US does not want to see ‘new version of Hezbollah’ on Saudi border: Brian Hook

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Washington is working to stop Iranian funding to the Houthis and it does not want to see another Hezbollah on the Saudi Arabian border, the top US official for Iran said Thursday.

“The last thing we need on Saudi’s southern flank is some new version of Hezbollah,” Brian Hook, the Special Representative for Iran, told Al Arabiya in an interview.

Hook said he had been to Saudi Arabia to see all of the weapons that Iran has been exporting to the Houthis in Yemen.

Pressure will be kept up by the Trump administration to make it “prohibitively expensive” for the Iranian regime to keep funding Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies, the US official said.

He said if other governments want to target the Iranian regime, the strategy needs to be focused on three pillars: economic pressure, diplomatic isolation and the credible threat of military deterrence.

According to Hook, in Iraq, Iran’s influence has waded since the killing of Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani. “That’s because Soleimani is no longer alive to organize,” he said.

Turning to Syria, Hook said Washington would not “give one dime of reconstruction assistance until we see Iranian forces out of Syria.”

Placing the estimate of rebuilding the war-torn country at $400 billion, he said that Russia could not afford to pay, and “they know that there will need to be international donors.”

“We want to see all Iranian troops and all troops under the command of Iran to exit Syria,” Hook said, adding that there has been a noticeable change in tactics for Iranian troops following Israeli airstrikes on Tehran’s targets in Syria.

In Lebanon, Hook defended sanctions against Hezbollah. “If we did not place pressure on Hezbollah, we would see Hezbollah thrive and that would certainly be bad for the Lebanese people and the region.”

Yet, the Trump administration is still hoping for a new nuclear deal with Iran.

“We don’t need to settle this by military force and the president has had the door wide open for diplomacy for three years. There is a long list of countries that have appealed to the Iranian regime telling them to deescalate and come to the negotiating table,” he said, naming Japan and France as examples.

If a new deal is reached with the current administration, Hook said he intended to submit it to the US Senate as a treaty.

Another issue of concern for Washington is the arms embargo on Iran, which is set to the expire in October.

The US has been working on talks with UN member states to push for the renewal of the embargo. Most notably, China and Russia have been reportedly against any extension of the embargo.

But Hook said he had had “constructive” conversations with both countries that it is in their interest for a renewal. “We hope our diplomacy is successful. One way or another, we are going to have the arms embargo extended,” he said.

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