MR HOOK: I’ll just make a brief opening. The Secretary decided to make a stop in Brussels on his way to Sochi for his meeting with President Putin. The Secretary shared information and intelligence with allies and discussed the multiple plot vectors emerging from Iran. We know that Europe shares our concerns about stability in the Gulf and in the Middle East.
Secretary Pompeo has always been diligent about sharing information with our allies as threats to peace and security warrant. Iran is an escalating threat, and this seemed like a timely visit on his way to Sochi.
He also had a very good meeting with the NATO secretary general and with our ambassador to NATO, Ambassador Hutchison, and they had a discussion on a number of subjects. Iran was, I think, the principal purpose for these bilateral meetings. He also met with Federica Mogherini, the EU high representative.
Over the course of the day, beyond Iran, they were able to discuss Venezuela, Ukraine, Syria, Libya, and the President’s – well, and then I would just say on just issues relating to NATO.
MS ORTAGUS: Go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: So the readout we’ve gotten so far from the Germans, the Brits, and the French is sort of what you’ve said before, and they’ve echoed that while you agree on the broad strategy there is still a fair amount of division over how to go about confronting Iran. They still believe the JCPOA is the best answer. Obviously, the United States does not. So was there any change in stance there? Would you characterize these meetings as sort of going over the same ground that has been gone over before? That’s sort of how they’re characterizing it.
MR HOOK: We don’t spend as much time on that subject because we agree on much more than we disagree. That continues to be the case. We share the same threat assessment. We are very concerned about Iran’s – a lot of the multiple threat streams that have been reported over the last three or four days.
The Secretary wanted to, as I said, share that, share some detail behind what we have been saying publicly. We believe that Iran should try talks instead of threats. They have chosen poorly by focusing on threats.
We had – these were all very good discussions. We had very good bilateral meetings and continue to have very good and productive relationships with our allies.
QUESTION: Among those threats, did the Secretary raise the sabotage attacks on the vessels in the Gulf? And what can you tell us about what the U.S. knows about that?
MR HOOK: We did discuss the reported attacks on the two Saudi tankers, the Norwegian tanker, and the Emirati tanker. I would refer you to UAE and Saudi and to Norway for any specific information that they have.
MS ORTAGUS: I just actually got something in while we were sitting here that the DOD is going to be confirming on the record, so I’ll give this to you guys. The DOD is saying: By request of the UAE Government, we are aiding in the investigation. So just got that.
QUESTION: But the Secretary didn’t raise it as a sort of one of those threat vectors, as you say, from Iran?
MR HOOK: I’m sorry, what do you mean by that?
QUESTION: He’s not making the connection or blaming Iran or its proxies for that?
MR HOOK: We discussed the – what seemed to be attacks on commercial vessels that were anchored off of Fujairah. As Morgan said, we have been requested by the UAE to provide assistance in the investigation, which we are very glad to do.
QUESTION: Do you believe there’s the possibility that Iran played a role?
MR HOOK: Don’t have any comment.
QUESTION: You described the meetings today as very good, but why – why will you describe it that way? I mean, does – compared to previous meetings with this same group?
MR HOOK: Well, the Secretary and I are in regular touch with our European partners, and he was just meeting – he had a really good trip to the UK recently, so this is a chance to continue his conversation with Foreign Secretary Hunt on the range of issues.
He just – the Secretary has prioritized his relationships with our European allies, and his stop here is another example of that. There will be more visits. We have the President’s upcoming visit both to France and the UK around D-Day and then also the President’s visit to the United Kingdom.
So we have – we’ve placed a priority on our diplomacy with our European allies, and this is another example of that. Look, the foreign affairs – there was an EU meeting where we had EU’s foreign ministers here, and this was a good opportunity since they’re all here to try to get some time with them on the way to Sochi.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about what’s next, sort of the now what element to this discussion? I mean, you’ve got a lot of sanctions on Iran. There is disagreement with the Europeans on the tactical moves about how to confront the threat, and the Iranians are now saying they will not talk to the United States. They seem to be only doubling down and hardening their position.
So there is – again, this is a question you get asked a lot, but there is a lot of concern about this, that whether intentionally or not, this is a prelude to conflict and that we’re heading down a path that could lead to some form of miscalculation that could result in conflict. There’s a lot of anxiety about that.
Could you address that issue and specifically the sort of what now, where do we go from here, now that everybody sort of seems to be at loggerheads, particularly the U.S. and Iran?
MR HOOK: Well, our goal continues to be for Iran to behave like a normal nation and not like a revolutionary cause. They have been exporting violent revolution around the Middle East for 40 years. We have put in place an entirely new foreign policy with respect to the Iranian regime. Iran’s era of deniable attacks is over. Tehran will be held accountable for the attacks of its proxies. They cannot organize, train, and equip their proxies and then expect anyone to believe that they had no role. And so we will not make a distinction between the Iranian Government and its proxies.
If they conduct attacks, we think that given the 40-year history of Iran only responding to pressure and isolation, that this is the best course given the nature of this regime. If talking nicely worked, we would have settled this decades ago. But this is a regime that only understands economic pressure and diplomatic isolation. And we are committed to this strategy because it has the best chances of de-escalating the threats that we see stretching from Lebanon to Yemen. And whenever you peel back the onion in any of these countries, you always find Iran’s – you always find Iran. So —
QUESTION: I mean, in the past, though, you’ve said diplomatic isolation, economic pressure, and also the threat of military force.
MR HOOK: Historically, if you look at 40 years of this regime, they change their behavior when one or more of these elements are present: economic pressure, diplomatic isolation, and the threat of military force. It’s always one or more of those elements that have to be present. We have put in place the strongest campaign of economic pressure against this regime in its history. We are also committed to diplomatically isolating the regime.
And over the last year, since we have left the deal, we have seen European nations also stand up to Iranian terrorism in Europe and to Iranian aggression in the Middle East. They have recalled ambassadors from Iran. They have expelled diplomats from European countries. They have restricted visa-free travel. They have denied landing rights to Mahan Airlines. They have condemned Iran’s space launch vehicle testing. They have condemned Iran’s ballistic missile testing. They have condemned Iran’s ballistic – the missile proliferation. There is a long list over the last year of what Europe has done to restore deterrents, and it’s a very – it again shows that we share the same threat assessment.
So we think this is the right approach. The Secretary wanted to give people an update on the current threat streams that we have been analyzing, and to stay in close sync with them.
QUESTION: Do you think that you can peel Russia away from its support for Iran? Is that one of the goals of the meetings in Sochi?
MR HOOK: Iran will be on the agenda in Sochi. Iran plays a destabilizing role in Syria. It is our foreign policy to, as part of an irreversible political process that Ambassador Jim Jeffrey is leading with the Secretary, to remove all forces under Iranian command and control from Syria. We know that it is in Russia’s interest to stabilize Syria, and as long as Iran is using Syria as a missile platform to advance its foreign policy objectives, it will not be stable.
QUESTION: Yeah, that’s good for me.
MS ORTAGUS: Great.
QUESTION: Thank you, Brian.
MR HOOK: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.