NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MS ORTAGUS: Thank you so much and good morning, if you’re on the East Coast. Happy Friday to everybody. This is an on-the-record briefing with myself and Brian Hook, who I think needs absolutely no introduction. Apologies that we couldn’t do this video via Skype and that it’s got to be on the phone, but we appreciate everybody taking the time to dial in.
I think everyone is aware that Brian and I traveled with Secretary Mike Pompeo yesterday to New York at the President’s request for us, of course, to talk about snapback sanctions on Iran here at the United Nations. So we’re hopefully going to have plenty of time for Q&A. As the Operator said, please dial 1 and 0 to get into the queue. Just a reminder that the contents of this briefing are embargoed until the end of the briefing, and this is on the record.
Now I’m going to turn it over to Special Representative Brian Hook.
MR HOOK: Thanks, Morgan, and thanks to everybody for joining. We are restoring the UN sanctions that were suspended under the Iran deal. President Trump restored American sanctions when he left the deal, and now it’s time for the UN to restore its sanctions. No one can argue that this terrorist regime deserves sanctions relief. I have yet to hear anybody make the argument that Iran’s behavior merits sanctions relief. I have yet to hear anybody argue that letting the arms embargo expire on the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism and anti-Semitism, that this would somehow advance national security.
Restoring sanctions means many good things are going to happen, and I want to summarize the restrictions that are coming back on Iran. The arms embargo – when the Council failed to pass the arms embargo on Friday, that left us no choice but to continue the arms embargo through snapback. No enrichment of nuclear materials – we are make it – making it harder for Iran to conduct activities that could lead to a nuclear bomb. Missile restrictions – this is important because Iran won’t be allowed to test ballistic missiles to carry a nuclear bomb. When I was in the Security Council, we successfully negotiated a prohibition on Iran’s ballistic missile testing, and then during the negotiations of the Iran nuclear deal that prohibition was surrendered.
We will freeze the assets and restrict the travel of Iranians who work on the nuclear program and on missiles, and those Iranians who foment terror. The UN is going to be restoring sanctions on Iranian banks that finance Iran’s nuclear and missile program. And restoring sanctions will encourage UN member states to interdict shipments of Iranian weapons into conflict zones.
Broadly, restoring UN sanctions will put more pressure on Iran to behave like a normal nation and come back to the negotiating table. And that’s why President Trump and Secretary Pompeo have called upon the international community to leave the Iran deal, which today is more form than substance, and to join us in getting a stronger deal. We need a new deal to address the full range of Iran’s malign behavior and to protect the American people and our partners in the Middle East. And in the meantime, deal or no deal, President Trump will never allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.
So, very broadly, this is the culmination of a process that started in December of 2018 when Secretary Pompeo came to the United Nations Security Council and said that in October of 2020, the arms embargo will expire. And so this has been almost two years of diplomacy, and the United States was the only country to table a proposal, any proposal, to extend the arms embargo. We made clear that we can do it the easy way or the hard way. Other nations decided to do it the hard way, and that’s why Secretary Pompeo traveled here yesterday and presented the president of the UN Security Council with the notification necessary to initiate the prospect – the process of restoring UN sanctions.
So with that, Morgan and I are happy to take some questions.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay, great, just give us one second here with the question queue and we’ll be right there. Okay, let’s see. First we have Humberto Juarez Rocha. Humberto?
QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?
MS ORTAGUS: We can.
QUESTION: Hi. Hi, Morgan. Thank you, Morgan and Brian, for this call. I just wanted to ask, Brian, Mr. Hook, you announced your departure is coming soon. Do you know when that transition period will take place? And also with Special Representative Abrams taking charge of this, can we expect similar policies or any changes as to this deal with Iran? Thank you.
MR HOOK: Well, Elliott and I are neighbors in the State Department, and so we’ve been working closely together for a couple of years. My plan is to stay in this role until August 31st and then hand over the role to Elliott Abrams. There will not be any change in policy or procedures. We’re going to continue doing what we’re doing because we’ve had a successful foreign policy.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Jamaya (ph) White. Excuse me, I’m sorry. Lenka White is next.
QUESTION: Oh, thank you very much, Mr. Hook, for this briefing. Please, I have a question on the role of the United Nations. According to the UN Charter, the secretary-general is not only the chief administrator, but he also plays a political role, yet he did not speak on the recent issue regarding JCPOA much. Would the U.S. appreciate if he would be more active and outspoken? And do you think the UN legal office should issue a ruling on this case? Thank you very much.
MR HOOK: I think both of those questions are probably best answered by the secretary-general and his legal advisor. Secretary Pompeo had a very good meeting with Secretary-General Guterres. He did present him with the notification letter that he provided to the president of the Council. He explained to him why this is the right thing to do to advance peace and security, and he also explained that 2231 is very clear about the rights of seven countries to initiate the snapback of UN sanctions.
