to a number of things, and he also promised more freedom, more prosperity, an end to corruption. And we have had 39 years of failed promises. They have not delivered. This regime has not delivered on the promises of the revolution. I think the Iranian people know that. So many of the things that the United States is asking the Iranian Government to stop doing are the same things the Iranian people are asking the government to stop doing. And so we will continue to stand with them. Ambassador Kozak and I are happy to take a few questions.

MODERATOR: Hi, everybody. Welcome. We’re going to start with members of the media. If you have a question, bring it up --

MS NAUERT: One moment.

MODERATOR: Yup. I’m going to welcome back Undersecretary Nauert to the stage for one moment.

MS NAUERT: Thank you. Gentlemen, before you start taking questions, I would like to invite Ahmad to come back and join us. There was a little bit of an audio interference and it interfered with his ability to tell his story in a way that could clearly be picked up by those folks who are watching and recording this. So I wanted to ask him, sir, if you would, apologies for that technical issue. If you would kindly step up and tell us about your time in Iran in your home country, as you were taking a photograph that appeared on the cover of The Economist. And after his photo appeared on the cover of The Economist, you were harassed, detained and all of that. If you would be – kindly, share your story once again for us. Thank you.

MR BATEBI: Thank you. Good morning again. My name is Ahmad Batebi, journalist and former political prisoner. Is it good?

STAFF: Very good.

MR BATEBI: Sure, sure. Can you hear me? Is it good? Perfect. My name is Ahmad Batebi, journalist and former political prisoner in Iran. In 1999, when I was a student, the Iran Government shut down a reformist newspaper and the students started a big demonstration to support this newspaper. And a few hours after that, IRGC, Revolutionary Guard and police and some Iran Government supporter attacked two students and two dormitory. They killed some of these students and injured them, and sent hundreds of them to the prison, including me. And in the prison, after a few weeks, interrogators show me a picture – front of The Economist magazine, and – with a bloody t-shirt of a student has been injured by Revolutionary Guard.

And they said that, “By this picture, you show a bad image of our government to the world, and we are a representative of God, Allah on the earth. And when you show a bad image of our government to the world, you directly show a bad image of Allah to the people.” That’s why they gave me capital punishment. And they torture me – different kind of torture me – mock execution, cable, mental pressure, everything. And they said that, “You have to come in the TV, state TV, and interview us and talk against student movement and you have to say, ‘I was a spy. I got money from CIA and Mossad to make this picture that’s not real blood, that’s animal blood or tomato sauce. And – but I didn’t. After nine years and half I had this chance; I escaped from the prison, but we have a lot of Iranian people in the jail right now as a political prisoner. They don’t have this chance. The Iran Government torture them.

And we have a dream. As I said before, we have a dream, a dream of freedom and democracy, which we all deserve that. And we all deserve that. Thank you so much, State Department and the U.S. Government, for paying attention to Iran human rights issues and thank you for your attention. Thank you so much.

MS NAUERT: And thank you for stepping up again and completing your story. Thank you so much. I’ll hand it over to our Special Representative Brian Hook and also Ambassador Kozak. Thank you, gentlemen.

MODERATOR: So at this time, we’re going to take questions from the press. If you can raise your hand and wait for the microphone. And please, state your name and media affiliation.

QUESTION: Sure. Hi. I’m Guita with The Voice of America, the Persian Service. Brian, I have a question for you. We have repeatedly heard from the U.S. Government about Iran’s malign behavior. Up until now, at least I assumed that this was regarding its terrorist activities and what it supports around the world in terms of the proxy wars and everything that it carries out. However, with this report that you’ve just recently put out, you have included human rights in there, and also in the film that we watched at the beginning there was the term “malign behavior” about human rights.

So number one, how high a priority do you attach to human rights with regards to the Islamic Republic of Iran among everything else that you’re concerned about? And do you have a strategy for an approach to addressing that? Thank you.

