Briefing on Iran
Director of Policy Planning
MS NAUERT: Thank you so much. Good morning, everyone, and thanks for joining us for today’s on-the-record conference call with our director of policy planning, Brian Hook. It’s certainly been a busy week with calls and outreach to our allies and partners in which we’ve been discussing our next steps on Iran. Following this, Secretary Pompeo will deliver a speech on Monday to outline the administration’s overall strategy to counter Iran’s malign influence. Director Hook is here to speak with us today in advance of that speech.
As a reminder, this briefing is on the record. It will be embargoed until the conclusion of the call. Brian has just about 10 minutes to take your questions, so I would encourage you to be brief. And with that, I’m happy to turn it over to Director Hook for some brief opening remarks, and then we’ll take your questions. Brian, go right ahead.
MR HOOK: Thanks, Heather. Good to be with all of you. Just make a few points here. The Secretary – Secretary Pompeo will be giving a speech on Monday. It will be his first major foreign policy address as Secretary of State. It will be a very timely address because it is presenting the way forward post the Iran nuclear deal withdrawal. And he’ll be essentially presenting a diplomatic roadmap to achieve a new security architecture and a better security framework, a better deal, following the President’s decision to end America’s participation in the JCPOA.
The Secretary has had very good phone calls with the ministers, the foreign ministers from Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. We have been working closely with the Europeans over the last week at various levels of government – the President, the Secretary of State. I’ve been in touch with the political directors of the E3. We’ve had staff discussion. So we have been in very extensive and deep consultations with the Europeans on the way forward. Our broad approach now that we’ve been emphasizing is that we need a new – a framework that’s going to address the totality of Iran’s threats. And this involves a range of things around its nuclear program – missiles, proliferating missiles and missile technology, its support for terrorists, and its aggressive and violent activities that fuel civil wars in Syria and Yemen.
And so we see an opportunity to counter and address Iran’s nuclear and proliferation threats, its destabilizing activity, and to create a better nonproliferation and deterrence architecture for Iran and the region.
And so that’s broadly the way forward. I’m happy to take some questions. I’m not going to get ahead of the Secretary’s speech on Monday; that’s only three days away from now. And he looks forward to presenting a comprehensive strategy toward Iran.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Brian, thank you. We’ll start with our first question. That’s with Josh Lederman from the Associated Press. Hi, Josh.
QUESTION: Hey, thanks for doing this, Brian. I just wanted to ask you about the prospects of getting other countries, and particularly the Europeans, to join any kind of coalition. I mean, the Europeans are moving ahead with using the blocking statute; they’re even considering direct transfers to Iran’s central bank. So what makes you think they’re going to join you? And if you don’t get the Europeans or actually any of the P5+1 on board, can this coalition still have enough weight to succeed in bringing Iran back to the table? Thanks.
MR HOOK: I think it’s more than fair to say that we agree with the Europeans on much, much more than we disagree on. During the negotiations with the E3, we made a lot of progress not only – I mean, just on the nuclear piece, on the – on sunsets, on ICBMs, on a stronger inspections regime, but also on the regional activities, human rights, the range of missiles that are destabilizing the region.
So we, I think, have the very – I think we assess the situation very similarly in terms of the wanting to take a comprehensive approach. When President Macron was in the United States he talked about the four pillars, and his – what he was talking about is a very comprehensive approach. And I think for the last many years, the last three years or so, the JCPOA gave a lot of people a sort of false sense of security that by addressing Iran’s nuclear program, that we were somehow then addressing the totality of Iranian threats. And it’s important that we – that we change that dynamic.
And so I think that, again, we agree on more than we disagree, and we, as I said, have been working with the Europeans over the last week or two, and just in consultations with them, and we want to continue the momentum from our work with our European allies. And we see this, the coming months, as an opportunity to expand our efforts and to work with a lot of countries who share the same concerns about nonproliferation, about terrorism, about stoking civil wars around the region, and so we’re very – we’re very hopeful about the – about the diplomacy ahead.
MS NAUERT: Thank you, Brian. Next question, Michael Gordon from The Wall Street Journal. Hi, Michael.
QUESTION: Mr. Hook, the diplomats in Europe that I’ve spoken with have said that it’s clear the administration wants tough sanctions, but the administration has yet to spell out in any detail what it – the arrangements that it thinks should be put in place now that the JCPOA has been scrapped. What specific nuclear constraints do you think are necessary post-JCPOA in the sphere of enrichment or other nuclear activities? And if you can’t say what you want in terms of nuclear constraints, how can you ask the Europeans to impose tough sanctions? You’re asking them to impose tough sanctions but you’ve not defined your goal.
