State Department Briefing on Iran

December 3, 2018

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Missile

MS NAUERT: Brian, go right ahead.

MR HOOK: Great. The Iranian Government claims that its missile testing is purely defensive in nature. How exactly is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism entitled to a claim of defense? In fact, Iran’s security concerns are entirely self-generated. Was a plot to bomb Paris defensive? Was the assassination attempt in Denmark defensive? Is smuggling missiles to the Houthis in Yemen to attack Saudi Arabia and the Emirates defensive? Is harboring al-Qaida defensive? Is smuggling heroin through Italy defensive? Is overthrowing the legitimate Government of Bahrain violently – is that defensive?

And so for the last 12 years, the UN Security Council has been telling the Iranian regime to stop testing and proliferating ballistic missiles, and Iran continues to defy the UN Security Council, which is acting like an outlaw regime. Iran’s continued testing and proliferation of ballistic missiles shows that the Iran deal has not moderated the Iranian regime as some had hoped. It was a mistake to exclude missiles from the Iran nuclear deal, and it is one of the principal reasons that the United States left it.

Let’s take a step back for just one minute. Iran’s defense needs would be entirely different if they had not decided to wage sectarian wars of choice for the last 39 years. It’s the Iranian regime’s foreign policy that has placed Iran into conflict with other nations. Iran today faces no natural threat from its Arab neighbors, Israel, or Afghanistan. Before the 1979 revolution, Iran enjoyed relations with these same neighbors. But today, Iran’s military is the largest in the region. Its revolutionary forces are present in nearly every neighboring nation. Its militias spread like a cancer, eroding stability and threatening peace and global trade in both the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el-Mandeb, which allows them to choke the Suez Canal. So we condemn the launch, as have the Brits and others.

Just a few days ago, we unveiled new evidence of Iran’s missile proliferation. Three days later, they test-launched another medium-range missile ballistic missile. We have been warning the world for some time that we are accumulating risk of a regional conflict if we do not deter Iran’s missile testing and proliferation. Iran is on the wrong track, and our campaign of maximum economic pressure is designed to starve the regime of revenue it needs to test missiles and to proliferate missiles, for terrorism, conduct cyber attacks and make acts of maritime aggression and many human rights abuses. The Iranian people deserve a government that represents their interests and not just the interests of their violent and corrupt leaders.

MS NAUERT: Thank you. Assuming we aren’t asked to sit back in our seats again, we can take some questions. Go right ahead.

QUESTION: What do you say about the fact that the UN resolution itself says it calls upon them to stop testing ballistic missiles?

MR HOOK: Refrain from – yeah. Well, it’s – for the last 12 years, the UN Security Council has been consistent in telling Iran to stop testing and proliferating ballistic missiles, and they’ve said that in various versions over 12 years. They have been consistent, and Iran is defying the council.

QUESTION: If I may, you just mentioned Yemen. Is the – the U.S. (inaudible) for an immediate ceasefire in Yemen (inaudible) to proceed. Now, is this (inaudible)?

MR HOOK: Well we are calling for an urgent ceasefire in Yemen. We also recognize the right of nations who are attacked by Iranian-backed Houthis to protect themselves. And so I think Secretary Mattis and Secretary Pompeo have done a good job of explaining the various parallel tracks that we are advancing in Yemen. The United States and the coalition have provided billions of aid to the people in Yemen who are suffering humanitarian catastrophe. Iran has provided soldiers and weapons and missiles and funding and training of the Houthis, hundreds of millions of dollars over the last few years to organize and train and equip the Houthis, and this war has gone on longer than makes any sense, because in part – large part – the Iranians have made the Houthis much more effective than they otherwise would be. So any --

QUESTION: Okay, Brian. What are your – the remarks – are they prepared for anything in particular or just to come back, in fact, that you’re outraged (inaudible)?

MR HOOK: No, no, the Iranian regime has said --

QUESTION: Well I understand that, but I mean, you talked about the quad meeting tomorrow and (inaudible) –

MR HOOK: Well this is a continuing discussion that the Secretary has had with his E3 counterparts about Iran’s missile testing and missile proliferation and regional aggression.

QUESTION: Right. To what end? What are you looking to do on this trip related to Iran?

MR HOOK: Well, we are – we would like to see – we would like to see the European Union move sanctions that target Iran’s missile program.

QUESTION: Brian, we’ve given several countries oil waivers, and I know we’ve talked about – you want to get those exports out of Iran to zero as quickly as possible. With the new missile tests, does that speed up that timeline?

