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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

U.S. Policy Toward Iran & Countering Iran's Malign Influence

Brian Hook
Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State and Special Representative for Iran 

New York, NY
December 12, 2018


MODERATOR: Hi, everybody. Welcome, welcome.

MR HOOK: Hello, hi.


MR HOOK: Council meeting went long, so sorry to keep you waiting.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. I know that Mr. Hook is very busy and you guys are also eager to get right into the depth of things. I just wanted to briefly introduce him. Of course, you probably know already, he is the U.S. Special Representative for Iran and senior policy advisor to the Secretary of State. He is no stranger to New York, having worked here as well as a senior advisor at our U.S. Mission to the UN.

I’ll ask him to make some brief opening remarks and then we’ll take as many questions as possible. Try to limit your question to just one, keep it brief, and give us your name and media outlet so he knows who is talking to you. Thank you.

MR HOOK: Great. Thank you for hosting this, thank you for coming. I think I’ll just make one brief statement about the Council meeting today, and then invite any questions you have.

We sometimes get questions about America being alone in confronting the range of threats that Iran presents to peace and security. I think today in the UN Security Council, that narrative has been defeated. There were 11 members of the Security Council, plus Germany and the European Union, who all called out Iran for missile testing, missile proliferation, and regional aggression.

This is now the 12th year the Security Council has met to discuss Iran’s violations of UN Security Council resolutions around ballistic missile testing and proliferation. Much of its testing and proliferation has occurred during the negotiation and implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, and Secretary Pompeo today was very pleased to attend this Council meeting to highlight the threats to peace and security that Iran presents. And it’s very important that those who wish to preserve the Iran nuclear deal, that they not do so at the expense of stability in the Middle East.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR HOOK: Sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Some of the countries present today mentioned that while Iran has violated some of the resolutions, but they have complied with the nuclear commitments that they’ve had, and suggested that the missile tests and technology transfers and weapon transfers be addressed outside the nuclear proliferation issue, and specifically the JCPOA. It seems that the United States has rejected JCPOA but was trying to use that as a platform today to address these issues.

MR HOOK: One cannot separate the UN Security Council 2231 Resolution and Iran’s missile testing and proliferation. They are linked. Operative paragraph seven addresses Iran’s missile program. And the Security Council, since 2006, using various formulations, either under 1540, 1737, 1747, 1929, 2231, there are other resolutions that members cited today that pertain to Iran acting in defiance year in and year out of the UN Security Council. We don’t believe that you can separate Iran’s missile activities from the Iran nuclear deal.

Those who negotiated the deal made it very clear that its exclusive focus on the nuclear program would not prevent member-states and the parties to the deal from addressing the non-nuclear threats. And of all the threats to peace and security that Iran presents today, their – the missiles are, we think, the most serious concern that the Council needs to address. And Secretary Pompeo today explained in some detail our threat assessment. I think you – if you listen carefully to what the Security Council members said today, you have at least 11 members – plus Germany and the EU – that share our threat assessment. And this was a call to action to not allow the Iran nuclear deal to prevent the international community from addressing the non-nuclear threats to peace and security that this regime presents.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: Paolo Mastrolilli (inaudible) La Stampa. Would you consider to extend the exemption from sanctions to a country like Italy beyond the six months? Are you monitoring the way Italy is disinvesting in Iran, and what do you expect from an ally like Italy on this issue?

MR HOOK: The United States is not looking to grant exemptions or waivers from our campaign of maximum economic pressure on the regime. We granted a handful of oil waivers to countries. We did that principally because when those decisions were made, we had a very tight and fragile oil market. And it would have been bad statecraft if we would have in – to have caused the price of oil to go up and give Iran an advantage while we’re trying to impose economic pressure on them.

We successfully took off over 1 million barrels of Iranian crude between May and November with nations pre-complying with our nations. We put in place a handful of oil waivers to prevent an increase in the price of oil, and oil – the price of oil has come down. We think in 2019 supply will exceed demand. That puts us in a much better position to accelerate the path to zero imports of Iranian crude. Eighty percent of the regime’s revenue comes from oil exports. And if you want to get serious about deterring the regime, which is the number-one state sponsor of terrorism in the world, then you need to go after the money, and that means going after the oil exports.

