Transcript: Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook Briefs Reporters on Iran Sanctions
This transcript was published by the Office of the Spokesperson at the U.S. Department of State. The briefing took place on November 2, 2018.
MR HOOK: I’m happy to take questions. And you’ve heard the Secretary talk. I just (inaudible).
QUESTION: What are the eight countries?
MR HOOK: Huh?
QUESTION: What are the eight countries?
QUESTION: What are the eight countries?
MR HOOK: Monday. Monday.
QUESTION: Can you at least say what are the two that said that they will cut to zero since it seems the negotiations with them are over?
MR HOOK: It’ll – it’s all going to be announced on Monday.
QUESTION: But why do all of this today if there’s so little detail available today?
MR HOOK: There was a lot of detail today. There was a full briefing by both secretaries. So --
QUESTION: There was not a lot of detail.
MR HOOK: The sanctions go back into effect on Monday. This was a preview today.
QUESTION: Can I ask, though, similar to the question Arshad asked on the – using the word jurisdiction instead of country, can we assume that a certain island that begins with “T” is the reason that you’re using jurisdiction instead of country? Or is that --
MR HOOK: I think --
QUESTION: Taiwan. I’ll --
QUESTION: Could jurisdiction mean more than one government, or does it mean one government?
MR HOOK: Is this what Secretary Mnuchin said?
QUESTION: He said – no, Pompeo.
QUESTION: Both, both. Pompeo – both of them said --
QUESTION: They used the word jurisdictions.
QUESTION: -- jurisdiction not country, which is why – I mean, it’s a technical point, but I’m just – and I get – I can understand that you don’t want to give the names.
MR HOOK: I don’t know all of them. I don’t know.
QUESTION: But are all of the eight countries?
QUESTION: Single governments?
MR HOOK: Yes.
QUESTION: Yes countries or yes governments?
MR HOOK: They are – they are --
QUESTION: If Taiwan is among them, that would be a reason to --
MR HOOK: I get it. They’re nations. They’re nations.
QUESTION: Okay. So Taiwan is not.
MR HOOK: I’m not going to say what it’s not. I’m saying that eight nations.
QUESTION: Can I get a clarification on the SREs?
MR HOOK: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yesterday you said the waiver is granted for a six-month period and then re-evaluated.
MR HOOK: That’s by statute.
QUESTION: Right. And then the Secretary said it will take them weeks longer to wind down. Is that all-encompassing for the eight that are being granted or just --
MR HOOK: No, he was – there he was talking about two of the countries that will receive an SRE are going to be given a little extra time, weeks of time, to get to zero.
QUESTION: But they – if they can still – the waiver is for six months still by statute?
MR HOOK: But operationally it’s only relevant for the first few weeks of the – but by law, when we give an SRE, it’s for 180 days.
MR HOOK: And that’s under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, NDAA. And so it’s a 180-day SRE. It doesn’t matter whether they go to – I mean, it’s – each country is different. In two of the countries, they will be getting to zero before the expiration of the SRE.
QUESTION: Can you talk about kind of the broader efforts on trying to get Iran to behave like a normal regime? I mean, does that include kind of the Twitter messaging or social media messaging, or is it something more than that, more concrete about supporting opposition groups or protestors?
QUESTION: Is it more than just Twitter messages? Is there something – is the U.S. doing something to kind of promote protestors?
MR HOOK: The Iranian regime has historically not come to the negotiating table absent significant economic and diplomatic pressure. The reimposition of our sanctions are designed to do two things: deny the regime the revenue it needs to fund violent wars abroad, and also to change the cost-benefit analysis in our favor so that Iran decides to come back to the negotiating table.
The Ayatollah Khamenei has said that require hostility with the United States, which is the kind of thing that you expect to hear from a revolutionary regime. We have been very clear. Secretary Pompeo has been very clear that we have an ear open to what is possible. We very much want to begin work on a new and better deal to replace the insufficient Iran nuclear deal that the President left in May, and our campaign of maximum economic pressure is a critical tactic to achieve that goal.
QUESTION: But he’s also talking about restoring democracy.
MR HOOK: The President, the Secretary of State, the Vice President, at all levels of the administration, have stood with the Iranian people and their aspirations for a better way of life. The Iranian people want a more representative government, a government that does not rob them blind, that supports their human rights, their economic rights, their freedom of expression, freedom of assembly. These are all rights that the United States wants for the Iranian people. We think they deserve a much better way of life, and Secretary Pompeo has repeatedly made remarks addressed to the Iranian people in support of their demands for reforms from this regime.
QUESTION: How – I want to ask the question that Gardiner asked yesterday about the Khashoggi murder and the war in Yemen and how any of that is playing into this. I mean, how can you, on the one hand, focus so much on Iran’s human rights record while not doing enough to pressure the Saudis on some of the same very issues?
