“The Iranian regime is weaker today than when we took office three years ago, and so are its proxies. The regime is facing its worst-ever economic crisis in its history. It is facing a crisis of legitimacy and credibility with its own people,” Brian Hook, who serves as the U.S. special representative for Iran, told JNS.
Iran has definitely been an administrative priority of late. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced sanctions on a Chinese company doing business with an Iranian airline on May 19; the next day, the United States announced another round of sanctions targeting Iran’s interior minister, as well as senior law-enforcement officials over allegations of grave human-rights abuses.
On Wednesday, Pompeo went further and announced the end to the waivers that have allowed Russian, Chinese and European companies to continuously operate at Iranian nuclear facilities.
Hook said that the Trump administration’s sanctions are the most comprehensive ever put in place.
“The Trump administration’s sanctions on Iran are the largest in the Islamic Republic’s history. It dwarfs the multilateral sanctions that were done prior to us coming into office, and we have a remarkable record on sanctioning Iran’s financial system,” he said.
At the same time, the Trump administration is pressing the U.N. Security Council to extend a 13-year-old arms embargo on Iran that is set to expire in October. Earlier in May, the United States held a closed-door U.N Security Council meeting to discuss the April 22 launch by Iran of a military satellite, which is seen by many experts as a front for its ballistic-missile program and violation of Security Council Resolution 2231 that prohibits the development of those weapons for a nuclear program.
The United States is also seeking to extend the sanctions on Iran using mechanisms of the Iran nuclear deal, despite pulling out of the agreement in May 2018. Iranian officials have argued that America has no standing to enforce “snapback” sanctions from the deal after it exited it.
“Our policy is to extend the arms embargo one way or another. We intend to extend the arms embargo. That is our policy,” said Hook.
Hook noted that there is also bipartisan support for the push to extend the arm’s embargo. “Recently, you had almost 400 U.S. House members support Secretary Pompeo’s diplomacy to extend the U.N. arms embargo.”
“Our new strategy towards Iran, which is a combination of economic pressure, diplomatic isolation and military deterrence, are the three necessary ingredients to have a successful Iran strategy. If you lack any of those, you are playing by Iran’s rules,” he said.
Some say that as the world has been grappling with the coronavirus, Iran has been taking advantage of the situation and also enriching uranium with an eye towards eventual nuclear weapons.
Hook also told JNS that America’s allies in the region are bearing the brunt of such aggression.
“Our Gulf allies are on the frontlines of Iranian aggression along with Israel,” he said. “Our Gulf allies have been critical to reversing Iran’s power projection, and we see Saudi Arabia being attacked directly by Iran. We see the Iranian regime unable to be at peace with its neighbors, using its proxies to attack allies.”
At the same time, Hook said the threat has led to better relations with Arab states and Israel.
“We have enhanced our force posture in the region, we have increased the tempo of our diplomacy, and, during this administration, I think that our bilateral relations with Gulf nations and with Israel are at all-time highs,” he said.
Iran ‘stealing the wealth’ of Venezuela
The State Department has also taken Iran to task for propping up the Venezuelan regime of Nicolas Maduro, which has been giving the Islamic Republic tons of gold bars, thereby depleting the South American country’s gold vaults.
“We think that this is another regrettable example of the Iranian regime stealing the wealth of the Iranian people to help an illegitimate kleptocrat on the other side of the world,” said Hook.
His statement comes as the Trump administration has reportedly been considering new sanctions and other steps in response to Iranian oil exports to Venezuela.
He declined to comment on if there have been such considerations or there will be penalties specifically for the activity, citing U.S. State Department policy to not preview any actions, including sanctions, taken by the department.
In the end, Hook believes that Iran’s future is in the hands of its people, not the United States.
“We support the Iranian people in their desire for a more representative government,” he said. “The future of Iran will be decided by the Iranian people. It will not be decided by the United States government. And that’s the way it should be.”