Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and State Department Director of Policy Planning Brian Hook (Excerpts)

September 19, 2017

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Related Country: 

  • France
  • Israel



MR. HOOK: On the France meeting, the three topics that were primarily discussed were Iran, countering Iran's malign activities, especially in Syria; they discussed Hurricane Irma; and they also discussed the Paris Agreement.


MR. HOOK: One of the things they discussed was not allowing the “Lebanization” of Syria, and -- this is in the meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu.  But it was common to both meetings, discussing the kind of work ahead to address Iran's work around ballistic missiles, the nuclear program, and its range of destabilizing activities in the region.


Q: Brian, the U.S. has until the middle of next month to certify the Iran deal.  Should we -- the President said today that we would find out soon his thinking on this.  Is this something we should anticipate in some form to come during the United Nations visit here?  Or what should we be anticipating in terms of any sort of declarative statements about the status of that?

MR. HOOK:  Well, I don't want to preview the President’s speech tomorrow, but Iran is something, as I said, that is a foreign policy -- a national security priority for the United States. 

With respect to the JCPOA, there is an INARA certification coming up on October 15th, and that decision is still under review by the President with the Secretary of State and his national security cabinet.  So I don't want to prejudge that decision.  It’s still another month or so away, but the policy is under review.

But I will say that, on Iran, we are taking a comprehensive approach to the range of Iran activities -- its threat network, its ballistic missile systems, its nuclear program.  And that is something which I think is very much needed after the Iran deal.

I think the Iran deal became a proxy for an Iran policy, and we are trying to take a comprehensive approach and bringing in all of Iran’s activities -- terrorism, nukes, missiles, regional instability -- so that we're not substituting the Iran deal for an Iran policy.


Q: Going back to the meeting with Macron.  You said that you're taking a more regional approach, you're looking more at the totality of Iran’s behavior.  Can you talk about any of the specifics that you discussed at with the French about what they might be willing to do, I guess, on the sidelines of the deal?

MR. HOOK:  What's that last part?  I didn't understand the last part.

Q: Just what agreements are the French willing to make in the context of the JCPOA and that you're looking to strengthen the policy?

MR. HOOK:  The President believes that the JCPOA is deeply flawed, and he did share his views with President Macron about how he believes the deal is flawed.  And they talked about the sunset, the lack of a sunset, and the kind of advantages that this deal -- this one-sided deal -- accrues to Iran.

And so the President was very candid with him about what he thinks of the shortcomings of the JCPOA.  He said that, as I said earlier, he told him that it is under review, and that they are taking a hard look at the October 15th decision, and more broadly how to fix the Iran deal.

But they also did discuss this integrated strategy that I was talking about earlier.  When you look at the support for terrorism, the ballistic missile program, destabilization in the Middle East, and other aggressions -- I mean, France has been on the receiving end of Iran’s aggressive actions.  And so they feel this acutely.

And so I felt like there was a lot of agreement about the areas of focus.  And so I think that was very encouraging.  The discussion was very encouraging about Iran.


Q: Going back to the JCPOA, you spoke a bit about what President Trump said, but what did President Macron say about his position on the JCPOA?  Is he open to reopening it?  Is he okay with President Trump decertifying it?  Is he open to supplemental agreements?  I mean, could you please be specific on that front?

MR. HOOK:  That’s a question for President Macron.  I don’t want to speak for him.  His team is best -- I mean, I really don’t want to speak for him.  He was in the meeting and he’s got a team, and I don’t want to misspeak or miscapture.  You really should ask him.

But they did -- I’m telling you, they had a very good discussion about it.  But I don’t want to explain France’s position on the JCPOA.  They’ve done that publicly.  And so, they had a good discussion about it.

Q: But broadly, though -- you said that they had differing views on climate change, on the Paris Agreement.  Would you say, broadly, they had differing views on the Iran deal?

MR. HOOK:  They actually spent most of their time talking about Iran’s terrorist activities in the Middle East.  Now, they did discuss the Iran deal, but there really is a need for us to take a comprehensive approach to Iran, and he really understood that.

And so, this was not a one-sided discussion about the JCPOA.  It was a very helpful discussion and a very encouraging discussion.  Obviously, France, during the negotiation of the JCPOA, expressed some concerns about the deal.  They still have those concerns.  But it really is beyond just the Iran deal.  

The Iran deal is an arms control political agreement.  And it’s one piece of all of the issues that exist between Iran, the leading sponsor of terrorism in the world, and the rest of the world.  And so, we were very encouraged that there is a convergence of views to take a comprehensive approach to what Iran is doing.


Q: Thanks very much.  I wanted to ask a broad question about these kind of multilateral agreements.  The President seems to have taken the view that many of the agreements that were created before he came into office were kind of rubbish and he can do a better job.  Why do you think that is?  Why do you think he takes that approach?

MR. HOOK:  In terms of the Iran deal and the Paris deal?

Q: And I’m thinking NAFTA, I’m thinking T-PP, I’m thinking JCPOA --

MR. HOOK:  In my space, in foreign policy, of the areas that you mentioned that I work on, are Iran and -- specifically for me, around the Iran deal and JCPOA.  And so Gary Cohn has been leading on climate.  

I would just say that the President does not believe that these were well-negotiated.  It’s really not a knock on multilateralism.  I think it really is just a matter of negotiating.  Whether it’s a bilateral or a multilateral or a trilateral deal, at the end of the day, the terms are what matters.  

I think he focuses much more on the outcome than he does on the process.  And so, I think he’s fairly agnostic on the process.  In the case of the Iran deal, that was P5+1, and it was a -- he believes that it was a very badly negotiated deal that does not advance America’s national security interests.  And he thinks that -- so it’s under review.

And so I really don’t think it’s anything particular about the process.  It’s more about the outcome.