MR HOOK: We do not share interests or values with the Iranian regime. We have asked Saudi Arabia to increase the production of oil while we take off Iranian oil from the market, and Saudi Arabia has been very helpful to ensure an adequately supplied oil market during this period where we have seen dramatic reductions in the import of Iranian crude as part of our maximum economic pressure campaign. The Saudi Government has successfully insulated oil from broader political issues, and that has been helpful in the broader context of our pressure campaign.
QUESTION: Well, just to be devil’s advocate here, I understand the shared interests that you have with the Saudis on Iran. But what shared interests, what shared values does the U.S. have with the Saudis – respect for human rights?
MR HOOK: I can only speak to how the Saudis have helped our Iran strategy. The President gave a speech in Riyadh on his first trip overseas as president, where he called upon our Sunni Arab partners to increase their capabilities to reverse Iranian hegemony so that our Arab partners can shoulder more of the burden in the Middle East. And we have enjoyed a great deal of cooperation from Gulf countries and beyond to isolate Iran and to apply as much economic pressure as possible so that they don’t have the money they need to destabilize the Middle East.
QUESTION: How is this escrow account that he talked about going to work, and how do you make sure that the Iranians are going to get basic needs fulfilled – medicine, food?
MR HOOK: The escrow accounts that are being created for those nations that need to continue importing Iranian oil deny Iran hard currency, and it denies Iran any revenue from oil sales. Any time Iran sells oil, that money goes into an escrow account in the importing nation’s bank, and Iran has to spend down that credit. We strongly encourage those nations to ensure that Iran spends that money on humanitarian purchases to benefit the Iranian people. The longest-suffering victims of the Iranian regime are the Iranian people. This regime uses fake companies disguised as humanitarian organizations to divert purchases that should go to food, medicine, and medical devices, and they use that to enrich the regime and support revolutionary activities overseas.
QUESTION: So you’re counting on countries like China to make sure that they don’t use money for those things?
MR HOOK: The United States will be monitoring these escrow accounts very closely. Unlike in prior administrations, we will ensure that the money is not spent on illicit activities, that there isn’t any leakage in these escrow accounts, and we will work closely with countries to encourage the purchase and – the sale and purchase of humanitarian goods to benefit the Iranian people. Our sanctions regime has very clear exceptions for the sale of food, medicine, and medical devices.
QUESTION: So how does the travel ban fit into the U.S. support for Iranian people?
MR HOOK: Because the Iranian regime is the largest sponsor of terrorism in the world, we have a restrictive visa policy. And that policy is driven by the terrorism of the regime. It is not driven by a desire to restrict the average Iranian people. The problem we have is --
QUESTION: But it does.
MR HOOK: But that is the problem of the regime. If the regime would stop funding terrorism and open up its economy so that we can see where the money goes, it would create a much better environment for us to be granting visas.
QUESTION: So for the countries that you say need to keep importing oil, do you foresee issuing these exemptions over and over again? Are you going to put an upper limit on how many times they’ll be renewed?
MR HOOK: Our goal remains getting countries to zero imports of Iranian oil. In 2019, our projections are that oil supply will exceed demand, and that creates a much better atmosphere for us to bring remaining nations to zero as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: So you’re not putting an upper limit on how – for how – how many times these exemptions will be renewed at this point?
MR HOOK: We are not looking to grant additional SREs at the end of the 180-day period. We are being very careful to advance our maximum economic pressure campaign without increasing the price of oil. Next year we anticipate a stronger oil supply coming online, and that will allow us to accelerate the path to zero.
QUESTION: And are you – how many Iranian banks will be cut off from SWIFT? I mean, the administration is saying more than prior, but can you give a number?
MR HOOK: That will be announced by Secretary Mnuchin on Monday.
QUESTION: He did say, though, on this subject – he was very precise in his language. He said “certain designated Iranian financial institutions.” That does not categorically mean all. So is it possible that either, one, don’t redesignate all of the banks that had previously been designated; and two, is it possible that some designated bank, because he used the word “certain designated,” would not be required to disconnect?
MR HOOK: I’m not going to interpret what “certain” means beyond saying that he will announce all the banks on Monday.
QUESTION: The 20 – 20 countries import 80 percent of Iran’s oil, as I understood – stand. Are those eight countries, any of them, among those 20 – the eight countries receiving the SREs?
MR HOOK: That there’s a small group of – that there’s a – there is a relatively small number of countries that make up the lion’s share of the import of Iranian crude.
QUESTION: And are any of them getting exemptions?
MR HOOK: I’m not going to get ahead of the Secretary’s announcement on Monday.