We’re going to be following the letter of 2231, as we have. We’ve always been in compliance with 2231, with those provisions which are legally binding, as we always are. And so they had a very good meeting. And specifically in terms of their role, that’s really a question that you can ask the SG.
MS ORTAGUS: Great. Thank you. We’ll now turn it over to Ibtisam Azem.
QUESTION: Yes, correct, Ibtisam. Thank you. Thank you, Morgan. Thank you, Mr. Brian. So my name is Ibtisam Azem from Al-Araby newspaper. I’m the correspondent in New York, United Nations. So my question is – I have two questions. One, the first one is regarding the draft resolution. And I talked to some diplomats here at the UN and they said that the U.S. approach during the negotiation on the draft resolution was such an approach as no compromise and that some of your allies, including the Europeans, were willing to compromise to extend the embargo until 2023 at least. Could you comment on that, please?
And then the second question is regarding the comment that Mr. Secretary Pompeo said yesterday here at the UN. So he talked about the possibility of a country, one of the countries at the Security Council, that they will maybe present a resolution. Could you say more to what do you – what are you expecting, and if it’s possible to walk us through what’s going to happen now from your perspective? Thank you so much.
MR HOOK: So can you be a little bit more specific on your first question? Can you tell me which country presented a proposal, a compromise proposal?
QUESTION: No, there was no proposal, as my resource says. So it was off the record, so I – but there was, according to what I understood, that there were some – the Europeans seemed to be – they have already a weapon embargo on Iran until 2023, that they were maybe willing also to compromise in that direction, but not to have – or other directions, but that in your negotiation you were not willing to compromise with other countries.
MR HOOK: That is not true. There was never a proposal presented to the United States. There was never a compromise proposal presented by any country. If efforts were made, I know —
QUESTION: But were your allies —
MR HOOK: Would you like – go ahead. We received no proposal. And so I have had a number of people in the media ask about a compromise. We were never presented with a compromise, and so I think this existed more in the minds of the media than it did among the diplomats. The – no member of the Security Council or outside of the Security Council was able to include any proposal to extend the arms embargo. I know there was a lot of discussions, but none of them materialized.
The United States, as I said, since December of 2018 has been talking about how are we going to extend it, and we have been very methodical, very patient, and very open to any ideas. But there were no proposals that were presented, which is why I said at the top of this call that the United States is still, to this minute, the only country that has presented a proposal to deal with the arms embargo expiring.
MS ORTAGUS: Great. Thank you. We’re now going to turn it over to Manik Mehta. Manik?
QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. Brian Hook and also the State Department. Thank you for organizing this. My question relates to the behavior of China at the UN. It was pretty much obstructive, to say the least, in regard to the re-imposition of sanctions, and so how do you see the evolving nexus between China and Iran in general? Thank you.
MR HOOK: I think China should be asked to explain why they rejected the views of the Gulf Cooperation Council. That is an important multilateral body. The United Nations is obviously a very important multilateral body, but on the question of the arms embargo it’s not the most relevant. The most relevant multilateral body is the Gulf Cooperation Council, and all six of those countries came together in writing and they put aside their differences – and this is the fourth year of a rift – and they put aside their differences to demand that the Security Council not only extend the arms embargo on Iran, they asked for additional measures on Iran.
Now, the GCC concerns regional security. The UN Security Council concerns international security, and China and Russia and France and the United Kingdom decided to ignore the views of the Gulf Cooperation Council. These are the countries that are closest to the danger, and the Council had a responsibility to respect their views and to extend the arms embargo. So it was a very disappointing abdication of duty, because if you’re on the Security Council, your role is to advance international peace and security, and the Council failed on Friday. And so in the absence of that, the United States will lead.
MS ORTAGUS: Great, thank you so much. We’re now going to turn it over to Jahanzaib Ali.
QUESTION: This is Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV, Pakistan. Sir, you’ve held number of senior positions with different administration, so just wanted to ask you the reason of huge policy shift from Obama administration to Trump administration. I mean, Obama – President Obama signed historic Iran deal while also gave them $400 million in cash, but many sanctions was still there. But Trump administration not only cancelled the Iran deal but also came out with harder sanctions. So I mean, you obviously are representing the current administration here, so say in your opinion, every decision President Obama made was really against American interest and was wrong? Thank you.
MR HOOK: I’m sorry, did you say – I didn’t get the exact question. Can you repeat the question one more time?
QUESTION: Sir, I just wanted to ask: Has every decision President Obama made, like the Iran nuclear deal and $400 million in cash, do you think was wrong decision and against the interest of American people?
