Ambassador Brian Hook Briefs the Press – April 2, 2019

MR HOOK: Thanks. Good afternoon. Today we are providing an update on the President’s
Iran strategy. I will highlight the effects we are seeing
on the Iranian regime and its allies and proxies in the Middle East. This briefing comes at a time when Iran is
facing severe flooding. At least 45 people have died in the past two
weeks after heavy rains, with flooding affecting at least 23 of Iran’s 31 provinces. The Secretary issued a statement earlier today
extending his condolences and offering assistance, and I extend my condolences as well. Since taking office, the administration has
designated over 970 Iranian entities and individuals. The sanctions announced last week against
front companies supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran’s ministry of defense
were the 26th round of American sanctions. Our sanctions have targeted a range of threats,
especially Iran’s support of terrorism, missile proliferation, its nuclear program,
human rights abuses, and others. As part of this pressure, we have sanctioned
more than 70 Iran-linked financial institutions and their foreign and domestic subsidiaries. The SWIFT financial messaging system matched
many of these designations and disconnected every sanctioned bank in Iran. In November, SWIFT even disconnected the Central
Bank of Iran from its system. We have targeted Iran’s illicit oil shipping
networks, which enrich the brutal Assad regime and terrorist partners like Hizballah. We are taking unprecedented steps to deepen
our cooperation with allies and partners to confront Iranian-backed terrorism and aggression. Joint teams from the departments of State
and Treasury have now visited more than 50 countries around the world to brief on our
new policy and warn of the dangers and reputational risks of doing business with Iran. Almost one year after the United States ended
its participation in the Iran nuclear deal, and five months after the full reimposition
of our sanctions, it is clear that our actions are restricting Iran’s cash flow. They are constraining its ability to operate
freely in the region. Our oil sanctions have taken approximately
1.5 million barrels of Iranian oil exports off the market since May of 2018. This has denied the regime access to well
over $10 billion in revenue. That is a loss of at least $30 million a day,
and this is only with respect to the oil. Iran would otherwise use this money to support
its destructive and destabilizing activities. Because of our efforts, the regime now has
less money to spend on its support of terrorism, missile proliferation, and on its long list
of proxies. In November, we granted eight waivers, oil
waivers to avoid a spike in the price of oil. I can confirm today that three of those importers
are now at zero. That brings us to a total of 23 importers
that once were purchasers of Iranian crude that are now at zero. With oil prices actually lower than they were
when we announced our sanctions, and global oil – and global production stable, we are
on the fast track to zeroing out all purchases of Iranian crude. More than 100 major corporations withdrew
from business in Iran. Companies like Total and Siemens have exited
the Iranian market, taking with them billions of dollars in investment. Since the IRGC controls up to half of Iran’s
economy, this lack of investment means less money for the Quds Force and Iran’s network
of proxies. Our sanctions are draining Iran’s support
to its proxies, and for the first time in a very long time, they have less access to
revenue to spread terror and militancy. In March, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of
Lebanese Hizballah, publicly appealed for donations for the first time ever. He has been forced to undertake unprecedented
austerity measures. There are reports that some Hizballah fighters
are receiving half of their pay, and that others are only being paid $200 a month. Other Hizballah employees report receiving
60 percent of their normal monthly salaries. A new analysis released last month by the
Washington Institute corroborates these findings. Hizballah has closed almost a thousand offices
and paused hiring of new personnel. The report further concludes that Hizballah
itself attributes this belt-tightening to U.S. sanctions on Iran, which has historically
provided the group with $700 million annually. That is 70 percent of Hizballah’s entire
budget. Hizballah is not alone in feeling the strain
of American sanctions. Iranian proxies in Syria and elsewhere are
experiencing a lack of funding from Tehran. Fighters are going unpaid, and the services
they once relied upon are drying up. Last week The New York Times quoted a Shia
fighter in Syria who said that, quote, “The golden days are gone and will never return. Iran doesn’t have enough money to give us.” We are working with our allies and partners
to make this the new norm. We have acted with them to disrupt Iran’s
