Moderator: Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State. I would like to welcome our participants who have dialed in from across the globe. The senior administration officials joining us today are [Senior Administration Official One]. She will be referred to as Senior Administration Official One in the transcript. Also with us is [Senior Administration Official Two]. He’ll be referenced as Senior Administration Official Number Two. Also with us is [Senior Administration Official Three]. He’ll be referenced as Senior Administration Official Number Three.
We will begin with remarks from our speakers and then we will open it up to your questions.
A reminder that the ground rules for this call are on background. The officials’ remarks may be quoted directly or paraphrased and are attributed to “Senior Administration Officials 1, 2, and 3.” And with that, I’ll turn it over to our speakers for their opening remarks.
Senior Administration Official One: Thank you very much. 40 years ago the regime in Tehran revealed its true colors when militants stormed the U.S. Embassy and held more than 50 American personnel hostage for 444 days. Today, as we reflect on the hardship and suffering they endured, we also remember the innocent Americans still held captive in Iran who are a grim reminder that the regime is fundamentally exactly the same as it was 40 years ago.
The important actions taken by my Treasury and State Department colleagues today demonstrate this administration’s clear ongoing focus on this issue. But there are also some hopeful signs across the region, as from Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, populations, and even Iranian proxies, are starting to see Tehran’s patronage as the dead end that it is. Given their straitened financial circumstances, the mullahs can no longer offer the economic benefits that originally bought them regional insolence, and instead, expect the funds to flow in the other direction, making Tehran’s interference much less attractive and reigniting nationalistic, patriotic desires for sovereignty.
In closing, this anniversary is an excellent opportunity for the Iranian regime to renounce the abhorrent practice of hostage taking and immediately and unconditionally release all unjustly detained Americans on Iranian soil in a sign that they are truly ready to rejoin the international community.
Moderator: [Senior Administration Official Two], your remarks.
Senior Administration Official Two: Great. Thank you very much and if there’s a bit of background noise, apologies. I’m here in the Gulf where we continue to work closely with our partners and allies in combating the Iranian menace.
Today, the Treasury Department took action against nine appointees and representatives of Ali Khamenei, the Iran regime’s so-called supreme leader, as well as Iran’s armed forces general staff, the most senior military body in Iran. Our actions target the financial assets of the supreme leader’s inner circle of military and foreign affairs advisors. The power in Iran is not held by elected officials who are accountable to the Iranian people. We all know that the so-called “democracy,” quote/unquote, in Iran is a sham. That power lies in the hands of the supreme leader and his shadow network of corrupt appointees who forcibly suppress all opposition inside Iran, who maintain their grip on power, and exploit financial —
Moderator: All right. [Senior Administration Official Two], if you can —
Senior Administration Official Two: — these privileged – sorry?
Moderator: You – we lost your voice. You’re back live, so please continue.
Senior Administration Official Two: Yeah. So for more than 40 years, these unelected officials are privileged, unelected, self-enriching so-called revolutionaries. They have oppressed the rights of the Iranian people and they have exported their radical terrorist agenda across the region to advance the ayatollah’s destabilizing policies.
Specifically, our actions today target, first and foremost, Ebrahim Raisi. He is the head of Iran’s judiciary and he was appointed by the supreme leader in March of 2019. Prior to this appointment, Raisi was involved in the regime’s brutal crackdown on the Green Revolution and the protests that followed the fraudulent 2009 elections. When he was deputy prosecutor general of Tehran, Raisi participated in the so-called death commission that ordered the extrajudicial killings of thousands – I repeat, thousands – of political prisoners in 1988. Raisi’s oversight of the judiciary in Iran perpetuates the country’s record of barbaric human rights abuses. In fact, according to a United Nations report, Iran’s judiciary sanctioned the execution of seven children last year. I will repeat that: seven children were executed last year, and two more were killed this year, in 2019, despite the fact that human rights law in Iran theoretically prohibits the death penalty for anyone under age 18.
In fact, there are more than 90 children currently on death row in Iran. Moreover, between September of 2018 and July of this year, at least eight prominent lawyers have been arrested for attempting to defend political prisoners and defenders of human rights. And many of those have now received lengthy sentences by Iran’s judiciary.
We also are sanctioning Mojtaba Khamenei, the second son of the supreme leader. Mojtaba works closely with the commander of the IRGC Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, as well as the Basij, to advance his father’s regional ambitions and his oppressive domestic objectives. We are also designating Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, the supreme leader’s chief of staff and one of the most senior officials within the supreme leader’s office. Likewise, Vahid Haghanian, who is often referred to as the right hand of the supreme leader, is now designated by the Treasury and all of his assets are blocked and he is to be cut off from the international financial system.
