Department Press Briefing – June 12, 2019 (Excerpts)

June 12, 2019


MS ORTAGUS: [...] Okay. Got a couple of things related to Treasury next. Yesterday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, OFAC, designated 14 targets in connection to an international network benefitting the Assad regime as well as two Beirut-based companies for shipping Iranian petroleum to Syria.

In 2012, Assad signed a decree to expel residents in poorer areas of Damascus from their homes to pave the way for luxury reconstruction projects that would financially benefit those close to him. While ordinary Syrians lose everything, Assad and his friends get rich.

Samer Foz and 15 other individuals and entities designated yesterday have used their ties to the Assad regime and have exploited the horrific conflict and Assad’s ruthless actions for their own benefit. They have made fortunes mortgaging the future of the Syrian people. Additionally, OFAC designated two Lebanese companies for shipping thousands of metric tons of Iranian petroleum into Syria in support of the Assad regime over the last year.

The United States is committed to accountability for those who provide to and profit from Assad’s murderous regime. We will use all elements of national power to do so, including political, diplomatic, and economic tools such as the designations and previous sanctions packages against the Assad regime supporters, such as the Iranian regime and Hizballah. Our objective is to pressure and isolate the Assad regime until it makes the necessary steps to reach a political settlement in the Syrian conflict, something it has yet to do.

The United States will continue to take actions against those who support the Assad regime, and we urge all states to join us in this approach. Any effort at re-establishing or upgrading diplomatic relations or economic cooperation with the Assad regime undercuts efforts to move toward a peaceful, permanent, and political solution to the Syrian conflict in line with UNSCR 2254.

One more on Treasury. In April, the Department of State designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC, in its entirety, including the Qods Force, as a foreign terrorist organization in an historic step to counter Iran-backed terrorism around the world. We support the sanctions imposed today by the Department of Treasury on the Iraq-based Islamic Revolutionary Guard-Qods Force financial conduit the Southwest Resources Company[1], which has trafficked hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the IRGC-Qods Force-backed Iraqi undisciplined armed groups.

SWRC and its two Iraqi associates have covertly facilitated the IRGC-Qods Force access to the financial – to the Iraqi financial system in order to evade sanctions. SWRC and its two associates are being designated as specially designated global terrorists, SDGTs as many of you know, pursuant to EO 13224, which targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.

While the Iranian Qods Force continues to try and undermine Iraq’s security, stability, and sovereignty, the United States continues to take action to thwart Iran’s efforts to terrorize, intimidate – to terrorize and intimidate Iraqis with violence and corruption.

As Secretary Pompeo outlined in his 12 requirements, Iran must respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government and permit the disarming, demobilization, and reintegration of undisciplined armed groups in Iraq.


QUESTION: Can I go to Iran just real quickly?

MS ORTAGUS: Okay, we’ll let Matt go. Sorry, go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering if – what you would think —

MS ORTAGUS: I’m probably going to regret this, but —

QUESTION: Yeah, maybe. (Laughter.) Just wondering what you have to – what you think, if anything, of the Japanese prime minister’s visit —


QUESTION: — to Iran, his comments, concern about potential miscalculations and conflict, as well as the Iranian president’s comments.

MS ORTAGUS: Mm-hmm, right. Well, the – of course, the President was recently with Prime Minister Abe. As we announced yesterday, we will be joining the President on the G20 at the end of the month. And we believe that we are in full agreement and full alignment with our allies. I’ve been with the Secretary over the past few months. Numerous times – in Europe, for example, we’ve spoken to German Foreign Minister Maas, we were in Switzerland talking about this. I mean, this has been the bulk of many of our meetings, and we – and I’ve seen firsthand that our allies are in agreement with us that Iran’s destabilizing and malign activities must stop.

So as – whatever the Japanese prime minister is able to do, we of course are supportive of anyone – we said this when we were really in the height of the tensions just a few weeks ago – we’ve said that anything that the international community can do to deter the Iranian regime from further escalation by conveying military confirmation – excuse me, military confrontation will not be tolerated – is a message that we hope our allies continue to send. We are very – as we said on Monday, we’re very confident that the German foreign minister delivered that message, and we’re confident that the Japanese prime minister will as well.

