Interview with Special Representative Brian Hook and CNBC's Hadley Gamble

May 8, 2020

Weapon Program: 

  • Military

Related Country: 

  • Saudi Arabia
  • United Arab Emirates
  • United States

HADLEY: Brian Hook, thank you so much for joining CNBC, it’s great to have you on. I want to kick off by asking you to walk us through how you see Iran’s capability today, because critics of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, back at the beginning of the year said that that would further destabilize the region. But whether it’s due to COVID, or, frankly, what’s been happening with regards to U.S. sanctions, that hasn’t happened. Where are we today?

BRIAN HOOK: Well, today, I think the Iranian regime, by every metric is weaker. They’re facing their worst financial crisis in their 41 year history. They’ve faced their deadliest political unrest also in that same timeframe and Qasem Soleimani was the conductor. He was the master of the network of sectarian proxies who have done so much to destabilize the Middle East over the last many decades. And so we have done everything we can to restore deterrence. There’s no question that we have lost deterrence, under the Iran nuclear deal, getting out of it enabled us to put in place great pressure. And then I think decisions by the president to take cost Qasem Soleimani off the battlefield have improved regional stability.

HADLEY: When you think about what’s happening in the region today, obviously all of this happening against the backdrop of COVID-19. We’ve seen that hitting the Iranian regime pretty hard. That’s, of course, had an impact on Gulf Arab countries as well, Saudi Arabia, the UAE specifically. But now we’re hearing that the US military has decided to pull out personnel as well as Patriot missile systems from Saudi Arabia. Does this reflect a position from the administration that you believe Iran has been defeated in terms of their malign activities out here?

BRIAN HOOK: Iran certainly is an expansionist and revolutionary regime. They have never been at peace with their neighbors during the last 41 years. Our policy has really helped to restore, I think, the trust deficit that we inherited from the prior administration, which had really alienated so many of our Arab Gulf partners and the Israelis. And so we have increased the number of troops in the region. And in fact, I think since May, we have increased them by 14,000. And so I think the region understands that we are very committed to promoting peace and stability there. You mentioned COVID, Hadley. I think most of the countries in the Middle East that are facing COVID problems can thank the Iranian regime, because this is a regime that continued flights all over the Middle East while they were continuing flights to China. And as a consequence, you can see you can trace the spread of Corona in countries like Lebanon and Iraq and elsewhere directly to Iran, which exported patient zero in many cases.

HADLEY: But in terms of bringing out U.S. military personnel as well as those Patriot missiles, does that mean that Iran’s no longer a threat?

BRIAN HOOK: No, it doesn’t mean that Iran is no longer a threat. Our troop levels go up and down depending on the circumstances, but the mission set is the same. Our mission is not at all changed. We’re standing with our partners and our allies in the region. We’re doing everything we can to protect American interests. President Trump has restored a credible military deterrent to act in self-defense, which is something that had been lost. And so deterrence is something which is easy to lose. But maintaining it is the work of pretty much, it’s a policy you’d have to implement every day, and we’re gonna continue working with the Saudis, the Emiratis, all of our partners in the region.