‘We are just getting started,’ says US envoy Brian Hook on Iran sanctions

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The United States is aiming at driving down Iranian oil exports through further sanctions. “We are just getting started,” said Brian Hook, the US Special Representative for Iran and Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State.

“There will be more sanctions to come,” said hook during an exclusive interview on Saturday with Al Arabiya English in Abu Dhabi.

To a query on whether the sanctions have weakened the Iran regime, Hook answered: “Yes, our sanctions are weakening the regime, we have denied them billions of dollars of revenue through the loss of oil exports. And there will be billions more that they will be losing.

“When we started our campaign, when the President announced he was leaving the deal, Iran’s oil exports were at 2.7 million barrels a day. You may have seen press reports, Iran’s November exports are below a million. So 2.7 to below a million in about 8 months, 80 percent of Iran’s revenue comes from oil exports. So they are facing a liquidity crisis and they are also seeing a collapse in the Riyal.”

And if that is the case, will that mean more sanctions or will it be as things stand now? “There will be more sanctions to come,” said Hook.

Hook said that the United States will grant no more waivers for Iranian oil after the reimposition of US sanctions, the US special representative for Iran said on Saturday, underlining Washington’s push to choke off Tehran’s sources of income.

“Iran is now increasingly feeling the economic isolation that our sanctions are imposing...We do want to deny the regime revenues,” Brian Hook told a news conference in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi.

“Eighty percent of Iran’s revenues come from oil exports and this is (the) number one state sponsor of terrorism. We want to deny this regime the money it needs,” Hook said.

Tensions between Iran and the United States have increased since May, when US President Donald Trump abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers, saying the accord was flawed in Tehran’s favor, and reintroduced sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the pact.

“We want a new and better deal (with Iran) but in that process we are denying the Iranian regime billions and billions of dollars and they are facing a liquidity crisis,” Hook said.

Iran, he added, would not return to the negotiation table without pressure.

Tehran has refused to renegotiate its nuclear accord and says its ballistic missile program - another source of concern for Washington and its regional allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia - is solely defensive and untouchable.

Hook also spoke about the close association with Saudi Arabia on maintaining global oil supplies following the fall in Iranian crude output.

“The Saudi Energy Ministry, specifically Khalid Al-Falih, had been very helpful to increase production as we were taking off over a million barrels of Iranian crude between May and November. When the President announced that he’s leaving the Iran deal in May, oil was at $74. When we reimposed our sanctions, six months later, we took off roughly a million barrels of Iranian crude, and oil went to $72. We were able to do that through close cooperation with Saudi Arabia and they have helped to ensure that as we take off Iranian crude we have a stable and well supplied oil market.

“And so, I can only speak to my part with the Iran piece, I don’t speak to the broader global energy issues. But Saudi Arabia has been very helpful.”

In a panel discussion at the Atlantic Council’s 2019 Global Energy Forum in Abu Dhabi, Hook said Washington was pleased with China cutting its oil imports from Iran, and that he expected much deeper reductions in Iranian oil exports. “We are just getting started,” he said.

Hook participated in the panel discussion on the topic “Setting the Energy Agenda for 2019.”

Iran’s crude exports will be severely curtailed for a third month in January as it struggles to find new buyers amid US sanctions even though its traditional customers secured temporary waivers, according to tanker data and industry sources.

Separately, Omani Oil Minister Mohammed bin Hamad al-Rumhi told the news conference that Washington had not asked the Gulf Arab state to stop a gas pipeline project with Iran and that talks were continuing.

He said some partners for the project had pulled out because of the risk of punishment by Washington for dealing with Iran but that some other Asian firms were willing to take part.

Hook declined to say what the administration in Washington would do when the current Iran waivers end in May.

Washington granted waivers to eight major buyers of Iranian oil - including China, India, Japan and South Korea - after restoring energy sanctions in November.

The Atlantic Council, in a report on Saturday, has commented on how Iran has reportedly sought to evade sanctions. Late last year, about a dozen tankers believed to be carrying Iranian crude oil shut off their transponders, which track their movements via GPS.

On January 10, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said US sanctions against his country were “fully illegal.”

“We believe that we should not comply with the illegal sanctions against Iran,” Zanganeh told a joint news conference in Baghdad with his Iraqi counterpart, Thamer al-Ghadhban.

Hook has been quoted in the report on why sanctions enforcement was a priority for the Trump Administration. “The Iranian regime, which is an outlaw regime, certainly tries to evade sanctions. We have, I think, organized the interagency in a way to make sanctions enforcement a big priority. And we have had a fair amount of success with it,” he had said.

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