U.S. Offers Reward for Intel on IRGC

September 4, 2019

On September 4, the U.S. Treasury designated an “oil for terror” network accused of aiding the IRGC in funding its terrorist operations. The network consisted of 25 entities and individuals and 11 vessels involved in hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit oil sales. Brian Hook, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, said the United States would offer up to $15 million for any information that disrupts IRGC financial operations. “Today’s announcement is historic. It’s the first time that the United States has offered a reward for information that disrupts a government entity’s financial operations,” Hook said. “We have taken this step because the IRGC operates more like a terrorist organization than it does a government.” The following are press releases by Treasury and the State Department and a press briefing by Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook.

 

State Department Press Release

The U.S. Department of State’s Rewards for Justice (RFJ) is offering a reward of up to $15 million for information leading to the disruption of the financial mechanisms of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its branches, including the IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF).  This includes seeking information on the IRGC’s illicit oil sales, including via oil tankers like the Adrian Darya.

The department is offering rewards for information related to:

  • Sources of revenue for the IRGC and its branches, to include IRGC-QF, or their key financial mechanisms;
  • IRGC illicit financial schemes, including the oil-for-money scheme;
  • Front companies tied to the IRGC that are engaged in international activity on IRGC’s behalf;
  • Entities or individuals assisting the IRGC in evading U.S. and international sanctions;
  • Formal financial institutions doing business with the IRGC;
  • How the IRGC is transferring funding and material to its terrorist and military proxies and partners;
  • IRGC donors or financial facilitators;
  • Financial institutions or exchange houses facilitating IRGC transactions;
  • Businesses or investments owned or controlled by IRGC or its financiers;
  • Front companies engaged in international procurement of dual-use technology on behalf of the IRGC; and
  • Criminal schemes involving IRGC members and supporters, which are financially benefiting the organization.

More information about this reward offer is located on the Rewards for Justice website at www.rewardsforjustice.net.  We encourage anyone with information on the financial mechanisms of the IRGC to contact RFJ via the website, e-mail at info@rewardsforjustice.net, or the Regional Security Officer at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.  All information will be kept strictly confidential.

RFJ is administered by the U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service.  Since its inception in 1984, the program has paid in excess of $150 million to more than 100 people who provided actionable information that helped bring terrorists to justice or prevented acts of international terrorism worldwide.

 

Treasury Press Release

Department of Treasury SealThe Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) took action against a large shipping network that is directed by and financially supports the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and its terrorist proxy Hizballah.  Over the past year, the IRGC-QF has moved oil worth hundreds of millions of dollars or more through this network for the benefit of the brutal Assad regime, Hizballah, and other illicit actors.  Senior IRGC-QF official and former Iranian Minister of Petroleum Rostam Qasemi oversees this sprawling network, which features dozens of ship managers, vessels, and facilitators.  This complex network of intermediaries enables the IRGC-QF to obfuscate its involvement in selling Iranian oil.  The IRGC-QF also relies heavily on Hizballah officials and front companies to broker associated contracts.  OFAC also is issuing a new shipping advisory to the maritime community warning of these types of schemes and the sanctions risks associated with blocked persons.

“Iran continues to take provocative actions to destabilize the region and the world. Treasury’s action against this sprawling petroleum network makes it explicitly clear that those purchasing Iranian oil are directly supporting Iran’s militant and terrorist arm, the IRGC-Qods Force,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “Our actions over the last two weeks should serve as a strong warning to anyone considering facilitating the Qods Force’s oil sales that there will be swift consequences.”

“The Iranian regime is leveraging a terrorist organization as its chief conduit for obfuscating and selling hundreds of millions of dollars of illicit oil to fuel its nefarious agenda.  Iran’s exportation of oil directly funds acts of terrorism by Iranian proxies and atrocities by the Assad regime against innocent people,” said Sigal Mandelker, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.  “This vast oil-for-terror shipping network demonstrates how economically reliant Tehran is on the IRGC-QF and Hizballah as financial lifelines.  The international community must vehemently reject Iranian oil and related products in the same way that it rejects the violent acts of terrorism these networks fund.” 

In spring 2019 alone, this IRGC-QF-led network employed more than a dozen vessels to transport nearly 10 million barrels of crude oil, predominantly to the Syrian regime.  These shipments, taken collectively, sold for more than half a billion dollars.  The same network also sold nearly 4 million barrels of condensate and hundreds of thousands of barrels in gas oil, bringing in another quarter billion dollars.