MR HOOK: It certainly – the Iran nuclear deal gave Iran a very patient pathway to a nuclear weapon, and in that respect the Iran nuclear deal is not dissimilar from the 1994 Agreed Framework, which failed to prevent North Korea from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And if you want to know how the movie ends under the Iran nuclear deal, it ends like it did in North Korea. And so Secretary Pompeo decided to pull forward the expiration date of the Iran nuclear deal so that we would not deal with an Iran that was richer, that had retained its nuclear infrastructure, and was able to use its oil revenue to support its terrorist proxies around the region. And so President Trump did the right thing by reversing the Obama administration’s policy to Iran.
As I get around the region – and I’ve been going around the region now for three and a half years – when you talk to so many of the – of our Arab partners in the region, they viewed the prior administration’s Iran policy as a betrayal of their security. And that’s not my words, that’s their words. One of the things that I’ll point out is that when you get your Iran strategy right, it builds trust, and that trust is what allowed the United States to broker a historic peace agreement between the UAE and Israel. And as long as you have the wrong Iran strategy in place, peace agreements between Gulf nations and Israel are impossible. There’s no trust. You can’t tell our Gulf partners to share the region with Iran, and to give them a sweetheart nuclear deal and $150 billion in sanctions relief and $1.5 billion in cash and expect our partners and allies in the region to say thank you. They viewed it as a betrayal. And by us getting the Iran strategy right, we were able to restore deterrents against Iran, weaken it financially, weaken their proxies, and today, because of our Iran policy, the Middle East is much more stable.
MS ORTAGUS: Great, thank you. I’m now going to turn it over – AFP, Toby Burns – excuse me, I’m sorry, NHK, Toby Burns.
QUESTION: Toby Burns. I’m the UN producer for NHK Japan. Thank you very much for the briefing. I just have some – a procedural question for you. So today is day one with regard to 2231, the 30-day mandate within 2231. That’s my first question. Is that true? That’s my first question. And then my second question is: What has the presidency of the Security Council communicated to you about procedural next steps and how he – and how they are going to move forward with the specific implementation of the snapback procedure? Thank you.
MR HOOK: Two good questions. Today is day one of the 30-day process. If you take a look at paragraphs 10, 11, and 12 of – operative paragraphs 10, 11, and 12 of 2231, it spells out the options. So we’re following to the letter the procedures outlined in 2231. The Secretary had a good meeting yesterday with the Indonesian permanent representative. They’re going to be the president of the Council until the end of the month, and then Niger becomes the president of the Council. The Secretary also met with the permanent representative of Niger to the United Nations. Very good meeting with him.
And so that’s as much as I’ll say about process other than to say that we’re going to follow 2231 very closely.
MS ORTAGUS: Let’s try – let’s see, let’s try Alex Aliyev, Azerbaijan. Alex Aliyev.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Morgan. Brian, this is Alex Raufoglu from Turan News Agency of Azerbaijan. As you know, Iran has diversified its economy since last sanctions so that it relies more on services than oil, and it has expanded trade with its immediate neighbors. I heard about Russia a lot lately, but what do you hope Iran’s next-door neighbors, such as Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia, take away from your efforts in light of current developments? Thank you.
MR HOOK: Well, in terms of Iran diversifying its economy, it’s not doing a very good job because the IMF ranked Iran as having the third worst performing economy in the world. The only two countries that are in worse shape are Libya and Venezuela, and this is because the Iranian regime is a kleptocratic government – it robs its own people to finance its malign activities around the region. And so there’s no question that our sanctions have – well, listen, President Rouhani on December 31st said our sanctions have cost the regime $200 billion, and we have collapsed Iran’s oil sector. The IRGC receives most of its funding from oil revenue. So if you want to get serious about the Revolutionary Guard and the Quds Force, you have to focus on the oil. And for as long as we were in the Iran nuclear deal, we couldn’t.
So I remember in May of 2018 when Secretary Pompeo gave a speech after President Trump exited the Iran deal, and he said to the supreme leader: Iran faces a choice. You can come to the table and negotiate or you can manage economic collapse. And the supreme leader made a very bad decision and he continues to make a bad decision. President Trump and so many world leaders have offered one diplomatic off-ramp after the next to help Iran come to the table, and they keep making bad decisions.
We’re going to continue to stand with the Iranian people. They don’t – the Iranian people do not believe in death to America, death to Israel. The Iranian regime is facing a crisis of legitimacy and credibility with its own people. And so we have the right policy matrix in place. We hope that the regime starts making better decisions for its own people.
MS ORTAGUS: Great, thank you. Let’s see, we’ll go to Heba El-Koudsy from Saudi. Heba?
MS ORTAGUS: Wonderful.
