Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State and Special Representative for Iran
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies
August 28, 2018
Thank you Mark Dubowitz and to FDD, not only for hosting me but for all the great work you do.
About two weeks ago the PBS Frontline documentary series came out with an excellent two-part documentary on Iran. There was an incredible amount of detail about multiple facets of Iranian life.
The documentary highlighted the condition of women in Iran. It profiled a number of the women who are protesting the mandatory wearing of the hijab. It became clear from the documentary that one of the symbols of the regime are vans that roam around the neighborhoods of Iranian cities.
They are like the old truancy vans looking for kids skipping school. Except in Iran they go around and round up women who are violating the code of wearing the hijab.
Similarly, the documentary showed these courageous women protesting on top of city electric boxes about 4 feet off the ground. And then the regime’s police thugs come and push them off.
These are anecdotes that illustrate what I want to discuss today – the revolutionary and repressive nature of the Iranian regime, the articulation of its revolutionary worldview at home and abroad, and why the Trump Administration is executing a new strategy on Iran.
It’s important to begin by understanding the Iranian regime as the last revolutionary regime on earth. Next year will mark forty years of the people living under a religious dictatorship.
The ideologues who forcibly came to power in 1979 and remain in power today are driven by a desire to conform all of Iranian society to the tenets of the Islamic Revolution. The full achievement of the revolution at home and abroad is the regime’s ultimate goal.
At home, the revolutionary mindset is expressed through tight controls on almost every aspect of social behavior. I alluded to the mandatory hijab wearing earlier.
The repression of religious freedom is a feature of the regime as well, and it is something the Trump Administration is calling out. The revolutionary worldview means it cannot tolerate any ideas coursing through the veins of Iranian society that would threaten them.
That is why the regime throws a teenage gymnast in jail for dancing on Instagram.
The regime has arrested hundreds of Ahwazis, Baha’is, Darwishis, and other religious minorities when they speak out in support of their rights.
Iranian Christians secretly flew to a foreign country and rented a hotel swimming pool just so they could have a baptism ceremony. One man said he waited 10 years after his conversion just to get baptized as a Christian. Such is the fear of reprisal from the regime.
We are aware of the suffering of religious minorities in Iran. We will speak up for them. Our Religious Freedom Ministerial at the State Department last month reinforced our commitment to speaking up for all persecuted peoples in Iran and defending their right to worship.
Economically, the regime’s economic mismanagement has put the country in a tailspin. The rial’s value has collapsed in the past year.
A third of Iranian youth are unemployed. A third of Iranians now live in poverty. Unpaid wages are leading to rampant strikes. Fuel and water shortages are common.
And instead of using wealth generated from the JCPOA to boost the material well-being of the people, the regime grabbed it for themselves and used it to line the pockets of dictators, terrorists, and rogue militias. I’ll discuss that more in a moment.
The listless economic condition of the country is in large part attributable to a regime elite that resembles a mafia in its racketeering and corruption. Two years ago, Iranians rightfully erupted in anger when leaked pay stubs showed massive amounts of money flowing into the bank accounts of senior government officials. Sadeq Larijani, the head of Iran’s judiciary who we sanctioned in January for human rights abuses, is worth at least $300 million dollars, thanks to the embezzlement of public funds into his own bank account.
For years, the Ayatollahs have wrapped themselves in the cloak of religion while robbing the people blind. This is why protestors in Iran are chanting to the regime, “You have plundered us in the name of religion.”
One Ayatollah worth many millions of dollars is known as the “Sultan of Sugar.” He pressured the Iranian Government to lower subsidies to domestic sugar producers, while he floods the market with his own more expensive imported sugar. This type of corruption puts Iranians out of work. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has a $95 billion hedge fund. He tries to keep it a secret, but he uses it as a slush fund for his Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The regime’s greed has also created a great sense of disillusionment in Iran. In a world of social media and satellite TV, today’s youth are exposed to a range of influences far beyond the regime’s control.