illicit oil shipping operations. When we identified ships smuggling illicit
Iranian oil for the Quds Force to support Hizballah and the Assad regime, Secretary
Pompeo dispatched diplomatic teams to work with our allies and partners to help prevent
it. We have been working with countries on almost
every continent to identify vessels of concern and disrupt their operations. More than 75 vessels involved in illicit activity
have been denied the flags that they need to sail. Panama issued a presidential decree to pull
registration and de-flag Iranian vessels. Countries like Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Sierra
Leone have exercised great diligence to disrupt these schemes and deny criminal Iranian entities
access to flag registries, insurance, and classification. We thank each of these nations for their work. America has not acted alone to counter Iran’s
malign behavior. Our European partners pushed back against
Iran after a foiled bomb plot in Paris, and thwarted an assassination attempt in Denmark. In January, the European Union sanctioned
Iran’s ministry of intelligence and security and two of its agents for their roles in these
activities. The EU’s recent Foreign Affairs Council
passed conclusions in February that called out its ballistic – Iran’s ballistic missile
program. It also opposed Iran’s malign activity in
Europe, as well as its ongoing role in regional conflicts. Many European countries, including the United
Kingdom, Germany, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Albania, and Serbia have acted to address
the threat of Iranian terrorism on their own soil, whether by recalling ambassadors, expelling
Iranian diplomats, eliminating visa-free travel, or denying landing rights to Mahan Air, as
Germany recently did. All of these activities were undertaken after
the U.S. exited the Iran nuclear deal, undercutting the narrative that the U.S. is alone in countering
Iran’s threats to international peace and security. We are also working with our allies and partners
to oppose Iran’s ballistic missile program. The United States, the United Kingdom, France,
and Germany have repeatedly highlighted Iran’s defiance of UN Security Council Resolution
2231, which calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles
designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons. We relayed our strong concerns to the UN secretary-general
following Iran’s launch of a medium range ballistic missile in December, and its attempted
satellite launches in January and February. Just last week, the UK, France, and Germany
wrote to the secretary-general again, underscoring their concerns with Iran’s recent missile
launches. We are confident that our shared assessment
of the threat from Iran will continue to translate into even more shared action. Our sanctions are laying bare this regime’s
mismanagement and lack of transparency. Shortly after the President exited the Iran
nuclear deal, Foreign Minister Zarif bragged that Iran would, quote, “thrive” under
U.S. sanctions. His optimism was misplaced. A few months later, the supreme leader said
that the regime is under, quote, “unprecedented pressure,” end quote. President Rouhani has since said Iran faces
its, quote, “most severe economic crisis in 40 years.” This economic crisis is largely of the regime’s
own making, because it has prioritized expanding the revolution abroad over sound economics
at home. Living conditions have barely rebounded to
pre-revolution levels. For most Iranians, the promises of the revolution
never materialized. This is why the hashtag #40yearsoffailure
was a popular hashtag inside Iran during the regime’s 40th anniversary. Today there are reports that indicate Iran’s
economy is in recession. The rial has lost two-thirds of its value,
the IMF predicts Iran’s economy will contract by as much as 3.6 percent in 2019, and inflation
hit a record 40 percent in November, with inflation for goods at 60 percent. It is likely to be much higher than that today,
but it is difficult to know because the Central Bank of Iran stopped publicly reporting inflation
back in December. What is the CBI hiding? More than 70 percent of the Iranian public
see the economy as bad or very bad, and 60 percent say it is getting worse. The Iranian people know whom to blame for
reduced wages, lost savings, and a reduction in their purchasing power. A 2018 poll conducted by IranPoll found that
nearly two-thirds of Iranians blamed the regime for mismanagement and corruption and for the
country’s economic woes. Less than a third blamed sanctions or international
pressure for the current state of affairs. This has not stopped Iran’s leaders from
deflecting blame for their own corruption and mismanagement, but the Iranian people
know that their government’s policies are the root cause of Iran’s worsening economy. There are already whispers throughout the
Iranian medical community that the regime is hoarding drugs and other medical products