MS NAUERT: I think, Michael, that’s part of the reason why the Secretary is giving a speech on Monday. But Brian, I’ll let you take it from here.
MR HOOK: Yeah, that is – this is – as I said, this will be the Secretary’s first major foreign policy address. He has decided to make that on Iran. And we will be discussing our vision to address Iran’s nuclear program, which has had a definite military dimension to it, and the Iranians have yet to come clean on the military dimensions of their nuclear activities. That is going to be part – I mean, obviously with what Israel disclosed recently, that Iran has been protecting and preserving a vast atomic archive while it has been implementing the JCPOA, and of course that increases the relevance of the sunsets. We don’t believe that Iran has earned the trust of the world to have restrictions on its nuclear program lifted.
MS NAUERT: Carol – sorry, Brian.
MR HOOK: Yeah, go ahead, Heather.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Carol Morello from The Washington Post.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for doing this. Say, Donald Tusk said some pretty strong things a couple of days ago about the administration. Basically, I think he said: With friends like this, who needs enemies? But at least we now know if you need a helping hand, you don’t have to go farther than the end of your arm.
So I was wondering what, if anything, that Secretary Pompeo will be doing to address the lingering resentment over Iran. I realize that’s not the only issue, but that’s certainly one. And also, if you could address a little bit of what kind of negotiation do you see with Iran. You seem to be seeking a surrender on their part, not a negotiation. Thank you.
MR HOOK: Yeah. The President expressed his appreciation to our European partners. And we have worked, tried to fix the significant flaws in the nuclear deal to counter Iranian aggression. He believes very strongly in supporting the Iranian people. We believe that our shared values and commitment to confront sort of the common security challenges will transcend any disagreements over the JCPOA. And we weren’t able to bridge all the gaps between our respective views on the JCPOA. We think that we’ve been able to make a lot of progress on the range of issues on the nuclear and security sort of objectives.
And so we have a period of opportunity to work with our allies to try to come up with a new security architecture, a new framework, and I think that, again, people, I think, are overstating the disagreements between the U.S. and Europe.
MS NAUERT: Brian, thanks. Lesley Wroughton from Reuters is next.
QUESTION: Yes, hi, Brian. I kind of want to come back to what the others are trying to say, because at a time when – a sensitive time when you’re actually trying to get Iran to be part of discussions, it seems that you’re pushing them away. How does one convince them through this new architecture that it’s to their benefit?
MR HOOK: Well, you’ve seen the protests in Iran, and you’ve seen their dissatisfaction with – I think the Iranian people have publicly expressed their dissatisfaction with a lot of the policies of the regime which have not helped the Iranian people. The President has spoken very eloquently about the concerns of the Iranian people. And so we – the President has said – I can’t remember if it was the President said it or – but we have said that we are ready to negotiate a better deal, and there are a range of nations that can be a part of that. We certainly have the folks within the JCPOA, but we think there are other countries that also share these concerns, and I’ll just leave it at that.
MS NAUERT: Okay, last question is Nick Wadhams from Bloomberg. Hey, Nick.
QUESTION: Hi. Brian, do you have a timeframe for how long the U.S. would like this next round of negotiations to occur? At what point would the U.S. just say this is not going to happen? And can you also draw a parallel to North Korea? One of the things the administration has said about why North Korea came to the table was this maximum pressure campaign that left it so isolated diplomatically and economically. Do you believe that you could obtain the same scenario with Iran, that you would be able to create a similarly sort of airtight sanctions regime again with them?
MR HOOK: With the – by reimposing the sanctions that were lifted under the JCPOA, that will bring economic pressure to bear on Iran. It was economic pressure that brought the Iranians to the table a few years ago. We very much want a diplomatic outcome, one that is going to increase the security of the American people. We thought that the JCPOA provided too much in return for too little, and we also thought that it had very strong deficiencies.
And so we are going to be very focused on trying to achieve the President’s national security objectives, and the reimposition of U.S. sanctions is part of our diplomatic strategy to try to achieve a better security architecture. And so the goal of our effort is to bring all necessary pressure to bear on Iran to change its behavior and to pursue a new framework that can resolve our concerns. And that’s what we’re going to be discussing.
We very much want to be – have a very kind of up-tempo diplomacy, one that’s very focused and very determined to achieve our national security objectives. And Secretary Pompeo is committed to spending as much time as necessary with his team to achieve our goals.
MS NAUERT: Okay, everyone, we have to wrap it up. Brian, thank you so much for your time. Everyone, thanks for calling in. We look forward to having as many of you join us for the Secretary’s speech on Monday. I believe we’ll be sending out a formal announcement if we haven’t already. So we look forward to talking with you. The embargo has now been lifted. And have a great weekend, everyone. Brian, thank you.
MR HOOK: Thanks.