MR HOOK: This report that we put out a couple of days ago that the Iran Action Group published does represent the range – the entire range of Iranian threats. We also though include in there a section on human rights and a section on the environment. It’s – I think it’s been under-reported in the press the degree to which this government has been systematically destroying the environment. Prior to this government taking power I think there were about seven ancient dams. There are now over 600 dams and all of this – all of the dam building has actually dried up many of the lakes and rivers, and so farmers have a hard time farming, people don’t have access to clean water, don’t have access – they don’t breathe clean air. And when they protest asking for clean air and clean water, they’re arrested and killed, and we document this in this report.

We don’t believe in taking these things seriatim. We think that you need to take a comprehensive approach and highlight the entire range of Iran’s destructive behaviors. Missile proliferation is a destructive behavior. It very much affects the security and the safety of not only our diplomats, but also our allies and partners around the world. There’s also the destructive behavior inside of the regime. And so we need to – we will continue to take a comprehensive approach to all of Iran’s destructive behaviors. More specifically, we are seeking a new deal with Iran, one that is not just limited to the nuclear program, but covers what we believe are the threats.

And so of those, the fifth of the 12, if you look at Secretary Pompeo’s speech in May, he talks about releasing all united – citizens of the United States who are detained unjustly and also those who are detained from our allies and partners around the world, because their human rights are violated. So of the 12 requirements in a new deal we include an aspect of human rights.

QUESTION: This question is to both of you. My name is Anna Asatiani. I represent Independent Russian Network RTVI. I have a question. How exactly are you planning to support the human rights in Iran while cutting ties with the country and adding new sanctions? And if you could tell us about – more about alternative to the Iran deal, and what alternative are you ready to offer?

MR HOOK: Well, when you said, “cutting ties,” we cut ties a long time ago, so we don’t have any ties. In terms of the – our sanctions that are coming back into place in force in November. The first tranche has already come in back in August. This is – but the most hard-hitting sanctions will be around the energy and banking sectors, the financial sectors. The purpose of those sanctions is to deny the regime the revenue that it needs to fund terrorism and instability around the Middle East and beyond. And so that is the point of our sanctions, is to advance our national security objectives and to create sufficient pressure on the Iranian regime that it decides that the cost-benefit analysis of its destructive behavior is no longer in their favor. And historically, the regime does not come to the table absent pressure. If we can talk them into behaving better, this would have been settled a long time ago.

One of the – I would say perhaps the biggest mistake this regime has made, they were given the opportunity of a lifetime in 2015 with the Iran nuclear deal, they were given $100 billion in sanctions relief, and that was their moment to choose a better path. Because the United States at that time – the prior administration had decided to lift the sanctions and provide enormous sanctions relief, and the regime then decided to spend billions and billions and billions of dollars on violent misadventures. I’ve heard that there is a joke inside of Tehran about the money, the billions that came on the plane: it didn’t land in Tehran, it landed in Damascus.

They – we have released all of these statistics: almost $5 billion to Assad, $700 million a year to Lebanese Hizballah, hundreds of millions of dollars in Yemen. And so where does this money come from? It comes from Iran’s opaque economy, money laundering, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, which controls more than half of the economy. Eighty percent of its tax revenues are from oil. Where does that money find its natural resting place with this regime? It ends up in Lebanon, Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad, and their militias in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, the missile proliferation that’s going on.

So we tried sanctions relief with this regime, and it did not moderate the regime. They used the money and they have become even more dangerous. And so now we are going back to pressure, and we are imposing maximum economic pressure on the regime until it decides to change its behavior.

QUESTION: Thank you. Barbara Plett Usher from the BBC. Question for both of you. In your interactions this week with other diplomats and colleagues, to what – how much has the message that you’re giving about human rights been impacted by the widespread opposition to the U.S. decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal? For example, you said that President Rouhani’s words rang hollow, but in fact, they actually resonated much more strongly than they would have otherwise because of this decision to pull out of the deal, and he was able to paint the U.S. as a rogue state for violating an international agreement rather than Iran. So has that impacted your ability to strongly send out your message about human rights? Thank you.

MR HOOK: Well, I’ll take the first part and then ask Ambassador Kozak the second part. As Foreign Minister Zarif told a meeting of the joint commission last year, it’s not an agreement, it’s a plan of action. It doesn’t have signatures. It was a personal agreement that was approved by a president no longer in office. The Iranian regime knows our system of government. If they wanted an agreement, a plan of action that endured beyond the administration, they know what a treaty is, and they decided to get a much better deal by getting something much lower in our hierarchy of plans. And so they essentially made a 20-year plan of action with a president who had two years left in office.