Crucially, we are today designating two officials who are directly linked to brutal terror attacks outside of Iran. Ali Akbar Velayati is a senior advisor to the supreme leader, who has helped the Iranian regime extend financial lifelines to the brutal Assad regime in Syria. Velayati has also been charged in Argentina for his homicides in connection with the 1994 horrific bombing of the AMIA cultural center, which killed 85 people and wounded hundreds more. He was one of the ideological masterminds behind that attack. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan, who was commander of the IRGC forces in Lebanon and Syria in 1983 when they conducted the bombing of our Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, which killed 241 of our service members.
In addition to the names I’ve mentioned, we are targeting Iran’s armed forces general staff, its IRGC chief, and another military official who has been appointed by Khomeini, all of which – all of these entities and individuals are listed in detail in Treasury’s press release. Our action, as [Senior Administration Official One] has indicated, coincides with the 40th anniversary of Iranian militants seizing the U.S. embassy in Tehran, holding more than 50 American hostages for 444 days. I should say Senior Administration Official Number One.
This anniversary is a stark reminder that we are dealing with the same regime committed to violence and hostage taking that our diplomats encountered 40 years ago today, and I call attention to the fact that just this past month – in fact, just a few days ago – a representative of the supreme leader directly called upon regional Iranian-backed militias to capture Western embassies. As long as the Iranian regime remains the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, as long as they continue to encourage violence against U.S. interests abroad, the United States will continue to disrupt, through the Department of the Treasury and other elements of our government, all sources of revenue flowing to Iran and to the supreme leader’s office.
I now will turn it over to [Senior Administration Official Three], who is the [title withheld].
Senior Administration Official Three: Hi there. Thanks, [Senior Administration Official Two]. Thanks, [Senior Administration Official One]. Today the State Department is announcing a reward of up to $20 million for credible information that leads to the return of retired FBI Special Agent Robert Levinson. He has been missing in Iran since 2007. Bob Levinson has been away from his family and his loved ones for nearly 13 years and we are determined to reunite them.
This reward is being offered as part of an ongoing effort to target the Iranian regime, which we believe was involved with Robert Levinson’s disappearance. And the timing of this reward also coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Iran hostage crisis in which the regime held 52 Americans hostage. Once a hostage taker, always a hostage taker. So we are increasing our reward. The President, President Trump, has been very successful in his presidency in returning Americans who are unjustly detained and imprisoned around the world, and he is very focused on doing everything we can. As we remember the hostages who were held 40 years ago, we remember the hostages who are still held today, who are innocent and should be released immediately on humanitarian grounds.
Moderator: Thank you. Now, we’ll turn it over to our moderator to begin the Q&A portion of our call.
Moderator: The first question will come from the company MBN and the line of Michel Ghandour. Please go ahead.
Question: Thank you for this call, and my question is: Iran has launched today a new generation of advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium. How do you view this step? Will there be any reaction?
And my second question is: Iraqi protesters attacked the Iranian consulate yesterday in Karbala. How do you view this move too? Thank you.
Senior Administration Official Four: This is [Senior Administration Official Four], [Senior Administration Official One]’s deputy sitting in, as she had to depart the call. I’ll start and then hand off to [Senior Administration Official Three] if he wants to add.
I’ll take the second half first. I think as stated in preliminary comments from [Senior Administration Official One] that we think that signs in Iraq, specifically those in Karbala, reflect significant dissatisfaction with Iranian involvement and overreach and recognition, I think, on the part of many of the Iraqi people that Iran’s involvement comes at a significant cost. And I think you can contrast that with the positive role the United States, its partners and allies strive to obtain inside of Iraq.
With respect to Iran’s continued actions, provocations in violation of the agreement that they remain party to and the placement of the banned centrifuges online, I think we see this as a continuation of nuclear blackmail where Iran continues to take provocative steps, forcing, in their minds, European signatories to the JCPOA to make concessions to them. And so it’s a pattern, from our perspective, where Iran takes actions in violation of agreements in order to obtain concessions.
But I’ll pass off to [Senior Administration Official Three] if he has additional comments.
Senior Administration Official Three: I think that’s well said, [Senior Administration Official Four]. Iran has no credible reason to expand its enrichment program, and what they’ve announced is a big step in the wrong direction. And it again emphasizes this ongoing challenge that the Iranian regime presents to international peace and security.
We call on nations to condemn Iran’s escalatory steps. It’s important, we think, for the nations around the world to be united on this issue. For too long, as Iran engages in various threats to peace and security, nations have fallen to the temptation of calling for calm on all sides. By not identifying Iran as the responsible party on nuclear escalation or maritime aggression or acts of terrorism, it encourages Iran to escalate. And only by calling out the regime by name can we increase the odds of de-escalation.