Iranian officials increasingly seek to deceive potential customers into buying Iranian oil.  The network, run by IRGC-QF official Rostam Qasemi, attempted on multiple occasions to pass off Iranian cargo as Iraqi-origin. 

Today, OFAC is announcing the designation of some 16 entities and 10 individuals pursuant to E.O. 13224, and is also identifying 11 vessels as property in which blocked persons have an interest.  The IRGC and Hizballah, both identified as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the U.S. Department of State under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, are also designated pursuant to E.O. 13224. 

OFAC SHIPPING ADVISORY

Today OFAC also issued a new advisory to the maritime community to warn of the risks involved with participating in illicit schemes such as the IRGC-QF’s oil-for-terror shipping network.  This advisory is in addition to the Maritime Petroleum Shipping Community issued by OFAC on March 25, 2019, which warns of sanctions risks related to oil shipments to Syria, including those from Iran.

IRGC-QF NETWORK OVERSIGHT

The IRGC-QF’s highest-ranking officials have long overseen exports of Iranian oil, often masking its origins and sending it to the Syrian regime or IRGC-QF proxies across the region. 

IRGC-QF Commander Qasem Soleimani (Soleimani) supervises fellow IRGC-QF official Rostam Qasemi, who has continued taking advantage of his domestic and international connections in the energy industry since his tenure as Iran’s Minister of Petroleum from 2011 to 2013. 

IRGC-QF official Rostam Qasemi, who is also the head of the Iranian-Syrian Economic Relations Development Committee, manages a group of individuals, shipping and oil companies, and vessels to sell Iranian crude, condensates, and gas oil.  Qasemi relies on trusted IRGC-QF officials and associates to run the network, including his son, Morteza Qasemi.  Morteza Qasemi has helped finalize the network’s oil contracts. 

Ali Qasir, a Lebanese national and IRGC-QF associate, also serves as a lynchpin for this IRGC-QF-orchestrated network.  His responsibilities for the network’s financial affairs include negotiating sales prices for the goods and settling vessel-related payments.  Additionally, Ali Qasir assigns vessels to conduct shipments for the network based on the IRGC-QF’s guidance. 

Rostam Qasemi is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for acting for or on behalf of the IRGC-QF and IRGC-QF Commander Qasem Soleimani.  Rostam Qasemi previously was designated pursuant to E.O. 13382 on February 10, 2010; in his role as an IRGC general at the time, he served as the commander of Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters, the engineering arm of the IRGC whose projects fund the IRGC’s operations.  Morteza Qasemi and Ali Qasir are being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 today for acting for or on behalf of Rostam Qasemi.

VESSELS AND SHIPPING MANAGERS

The IRGC-QF leverages trusted persons who operate or manage tankers to export Iranian oil and condensate, and has acquired several vessels of its own.  For example, Iranian Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) official Shamsollah Asadi helped Rostam Qasemi obtain tankers for the network’s use.  Shamsollah Asadi collaborated with Ali Qasir to cover expenses and facilitate an Iranian oil shipment by the ADRIAN DARYA 1 for the benefit of the IRGC-QF.  He also helped arrange payments in support of vessel management transfers, ultimately benefiting the same IRGC-QF -run shipping network. 

Accordingly, Shamsollah Asadi is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Ali Qasir.  The LEF was designated pursuant to E.O. 13572 and E.O. 13553 in June 2011 for human rights abuses in Syria and Iran, respectively.

MEHDI GROUP

India-based Mehdi Group and its director, Ali Zaheer Mehdi, have managed vessels and found additional ones to move Iranian oil.  Mehdi Group bears responsibility for crewing and managing at least seven of the vessels used by the network. 

Mehdi Group officials, including Ali Zaheer Mehdi, have spread responsibility for managing the vessels across at least ten subsidiaries and shell companies.

India-based Mehdi Group subsidiaries Bushra Ship Management Private Limited and Khadija Ship Management Private Limited (Khadija), under director Ali Ghadeer Mehdi, handle the day-to-day operations of the network’s vessels.  These vessels include the BONITA QUEEN, the DEVREZ, and the TOUR 2, which are being identified today as blocked property in which Khadija has an interest.

Other Mehdi Group officials work to ensure the vessels remain available for the network’s use.  Anuj Bhardwaj arranges vessel inspections and registrations.  Zafar Anis Ishteyaq Hussain tracks and processes millions of dollars in expenses incurred by the vessels.