that they can then sell at marked-up prices for profit. The Iranian people view their government with
such skepticism because the regime has lost all credibility. I’ve discussed at length how our pressure
is depriving the Iranian regime of the resources it needs to sustain its tactical operations. I want to close briefly by discussing the
broader strategic implications this has for the region. As we increase pressure, we are creating new
opportunities for peace and stability in the Middle East. First, our pressure is aimed at reversing
Iran’s strategic gains. From roughly 2007 through 2016, Iran was able
for a variety of reasons to deepen its support of proxies and entrench itself in regional
conflicts without facing negative consequences. Iran does this by letting its proxies do the
dying for them in regional wars. The proxies also give the regime plausible
deniability, a 40-year fiction this administration refuses to honor. Since taking office, but especially in the
last 11 months, this administration has countered Iran’s grand strategy. We are imposing costs on the regime for behaving
as an outlaw expansionist regime. The regime is weaker today than when we took
office two years ago. Its proxies are also weaker. Unless the regime demonstrates a change in
policy and behavior, the financial challenges facing Tehran will mount. Second, as we expose the regime’s corruption,
economic mismanagement, human rights abuses, arbitrary detention of dual nationals, environmental
destruction, and more, we are making the case to countries in the region that Iran is neither
a model to emulate nor a partner to follow. Wherever it goes, conflict, misery, and suffering
follow. Here are a few examples. President Rouhani recently visited Iraq, where
he seeks to bring – which he seeks to bring under Iranian control. We ask the Iraqi people to consider this:
Given how Rouhani treats his own people, just imagine how he will treat you. The effects of Iran’s meddling had been
felt most sharply by the region’s innocent civilians. Men, women, and children are casualties of
Iran’s dangerous expansionism almost every day. In Yemen, Iran has helped fuel a humanitarian
catastrophe by backing the Houthis. Its support has prolonged the conflict well
beyond what makes any sense at all. In Syria, Iran has (inaudible) and abetted
Assad’s brutal war machine as that machine has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced
millions of civilians. Under the cover of the Syrian war, the IRGC
is now trying to plant military roots in Syria and establish a new strategic base to threaten
Syria’s neighbors such as Israel. In Lebanon, the Iranian regime’s obsession
with using Hizballah to provoke conflict with Lebanon’s neighbors threatens the safety
of the Lebanese people. IRGC backing enables Hizballah to use murder,
terrorism, and corruption to intimidate other Lebanese parties and communities. In Iraq, I can announce today, based on declassified
U.S. military reports, that Iran is responsible for the deaths of at least 608 American service
members. This accounts for 17 percent of all deaths
of U.S. personnel in Iraq from 2003 to 2011. This death toll is in addition to the many
thousands of Iraqis killed by the IRGC’s proxies. Third, rolling back Iran’s power projection
will make it easier to address other regional challenges. Many intellectuals and diplomats over the
years have argued that without progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there can
be no progress on other conflicts. This has been referred to by some as linkage
– the idea that resolving peace between Israel and the Palestinians was necessary
to resolve other flash points. However, the Middle East of today challenges
this theory of linkage. In fact, what we are seeing more and more
is a kind of reverse linkage; addressing the threats posed by Iran is a precursor to helping
resolve other conflicts. When we look at the challenges in the region,
from the peace process to conflicts in Syria and Yemen, to violence in Bahrain and Iraq,
Iran’s operations lie at or very near the heart of the problem. It supports Palestinian terror groups like
Hamas that undermine the aspirations of the Palestinian people. It exports missiles and terrorist know-how
to the Houthis in Yemen, who in turn threaten neighboring countries. It threatens the war – it perpetuates the
war in Syria by propping up the Assad regime. Nowhere in the region are peace and prosperity
compatible with Iranian influence and support. The Islamic Republic is linked to these crises
in a way that compounds suffering and prevents peace and stability from getting a better
footing. Iran can no longer be allowed to play the
role of chief spoiler. Our pressure is making it harder than ever
before for them to do that. Secretary Pompeo will continue to use all
the tools at our disposal to press the regime to change its destructive policies for the