And we will see more oil coming off the market, and we are not looking to grant – we’re not looking to grant exemptions or waivers from our sanctions regime because it’s so important to impose economic pressure on this regime to deny it the revenues that it uses to destabilize the Middle East – and you heard that today in the council – but it’s also to put pressure on the regime to come back to the negotiating table so that we can get a new and better deal.

QUESTION: Italy has also a lot of other investment aside from oil. What should they do?

MR HOOK: We are in – I’ve had very good meetings with the Italian Government. I was in Italy after the government formation, and continue to stay in regular touch with my Italian counterpart.


QUESTION: I’m James Reinl, Middle East Eye. Thanks so much for talking to us, Mr. Hook. It’s really a continuation of what you were just talking about, but the Europeans and the Security Council spoke once again about this SPV, the special purpose vehicle, for non-dollar transactions with Iran. They say it’s going to come into being by the end of the year.

In your conversations with the Europeans, I understand that you’re talking about what’s going to be permitted to be traded under the SPV. Will it be just humanitarian stuff, food, or could it also include oil, for example? In these conversations, what are the red lines that you’re giving the Europeans as to what’s acceptable from the administration’s point of view?

MR HOOK: Let me first say that we’ve only seen very supportive compliance by European companies. European companies, if given the choice between the American market and the Iranian market, will always choose the American market. It’s just a much bigger market. We also follow FATF banking standards. All of our banks comply with international banking standards. It’s very easy to do business in the United States. When you do business in Iran, you never quite know if you’re facilitating commerce or terrorism because the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps is responsible for well over half of the Iranian economy.

We have had teams from the State Department and Treasury visit over 30 nations, working with corporations – this is in every region of the world – working with corporations and governments to educate them on the risks of doing business with this revolutionary and brutal regime. And we have seen very – a lot of support for what we’re trying to do.

And I give you that preamble because we just don’t see much demand for a special purpose vehicle. We don’t see companies wanting to avail themselves of this mechanism. And the Secretary just gave a press conference and said that if it were limited to, say, humanitarian – facilitating humanitarian transactions, which our sanctions encourage, that would be fine. But it’s also the case that we will sanction any sanctionable behavior. But my sense is that, especially in Europe, we won’t have to reach that issue because we’ve seen nothing but support and compliance by European firms.


QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Hatem El-Gamasy from As you just mentioned, we have witnessed today a shift in the European stand on the Iranian deal (inaudible) understand the threat of the missiles test. How about Russia and China and their stand on the deal? Also, Iran in the Gulf area enjoy excellent and strategic relation with countries like Turkey. They are still very involved with – in Iraq and also in Syria. We know they are involved in Yemen and Lebanon. And they enjoy very good relation with one of the U.S. key allies in the area, which is Qatar. Isn’t this a concern of United States in their stand on the Iranian deal? Thank you.

MR HOOK: What specifically is our concern? That what? That Iran has relations with those countries or what?

QUESTION: Yes, actually, and they are supporting the deal also Russia and China. They enjoy very good relations with Iran and they seem reluctant to take any actions to support the sanctions or push Iran forward to renegotiate the deal.

MR HOOK: Today in the Council, Russia and China did talk about the importance of the Iran nuclear deal, which we fully expected. We have a disagreement with Russia and China over the efficacy of the Iran nuclear deal. The other nations that you mentioned, to date we have seen compliance with our sanctions regime. And where we see noncompliance, we will sanction, and Treasury Department has already gone after people who are trying to evade or undermine our sanctions.

Many of the countries that you mention, Iran is the last revolutionary regime on Earth, and they export revolution, and whenever they engage in a lot of these countries, especially in places like Syria and Yemen, they intensify a conflict and they prolong it and they widen it. And what we talked about today was in addition to the missiles, the regional instability, and we heard it repeatedly from Security Council members today that Iran is destabilizing the Middle East and they have to – they have to stop this behavior. And if Iran will start behaving like a normal country, they will start enjoying the privileges of a normal country.