A third Mehdi Group subsidiary, Vaniya Ship Management Private Limited, helped Mehdi Group set up three shell companies in the Marshall Islands.  Under Ali Ghadeer Mehdi’s management, the shell companies purchased three crude oil tankers:  the SARAK, the SOBAR, and the SOLAN.  The SOBAR and the SOLAN previously appeared in an OFAC advisory to the maritime petroleum shipping community, which warned of the sanctions risks associated with shipments of petroleum to the Government of Syria.  Both vessels, as well as the SARAK, are identified today as blocked property in which Mehdi Group has an interest.  Notably, the SARAK falsified the Iranian origin of its cargo to port authorities.

Additionally, Mehdi Group has two branch offices:  Singapore-based Mehdi Offshore and Ship Management Pte. Ltd. (Mehdi Offshore) and United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based Penta Ocean Ship Management & Operation LLC (Penta Ocean).  Mehdi Offshore ostensibly provides various support services, while Penta Ocean and UAE-based Mehdi Group subsidiary Fourteen Star Shipping Management manages billing and payments.  Mehdi Group also is able to draw on expertise in oil-related logistics, including refining and storage, through its UAE-based subsidiary Five Energy Oil Trading.

Mehdi Group found a partner outside of the company to supplement its efforts to assist the IRGC-QF.  Lebanon-based Africo 1 Off-Shore SAL assists in, sponsors, or provides financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Mehdi Group subsidiary Vaniya Ship Management by operating the tanker JASMINE for the network.  The JASMINE also is being identified today pursuant to E.O. 13224 as blocked property in which Africo 1 Off-Shore SAL has an interest.

Ali Zaheer Mehdi is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 today for assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, IRGC-QF official Rostam Qasemi.  Anuj Bhardwaj is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for acting for or on behalf of Mehdi Group.  Ali Ghadeer Mehdi and Zafar Anis Ishteyaq Hussain are being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for acting for or on behalf of Mehdi Group subsidiaries Khadija Ship Management and Fourteen Star Shipping Management, respectively.

Bushra Ship Management Private Limited, Khadija Ship Management Private Limited, Mehdi Offshore and Ship Management Pte. Ltd., Penta Ocean Ship Management & Operation LLC, Fourteen Star Shipping Management, and Five Energy Oil Trading are being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 today for being owned or controlled by Mehdi Group.  Vaniya Ship Management Private Limited is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for being owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, Mehdi Group.

On August 30, 2019, Mehdi Group was designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Rostam Qasemi.  The ADRIAN DARYA 1, formerly known as the GRACE 1, was identified as blocked property in which Mehdi Group has an interest pursuant to E.O. 13224 on August 30, 2019.  Akhilesh Kumar was designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Mehdi Group on the same day.

CONNECTIONS WITH THE IRANIAN ENERGY, SHIPPING, AND INSURANCE SECTORS

The crude oil and condensate sold by this IRGC-QF network originates with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), and ultimately is delivered to Syria.  The IRGC-QF relies on persons embedded within the shipping industry to keep this oil moving by ensuring that vessel insurance and registration are in order, among other things.

National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) vessels have been used in the IRGC-QF-run operation.  These vessels include the DESTINY, the HAPPINESS I, and the SINOPA, which were identified on November 5, 2018, as blocked property in which NITC has an interest.  The DEVREZ and the DELICE also were identified on that day as blocked property in which the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) has an interest.

Safiran Payam Darya Shipping Company (SAPID) official Mohammadreza Ali Akbari (Akbari) serves as an interlocutor between the IRGC-QF and vessel managers, and is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 today for acting for or on behalf of IRGC-QF official Rostam Qasemi accordingly.  Akbari also helped the IRGC-QF skirt sanctions in previous years. 

The provision of services, including protection and indemnity (P&I) insurance, and future dealings in blocked property can expose parties to sanctions.  Iran’s Kish P&I Club has provided discounted P&I coverage for multiple vessels in the IRGC-QF-run network.  Given its the provision of these services, Kish P&I Club is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 today for assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Mehdi Group.

NIOC and SAPID were identified pursuant to E.O. 13599 on November 5, 2018 as part of the broad re-imposition of sanctions against Iran.  State-owned SYTROL was designated pursuant to E.O. 13574 on August 10, 2012.

