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  • WHAT: New York Foreign Press Center On-the-Record Briefing

  • WHEN: Thursday, September 26, 2019 at 12:00 p.m.

  • WHERE: New York Foreign Press Center
    799 UN Plaza, 10th Floor (SW corner of East 45th Street and 1st Avenue)

  • BACKGROUND: Brian Hook is the U.S. Special Representative for Iran and Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State. Prior to this appointment, he served as Director of the Policy Planning Staff from 2017-2018.



MODERATOR:  Hello, good afternoon.  Welcome to the Foreign Press Center.  I’m the director, Liz Detmeister.  Today we have Special Representative for Iran and Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State Brian Hook.  We would ask you to silence your cell phones before the briefing begins.  Mr. Hook will make some opening remarks, after which he will take your questions.  When you are called upon, please state your name and outlet, and thank you very much. 

MR HOOK:  Thank you for attending this press briefing.  The United States had a strong week at the UN General Assembly with many diplomatic accomplishments to advance our Iran policy.   

First, we made significant progress increasing the diplomatic pressure on Iran and holding it accountable for its attack on Saudi Arabia.  This UN General Assembly was harder for President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif than ones in the past.  As The New York Times said, “Iran finds evaporating sympathy at the United Nations.”  This is a development that is long overdue.  It means our pressure is working and this regime’s mendacity is no longer going unchallenged.   

Iran’s recent attacks on Saudi Arabia are one reason the world is making a shift away from Iran.  The United Kingdom, France, and Germany issued a statement this week declaring that Iran bears responsibility for the attacks in Saudi Arabia.  This is a major shift and a diplomatic defeat for Iran.  We call on all nations to join the E3 and condemn Iranian aggression by name.  Silence will only invite Iran to test its strength further. 

Our European allies also said this week that the time has come for a new deal to replace the Iran nuclear deal.  We agree with UK Prime Minister Johnson that the Iran nuclear deal is, quote, “a bad deal with many, many defects.”  The Iran deal lifted constraints on Iran’s missile program and the consequences in the Middle East are now plain for all to see.   

The United States and Europe now agree that Iran must accept negotiations to address regional security concerns and missile concerns.  This would be in addition to the nuclear issue.  The fact that nations are now realizing that a comprehensive agreement is needed bodes well for future peace and security.  We increasingly see UN member-states calling this regime for what it is and seeing this regime for what it is: a violent and expansionist revolutionary cause.   

Secretary Pompeo this week at the UN referred to the present moment as, quote, “the beginning of an awakening to the truth that Iran is the aggressor, not the aggrieved.”  Iran has a 40-year track record of creating conflict through violence and then pretending to be the peacemaker.  I have heard repeatedly this week from diplomats that President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif lost credibility by continued claims they did not attack Saudi Arabia.  The United States will continue to use our diplomacy to expose this regime’s propaganda, terrorism, and revolutionary ideals.   

While here in New York, we also made two important announcements related to our maximum pressure campaign.  First, Secretary Pompeo announced sanctions on six Chinese companies for violating our oil restrictions on Iran.  The United States also sanctioned five senior executives associated with these firms.  This is one of the largest sanctions actions the United States has taken against entities and individuals identified as transporting Iranian oil since our sanctions were re-imposed last year.  Our oil sanctions on the Iranian regime will deprive it of as much as $50 billion in revenue annually.  We are determined to fully enforcing our sanctions and pursuing any violators.  The best way for countries and companies to avoid being designated is to simply stop doing business with Iran.  The economic and reputational costs are not worth the risks.   

Second, yesterday President Trump announced a new presidential proclamation restricting the entry of senior Iranian Government officials and their family members into the United States.  For decades, Iranian regime officials have criticized and worked against America while their own family members take advantage of America’s freedom and prosperity.  Foreign Minister Zarif is one example, but there are many others.   

Under the President’s new proclamation, senior regime officials and their families will no longer be allowed into the United States to reap the benefits of our free society while the Iranian people suffer under the regime’s corruption and mismanagement.  President Trump and Secretary Pompeo are committed to standing with the Iranian people, and this action is on their behalf. 