benefit of peace in the region and for the sake of its own people, who are the longest-suffering
victims of this regime. As we have done from the start, we will continue
to call on all nations to join us in restoring the basic demands on Iran to behave like a
peaceful nation. This include – this includes ending its
pursuit of nuclear weapons, stop testing and proliferating ballistic missiles, stop sponsoring
terrorist proxies, and halt the arbitrary detention of dual citizens. As Secretary Pompeo has said, we are prepared
to end the principal components of every one of our sanctions against the regime. We are happy to re-establish full diplomatic
and commercial ties with Iran. If Iran makes a fundamental shift, as outlined
in the Secretary’s 12 demands, a lot of good things can happen between the people
of Iran and the people of the United States. That includes supporting the modernization
and reintegration of the Iranian economy into the international economic system. Glad to take a few questions. Matt. QUESTION: Thank you. Are you going to be making an abridged version
of this available? MR HOOK: There will be a fact sheet released
after this. QUESTION: Okay. Thanks. Two things real quick. One, on the money, the 10 billion denied for
destructive activities, is it not also the case that no matter how small the amount that
Iran might spend, that 10 billion that you’ve taken away from them could also have been
used for things like infrastructure or for disaster relief if – MR HOOK: Iran had that opportunity back in
2013. QUESTION: Well, right. But it’s 2019 now – MR HOOK: Right. But — QUESTION: — and they’re suffering from
floods. So that – MR HOOK: They are suffering from floods because
Iran has prioritized its expansionist foreign policy over things like emergency preparedness
and water management. I released a video a few weeks ago, before
the flooding occurred, talking about how Iran has destroyed its environment. The regime has destroyed its environment,
and it has mismanaged its water resources, and it goes through these cycles of drought
and flooding. When this regime came to power, there were
about seven ancient dams and 12 modern dams. Over the course of the last 40 years, this
regime has built 600 dams. That is just water malpractice, water management
malpractice. QUESTION: Okay. But, I mean, natural disasters happen everywhere. They happen here too. It’s not — MR HOOK: And so they have prioritized all
of this – they have prioritized this consistently. People are still recovering from the earthquake
in 2017. QUESTION: Can I – then just the last one
briefly. You said on the oil waivers – so you said
three of the eight that were – three of the eight are no longer necessary, the ones
– the original ones? MR HOOK: No, I said that three of the eight
have gone to zero. QUESTION: Right. Well, so they don’t need waivers then, right? So there’s five left? MR HOOK: That’s correct. QUESTION: There is – there are some people,
quite a few actually, who make the argument that you should not give any more waivers,
that everything should go to zero, zero means zero, maximum pressure. MR HOOK: Right. QUESTION: That concerns about the market and
the supply are compensated for or made up for by the Saudis willingness to expand production
to cover any – so do you intend to not give any more – to extend – to not extend any
of the waivers? Or is that still an open possibility? MR HOOK: Well, we’re still currently under
the existing waivers that expire on May 2nd. There will be an announcement on that in due
course. We are not looking to grant any exceptions
to our campaign of maximum economic pressure. As I’ve said in my remarks and I’ve said
in other forum, fora, that in 2018 we had a very tight and fragile oil market and the
President did not want to lift the price of oil. We very, I think, carefully and correctly
calibrated balancing our national security and economic objectives. 2019 is a much better picture in global oil
markets. We forecast more supply than demand. And that creates much better conditions for
us to accelerate our path to zero. QUESTION: Thank you. MR HOOK: Rich. QUESTION: Thanks, Brian. So if you’ve taken off a million and a half
a day, you’re somewhere south of a million barrels a day? That’s where — MR HOOK: Yeah, approximately. Yeah. QUESTION: Is there a point – and I know
the intent is to get to zero, but is there a point that the administration sees as a
real tipping point that – is it half a million barrels or somewhere in between that really
begins to drive the economic ramifications? MR HOOK: Well, we already are – we’re
doing that now at our current levels. So we have reached that goal of affecting
Iran’s – disrupting and making it harder for Iran to sustain its foreign policy. So we’re – this briefing was to talk about
the impact. I often get this question – what kind of
impact are you seeing? – so I thought it’d be useful to provide a comprehensive briefing
