Department Press Briefing – September 12, 2019 (Excerpts)

Morgan Ortagus, Department Spokesperson
September 12, 2019

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Military

Related Country: 

  • Kuwait
  • Syria


MS ORTAGUS: This week, we have seen reports that the Iranian vessel Adrian Darya, formally Grace 1, remains anchored off the shores of Syria, which we’ve been saying was its intended destination all along. Now we’ve seen firsthand the Iranian regime renege on its assurances to the EU that the vessel would not transport oil to the murderous Iranian regime – Assad regime, excuse me. The Iranian regime broke its word and appears intent on fueling the Assad regime’s brutally – brutality against the Syrian people, who continue to face widespread violence, death, and destruction. The ongoing Assad regime assault on Idlib is yet another example.

This fits into the web of lies perpetrated by the Iranian regime for 40 years. Their deception and broken promises are not just aimed at the international community, but the Iranian people too. Despite the revolutionary promises of a better society, the thugs in Tehran have consistently repressed women, minorities, and human rights advocates. On Tuesday, an Iranian activist, Sahar Khodayrari, known as Blue Girl, who faced a long prison sentence simply for protesting women’s attendance at a sporting event, died from self-immolation. Today we honor her, and we support the God-given rights of all Iranian women. No one should fear discrimination and imprisonment for attending a sporting event.


QUESTION: The British foreign ministry – well, I said Iran, but the British foreign ministry said that it had offloaded some of its oil. The State Department statement that came out that day didn’t squarely address that question. Do you have evidence that it has offloaded oil for Syria?

And then question two: The President the other day, when asked if he would consider some kind of easing of sanctions for Iran, said we’ll see what happens, and many people noticed that he didn’t say no. And so question two is: How could you square the possibility of any kind of easing of sanctions on Iran with your maximum pressure campaign?

MS ORTAGUS: I’ll go with the second question first. The maximum pressure campaign continues. I would refer to you to Secretary Mnuchin, who was – I believe he was gaggling at the White House this morning. I caught his gaggle, and he also asserted this as well. He also talked about how the maximum pressure campaign continues.

The Secretary laid out 12 demands over a year ago for ways in which he thinks that the Iranian regime needs to behave in order to be brought back into the community of nations. The Secretary – I was with him at the White House on Tuesday, and he was asked the question about would the President meet with Rouhani, and the President has said on multiple occasions – I think for at least six months, but at least in the past couple of months we’ve heard him talk about it – but the President has said that he’s willing to meet with anyone, including Rouhani, as it relates to talking about the Iranian regime’s destabilizing behavior in the region, their ballistic missiles, their path towards a nuclear weapon.

So the President doesn’t rule out diplomacy, and the Secretary will, of course, continue to support him in whatever decision that the President makes. But the – there has been – there’s been no statement from the Secretary of State about any chance in policy to Iran. In fact, I would just look at what Secretary Mnuchin said this morning and what Secretary Pompeo continues to say. Our maximum pressure campaign stands.

QUESTION: So – and just one follow-up on that.


QUESTION: Maximum pressure stands unless and until the Iranians meet the 12 demands that the Secretary made last May, a year ago in May?

MS ORTAGUS: I think maximum pressure stands until the President Trump tells us that it doesn’t stand. And so the 12 demands that the Secretary made – we’ve talked about this quite a bit from this podium – were 12 ways in which we have asked Iran to behave like a normal nation and have asked them to come back into the community of nations, to stop terrorizing the region. And so there is nothing, in my opinion, unreasonable about those demands, and so if the Iranian regime would like to meet with the President, they should go back and look at those 12 issues that the Secretary laid out, because I think that’s a good guidepost for the conversation.

QUESTION: Morgan, can I —

QUESTION: And then – sorry – then the other question.

MS ORTAGUS: I think – hold on a second, I asked – you asked about the —

QUESTION: Which was on the ship, yeah. Do you have evidence that it has offloaded crude oil that has made its way to Syria?

MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, I mean, I think that this is very simple, and we talked about this in the topper. The Iranian regime delivered oil to Syria, and that fuel goes straight into the tanks of troops that are slaughtering innocent Syrians, and that’s something – again, the Iranians lied about this. It should be no surprise, but they lied about this to the EU and they lied about this to the international community. Despite their assurances, we never believed them. We have been calling it out for quite a bit. We don’t believe them for good reason.

And so what have we done? As U.S. Government, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, OFAC, identified Adrian Darya as blocked property according to EO 13224 on August 30th. The captain of the ship – we announced this here – was designated also under 13224. We also – the U.S. has filed a civil complaint against the vessel. We’ve also announced here sanctions – or excuse me, the revocation of visas for the crews. Not something that we have tried – that Brian Hook has talked about in an interview to the Financial Times and other news organizations. He stood here at the podium last week to talk to the maritime community about the ramifications for participating in this sort of activity.

So I think the importance here to our friends around the world and the international community is to note that, once again, you have been lied to and misled by the Iranian regime, and this illicit oil again goes to the Assad regime. And the thing that is incredibly troubling about that is we know exactly what the Assad regime is using that for. They’re using it to slaughter Syrians.

QUESTION: So – and just so I’m clear, you have evidence that oil went from the Adrian Darya to the Syrian Government?

MS ORTAGUS: I wouldn’t say that if we didn’t.


QUESTION: So if you’re referring to the 12 demands that the Secretary, I believe, spoke at the Heritage Foundation, does not contradict exactly what he said two days ago from the White House, that the President is willing to negotiate with the Iranians without conditions? How come you have 12 demands and yet he’s willing to sit down with them with no conditions?

MS ORTAGUS: We – the 12 demands, we – again, we’ve talked about all of these things from this podium before. We never said that they were preconditions, and the President has often said, not just in relation to Iran but in North Korea – I mean, you could go around the world – the President puts diplomacy first. He puts peace first. He always says that all options are on the table in whatever conflict that he has to deal with or whatever resolution he is working on. But even when it relates to Afghanistan, the President always seeks peace and diplomacy and talks first in any instance.

So the sanctions remain on many countries, of course including the Iranians. And again, the 12 demands are – this is not something mythical, this is just something that’s actually quite easy for the Iranian regime to follow. It’s a guideline for how they are going to need to act and behave if they want to be accepted back into the community of nations. And so everyone should, I think, take a new Google search and look at those again and refresh our memories because that was our guide.

QUESTION: I see. So this is just to lift the sanctions and not as precondition to negotiation.

MS ORTAGUS: Right, yeah.

QUESTION: Also just on Iran, there were some reports today that the Kuwaitis wants to play a mediator role just like the Omani did in the past, hosting a summit in Kuwait that include the Europeans, the Iranians, and the United States. Are you aware of that? Have they extended an invitation to you? Would you accept the mediation from the Kuwaitis?

MS ORTAGUS: So I haven’t – I’m not aware of the report about Kuwait, but I would say in general, we were asked this quite a bit whenever the Japanese – whenever Abe went to Iran. We were asked this about some of our European allies – the French and Germans and others. I feel like every few weeks, I answer this question, but a different country, and the answer remains the same that we would love our friends and allies to help bring Iran to a place where it wants to act like a normal nation, where it wants to come into the community of nations and behave responsibly. So if the Kuwaitis can convince the Iranians to stop terrorizing the region, to stop doing things like what they’ve done, give oil to the murderous Assad regime, to stop ballistic – I mean, we can go through the litany of UN Security Council resolutions that they are (inaudible). If the Kuwaitis think that they can have more success than Abe, the French, or the Germans, or whoever else has tried recently, like, be my guest.