And I am happy to take a few questions.  The microphone’s behind you.  

QUESTION:  Thank you.  So I’m with the Voice of America Persian service.  I have two questions, if I may.  IAEA report just came out awhile ago – I mean, today – saying that Islamic Republic has started using advance model centrifuges for enrichment.  So I want your take on that.   

And the second, regarding the presidential proclamation, how come there were some exemptions for Iranian regime family members?  Thank you.  

MR HOOK:  What do you mean by exemptions?  The only exemption is for diplomacy.  

QUESTION:  Some family – those who already have the green cards and the asylum.   

MR HOOK:  This is not retroactive; it is from the present forward. 

On the first question, I have not had a chance to read the IAEA report.  I will take a look at it.  What we do know is that Iran is in material breach of the Iran nuclear deal.  We are not a member of the Iran nuclear deal, and so the response is with those countries that are still part of the deal.  We continue to keep our eye very closely on whether Iran gets below the one-year nuclear breakout.   

Our new policy, which is what we articulated over a year ago after we left the deal:  Iran does not need to enrich to have a peaceful nuclear program.  Half of the countries in the world who have peaceful nuclear power do not enrich.  If we are able to conclude a deal with Iran that restores the UN standard of no enrichment, the breakout timeline becomes moot.  And so we think that Iran’s violations and the fact that it was keeping, under armed guard, half a ton of materials on how to make a nuclear weapon tells you that we need to restore the UN standard of no enrichment.   

Allowing – dropping that standard under the Iran nuclear deal, one of the many defects that Prime Minister Johnson identified – dropping that standard is what will set off an arms race in the Middle East.  Once you allow the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism to enrich it becomes very hard to tell other countries in the region that they cannot enrich.  So we need to restore the standard.  


QUESTION:  Are you planning additional sanctions – Rana El-Fil, Lebanon Files.  Are you planning additional sanctions on Lebanese entities for their support to Hizballah and would it be banks or politicians?  Can you give us more information?  

MR HOOK:  Well, we did sanction two members of Hizballah who are in the legislature, and that was I want to say a month ago.  Secretary Pompeo traveled to Lebanon a few months ago and gave remarks there, talking about how Hizballah undermines the sovereignty and the security and the prosperity of the Lebanese people.  And so we will continue to make the argument that it is important for Lebanese Armed Forces to have a monopoly on the use of force, and today we have two militaries and two governments within one country.   

Iran has been taking the Hizballah template, which they put in – they started to put in place in the early 80s, and they have been trying to export that template around the region.  The most recent example is with the Houthis in Yemen.  And two weeks ago, I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal explaining how Iran is using the Houthis in the same way that they used Hizballah in Lebanon.  We also revealed for the first time that Hizballah operatives are active in Yemen.  So we need to get serious about Iran’s ambitions to create an Iranian crescent of power.  And if we don’t restore deterrence and get serious about Iran’s power projection, the Iranian crescent will become a full moon.   

Go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Hi, my name is Alexey Bogdanovsky; I’m with RIA Novosti Russia News Agency.  My understanding is that the United States sometime in August renewed the exemptions from sanctions for a civil nuclear project in Iran.  So my question is whether you are going to renew them again for 90-day?  You should do it every 90 days, right? 

MR HOOK:  We renewed the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program I want to say 60 days ago.  And we also shortened the clock that they’re under.  We continue to look at that, and we don’t preview our decisions, but I would describe them as we did 60 days ago as renewing the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program.  We have already eliminated a number of waivers that were in place.  I would refer you to the statement that we issued at the time, but we don’t preview any of our decisions with respect to that subject. 

MODERATOR:  So we have a question in Washington.  Go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Hi, this is Ranat Ajani (ph) from TV Asahi.  I had a question about Operation Sentinel.  Did you discuss it with any of your counterparts during your week up in New York?  Has there been any – what was their reaction to it?  Are you expecting any actions on it during the course of the fall?  Thank you. 