And the regime’s corruption and hypocrisy makes it difficult for young Iranians to adopt the ideals of the Revolution. It isn’t 1979 anymore. The theocratic Ayatollahs can preach “Death to Israel, Death to America” day and night, but Foreign Minister Zarif has a Ph.D. from an American university, the Supreme Leader’s top advisor, Ali Velayati, studied at another American university, and President Rouhani’s first vice president wears a luxury Omega watch. This produces a disillusionment not unlike what occurred in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 80s: Communism lost its appeal because of regime hypocrisy. Members of the Soviet elite were smuggling in Walkmen and televisions from the West. How do you think Iranians feel when they see government parking lots full of BMWs and Range Rovers while they can barely make ends meet?
Internationally, while I don’t have time to detail all the destruction and instability the regime has sowed over the past four decades, we can see the effects of the Revolutionary mindset around the Middle East – and even the world.
The nuclear deal was premised on the hope that Iran would moderate over time, that it would catalyze Iran into abiding by international norms. But Iran still supplies the Houthis with missiles fired at Riyadh, Iran still supports Hamas’ attacks on Israel, and Iran still recruits Afghan, Iraqi, and Pakistani youth to fight and die in Syria. Thanks to Iranian subsidies, the average Lebanese Hizballah fighter earns two or three times per month what a fireman in Tehran brings home.
In July, an Iranian “diplomat” based in Vienna was arrested for supplying explosives to terrorists seeking to bomb a political rally in France. While the regime tries to convince Europe to stay in the nuclear deal, it is covertly plotting terrorist attacks in the heart of Europe.
We are heartened by the news this morning that our ally France is indefinitely postponing all non-essential diplomatic travel to Iran because of Iran’s role in this plot. That’s the kind of action that President Trump and Secretary Pompeo welcome. We commend France for this step, and we hope to see additional similar ones from all nations.
And continuing on that subject: here’s some stats for you:
- Iran provides Lebanese Hizballah 700 million dollars each year.
- Iran has spent at least 16 billion dollars on supporting its proxies in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.
- Iran has historically provided over 100 million dollars per year to Palestinian groups, including HAMAS and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
- Iran has extended at least 4.6 billion dollars in lines of credit to Syria.
Predictably, the Iranian people are sick and tired of the repression, the economic malaise, the corruption, the squandering of resources on foreign conflicts, and the Iranian regime’s campaigns of violence abroad. So they have taken to the streets shouting phrases such as, “Leave Syria, think about us!” and “The people are paupers while the mullahs live like gods!” They are mad about a lot of different things.
As a result of the failure of the JCPOA to effectively restrain proliferation or to curb Iran’s destabilizing behavior, on May 8th of this year the President ceased American participation in the nuclear deal. Secretary Pompeo announced a new Iran strategy shortly after.
We have launched a multi-pronged pressure campaign that reflects his goal of protecting the American people and our allies and partners from this outlaw regime.
The first component of the Iran pressure campaign is economic sanctions. We have imposed 17 rounds of Iran-related sanctions, designating 145 Iran-related individuals and entities. This includes six rounds of designations just since the President’s decision in May. The goal of aggressive sanctions is to force Iran into simple but hard choices of whether to cease or persist in the policies that trigger the sanctions.
Regime leaders should feel painful consequences of their violence, bad decision-making, and corruption. Necessary pressure means re-imposing U.S. sanctions that were lifted or waived as part of the nuclear deal; the first of these went back into effect on August 7th, with the remainder coming back on November 5th. We intend to get global Iranian crude oil imports as close to zero as possible by November 4th. As part of our campaign to stop the Iranian regime’s funding of terrorism, we have also jointly disrupted with the UAE a currency exchange network that was transferring millions of dollars to the IRGC’s Qods Force.
We are asking every nation that can no longer tolerate the Islamic Republic’s destructive behavior to protect its people by joining this pressure campaign.