The Secretary reminded the world today that a much brighter future awaits the Iranian people. We would like to get to an agreement that allows us to restore full diplomatic relations, commercial relations, welcome the Iranian people into the international community, but this regime has to change its behavior first.

MODERATOR: Fernando.

QUESTION: Fernando Arias with the Swedish National Public Radio. Thank you for doing this. Given the economic sanctions that the U.S. is imposing on Iran, and given the pressure that you want to impose in the future, what are the odds for regime change in Iran, do you think, and what would that look like?

MR HOOK: The future of Iran is up to the Iranian people, and that’s where it starts and ends. The Iranian people since 1905, with the Constitutional Revolution, have made various attempts at a government that truly represents them. The – this regime does a very bad job of representing the Iranian people. And for 39 years, Iran has been in many ways an international pariah, and that has been at great cost to the Iranian people.

So many of the things that the Iranian people take to the streets and protest and demand are many of the same demands that the United States has been making. We would like them to get out of Syria; so do many of the Iranian people. Iran has no legitimate interests in Yemen. None. And we cannot allow in the political process that will follow the end of hostilities there – we cannot allow Iran to do in Yemen what it did in Lebanon. So we would like to see the regime change its behavior, to change its policies. But the future of Iran is up to the Iranian people.

MODERATOR: Last question, Mathias.

QUESTION: Hi. Mathias Ask with TV2 Norway. The Secretary said a lot about Iran’s regional instability or instability in the region caused by Iran, but he also mentioned a point about missiles being able to reach major European cities and capitals. Why did he feel the need to make that point? It doesn’t seem like Iran’s been threatening to – or at least those are the countries that are keeping the Iran deal together?

MR HOOK: When you look at Iran plotting a bomb attack in Paris, an assassination attempt in Denmark, the massive shipment of heroin that the Italian Government interdicted, that’s just in very recent memory. The Iranian regime has a 39-year – Iran and Hizballah – have a 39-year history of terrorism in Europe, and when Iran is seeking a ballistic missile capability that reaches Europe, it is relevant to Europe’s security. This is the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism. And the State Department earlier this year published a history of Iran and Hizballah’s activities, terrorist activities, in Europe, and this is not a benign regime that is at peace with its neighbors. They have conducted terrorist attacks in five continents.

What would it mean for the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism to have a missile that can reach into the heart of Europe or reach the United States? When they do these space launches, that technology can be transferred to its intercontinental ballistic missile program. So we have to be vigilant about this and we can’t wait for threats to gather. So that’s why we are urging – the Secretary today highlighting – Iran does not need a missile that travels 2,000 kilometers. It doesn’t.

And people talk about Iran’s legitimate defense needs. It’s very hard to have that conversation when so many of the threats that Iran faces today are self-generated. And when they talk about their missile testing, they say that this is for defensive purposes, and it’s hard to understand how the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism is entitled to a claim of defense. Is the bomb plot in Paris – was that defensive? Was the assassination attempt in Denmark defensive? Is shipping heroin through Italy defensive? Is harboring al-Qaida defensive? Is destabilizing Yemen defensive? Is trying to overthrow the legitimate government of Bahrain defensive?

These are revolutionary activities, and the price for the revolutionary activities is where we are today, 12 years in the Council dealing with Iran’s missile threats among other threats to peace and security that Iran presents. So we think that other nations are starting to – Iran is helping us make our case to deter Iran’s missile testing, missile proliferation, and regional aggression.

Got to leave it there.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

MODERATOR: Yeah, I’m sorry. Unfortunately, Mr. Hook has to leave. We’ll get you the transcript as soon as possible.

MR HOOK: I got to – I don’t want to miss the motorcade.

MODERATOR: If he misses the motorcade, it’s on me. (Laughter.)

MR HOOK: All right. Thank you.

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