And so we are not legally bound by this plan. The UN Security Council resolution is not legally binding. It does not bind any of UN members into staying in the plan. It is just a plan, and that’s exactly what Foreign Minister Zarif told a meeting of the joint commission last year, and now he puts out tweets describing this as a glorious international accord, and he’s not telling the truth.

And so we decided to leave the Iran nuclear plan. We do have a disagreement with the other parties on the sufficiency of the plan. That is the only disagreement we have. We share the same threat assessment of the entire range of Iran’s malign behaviors. You could go around the world and ask people to describe the – Iran’s threats to peace and security, and you’re going to hear almost an identical version.

Do you want to say anything about the human rights piece?

AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah, I’ll just add briefly I don’t – the goings-on on the nuclear side really hasn’t affected much our dialogue with others on human rights. Other like-minded governments are also concerned about the human rights situation in Iran, have been for years. We work together to pass resolutions in the UN and so on, but you can see how much good that has done. So I think what’s different here is that we’re putting some teeth behind the human rights factor as well as the other bad behaviors of Iran.

So, no, others have the same goals in that area as we do. We’ve not had a tool to achieve that goal up until now, and hopefully this will add some additional leverage that maybe will make the government be a little more serious about when we all come to them and talk about their human rights problems.

MR HOOK: Let me mention one other thing which – Mike makes a good point. In 2009 when the last administration had its eyes on a deal, during the Green Revolution they sided with the regime in the first few weeks. They were silent. And what we’ve seen is during the period of negotiating the Iran deal, Western nations tolerated a lot of bad behavior to get the deal, and they have tolerated much worse behavior since the deal has been signed.

Iran has not diminished its pace of missile tests in violation of UN Security Council resolutions since the JPOA. And if you look at the – all of the expansionist activities that Iran has been undertaking during the lifetime of the JCPOA, it has acted as a – for somehow complying – Iran’s compliance with the Iran nuclear deal somehow became a proxy for Iran complying with all of its other international obligations to behave like a normal country.

And one of the advantages of seeking a better deal is that it frees us to talk about human rights. In December and in January when the protesters took to the streets, we were in immediate support of what they asked for from their government, and we corrected the mistake of not standing with the Iranian people in 2009 during the Green Revolution.

QUESTION: Mahmood Enayat from Iran International. I have two questions. One is regarding internet freedom, which is captured in the report. As you know, Iran is one of the most restrictive countries when it comes to internet freedom. Most of the social media platforms are blocked. My question is: What are the practical measures that the U.S. Government is implementing with regard to helping with internet freedom in Iran?

And the second question is about a disinformation campaign and the possible threat of the – Iran meddling in the upcoming midterm election. As you know, a number of state-sponsored outlets, their profiles and their accounts on social media was closed down. I’m just wondering to what extent is actually the real threat, sort of Iran meddling in the U.S. election.

MR HOOK: Yeah. Secretary Pompeo’s speech earlier this week highlighted how Iran has been exploiting social media to spread disinformation. Google, Facebook, and a few other social media platforms shut down – I know it was hundreds, it might have been thousands of accounts that were tied back to the Iranian Government. And so another example of how – another example of an outlaw regime that doesn’t respect international norms, and we will continue to call that out.

We are doing – we think it’s very important for the Iranian people to be as interconnected as possible. You’ve got – the ayatollah has a Twitter account and Zarif and Rouhani have a Twitter account, but they ban social media inside of Iran. This is the hypocrisy of the regime and Secretary Pompeo has called out and will continue to call out all acts of hypocrisy by this religious dictatorship.

QUESTION: Hi, Kevin Princic with the Yomiuri Shimbun. My question is: What are you doing for the human rights or for the people of Iran? When you talked about Secretary Pompeo’s remarks, you talked about freeing American or allies prisoners. What about the Iranian prisoners? And what kind of sanctions will you be pursuing to support the Iranian people in terms of human rights as United States unilaterally and also multilaterally through United Nations?