on what we’re seeing and what others are seeing. And we’re just getting started. Michele. QUESTION: Thank you. Since Secretary Pompeo is hosting this event
on captive Americans this afternoon, I wonder if you can tell us if there’s been any new
effort by the administration to open up a humanitarian dialogue with Iran on the cases
of Americans held there in Iran or if you’re considering anything punitive, specific sanctions
to pressure Iran to release these people. MR HOOK: Well, I’d refer you to – I don’t
want to get in Robert O’Brien’s lane. I can tell you that when I did – this was
back when the United States was in the Iran nuclear deal and I attended the last meeting
of the joint commission that the United States participated in. I requested a meeting with Iran’s deputy
foreign minister Abbas Araghchi, and I presented him the names of all the Americans who are
being arbitrarily detained. I asked for their release, asked for an update
on their condition, and suggested that we do some sort of – that we start opening
the channel. Robert O’Brien has picked that up, and so
we are – he’s going to be having some events this afternoon. I’m happy to put Robert in touch with you
to give you a more detailed answer. Nick. QUESTION: Brian, just two quick ones, one
on the oil waivers. So if conditions on May 2nd are what they
are today, would you say that conditions are right to bring that to zero? And then second, on the 608 American service
members you identified as Iran having been responsible for their deaths, is that – could
you us give more detail on that? What was that classified information that
was declassified? And you mentioned 2003 to 2011, so is that
– that’s the date frame, time frame for those Americans? MR HOOK: Yes. That’s a Department of Defense statistic. I’m happy to give you more details on it
but wanted to release that number. QUESTION: And on the waivers? MR HOOK: I already answered the waiver question. QUESTION: But not – I mean, if today, given
the – what you mentioned about the oil market and the fact that it seems to be well supplied
and oil prices are relatively low, would you feel comfortable bringing waivers to zero? MR HOOK: We – because 2019 we forecast more
supply than demand, there are better market conditions for us to accelerate our path to
zero. We are not looking to grant any waivers or
exceptions to our sanctions regime. Last question for Abbie. QUESTION: Thank you. You went through a lot of the economic impact
of what you’re seeing one year after from the sanctions. But what changes in behavior have you seen
from Iran as far as their malign activities throughout the world that you have been pointing
out for the last year? MR HOOK: Well, that’s what we wanted to
highlight today. To some extent I feel like don’t take my
word for it; the Iranian regime is admitting it at the supreme leader level, the presidential
– the level of the president. You’ve seen the leader of Hizballah make
a public appeal for donations. You’re seeing reporting in the New York
Times front page on Friday last week chronicling how the combination of Iran’s financial
mismanagement plus American sanctions are impeding Iran’s ability to fund its proxies
and allies at the levels that they are accustomed to. And since Iran does supply Hizballah with
70 percent of its revenue, it is quite significant when you have the leader of Hizballah making
a public appeal for money. He’s obviously not getting as much as he
needs to execute his objectives because, as he’s attributed to, American sanctions. So we think it’s very much interest – in
the interest of the Iranian people to join this effort of pressure, because we are seeing
the results. And there were a lot of people who, when we
got out of the deal, who were saying, “Oh, America alone, can you do this? This is going to be very hard without everybody
joining you.” And I think that that has now been proven
wrong. We’re only five months into the re-imposition
of our sanctions, and we are now already seeing these effects that are being reported by others,
not by us. And so we think, as I said, we share the same
threat assessment with so many – with our – with countries in the Middle East, with
our European partners. When we were in Warsaw, we saw there – one
nice consequence of Iran’s foreign policy is that it has brought together Arabs and
Israelis in a way that we had not thought possible. And so you saw they have this common threat
of Iran’s foreign policy, its revolutionary foreign policy, and it is a very urgent matter. And so I remember Prime Minister Netanyahu
saying in Warsaw when you see the Arabs and the Israelis agreeing as strongly as they
do, you need to pay attention to that. Something very important is happening, and
we’re seeing it. We’ve been seeing it for a while, and I
just wanted to give you an update on what we’re seeing on the ground. Thank you. MR PALLADINO: All right. Thanks, Brian.

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