QUESTION: Can you offer a little clarity on the response about non-U.S. civil nuclear cooperation? Will waivers be granted in that --
MR HOOK: The Secretary addressed that this morning, and it’ll be announced on Monday.
QUESTION: On the humanitarian transaction, Europeans have expressed concern in the past weeks that even though there were exemptions to humanitarian goods and services, the financials mechanism were not safe enough, that you have to clarify what are the means by which the countries and entities can do those kind of transactions. Do you think that what you announced today clarifies this and that it’s safe to do humanitarian transactions with Iran?
MR HOOK: The Iranian regime has a history of creating front companies to divert the distribution of humanitarian goods. Financial institutions around the world know of Iran’s history of deceiving banks on the sale of humanitarian goods. The burden is on Iran to open up its dark economy so that banks around the world have more confidence that when they facilitate humanitarian transactions that the humanitarian goods will reach the Iranian people.
The United States is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance in the world. Every sanctions regime we have makes exceptions for food, medicine, and medical devices. That is, we have done our part; the Iranian regime needs to do its part by making those transactions possible in an open and transparent financial system.
QUESTION: Sounds like there’s not very many safe ways of trade – like, for pharmaceutical companies and medical companies.
MR HOOK: The Iranian regime makes it very difficult to facilitate the sale of humanitarian goods and services.
QUESTION: The Europeans says that the fear is that even if you sell humanitarian goods to Iran, you will be target by U.S. sanctions, so they addressing this to you and not to Iran.
MR HOOK: Say that again?
QUESTION: The European countries say that companies fear that if they sell those goods to Iran, they will be targeted by U.S. sanctions. So they ask you to say what are the safe channels to do that.
MR HOOK: The burden is not on the United States to identify the safe channels. The burden is on the Iranian regime to create a financial system that complies with international banking standards to facilitate the sale and provision of humanitarian goods and assistance.
QUESTION: Right, but I think that the point is that they are looking for some kind of, like, assurance --
QUESTION: Guidance from OFAC.
MR HOOK: We have been – OFAC has given very clear guidance over many years --
QUESTION: That’s not what the Europeans say.
MR HOOK: We have done our part to permit the sale of humanitarian goods to Iran. That is our part. That is our role. Iran has a role to make these transactions possible. Banks do not have confidence in Iran’s banking system – often don’t have confidence in Iran’s banking system to facilitate those transactions. That’s Iran’s problem; it is not our problem.
QUESTION: But banks do not have confidence, the companies do not have confidence in Iran banks because they are subject to American sanctions from now on.
MR HOOK: That’s not true.
QUESTION: That’s what the Europeans say. I’m just --
MR HOOK: I’m giving you the answer.
QUESTION: We were expecting the list. (Laughter.)
MR HOOK: But he told you it was coming Monday.
QUESTION: Why is it that – and when you say Monday, this isn’t going to be at literally 12:01 Monday morning, is it? Or I mean --
MR HOOK: No. The Secretary will announce it on Monday, and then it will be published in the Federal Register.
QUESTION: Okay, but he’ll announce it – what, do you have any – like, I just want it for personal planning purposes.
MODERATOR: About 8:30 in the morning.
QUESTION: 8:30 Monday morning and not beforehand. So in other words, I – at 12:01 Monday morning, they go into effect --
MR HOOK: Yes.
QUESTION: -- but there won’t be a – like, is something going to go up on the Treasury website at 12:01? I mean, I’m just trying to figure out --
MR HOOK: I don’t know about that. For our part, on the SREs and anything else will be announced on Monday. I don’t – Treasury may have a different way where at 12:01 they have to --
QUESTION: So you guys aren’t planning on saying who the eight are at 12:01.
MR HOOK: No. No. No.
QUESTION: But presumably these eight are aware that – right, they’ve been told that they’re okay to – because they’re all coming out of the woodwork now, the Turks, the Italians, the South Koreans, the Indians, the – they are.
MR HOOK: I think you’ve answered your own question.
QUESTION: Well, I just want to make sure no one’s lying.
MR HOOK: Oh. We’ll announce it on Monday.
QUESTION: And so will we see sanctions on the countries that aren’t getting these things on Monday?
MR HOOK: We expect – well, we have already seen enormous pre-compliance with the reimposition of our sanctions because corporations around the world are rightly choosing to sell goods and services in the United States over the Iranian market if given the choice.
QUESTION: But I mean, weren’t we going to see sanctions on big countries that aren’t – that don’t get these waivers? Are you going to – sanctions announced on Monday?
MR HOOK: We expect nations around the world to comply with sanctions because it’s in their interest, and it promotes our broader national security objectives to address a significant and expanding threat to peace and security.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR HOOK: All right, thank you.
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