MR HOOK: Well, I’ll give my quick answer. We – during the December and January protests, we imposed U.S. sanctions on the minister of the judiciary in Iran, and that was because of what he was doing to jail protesters, and so we thought it was very important to reach into the judiciary. The Iranian people have been – they’re completely jaded and frustrated by Iran’s judiciary. They don’t believe that Iran’s judicial system provides any notion of due process or fairness, and so people have lost confidence in their judicial system to render justice. That’s why – one of the reasons why we sanctioned the head of the judiciary, and I’ll ask Mike to add anything else on that.

AMBASSADOR KOZAK: No, well, I think that’s a good example, and we’ve been able to do things in other areas as well, the previous question about internet freedom. We work in countries throughout the world to try to help people overcome barriers to access to the internet and so on.

So I think that the bottom line is that since we’ve put this item on the agenda, as the report that Ambassador Hook laid out shows, now we can talk about human rights with a little bit of leverage behind it. Instead of just saying it would be nice for you to improve yourself in these – this area, we’re saying if you really want to have a normal relationship with the United States and hopefully with other countries, you should be paying attention to this.

I think the other thing we’re trying to do is also, as Secretary Nauert mentioned, call on businesses around the world to say, do you really want to be joining in business ventures with people who behave this way? It usually does not end well for the businesses, let alone for the suffering people in the country. So that’s another thing we can do to help on human rights is to link that back and say, before you go and invest in – with the IRGC or something, you should look at what they’re doing and try to get some assurance that they’re not going to do that kind of stuff before you put money into a bad venture like that.

MR HOOK: Yeah, exactly. Businesses around the world invest in Iran at their peril. There is a great deal of reputational risk when you partner with this regime for a couple of reasons. One, Iran has deliberately – the regime has created a deliberately opaque economy. They don’t comply with international banking standards. They’re not in compliance with SWIFT standards. They have a Revolutionary Guard Corps. Imagine a Revolutionary Guard Corps that controls more than half of the economy.

And when you do business in Iran, you never know if you are supporting business or terrorism. And when you do business with this regime, you are supporting a regime that gives money to Assad, who then uses that money to gas his own people and use chemical weapons. And so businesses need to understand that if they want to make a contribution to national security, they should stop foreign direct investment in that country.

QUESTION: Hi, my name is Atsushi Takemoto with Kyodo News, Japan. Thank you for doing this. Couple of years ago I used to live in Iran. My house was close to the Evin Prison. And during my stay I met lots of Iranian citizens who paid respect, big respect to American culture, American values, and those are the people who are actually suffering from sanctions on the ground. So my question is on the Iran Action Group. So are you – other than putting pressure on the regime, are you trying to communicate or are you trying to promote communication with the Iranian citizens, not the regime?

MR HOOK: Yes, of course. And understand something: As Heather was saying earlier, the longest-suffering people of the Iranian regime are the Iranian people. For 39 years they have mismanaged their economy, they’ve mismanaged the environment, and they have become an international pariah. Because this, at heart, is a revolutionary regime. It’s the last revolutionary regime on Earth. You can’t say that about North Korea; it’s a hermit kingdom. But this is a regime that has in its constitution the export of revolution.

And so what we have – what we have been saying is it is – it’s important that the Iranian people understand that we have exemptions in our sanctions regime that provide for food, medicine, medical devices. That will be very robustly implemented. We think that’s very important. But the suffering that the Iranian people are going through economically with the collapse of the rial, the high unemployment, especially high youth unemployment, is a consequence of a regime that has been robbing its citizens for many decades, and they spend that money on revolution outside of its borders.

And so our message to the Iranian people is that we support your demands on the regime. Many of them are the same demands that we have.

MODERATOR: And this will be the last question.

QUESTION: Thank you. Hatem El-Gamasy from Ambassador Hook, you just mentioned sanctions did not moderate the regime of Iran. What else could be done to pressure the regime to improve their human rights record? Also about doing business with Iran, some of the United States key allies in the area, such as Qatar, enjoy excellent relations either with military cooperation or economic with Iran. Doesn’t this concern the United States? Thank you, sir.

