Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. It’s our great pleasure to have the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Treasury here. They’ll make brief remarks and then take a few questions.
Go ahead, Madam Secretary. SECRETARY CLINTON:
Thank you very much, Mark, and I’m delighted to have Secretary Geithner here at the State Department for this important announcement.
Yesterday, President Obama signed an Executive Order targeting eight Iranian officials responsible for serious and sustained human rights abuses since the disputed election of June 2009. On these officials’ watch or under their command, Iranian citizens have been arbitrarily arrested, beaten, tortured, raped, blackmailed, and killed. Yet the Iranian Government has ignored repeated calls from the international community to end these abuses, to hold to account those responsible and respect the rights and fundamental freedoms of its citizens. And Iran has failed to meet its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The steady deterioration in human rights conditions in Iran has obliged the United States to speak out time and time again. And today, we are announcing specific actions that correspond to our deep concern. The mounting evidence of repression against anyone who questions Iranian Government decisions or advocates for transparency or even attempts to defend political prisoners is very troubling.
This week, Iranian authorities banned two reformist political parties and shut down two more newspapers. This follows a series of convictions and harsh sentences for a number of political prisoners. Two internationally recognized human rights defenders were sentenced to six-year prison terms. A student leader was given an eight and a half year sentence for insulting the president. Human rights lawyers, bloggers, journalists and activists for women’s rights have all been jailed and many have fallen ill due to mistreatment in prison.
Now, these actions obviously contradict recent claims made at the United Nations that Iranians enjoy the right of free expression and that no one is imprisoned for political reasons. In signing this Executive Order, the President sends the message that the United States stands up for the universal rights of all people. And as President Obama said at the United Nations last week, we will call out those who suppress ideas. We will serve as a voice for the voiceless. And we will hold abuse of governments and individuals accountable for their actions.
This is the first time the United States has imposed sanctions against Iran based on human rights abuses. We would like to be able to tell you that it might be the last, but we fear not. We now have at our disposal a new tool that allows us to designate individual Iranians, officials responsible for or complicit in serious human rights violations, and do so in a way that does not in any way impact on the well-being of the Iranian people themselves.
The Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 permits us to impose financial sanctions and deny U.S. visas to specific Iranian officials where there is credible evidence against them. In doing so today, we declare our solidarity with their victims and with all Iranians who wish for a government that respects their human rights and their dignity and their freedom. By doing so, we convey our strong support for the rule of law, and we speak out for those unable to speak for themselves because they are jailed or frightened or fear retribution against themselves or their families.
Today, again, we call for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Iran and around the world, and we call on the Iranian Government to take actions to end these abuses and respect the universal rights and freedoms of its own citizens.
Secretary Geithner. SECRETARY GEITHNER:
Thank you, Secretary Clinton. I want to thank you and I want to compliment my colleague, Stuart Levey, and his counterparts at the State Department for working so closely together in designing these significant financial actions.
Just a few words on how these measures work and why they are effective: Rather than relying on the traditional approach of broad-based sanctions on the entire country of Iran, we have tried to focus on specific actors, institutions, and actions that threaten our interests as a whole. And we have found that when we single out individuals and expose their conduct, banks, businesses, and governments around the world respond by cutting off their economic and financial dealings with these individuals, these institutions, these businesses.
And this strategy can be very effective. We’ve seen a growing number of companies and financial institutions in countries around the world cut or substantially curtail their financial ties with Iran. They have decided – they have looked at, they have assessed the risks of continuing to do business with these entities, and they have decided that those risks are too great. And we already have indications that Iran’s leadership is concerned about the implications about the impact of this trend.
We have made important progress, and I want to emphasize, as the Secretary of State did, that our goal is not to hurt the Iranian people; our goal is to enact strong, effective measures that will pressure the leadership of Iran to abandon their dangerous course. And we will continue to find ways to target illicit conduct in all areas that threaten our interests.
Thank you.MR. TONER:
Go ahead, Matt.QUESTION:
Yeah. To both secretaries, just on the efficiency and the effectiveness of these sanctions, I mean, given the fact that thus far the rather broad sanctions that have been imposed on the IRGC and others trying to bring them back to the nuclear table haven’t seemed to work, it doesn't – I’d just like to know what indications you have that those are working and why you think these, which are targeted at specific human rights abusers or alleged specific human rights abusers, will make any difference in their behavior.
And then Secretary Clinton, just separately, have you had any word back from the Omani delegation that is in Iran now talking about the possible release of the two remaining hikers? Thank you.SECRETARY CLINTON:
Well, Matt, first we do believe that the sanctions in place that were achieved through effort in the United Nations and then the additional sanctions imposed by our Congress and Administration along with the EU, Japan, and others, are having an impact. Stuart Levey gave a speech in New York – last week, Stuart? MR. LEVEY:
-- outlining the evidence that we have that these sanctions are beginning to be viewed as quite serious within the Iranian political, clerical, and business communities. So from our perspective, the diplomatic effort we engaged in over the course of the last year and a half has made very clear the unity of the international community with respect to Iran’s nuclear program, and we are engaged in discussions with our colleagues in the P-5+1 about an eventual return to the diplomatic table by the Iranians.