QUESTION: Yes, this is Heba El-Koudsy for Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. Thank you, Morgan, and thank you, Mr. Hook. I would like to ask you what’s the best case scenario in the United Nations and what’s the worst case within the United Nations and what you’re going to do regarding the best scenario and regarding the worst case scenario. Thank you.
MR HOOK: Well, I feel to some extent we already went through that. We hope for the best and plan for the worst. And so we hope the Council would have passed a resolution on Friday, but we had planned for the worst and that’s why Secretary Pompeo initiated snapback yesterday.
The Security Council at the end of 30 days is going to have all of the UN sanctions restored. And then it’s – and then really it’s: If you’re a member state of the UN, you have the obligation as a member state to comply with all legally binding decisions of the Security Council. And at the end of the 30 days, all of the resolutions going back to 2006 – I’m talking about 1696, 1737, 1747 – all of the sanctions that were lifted by President Obama are going to be restored. And the question for the 193 member states of the United Nations is whether they want to be a member in good standing or do they want to be violating their obligations as a member. It will be very clear at the end of this period that all of the legally binding provisions that were in place prior to the Iran nuclear deal are going to be restored. And we expect everyone to respect the legitimacy and the integrity of the UN Security Council and its decisions.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. We’re going to end this session with Michelle Nichols from Reuters.
QUESTION: Much, Morgan, and thanks, Brian, for doing this briefing. Just a couple of follow-ups to Toby’s question. Can you clarify for us what the U.S. considers to be the deadline for snapback – midnight on September, whatever day? And just also on the issue of a resolution to extend sanctions release, Secretary Pompeo said yesterday he is very confident someone would put that forward. But given there have been a fairly quick and fast flow of opposition to – by Security Council members to this move, some of them argued that Indonesia and Niger, as president of the Council, won’t have to put forward that resolution, as you mentioned, is in Resolution 2231. So in that situation, what – well, what’s your response to that, that the president of the Council won’t have to put forward that resolution because there’s so much opposition to you – to the U.S. making this move? And who else might put forward that draft? Thank you.
MR HOOK: I think on the first question, I think I just answered it, unless I didn’t understand your question. I had talked through what happens at the end of 30 days. Are you asking a different question?
QUESTION: Oh, yeah. Sorry. No, I’m just – yeah. I’m just asking sort of what’s your – what do you consider to be the actual date – midnight at whatever day – snapback comes into effect? Just so we’re all working off the same deadline.
MR HOOK: Yeah. I don’t have that date in front of me. It’s 30 days – and I know that the Council has various procedures, whether each day is a business day or they count weekends. But I’m happy to follow up with you and give you the exact date. It’s 30 days. Under 2231, it’s 30 days of receiving notification by a member state that is eligible under paragraph 11. We’re eligible under paragraph 11 to do that. There’s no question that Iran has been in nonperformance of its voluntary commitment.
I’ll remind everybody on the call: The Iran nuclear deal is not legally binding. It has no signatures. In 2015, the State Department’s legal advisor publicly stated that the Iran nuclear deal is a political commitment. And when 2231 was passed, you only have to look at operative paragraph one, wherein it certainly cites to the JCPOA, but it’s not a (inaudible) paragraph. It’s not legally binding.
And so I’ve seen a lot of analysis by a lot of member states that is – that is not honest. It is – everybody knows what decisions of the Security Council are legally binding. The Iran nuclear deal is not legally binding, and 2231 did not make it legally binding. There are other provisions in 2231 that are legally binding: maintaining the arms embargo until October 18th of 2020, maintaining the missile restrictions until 2023, things like that. So there are – we are going to continue to follow 2231 as we have.
I think your next question – it – whether people support or oppose what we’re doing is not material. What was passed under 2231 makes very clear the rights of seven member states to initiate snapback. Today Iran is in noncompliance with its voluntary obligations under the Iran nuclear deal; it has the right to initiate snapback. The Iranian regime has accused Europe of being in noncompliance with its voluntary commitments; Europe would also be able to initiate snapback even if they are not upholding their voluntary commitments. That’s the way the system was set up.
And you’ve seen Secretary Pompeo release a number of statements by Obama administration officials saying that we don’t need anybody’s permission to initiate snapback. And that really goes at the heart of your question where you say, well, there’s opposition to it. President Obama already made clear five years ago that it doesn’t matter. That isn’t a material concern because we don’t need anyone’s permission. Iran is in violation of its voluntary nuclear commitments. The condition has been met to initiate snapback. And so we have now started to initiate snapback.
MS ORTAGUS: Well, I want to thank everybody from the Foreign Press Center for hosting Brian and I today, and all of our foreign journalists for dialing in. Thank you so much for your time. And hopefully, next time there’s – we have some – some new abilities, maybe, to do this over video. We’ll keep trying. But thank you so much for dialing into the call.