Department Press Briefing – August 21, 2019 (Excerpts)

Morgan Ortagus, Department Spokesperson
August 21, 2019

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Military


MS ORTAGUS: At the UN, the Secretary [of State Mike Pompeo] reminded nations that the UN arms embargo on Iran and the UN travel ban on individuals – including General Soleimani – will expire next year in October. The Security Council has a role to play to ensure that the arms embargo on the world’s top sponsor of terrorism does not expire. On the State Department’s Iran online page, we have a countdown clock to the expiration date of the arms embargo and the travel ban.


QUESTION: But to bring us to more current times, specifically last Friday and the issuance by the department of the annual arms control compliance report to Congress — which bureau of the State Department drafted this report?

MS ORTAGUS: So I know that you sent us some detailed questions, so I do want to let you know that we’re getting back to you on all those. The – and I hate to just sort of read from here, but I just got this information before I went to the podium, so I’m going to give it to you. So the State Department – we submitted to Congress the 2019 Report on Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements, of course known as the compliance report. This is – I should note I think that there is a difference here. The August 19th one that you’re referring to, my team has told me it was the unclassified version of the report, and then there was a separate report that was submitted on April 15th. In terms of —

QUESTION: The April 15 one was classified, is that what you’re saying?

MS ORTAGUS: That’s my understanding, yes.


MS ORTAGUS: So the report does not include any new developments that took place after the report was submitted to Congress on April 15th. 


QUESTION: The report dwelled at length on the Iranian nuclear archive that the Israelis seized last year, and the report states that the Iranians’ efforts to retain this archive in secret locations, quote, “suggests that Iran preserved the information to aid in any future decision to pursue nuclear weapons if a decision were made to do so.”

I’m wondering why Iran’s clandestine retention of this archive was seen by the people who prepared this report as potentially something that would aid a future decision to pursue a nuclear weapon and not, by virtue of its stealth and the nature of the enterprise itself – itself – a flat violation of existing arms control obligations?

MS ORTAGUS: Sure. Let me do this for you. Because there is a – unclassified, and of course, the classified annex, I want to be careful here. And like I said, I just got this information before I went to the podium. I will follow up and have Brian Hook work with you – happy to do an interview. I just want to make sure that I don’t inadvertently talk to you about classified information from the podium. So we’ll – we’ve got the information, we’ll get it to you, and I’ll make sure – I don’t know what Brian’s travel is, but we’ll see if you’re in the building if we can get back to you before the end of the day. Okay.


QUESTION: Can you confirm the report that another Iranian tanker is headed towards Syria carrying crude oil, the Bonita Queen? And can you say whether or not it would be in violation of U.S. sanctions and what the U.S. is prepared to do to stop it from reaching its destination?

MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, so we are aware of the reports that this ship – what a fantastic name, by the way – is headed towards Syria. We’ve heard that. I mean, look, I think that when you look at this ship, when you look at the Grace 1, the – when you look at anybody who – let’s – instead of focusing on individual ships, let’s back up a little. And when you have these ships that are transporting oil to Syria, what is that doing, essentially? That is – of course, it’s violating sanctions, but it’s also aiding in the terrorism of the Assad regime.

In terms of what we’re going to do, the Secretary spoke about this yesterday. I don’t want to get into hypotheticals or forecast many options that we have, but I do think that the Secretary said it well. He said if that ship heads – again heads to Syria, we’ll take every action we can consistent with those sanctions to prevent that. So I think that we, again, will use this opportunity to convey our strong position to all ports in the Mediterranean that they should be wary of accepting any ship which is carrying Iranian oil and violating U.S. sanctions.

And it’s important for these crewmembers of these vessels to know, as we’ve talked about publicly, that assisting the IRGC from – for transmitting this oil from Iran could make them ineligible for visas. That would make them ineligible for admission into the United States. And of course, this isn’t something – this isn’t an innocent activity. Providing or attempting to conspire to provide material resources, not only to the Iranians but to any foreign terrorist organization, any FTO, is a crime under U.S. law, and there’s punishments that come under this. So I think, again, if we step back and look at the bigger picture out of all of this, we want to remind all ports in the Mediterranean that these are sanctionable activities that they shouldn’t participate in, and we appreciate all countries complying with U.S. sanctions and with U.S. law.

QUESTION: Can I just clarify. When you say if that ship heads again, is he referring to the —

MS ORTAGUS: In the Secretary’s quote? Yeah, when he was asked that yesterday, he was referring to the Grace 1 and that particular thing. But I think the important point that he was make there is – he was asked about actions, and you asked me about that, and he was saying that we’ll take actions that are consistent with sanctions to prevent that. So I think we have a range of options.