This is a different approach, as both Tim and I have said. We are using this new tool that the Congress has just given us to basically publicize and connect to the human rights abuses that are ongoing in Iran those officials about whom we have credible evidence who are responsible for either ordering or implementing these abuses, because we’ve always said that we not only cared about the nuclear program in Iran, we cared about the people of Iran and we cared about their conditions in their country, and we became quite concerned following the disputed elections.
So this is a – both a practical announcement in that there are financial and travel restrictions that will be imposed, but it is a statement of our values. And it is not only about the people of Iran who are suffering, but it expresses solidarity with victims of these kinds of actions around the world.SECRETARY GEITHNER:
When we found that when you focus on specific institutions, individuals, entities, and you focus on specific activities they are undertaking to demonstrate, it’s easier both to get broad-based support for financial – economic consequence, and that’s the basic rationale for the strategy.
Now, how do we know it’s working? We can see and we can see every week how hard it is for the Iranian Government to evade, get around, these things. It’s become much harder for them, the cost of doing it much more difficult, and that is having a big, visible impact in awareness among the leadership of Iran that the actions they’re taking have acute, severe, significant, economic and financial consequences. QUESTION:
On the Omanis?SECRETARY CLINTON:
And I have nothing to add to (inaudible). QUESTION:
Madam Secretary, I understand what you say about the fact that this new legislation gives you additional tools, but what took so long for the U.S. to name and shame these officials that were involved in the crackdown? You’ve been talking about how concerned you were about the human rights situation since the crackdown when it was at its most bloodiest right after the election. The opposition has been virtually kind of completely repressed and oppressed since then, and perhaps some kind of naming and shaming earlier might have given them a little bit more hope and encouragement. So was it more about making the legal case, about having the tools? Why did it take so long?
And also, do you think that – this week, you’ve been talking with the Iranians about getting back to the table. Do you think this move is going to cause the Iranians to pull back?SECRETARY CLINTON:
Well, embedded in your question is the kind of evaluation that we have been engaged in consistently since the Administration came into office. We have a number of important goals in dealing with Iran. Obviously, the nuclear program and its potential to create a nuclear weaponized Iran is something that has grave consequences for the region and the balance among the countries there as well as the rest of the world. So we’ve been very clear, consistent, and achieved the goals that we set out in terms of the international sanctions, at the same time, offering both a diplomatic engagement as well as the pressure track.
We were very clear on criticizing the Iranian Government for their crackdown on peaceful demonstrations, on opposition, on the manipulation of the election. But we also were very mindful of the messages we were getting from Iranians both inside Iran and outside Iran that we had to be careful that this indigenous opposition that we certainly had nothing to do with that was attempting to stand up for the rights of the Iranian people was not somehow seen as a U.S. enterprise, because it wasn’t.
And so walking that line and trying to be both encouraging, forthright, and strong in our support of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Iranian people, at the same time not giving any reason for the Iranians to claim that this reaction from within was somehow either motivated or directed or connected with us, required a balancing act.
So that is what we’ve been doing, but we’ve been very consistent and persistent in pointing out the human rights abuses. And we did, with the accumulation of credible evidence, find ourselves, once the tools were in place, to be able to use them, which is what we’re announcing today.MR. TONER:
Last question, Bloomberg.QUESTION:
Thank you. Can you give us a sense with respect to these new sanctions of the size or scope of the holdings these eight individuals have in the States?SECRETARY GEITHNER:
No, but I can tell you again, as I said before, you need to measure the impact by what it does to the incentives, businesses, and institutions around the world have for continuing to engage in economic commercial actions with Iran. The best way to measure the impact, as you’ve seen across a range of measures, is the direct economic financial costs to the regime of continuing on this path. And again, we have been effective, remarkably effective, in substantially raising the price of these actions, made it much harder for the government to get around them, much more costly to get around them, and we can see the impact in how they’re behaving.SECRETARY CLINTON:
I would only add, and it kind of takes the last question as well as this one and combines them, we in the United States are clearly not alone in calling attention to ongoing human rights abuses and violations inside Iran. And in doing what we’ve done today, we are moving not just from criticizing the government, but beginning to call out individuals who are decision makers within that government and who we believe we can trace decisions to abuses in a manner that makes our case very strong.
So this is an ongoing effort with our partners around the world to affect the behavior of the Iranian Government and to send a very clear message that, as those of you who have traveled with me have heard me say before, that the original intentions of the Islamic Republic of Iran to have a franchise that was respected, to have a hybrid government of the elected and the clerical leadership appears to us to be undergoing severe distortion. And it really is ultimately up to the people of Iran themselves to speak out.
But of course, they are facing tremendous repression in the face of their advocacy for a much clearer sense of their citizenship role in Iran. And we’re not naïve. We know that thus far, this government has been impervious to our pleas and the pleas of many others. But we think it’s essential that we continue to make the case and today, we are adding in very specific terms with specific names to that case. Thank you.MR. TONER:
Thank you very much.