I know that for some countries this is a paradox. The United States is doing its part to stand up to the regime in ways that have no historic precedent, and it’s important for other nations to join in this effort.
Moderator: Thank you. Then our next question will come from Annahar Newspaper, and the line of Monalisa Freiha. Please go ahead.
Question: Hello. I would like to ask if the officials see any Iranian role in the violence against the Iraqi protesters and the Iraqi uprisings in different regions of Iraq.
Senior Administration Official Four: I’ll start and certainly offer additional comments to my colleagues. I think, I think absolutely. I think the Iraqi people have been among the first to recognize that Iran’s role in Iraq more broadly, and I think we see this in Lebanon and Yemen as well – there’s a recognition that Iran’s role has been malign, and that their influence seeks to destabilize the Government of Iraq and challenge and threaten their sovereignty. And I think this is absolutely, broadly recognized. I think we share the concerns.
We see Iran’s longstanding involvement in the affairs of its neighbors as being wholly malign and coming at the expense of the sovereignty of Iraq and other nations – Lebanon and Yemen included in that. But I’d pass off to other comments for either [Senior Administration Official Three] or [Senior Administration Official Two].
Senior Administration Official Three: Thanks, I don’t have anything to add, unless [Senior Administration Official Two] does.
Senior Administration Official Two: Yeah, well, I’ll amplify that a little bit. I think one has only to read local press and to talk to those who are following the violence being practiced against the protesters in Iraq to recognize that much of this violence – in fact, the overwhelming majority of this violence – is not being perpetrated by Iraqi security forces.
In Karbala, we have to remember that according to various press outlets, more than 80 people were killed by unknown assailants shooting to kill, and hundreds – many hundreds more – wounded. In fact, the question earlier was about the embassy – the protesters painting graffiti on the walls of the embassy. If you read press, it was clear that they were shooting to kill there as well, and at least three protesters have been killed in Karbala related to that attack.
So again, I think it’s pretty clear that Iranian-directed activities are leading to the loss of life in Iraq, and it really must come to an end. The Iraqi people are fed up, and they’re showing it by voting with their voices in the streets.
Moderator: Thank you. Then next from Middle East Newspaper, Muath Alamri. Please go ahead.
Question: Good afternoon. I would like to ask you about the cooperation with the Iraqi regime. What the American administration will provide to the prime minister to back the situation in Iraq?
Senior Administration Official Four: Thanks. That’s an excellent question. I would say that, first, the United States has offered probably more support and assistance to the Government of Iraq than any other nation, and we’ve done this for several reasons. First is because we share the same interests and goals in the region. We both share the same vision of prosperity and sovereignty for Iraq, and as already stated, that one of the greatest threats to that sovereignty and stability and prosperity in Iraq is Iran.
Its activities have wholeheartedly shown that they have complete disregard for law in Iraq. They have a disregard for the rights of its citizens. And we’ve seen, as [Senior Administration Official Two] just accurately stated, that it comes at the cost of many Iraqi lives.
We will continue to provide support and assistance to the Government of Iraq and demonstrate our support for the Iraqi people now voicing their concern over Iran’s involvement. And I think that if you look at the Iraqi security services, you can see the benefit of United States support and assistance – both in the campaign successfully waged against ISIS and their defeat inside of Iraq and ultimately in Syria as well, from the territorial caliphate perspective, and I think you also see it in the professionalism of the services used to defeat ISIS. And they’re now exercising significant restraint and ensuring that the protesters have a peaceful venue in which to voice their concerns.
But I’ll be happy to pass off to [Senior Administration Official Three] and [Senior Administration Official Two] for their thoughts as well.
Senior Administration Official Three: I think [Senior Administration Official Four] has summed it up well. I have nothing to add unless [Senior Administration Official Two] does.
Senior Administration Official Two: No, I’m good here.
Moderator: Very good. Then the next question will come from IBPC, and the line of Amichai Stein. Please go ahead.
Question: Hello. Hello. My name is Amichai Stein. I would like to ask you: Is there a fear in the U.S. Government that Iran might take action against Israel like it did regarding Saudi Arabia?
Senior Administrative Official Four: So I’m happy to start and then pass off as well. I think there’s no question that we see a persistent threat from Iran against Israel, as we do against its other neighbors. And so our concern not only recognizing this is to ensure that we take actions in order to deter Iran from taking it. And so those we take today, and many of the actions we’ve taken, are against the leadership in Iran that make the decisions ultimately to conduct attacks against Israel and its neighbors.
