Avatoday’s founder and chief editor Ali Javanmardi sat on Friday with US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook in Washington.
The following is a transcription of the interview, which highlighted issues such as US current and future standpoints towards the Islamic Republic, Iranian people, and opposition groups.
The US maximum pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran continues until when? because if they don’t change behavior, what’s the next plan?
Right now, the Iranian regime is managing economic collapse because the supreme leader continues to choose military aggression over diplomacy. And at some point, we hope that the supreme leader starts making better decision for his people and the region. President Trump has made it clear that our campaign of maximum economic pressure is going to continue. We have restored military deterrence, which was lost under the Obama nuclear deal. The regime today faces a crisis of legitimacy and the crisis of credibility with its own people, and we’re very pleased with the success that our foreign policy has had. We’ve been running the same foreign policy since October 2017, when President Trump first announced the new approach that we would be taking, which is very different than the prior administration, and so, it’s hard to know how this all ends. We would like to resolve our differences diplomatically. The Iranian people certainly deserve a more representative government, and right now they have a government that represents them very badly, not only inside Iran but to the rest of the world.
You constantly said that you support Iranian people, what kind of support? I heard that you send them some humanitarian stuff, but what kind of support at all?
Well, I think I would contrast what we’re doing with what happened in 2009 during the Green revolution, when the Obama administration, I think in order to get going on an Iran nuclear deal, really maintained its focus on the regime, and lost its focus on the Iranian people, so that’s why during the Green revolution, you had people holding up signs, asking whether President Obama stood with the Iranian people or stood with the regime.
So when we came to office, the first time that there were protests in November 2017, in January 2018, everybody from the President to the Secretary of the State, to the Vice President, all publicly supported the Iranian people and gave voice to their demands on the government, and we have been doing this ever since. The President is now tweeting in Farsi on a regular basis directly to the Iranian people, and we also expanded the space through our sanctions. I think we’ve expanded the space for people to protest the regime.
There is a rumor that you are secretly supporting opposition groups, is this true? Do you support any opposition group?
We don’t support any opposition group. We support the Iranian people. I meet regularly with the Iranian diaspora. The future of Iran is going to be decided by the Iranian people. It’s not going to be decided by the United States government and that’s the way it should be. I’ve met with all sorts of people around the world, when I was in Los Angeles last month I met with the Iranian diaspora in a number of places, I think of the first speech we had about 800 people, at the second speech there a thousand. They’re really passionate, they’re really supportive of our policy to Iran, they love what we’re doing, I love hearing from the Iranian diaspora, but we’re not going to be picking winners and losers in the groups, I know there is a lot of them, I occasionally meet them when I go to events, but that’s not our job to play favorites with all the different groups.
Let me talk about another issue; the Islamic Republic of Iran has announced that it increased its nuclear activity, what’s your plan for preventing Iran from achieving nuclear weapons?
After President Trump responded to the strike that Iran did, under counterstrike to Qassem Soleimani, he came out to the press court in the White House, and the first thing he said was the Islamic Republic of Iran will never have a nuclear weapon. The President is very focused on this, and the Iran nuclear deal really gave the regime a path to a nuclear weapon, and the President got out of it, it was the right thing to do, we’re in a much better position to deny the regime a nuclear weapon. Your question was about that they had been breaking their nuclear commitments repeatedly every 60 days, they’ve increased the purity of enrichment, they also increased the stockpiling, and so we’ve been monitoring that very closely, we want to make sure that they’re not going to get any closer to a nuclear weapon, but the fact that we’re having this conversation, reveals the big mistake of the Iran nuclear deal, it allowed them to enrich. Well more than half of the countries in the world today that have peaceful nuclear power, don’t enrich. You don’t need to enrich, and so we think there is an opportunity if Iran wants that peaceful nuclear power, there are ways to do that. Russia can do the enrichment or France can do the enrichment. Iran doesn’t need to enrich. That was a UN Security Council standard that the Chinese, and the Russians, and the US, and the UK, all unanimously supported, it passed repeatedly in the council. The Obama administration gave away that prohibition as a concession to the regime; it was a mistake, and the 12 demands of Sec, Pompeo announced when we left the deal: Number one is no enrichment. And if we can restore that UN standard, we don’t need to have this question anymore about whether the regime is closer to a nuclear weapon.
The Islamic Republic of Iran said that they are against the middle east peace plan by the US and Israel; you think by the Iranian regime behavior, the peace plan will happen?