MR HOOK: On the – what was the first part of the question?

QUESTION: What else could be done besides sanctions? Sanctions did not --

MR HOOK: Oh, yeah, pressure. Well, what we have is we are – our Defense Department is trying to – is doing its best to restore deterrence against missile proliferation, against terrorist attacks. A lot of our diplomacy in Syria under Ambassador Jeffrey, a lot of his diplomacy is focused on a political track that ensures that all forces under Iranian control have left Syria. Iran has about 2,500 soldiers from the IRGC and the Qods Force, and they also manage 10,000 Shia fighters. And we will be denying reconstruction assistance to territories held by Assad until we achieve our goal of removing forces under Iranian control from Syria. We also are working very closely in government formation in Iraq. Our ambassador in Baghdad is working very hard on that.

We are doing what we can to interdict weapons shipments to Yemen. We have had some success with that. Ambassador Haley has been to the Defense Department to show the range of Iranian hardware that we have picked up on the battlefield. These are missiles, drones, AK-47s, grenades, I’ve seen it all. And what’s remarkable now is that when you see, like, the Qiam 2 missile and the missile that actually was shot from Yemen and landed right on the margins of the Riyadh International Airport, you can see on the tailfin clear markings of Shahid Bakeri Industries, which manufactures missiles in Iran. We have another missile that we recently interdicted with our partners in the region that’s on display. It’s in pristine condition, and you can see all the markings in Farsi.

They’re really doing this quite brazenly, and so this is why our message is we really need to restore deterrence. That’s the deterrence side. The diplomatic side is putting in place maximum economic pressure. The sanctions regime that brought Iran to the table for the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal, started in 2006 in the UN Security Council, where the IAEA reported Iran’s nuclear program to the council because they could not verify that it was a peaceful nuclear program.

And so then we started – the first one was Resolution 1696, then we started passing Chapter 7 resolutions under 1737, 1747, and what followed were a series of resolutions that continued through the Obama years putting pressure on the regime. That then brought them to the table. It will be much easier for us to restore pressure than it was back in 2006. And so our sanctions are going to be re-imposed, there will be maximum economic pressure to deny the regime the revenues it needs to conduct terrorism, but also to create leverage for us to achieve a comprehensive deal that we’re seeking.

Mike, want to add anything to that?

AMBASSADOR KOZAK: Yeah, I think we too often on human rights issues with other countries get focused on one particular tool or another. I mean, the reason these countries have human rights problems is it’s deliberate, and as we’ve outlined today, they don’t want to change that. So you have to put something in place that’s going to make them have to come and make a deal with you to change it. And it’s the whole range of pressures, and it’s the range of isolation from the normal world that I think eventually will bring a regime like this to the table.

Because at some point they do have to be able to get revenue and be able to trade, and if you can say that’s not going to happen until you make some progress on these points, eventually you get there. But we get too often – get very focused on, well let’s – this sanction didn’t work in this case so we shouldn’t do that anymore. And it doesn’t work that way. It’s what collectively puts them under enough pressure to say, “Okay, I really don’t want to have to stop repressing my people but I guess I’m going to have to in order to be able to get what I want on the economic side.”

MR HOOK: Ambassador Kozak has a distinguished history of advancing human rights, and he and I have had a lot of conversations over the years about how do you go about that. And we think that the biggest mistake you can make is to separate human rights from everything else. When you do that, as other administrations in the past have done, you end up not making much progress on your national security objectives and you don’t – and you make even less progress on human rights. We believe in taking a comprehensive approach to these things, so that’s why when the President addresses the UN General Assembly and he talks about the range of threats that Iran presents to peace and security, he also talks about standing with the Iranian people and highlighting the abuses this regime has committed. These things have to travel arm in arm, and that is the most effective diplomacy if you want to actually make progress on human rights.

QUESTION: One more question, please?

MODERATOR: I’m so sorry. That takes us to the end of our press conference. Thank you all for coming.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MODERATOR: We will – this concludes the press portion of the program. There’ll be other opportunities to engage our speakers. Ambassador Kozak, Special Representative Hook, thank you very much.

MR HOOK: Great, thank you. (Applause.)

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