But again, it’s part of this pattern we’ve seen since 1979 and the event we commemorate today, where Iran’s chosen path is violence, terrorism, and taking of hostages, among other things.
And so to us this is the consistent pattern we’ve seen. It’s a concern we’ve noted. And we’re taking action against it by holding the individuals responsible to account. But I welcome thoughts from [Senior Administration Official Three] or [Senior Administration Official Two] as well.
Senior Administrative Official Three: Yeah, I was in Saudi Arabia for almost all of last week conferring with them. The President, President Trump, did announce 3,000 additional troops. We’re also doing what we can to expedite the provision of defensive weapons to Saudi. The kingdom is being attacked from the south and from the north, and this is part of Iran’s larger plan to dominate the Middle East as much as it can. As [Senior Administrative Official Four] said, it is violent. It is expansionist. It is sectarian. It’s revolutionary. And all of these things are bad for the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia is a security partner of the United States across 11 administrations and seven kings, and this work will continue. Since May, when Iran started its campaign of maritime aggression and other attacks, the most recent on September 14th against Abqaiq, it is clear that Iran is in a state of panicked aggression because our sanctions are forcing Iran to make very hard choices. They have never, I think, in history been stood up to in the way that we are standing up to them, and they don’t like it. They’re not used to being told ‘no.’
But our economic pressure and diplomatic isolation, and also our enhanced force posture in the region, has deterred and disrupted many attacks that the regime was plotting over the last six months. And we also are pleased that other nations are working with Saudi Arabia to enhance their air defense systems and to close some gaps in their air defenses. So that work will continue. We also continue to see a role for the UN Security Council to play, to respond to the September 14th attacks, which were an egregious violation of the UN Charter.
Senior Administration Official Two: I would further add – this is [Senior Administration Official Two] from the Treasury Department – that I am calling from the Gulf, where we are concluding a more than a week-long series of discussions between the Secretary of the Treasury and his counterparts, ranging from the State of Israel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to United Arab Emirates to India, where we also focused on the Iranian threat and Qatar. And in all of these countries, we have both raised and have received a great deal of concern regarding the menace that Iran poses to the international order.
There is a determination to combat the Iranian threat. In fact, we saw it just a week ago when we arrived in the region with an unprecedented – in fact, the largest round of sanctions jointly imposed by all of the Gulf Coordination Council nations, together with the United States, against 21 targets, 21 entities and individuals associated with the Basij, the paramilitary force that represses the Iranian people, recruits child soldiers, and otherwise maintains the dictatorial grip on that country.
Furthermore, the Gulf nations, together with the United States, through the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center in Riyadh, which was founded as President Trump took his first summit trip during his presidency to the kingdom, we designated four kingpins associated with Hizballah in Iraq and in the fundraising and terror apparatus that the Iranians maintain through that proxy group.
So there is an appreciation of the threat the Iranians pose. It is a persistent threat. It is not just to Israel, it is to the Gulf nations. It is also to the United States. And we are determined to combat it at every turn.
Moderator: Very well. Then our last question will come from Voice of America on the line of Nike Ching. Please go ahead.
Question: Thank you very much. And first I would like to thank you for flagging the $20 million reward for information on Robert Levinson – Levinson. I noted that the State Department statement, you featured two other American detainees, Siamak Namazi and the [inaudible] PhD candidate for Princeton University.
My questions are: Could you please clarify if there is a prisoner swap planned between the U.S. and Iran? And personally, do you have anything on the welfare of detained Americans? Are there any recent visits through the American protecting power to the detainees? Thank you very much.
Senior Administration Official Three: Hi, it’s [Senior Administration Official Three]. I can answer that.
We don’t discuss any negotiations that may or may not be happening. It isn’t something that we comment on. We do know that the Americans that are being wrongfully detained are innocent and they should be immediately released.
The United Nations has condemned Iran for the – for this hostage taking, for these – some of these Americans. It is also the case that we don’t find Foreign Minister Zarif’s use of the media to propose hostage swaps as particularly helpful. There is an established channel that exists, and that should be the proper channel to work through these things. So when Foreign Minister Zarif uses the press instead of diplomatic channels, it makes us wonder whether this is a sincere effort on the regime’s part.
Moderator: Thank you. That concludes the Q&A portion of today’s call. I want to open it up to our speakers if they have any final remarks.
Senior Administration Official Four: Nothing from here. Thank you.
Moderator: Okay. Thank you. That concludes today’s call. I want to thank our speakers for joining us, and thank all of our callers for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Office of International Media Engagement at PAIMEStaff@state.gov. Thank you.
Moderator Note: Senior Administration Official One was replaced by Senior Administration Official Four when Official One departed the call.