Department Press Briefing – May 28, 2019 (Excerpts)

May 28, 2019

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QUESTION: When Iran’s foreign minister visited Iraq on Sunday, the Iraqi foreign minister said, quote, “We oppose the unilateral actions taken by the United States. We stand with the Islamic Republic of Iran.” He also dismissed the Iranian sanction as ineffective. What’s your response?

MS ORTAGUS: Well, we wouldn’t agree that they’re ineffective at all. We appreciate the close partnership that we do have with the Government of Iraq, but our sanctions are working and I think that you’ve heard the Secretary, Brian Hook, and myself go through a litany of ways in which we know that the sanctions are quite effective for Iran. So we just do not agree with that statement.

QUESTION: Does it bother you that he said he stands with Iran against the U.S.?

MS ORTAGUS: No, we wouldn’t respond to every allegation or alleged remark made by a foreign official here. So we believe the sanctions are working. We know the sanctions are working. So —

QUESTION: A question on Iran?

MS ORTAGUS: Nadia, yeah?

QUESTION: Thank you. Just a follow-up on Iran. The President, from Japan, said that his administration policy is not regime change in Iran. He also said that they are willing to negotiate with the Iranians. Yet you always stated that Iran should never have nuclear weapons. So if the Iranians refuse to negotiate, as they say publicly, how are you going to achieve that and how do you square all these statements together?

MS ORTAGUS: Well, the economic sanctions and the maximum pressure campaign will remain in place. When it comes – when there is time to talk, whenever the Iranian leadership would like to speak – excuse me – the President and the Secretary have said they’ve been – they will be willing to do so. But until then, we remain unwavering and unflinching in our sanctions campaign and our maximum pressure campaign. That’s been our policy; that remains our policy. And it’s not just about a nuclear weapon, as you know. It’s about support – it’s about Iran’s support of terrorism in the region, their malign behavior throughout the region. I think that you’ve probably heard us go through that quite a bit from this podium.

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QUESTION: Morgan, on Iran, last – as you know, when the new government came in, you guys expressed some serious concerns about Hizballah choosing the health – taking the health ministry portfolio, and there was some question about whether aid to that ministry would continue. The minister of health, who is not actually a member of Hizballah but who was chosen by the group, said recently in an interview that he thinks the U.S. concerns about his ministry are – have been dealt with and that there won’t be an issue. Is that correct?

MS ORTAGUS: I don’t know. I’ll – but can you say that again, Matt? I just want to make sure I have that down.

QUESTION: The health minister says that he believes that the U.S. concerns about his ministry being, quote/unquote, “controlled” or run by Hizballah have been assuaged. Is that —

MS ORTAGUS: I understand. Okay.

QUESTION: So it’s not an issue.

MS ORTAGUS: I understand the question. Let me get back to you on that. I’ll get to you.

Carol.

QUESTION: Back to Iran?

QUESTION: Morgan, is the Secretary hopeful that in his discussions in upcoming days and weeks, particularly his trip to Europe upcoming, is he doing anything to lay the groundwork for direct negotiations between the United States and the Iranians?

MS ORTAGUS: I think that we have been – we talked about this a little bit last week. We’ve been pretty overt in our signaling to the Iranians, our willingness to talk. Of course, as we just said, the maximum pressure campaign, economic sanctions remain on the table. And if they would like to take a serious look at the 12 points that the Secretary laid out over a year ago, we’ll be ready to talk about that. And I think that the President and the Secretary mean that sincerely.

In meeting with the Europeans, we will have – we will be discussing a range of issues. Of course, we’ve been to Europe several times in the past month, and I know one of the – one of the main things that we will continue to talk to our European partners and allies are – is the imminent threat from Iran that is faced in the region. We’ll continue to ask (inaudible) to help us de-escalate, and more importantly, we’ll continue to ask our European allies to help us get Iran to see this path towards normalization, to see and understand this path towards a 12-step process that the Secretary has laid out.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Did you convey that through a private channel, like Switzerland, Moscow?

MS ORTAGUS: No, I think we’re – we say it publicly from this podium. The President says it, tweets it. I think our messaging to Iran is as overt as possible. They can read this transcript and know that we’re willing to talk if they’re serious.

QUESTION: Iran? On Iran?

MS ORTAGUS: Hi. Yes.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran?

MS ORTAGUS: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. I want just to make sure about something.

MS ORTAGUS: Sure.

QUESTION: Hiba Nasr from Sky News Arabia. There – you are assuring that there is no back channels with the Iranians right now?

MS ORTAGUS: There’s none that I’m aware of.

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QUESTION: On Iran?

MS ORTAGUS: Iran? Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. Reports from Delhi suggest that India and Iran are negotiating to bypass the U.S. sanctions and start the oil trade. Do you have any update on that?

MS ORTAGUS: No, except I would just say that the Secretary has been very clear since April 22nd that we are going to zero. We have stated that there are no new exemptions after May 2nd as it relates to importing Iranian oil. The U.S. position there remains quite firm.

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