Peace between Israelis and Palestinians is Iran’s worst nightmare, and for thirty years, forty years they have been funding groups to attack Israel, so whether it’s Hamas, or Palestine Islamic Jihad, or Hezbollah. Qassem Soleimani was the leader of the Quds Force, the Jerusalem liberation Force. I think in the new Middle East, as I get around the region, and talk with a number of different governments in the region, they’re tired of this, they’re tired of Iran financing all of these terrorist militias, who then rockets and missiles that they fire on Israel, and it does a couple of things; it makes the Middle East very unstable, it keeps a lot of these populations trapped in poverty, because their leadership’s spending all of its money on weapons and ideological training, and so I am hopeful that this plan that we’ve announced which has the support of so many Arab governments has the basis for talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I hope the Palestinians come to the table. This is a suggestion, it’s a proposal, it’s our best thinking on how to resolve a conflict that’s been going on really since 1920, that was the first violence between Palestinians and the Israelis. So we’d like to get to that point, the President has put together a very bold vision for peace but it’s a suggestion, it’s a proposal, and if there are things that the Palestinians don’t like, then come to the table and tell us and tell the Israelis and let’s get to work.
Many Iranians were delighted to see the children of the IRGC’s members who tried to come to the US by the student visa, were expelled. Do you have any plan to expel the children of the government or the IRGCs members from the US?
We don’t talk about specific visa cases, but what I can say is the President did sign a proclamation, announcing that going forward, that none of the children of the regime elite will be able to come to the United States. And we did this because I’ve heard this complaint many times about the children of the regime elite who come here and we’re aware of it, and so we have put in place a proclamation going forward that prohibits the children of the regime elite from coming in.
I prepared a petition for Free Internet for Iran, signed by 169000, and now they are asking me what happened to this petition? Do you have any plan to help the Iranian people to access the internet when the Iranian regime cut off the internet?
When I came into office, I started working with technology companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere to see if we could get some technologies that would help the Iranian people circumvent, when the regime tried to prevent people from communication during a protest. Now I do know that tens of thousands of Iranians have used some of these tools that we were able to grant exemptions of our sanctions [against] the regime for these technology companies to do some work in Iran. So the Iranian people are already in position in some of these tools and we know that, tens of thousands have used them, but the Iranian regime took the unprecedented step for shutting down the Internet, and so we have since had a number of meetings, here in the Trump administration to figure out the lessons learned from when the regime does a complete shutdown of the Internet. Now remember when they did that, they also shut down all electronic commerce, and the regime lost a lot of money during that period when they shut down the Internet, so it’s not something that they can do without big cost to themselves, but we are looking at technologies every time the regime does something, we then try to come up with a way to help the Iranian people. I had a number of discussions with some very high-level Silicon Valley executives, about things that we can be doing to help Iranians with free speech and with freedom of assembly when the regime either tries to prevent them from talking to each other when the internet is on or how they access the internet when it’s off. But it’s a huge challenge, there is no switch that we can turn on to get the internet back on in a country, it’s a fairly complicated thing, I’ve heard that Elon Musk is working on a global Internet but that’s years away. There are things that we’re working on, and we going to keep working at it.
Are you engaged in any direct or indirect negotiations with Iran? And when Iran first ask for sanctions to be removed, what do you say?
We’re not going to pay for a meeting, there is not going to be any sanctions relief for a meeting, but the President and Sec Pompeo said in the past that they would meet without preconditions if they would like to have a conversation, but the Supreme Leader has rejected that and he has not allowed any of his diplomats to talk with Americans. That’s fine, we gave him a choice a year and a half ago, he can either come to the table or he can manage economic collapse, he continues to choose economic collapse, that’s his decision. We’re very happy with our strategy to Iran, the regime is facing its worst financial crisis and its worst political crisis in its 40-year-old history. This is the mess of the regime’s own making. Iranian people know we stand with them and we support them, Iranian people know that we have weaken this regime in ways that have no precedent in its forty years history, and we are going to continue to do it because it’s the right thing not only for the United States but also for the Iranian people. There are no back-channel negotiations going on, everything that you see what’s happening is happening in the public space.
Any message to Iranian People?
Well this the administration since day one that stood with them. We understand their hopes and their ambitions for a government that truly represents them, and I’m going to keep doing everything I can to help them. I think so much of what we would like to see the regime do differently, is very much like the Iranian people. The President is going to continue to tweet in Farsi to talk directly to them, so there is a lot of good work ahead, stay tuned.
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