QUESTION: Okay. And then secondly, related to that, yesterday at the IAEA your ambassador said that Iran was out of compliance, or in violation of the JCPOA, of the nuclear deal, and that it should get back into compliance, and that the other – the remaining parties to the deal should make that a priority. This suggests to me that even though you guys say that this is the worst deal ever negotiated and a horrible failure, that you actually see some value in it. Why would you call for Iran to comply with a deal that you think is essentially garbage if —


QUESTION: Is it better than nothing? Is that what the position of the administration is?

MS ORTAGUS: Our position on the JCPOA has not changed. But we, of course, do not want Iran to get a nuclear weapon. We also want them to stop their malign activities, supporting terrorists. There’s a lot of news in the Middle East today, as you saw the Houthis – of course, with more potentially reported missile attacks on civilian Saudi infrastructure. So we look at – whether it’s the JCPOA or our maximum pressure campaign towards Iran – holistically. It’s not – it’s certainly about a nuclear weapon, and I know that our European counterparts would like the Iranians to stay in the JCPOA. We certainly do not want them to have a nuclear weapon.

But more broadly, I mean, can you imagine if all of you were getting ready to fly to Miami airport and there was a group like the Houthis, a militia like the Houthis, that were using – reportedly using missiles in order to attack an airport before you flew in? Can you imagine how the United States would respond to that, how Canada would respond if that was happening in Ottawa? I mean, these are common-sense things here that we want the Iranians to stop terrorizing innocent people.

QUESTION: I get that. But this is specifically about the nuclear deal —


QUESTION: — which only covered the nuclear deal, and that’s one of the issues that you have with it —


QUESTION: — because you didn’t think it went far enough. But as it relates purely to the nuclear deal, to the nuclear aspect and the centrifuges, which is what the operation of advanced centrifuges, which is what you say they are violating – why do you care if the deal is – if the deal is bad? Saying that – demanding that Iran come back into compliance with a deal that you have withdrawn from because you see no value in it seems to be contradictory to me.

MS ORTAGUS: I don’t think it’s contradictory in the fact that we have stated very loudly since the beginning of this administration that we do not want the Iranian regime to get a nuclear weapon. We think it would be disastrous —

QUESTION: Well, fair enough. But are you saying, then —

MS ORTAGUS: — for the Middle East. I – we haven’t changed our position.

QUESTION: But this seems to me that you’re saying that some limits are better than no limits, and so therefore there is value in the requirements – limits that were placed on Iran in the deal.

MS ORTAGUS: Iran is headed in the wrong direction, as evidenced by this now public IAEA report. They pose a challenge to international peace and security, and we will continue this maximum pressure campaign as it relates to their nuclear weapons program, their terrorism and malign activities around the region.


QUESTION: Yeah, I have two questions, one on Saudi Arabia and the attack on Abha Airport, if you had anything.


QUESTION: And the other one on Ambassador Satterfield discussions in Beirut regarding the —


QUESTION: — location of border between Israel and Lebanon.

MS ORTAGUS: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, two questions. These are – if you have anything on —

MS ORTAGUS: Oh, what was the – what was – as it relates to Saudi?

QUESTION: On the attack.


QUESTION: On the Houthi attack on Saudi Arabia today.

MS ORTAGUS: Mm-hmm. What’s our – I mean, I think I alluded to that earlier, what we were talking —

QUESTION: Yes. Well, yeah, but we need something on camera, if you —

MS ORTAGUS: (Laughter.) Always, of course, for you. As we said earlier, obviously it’s incredibly troubling, these attacks that we saw. I mean, it would disturb anyone around the world when you’re sending your family to an airport, and of course these reports are disturbing, right. If you’re sending your family to a civilian airport and it can be targeted by a militia with very, very sophisticated weaponry that they’re obviously getting from the Iranians, it should trouble everyone, because it’s not just Saudi civilians that are at risk here. I mean, this is – I’ve – having lived in Saudi Arabia, I’ve been in and out of Riyadh International Airport. My family has; my husband visited me there. I mean, we have tons of American civilians and people from around the world that go in and out of this airport, so it’s incredibly troubling and disturbing.