MR HOOK: Well, we had to grant oil waivers to ensure that we did not increase the price of oil. Now that – in 2019 we expect a much better-supplied oil market, and that will put us in a much better position to accelerate the path to zero.

QUESTION: Brian, thanks so much. Everything you’ve said here is not new with the exception of this idea that you’re going to push on the Europeans to propose new sanctions. Is that it? I mean, you said there could be regional conflict.

MR HOOK: No, no, no. What – well, no. What is new is that we are responding to Iran’s claim that its missile testing is defensive in nature and that its missile inventory is defensive. It’s not defensive in nature. So I laid that out at the beginning.

QUESTION: What specifics can you get into about the nature of the missiles? I mean, are these nuclear-capable type of ballistic weapons?

MR HOOK: Yes. Iran has launched missiles that are capable of carrying multiple warheads, including a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Is there anything that you can tell us about the discussions with the Europeans? Because they’ve resisted so far cooperating with you on Iran and missiles. Are you hoping to get anything beyond more talks and more --

MR HOOK: I wouldn’t say that they have resisted cooperating. We have one difference of opinion with the E3 and it’s over the Iran nuclear – it’s on – over the Iran nuclear deal. We share the same threat assessment.

They – take a look at what Foreign Secretary Hunt said about the missile test. They all know that Iran is acting in defiance of the UN Security Council and their missiles are a threat to peace and security. The Europeans understand that fully and I believe that we are making progress toward getting a proposal tabled in Brussels that would designate the individuals and the entities that are facilitating Iran’s missile program. It is a grave and escalating threat. And nations around the world, not just Europe, need to do everything they can to be targeting Iran’s missile program.

QUESTION: What’s the nature of the concern among the Europeans that kind of stops them from being closer to your side on the sanctions efforts?

MR HOOK: Well, they did – the French did take actions. We’ve seen the French take actions against the bomb plot in Paris. Denmark’s taking action. So we are seeing – the Europeans are doing something.

QUESTION: Slowly (inaudible) --

MR HOOK: Yeah, and so – yes, I would say that they also see the expanding threat, and they also understand that over the last few years, Iran has expanded its threats to peace and security in a range of domains.

QUESTION: The proposal is looking at naming the people involved in the program with the Europeans and they do not necessarily have that (inaudible). Is there any --

MR HOOK: Could you speak a little louder?

QUESTION: What exactly would the proposal say? Would it be – is it – are you looking to identify the people responsible and this is exclusively about missiles or --

MR HOOK: Well, the – yeah, the United States has imposed sanctions on a number of individuals and entities who are supporting Iran’s missile program. We think those sanctions can be effective if more nations can also join us in that effort.

QUESTION: Is there anything you can say about the Secretary’s meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu today?

MS NAUERT: We’re not confirming anything at this point.

QUESTION: The Israelis have put out a statement.

MS NAUERT: We’re not confirming anything at this point. We’ll let you know.

MR HOOK: I – yeah.

MS NAUERT: We’ll let you know when we can about any additions to the schedule. Brian, I know one thing you’ve been following closely is a special-purpose vehicle.

MR HOOK: Yeah.

MS NAUERT: Do you want to – if there’s anything you want to say about that?

MR HOOK: The United States still continues to see no to little demand for a special-purpose vehicle by any significant corporation. A special-purpose vehicle is like the reverse Field of Dreams; if you build it, they will not come. We just don’t see any evidence that significant corporations want to make use of a vehicle. We have seen only support by major European companies for our sanctions regime because if you are the CEO of a European company and you are given the choice between doing business in the United States market or the Iranian market, that is the fastest decision you will ever make as CEO.

MS NAUERT: Any other questions?

QUESTION: Do you have a sense for how – as these sanctions come on line, how long will it take to get --

MR HOOK: Louder, what?

QUESTION: How long as these sanctions – the oil sanctions – come on line do you expect that it will take the Iranian oil sales to fall below a level --

MR HOOK: Well, we’ve already seen – yeah.

QUESTION: -- to fall below a level at which they’ll stop being able to pay some of these bills in Yemen or Syria?

MR HOOK: Our sanctions have only been in place for a few weeks. The announcement of the President leaving the Iran deal had the effect of causing companies and nations to pre-comply with their sanctions. As a consequence, we have had nations importing Iranian oil decrease imports by over a million barrels. You will see further decreases in Iranian imports in the coming months. Because 80 percent of Iran’s revenue comes from the export of oil, we know that if we can follow the money, which means following the oil, we are going to be able to make a material difference starving the regime of the revenue that it needs to destabilize the Middle East and Europe.

MS NAUERT: Anybody else? All right. Thanks, everybody.

MR HOOK: Okay. Thank you.