TIES TO HIZBALLAH AND ASSOCIATED FRONT COMPANIES

The IRGC-QF also uses several front companies to mask its role in selling the crude oil, condensate, and gas oil.  The companies are overseen by Hizballah officials Muhammad Qasir and Muhammad Qasim al-Bazzal (al-Bazzal), both of whom were designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 in 2018 in connection with another oil-for-terror scheme. 

Hokoul S.A.L. Offshore (Hokoul) and Talaqi Group are front companies run by Hizballah official al-Bazzal.  Al-Bazzal has sought to continue operating his network since being designated by OFAC by purporting to transfer ownership of his companies, including Nagham al Hayat and Tawafuk.  In early 2019, al-Bazzal sought to remove his name as an owner and shareholder from all company documents, presumably in order to evade U.S. sanctions.

Lebanon-based Hokoul supplies SYTROL with Iranian crude under IRGC-QF auspices.  Al-Bazzal and other Hizballah officials have control over the contractual and financial obligations of Hokoul, while Ali Qasir represents Hokoul in negotiating its supply of Iranian crude to Syria.  NITC vessels including the DELICE, the DESTINY, the HAPPINESS I, and the SINOPA transport such petroleum and petroleum products, and are identified pursuant to E.O. 13224 today as property in which Hokoul has an interest.  Ali Qasir also is the managing director of Talaqi Group, which finances oil shipments for the IRGC-QF.

Since late 2018, al-Bazzal has leveraged his companies, including Talaqi Group, to finance and coordinate various IRGC-QF-linked oil shipments.  In his role as chairman of the board of directors at Talaqi Group, al-Bazzal is responsible for the company’s finances, procedures, administration, and contracts.

Al-Bazzal and his wife are co-founders of Talaqi Group.  Al-Bazzal oversaw Talaqi Group’s partnership with ALUMIX for shipments of aluminum to Iran, while his wife, as ALUMIX’s general manager, supplies Talaqi Group with payment information.  ALUMIX was known as “Dogmoch” until late 2018.

Two additional companies fall under al-Bazzal’s purview.  He owns Syria-based Nagham Al Hayat and serves on its board of directors, managing the company’s assets, personnel, legal, and financial issues.  Al-Bazzal is a founder and owner of Tawafuk, where he is involved in day-to-day activities as general manager.

Hokoul S.A.L. Offshore, Talaqi Group, Nagham Al Hayat, Tawafuk, and ALUMIX are being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 today for being owned or controlled by Muhammad Qasim al-Bazzal.

EXPORTS DIVERSIFICATION

In addition to Iranian petroleum and petroleum goods, the same IRGC-QF-led network is diversifying its exports, adding iron and metal to its repertoire.

Mahmud Ashtari is the managing director of Hamrahan Pishro Tejarat Trading Company (Hamrahan Pishro Tejarat), which charters tankers and transports cargo to international destinations, such as Syria and China.  Ali Qasir worked with Mahmud Ashtari, Hamrahan Pishro Tejarat, and Hizballah-linked Talaqi Group to facilitate the sale of tens of millions of dollars’ worth of steel debar.

Mahmud Ashtari has received hundreds of thousands of dollars for vessel expenses and contracts, often related to iron or metal shipments from Iran.  He also ensures ports can accommodate the vessels and advances their discharged goods toward their final destination.

Mahmud Ashtari is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 today for assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Ali Qasir.

SANCTIONS IMPLICATIONS

As of November 5, 2018, the purchase, acquisition, sale, transport, or marketing of petroleum or petroleum products from Iran is sanctionable pursuant to E.O. 13846.  Knowingly providing insurance or re-insurance for the transport of Iranian petroleum and petrochemical products also is sanctionable.  The U.S. Treasury Department urges international companies to ensure they are conducting the necessary due diligence to avoid engaging in sanctionable activity with entities that support the Iranian regime’s malign activity.  The U.S. government is systematically enforcing sanctions and denying Tehran the revenue flows it needs to support destructive and destabilizing activities around the world.

As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of these entities that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC.  OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.

In addition, persons that engage in certain transactions with the entities designated today may themselves be exposed to designation.  Furthermore, any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant financial transaction or provides significant financial services for entities designated in connection with Iran’s proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or any Iranian person on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons could be subject to U.S. correspondent account or payable-through account sanctions.

 

Office of the Spokesperson

 ON-THE-RECORD-BRIEFING

Special Representative for Iran and Senior Advisor to the Secretary Brian Hook

 

MR HOOK:  Today, the United States Government is intensifying our maximum pressure campaign against the Islamic Republic of Iran.  First, we are announcing a reward of up to $15 million for any person who helps us disrupt the financial operations of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and Qods Force. 

