Brian Hook: Countries can either work with US or Iran, but not both

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The United States has denied the Iranian regime over $10 billion in revenue and expect that number to increase dramatically, US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook told Al Arabiya English after Washington declared it would start ending waivers to Tehran’s oil customers.

Hook also said that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates share a lot of the United States’ national security goals when it comes to Iran.

“Saudi Arabia has been very helpful, increasing its production as it did many months ago in order to offset the loss of Iranian crude, and they’ll continue to be helpful,” Hook told Al Arabiya’s Bureau Chief in Washington DC Nadia Bilbassy.

Hook also said that efforts regarding the sanctions were aimed at drying up Hezbollah’s funding from Iran.

“What we are doing is making it harder for Hezbollah to meet payroll, because 70% of Hezbollah’s revenue comes from the Iranian regime. Historically Iran gives Hezbollah $700 million a year, that’s 70% of their budget.

The United States said on Monday it would start imposing sanctions on allies such as India that buy Iranian oil, in its latest aggressive step to counter Tehran.

Other countries that will be affected include China and Turkey, opening up new friction in contentious relationships if the United States goes ahead with sanctions against buying Iranian oil.

Below is a full transcript of Hook’s interview with Al Arabiya English:

Yes, we had very good meetings with both of the Saudis and the Emiratis, and they share a lot of our national security goals with respect to Iran. So it’s in our interest and it’s in their interest to deny the Iranian regime the revenue it needs to fund its foreign policy.

And now Saudi Arabia has been very helpful, increasing its production as it did many months ago in order to offset the loss of Iranian crude, and they’ll continue to be helpful.

Well, the best description of that was put out by Secretary Pompeo in May of last year when he outlined the 12 things that Iran needs to start doing or stop doing in order to have a different relationship with the United States.

And we would like to have a different relationship with Iran. We tried that in the Obama administration when we gave an enormous sanctions relief, and the Iranian regime took that money and they spent it like they always do. They spent it on supporting their satellites and proxies around the Middle East and that is not good.

That money, those arms, the soldiers, they’re always on the other side of the battlefield from us, or our interests, or the interests of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.

So there’s a convergence of interest, especially with Arab nations, Israel, the United States, many of our European allies. We want a more peaceful Iran, and that’s up to Iran. They can either start behaving more peacefully or they can watch their economy crumble.

In March the leader of Hezbollah made a public appeal for donations and it was the first time in history they’ve had to do that. There was a New York Times front-page story about how Iran’s proxies in the region are experiencing a loss of revenue. There was one Shia fighter in Syria who said that the golden days are over and they’re not going to come back. ‘Iran simply doesn’t have the money to fund us like they’ve used to.’

That is a consequence partly of Iran mismanaging their economy because they have less money, they’re in recession now. But it’s also because our sanctions are denying the regime a lot of revenue.

We have denied this regime over $10 billion in revenue. That number is going to go up dramatically now that we’re giving no more oil waivers.

I think Hezbollah has always had a mission to try to destroy Israel, and so what you’re saying does not surprise me.

What we are doing is making it harder for Hezbollah to meet payroll, because 70% of Hezbollah’s revenue comes from the Iranian regime. Historically Iran gives Hezbollah $700 million a year, that’s 70% of their budget.

Now that we’re draining Iran’s revenues that’s having a positive effect for our foreign policy on denying Hezbollah more money, and that’s a good thing.

So far when you look at polls, and interviews with the Iranian people, and you ask them who do you blame for your economic troubles, two-thirds of them blame it on President Rouhani and the Supreme Leader. You only have a third who attribute it to the United States. And that is significant because the Iranian regime lies to its people all the time about their economic troubles, and in spite of the lies, they still know where to blame. They know whom to blame. And so the Iranian people know that we stand with them. During the 40th anniversary, there was a hashtag that was trending in Iran – 40 years of failure. And Iranian people share the same goals that we have; we want a government to start changing its behavior to invest in its own people, to spend more on the Iranian people and less on Assad… more on the Iranian people and less on Hezbollah, and the same for the Houthis in Yemen.

The Iranians continue to be in compliance with the Iran Nuclear Deal. I have never been surprised by that because the Iran Nuclear Deal sets that bar so low for compliance. We should be surprised if they are not in compliance, okay. They got enormous sanctions relief, and in return had to do very little in order to receive that. So I expect that they will continue in compliance, of course. They can decide any day to leave. But we think it is in their interest to stay in the deal. We would like to get to a new agreement. We are out of the Iran Nuclear Deal. It was a flawed deal. It only covered the nuclear program, and it was modest and temporary benefits. We need an agreement that covers the nuclear program, their missile program, their regional aggression, and the arbitrary detention of foreign nationals which include Americans. That is the kind of deal we need. We are ready to negotiate something like that. We need to see a change in their behavior; words are not going to be enough.

Well, China has already done very significant reductions in their import of Iranian crude oil.

They have stayed within the limits of our negotiated agreement under the oil waiver they were given.

But we think that it is very much in China’s interest to continue to be in compliance with our sanctions regime.

Because if a country decides to act outside of it and to choose the Iranian market over the United States market, and that really is the choice we’re presenting countries, you can either work with the United States, or you can work with Iran, but you can’t do both.

And so I think it’s in China’s interest when you look at the American market compared to the Iranian market, it is certainly in China’s interest to stick with the American market as opposed to the Iranian market.

It has been six months since we had to grant eight oil waivers. Five/six months ago, we had a very tight and fragile oil market. If we had not granted those waivers, we might have seen a very significant spike in the price of oil. Now, six months later, where supply exceeds global demand, we are in a much better position to announce that there will be no more oil waivers. And we have only seen a very modest increase today. I do not think it is because of our announcement. You have had announcement about OPEC curtailment, and some other, I think, factors that are driving the slight increase. But we believe that because the Saudis put out a statement today signaling that they will offset any loss of Iranian barrels, I think that this is a very good signal to the energy markets that they shouldn’t be worried. It is going to be well-supplied and stable.

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