MR HOOK:  Good question.  We have added I think two or three more members.  I know there’s another European company that – country that is going to be joining Sentinel soon.  We now have a number of countries in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe with the UK.  Sentinel is a very useful program, because it is the best opportunity to defend the principle of freedom of navigation.  This is a fundamental norm of a rules-based international order.  And here at the United Nations, you have the UN Security Council and other bodies which are committed to defending international norms and maintaining international peace and security.  When a regime like Iran threatens a fundamental norm and principle like freedom of navigation, it is the duty of all nations to stand up to this aggression and to restore deterrence.   

And so in a number of meetings we did talk about Sentinel.  It is a maritime security awareness initiative.  In the past I have compared it to a neighborhood watch program.  We need to have more people in the water and in the air monitoring the movements of IRGC and Qods Force forces.  And once we have expanded the maritime and aviation assets, that will help to disrupt and deter Iranian attacks on the water.   

And so we do call on all likeminded nations who care about freedom of navigation to join us in this effort. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Arash Ali (ph) from Iran International TV.  You and I had an interview almost two months ago where I ask you about the Iranian regime elite members and their family members traveling to the United States.  As you mentioned, the White House just released this proclamation banning the regime and their family members.  And I’m quoting from the section two of this proclamation that says, “These individuals shall be identified by the U.S. State Department.”  Have you developed a list of people?  How many people are on that list?  And is this an ongoing process where you will be adding more names to the – basically to the list of people that are banned from entering the United States?  Thank you. 

MR HOOK:  The Iranian regime regularly makes personnel changes.  The supreme leader put in place a new head of the Iran revolutionary – Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.  Different cabinet officials come and go.  We will always be updating and renewing this list to ensure that the senior regime officials and their family members are not able to travel to the United States.  This is a phenomenon that we’ve seen for some time now, especially people like Zarif that come to the United States, get an education, they go back to Iran, demonize the United States, impoverish their own people, while their family members come to the United States to enjoy the benefits that they deny their own people. 

So this is a kind of hypocrisy which is a hallmark of the regime, and we thought it was important that regime officials and their family members not continue to have it both ways.   

QUESTION:  Could you tell me the – do you know how many people are on that — 

MR HOOK:  We don’t disclose that number, but it is – we have made it clear it is for senior regime officials and their family members.   

QUESTION:  Thank you. 

QUESTION:  Shayna Estulin, i24NEWS.  I believe you said that European allies are open to a new deal.  France and Germany say they’re still committed to the JCPOA, and after Boris Johnson gave that interview where he suggested otherwise, British officials came out and said the UK is still committed.  So why are you so confident that the European allies will shift on this? 

MR HOOK:  They already have shifted.  If you read the E3 statement, it says that “We call upon Iran to accept negotiations to address regional security issues and missile testing and proliferation.  The shift has already happened.  This is what we have been calling for for a year and a half, and we’re very pleased that the E3 has joined this view.  We think that it is the right approach.   

I have been saying for well over a year that the Iranian nuclear deal lifted constraints on Iran’s missile program, and Iran’s missile proliferation has increased the risks of a regional war.  And here we are, about a week after the Islamic Republic of Iran committed an act of war against Saudi Arabia.  And so I think that the facts have kind of caught up with reality, and the reality is that the Iran nuclear deal came at the expense of missile non-proliferation, and the results, I think, are plain to see.  

So we think – I spent six months negotiating with the Europeans to try to fix the defects of the deal.  A lot of that work – we reached agreement on a number of areas around stronger inspections regimes, intercontinental ballistic missiles.  We have to get rid of these sunset clauses.  The world’s leading sponsor of terrorism has not earned the right to have restrictions on its nuclear program lifted.   

It’s also the case that, under the Iran nuclear deal, in 12 months the UN arms embargo expires on Iran, and so does the travel ban on 23 Iranian terrorists that the UN sanctioned.  This was an enormous mistake, and I think when Boris – Prime Minister Johnson talks about the many, many defects of the deal, these are some of them.  

MODERATOR:  Any other questions from the room?  

MR HOOK:  Other questions?  Great.  Thank you.   

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U.S. Department of State

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