Another critical component of our pressure campaign is the Secretary’s commitment to exposing the regime’s brutality and standing with the Iranian people. As the Secretary did during his trip to the Reagan Library, he continue to engage with the Iranian diaspora.
Our pressure campaign will continue to expose the regime’s dirty revenue streams, malign activities, crooked self-dealings, and oppression.
The Iranian people themselves deserve to know the high level of self-interest that fuels the regime’s actions.
What we are saying is consistent with what the protestors on the streets of Iran are saying. Ultimately, achieving the 12 demands we laid out in May is our objective:
First, Iran must declare to the IAEA a full account of the prior military dimensions of its nuclear program, and permanently and verifiably abandon such work in perpetuity.
Second, Iran must stop enrichment and never pursue plutonium reprocessing. This includes closing its heavy water reactor.
Third, Iran must also provide the IAEA with unqualified access to all sites throughout the entire country.
Iran must end its proliferation of ballistic missiles and halt further launching or development of nuclear-capable missile systems.
Iran must release all U.S. citizens, as well as citizens of our partners and allies, each of them detained on spurious charges.
Iran must end support to Middle East terrorist groups, including Lebanese Hizballah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Iran must respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government and permit the disarming, demobilization, and reintegration of Shia militias.
Iran must also end its military support for the Houthi militia and work towards a peaceful political settlement in Yemen.
Iran must withdraw all forces under Iranian command throughout the entirety of Syria.
Iran, too, must end support for the Taliban and other terrorists in Afghanistan and the region, and cease harboring senior al-Qaida leaders.
Iran must end the Qods Force’s support for terrorists and militant partners around the world.
And Iran must end its threatening behavior against its neighbors – many of whom are U.S. allies. This certainly includes its threats to destroy Israel, and its firing of missiles into Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It also includes threats to international shipping and destructive – and destructive cyberattacks.
That list is pretty long, but if you take a look at it, these are 12 very basic requirements that all the world expects from any normal country.
The people of Iran themselves are angry their country is not regarded as “normal” because of the regime’s malign activity abroad and oppression at home. As Secretary Pompeo said in May, “the length of the list is simply a scope of the malign behavior of Iran. We didn’t create the list, they did.” The great objective of our pressure campaign is to get the regime to depart from all of this malign action, and enter into a new agreement with the United States that addresses each of these twelve areas.
President Trump wants our allies and partners on board our campaign. Many other nations already have common understandings of the threat Iran poses beyond its nuclear aspirations – this was clear in our negotiations with our allies and partners before the President pulled out of the deal. We want more of them to join us in confronting the full array of Iranian malign activity.
Given the level of Iranian destructive behavior on every continent, we know they are ready for Iran to act like a normal country for the first time in forty years. The security of their people demands it.
As I close, it’s worth remembering what Ayatollah Khomeini said during his years of exile in Paris. He said in 1978 that the bases of an Islamic Republic are “safeguarding the people’s freedom” and “campaign[ing] against corruption and licentiousness.”
How is that working out?
Clearly on the merits of the evidence the regime in Iran has achieved neither of these things. It is deeply hypocritical.
Ayatollah Khomeini also said that a future Iran would feature “a government based on justice and fairness for all the strata of our homeland.”
The people of Iran, 39 years later, are still waiting.
Look at the people on the streets of Iran today – to use the Ayatollah’s words, “all the strata” is turning out to protest. Ayatollah Khomeini promised “justice and fairness” – the protestors know this is a regime of injustice and unfairness which has failed to deliver on its promises. Ask those who refuse to wear the hijab how much justice and fairness they experience.
Ultimately, Secretary Pompeo and President Trump are fully committed to our strategy of pressure on the regime, deterrence from bad behavior, and support for the Iranian people.
And we hope that eventually it will become clear to the regime that changing its behavior and reaching an agreement that addresses the entirety of our concerns is the best option going forward.
Nothing less than the security of the American people, and a brighter future for the Iranian people is at stake.