This offer is being made through the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program.  This program gives individuals an incentive to work with the United States to bring terrorists to justice and to prevent acts of terrorism globally.  Rewards for Justice has paid more than $150 million to over 100 people in return for information that either prevented acts of terrorism or brought people to justice.  And the program’s motto is:  Stop a terrorist, save lives.

Today’s announcement is historic.  It’s the first time that the United States has offered a reward for information that disrupts a government entity’s financial operations.  We have taken this step because the IRGC operates more like a terrorist organization than it does a government.  The IRGC and the Qods Force were designated as a foreign terrorist organization in April, and this put them in the same category as many of the terrorist groups that they actively support, such as Hizballah and Hamas.

The IRGC trains, funds, and equips proxy organizations across the Middle East.  Iran wants these groups to extend the borders of the regime’s revolution and sow chaos and sectarian violence.  We are using every available diplomatic and economic tool to disrupt these operations.

In addition to announcing individual rewards of up to $15 million against the IRGC and the Qods Force, the United States today is also taking sweeping action against an IRGC/QF oil-for-terror network.  The IRGC has been running an illicit petroleum shipping network over the last several months.  This network has moved hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of illicit oil.  That money is then used to fund terrorism.

In recent months, the shipping network used more than a dozen tankers to export nearly 10 million barrels of crude oil, largely to Syria to support Assad.  These shipments sold for more than half a billion dollars.  The Department of the Treasury today designated more than 25 entities and individuals and 11 vessels involved in this shipping network.  The names of these entities and vessels are now listed on Treasury’s website.  Those who engage in transactions with these entities, individuals, and vessels are now exposed to U.S. sanctions.

Secretary Pompeo has said many times that we will sanction any sanctionable activity, and taking down this shipping network is another example of delivering on that commitment.  The actions today follow the recent sanctioning of Chinese firm Zhuhai Zhenrong and its chief executive for importing Iranian oil. 

The maritime community should be aware that the Qods Force uses deceptive practices to move its illicit cargo.  It cloaks the origin of its oil.  It falsifies documents.  And it hides the location of its vessels by turning off transponders, which violates international maritime law and is a threat to safety on the high seas.  Vessels tied to the shipping network have tried to pass Iranian oil off as Iraqi oil.  Countless Iranian vessels have gone dark just before delivering illicit cargo to places like Syria and to China.  Deception is at the heart of the Qods Force shipping network.

Every port operator, ship owner, and management company should steer clear of the targets identified today.  The economic and the reputational cost that result from U.S. sanctions are not worth the modest gains of doing business with Iran. 

The reward I announced earlier gives members of the maritime community a new tool to help us combat Iran’s oil-for-terror network.  We urge any person with information that leads to the disruption of Iran’s petroleum shipping network to contact us.  You can submit a tip by visiting rewardsforjustice.net.

This includes information that leads to disrupting vessels like the Adrian Darya, which was formerly known as the Grace 1.  This vessel was released by Gibraltar based on guarantees provided by the Iranian Government that it would not deliver its oil to Syria, which is exactly where it appears to be headed now.

Last Friday, the United States Government sanctioned the captain of the Adrian Darya for providing material support to a terrorist organization.  The criminal liability and immigration consequences of crewing Iranian tankers are real and not worth the risk. 

It’s important that we not lose sight of the big picture.  Sanctions on Iran are designed to deny the regime revenue to fund its foreign operations and to bring it back to the negotiating table to reach a new and comprehensive deal.

QUESTION: I’ve got two questions on slightly different things.  But first one on the reward, I’m a little confused as to what kind of information you’re looking for from people, because it would seem to me that the U.S. intelligence community already has enough information to disrupt IRGC finances.  What could the average person if they lived in Gibraltar or something, they open their window and see an Iranian-flagged ship, they can call and get $15 million?  What kind of information could you imagine would be rewardable?

And then secondly, there seems to be concern in the anti-Iran deal crowd that the President is going to be conned by foreign leaders, i.e., the president of France, and a network of deep state actors within this building and the Treasury, that the President is going to be conned into keeping the Iran deal alive.  Is that true?  Is it this alleged deep state belief that the President is that manipulatable? 

MR HOOK:  So let me take the first question.  The Rewards for Justice Program, as I said, we’ve had over 100 individuals who have received payments.  In total we’ve spent over $150 million.  If you go to the website, you can take a look at the program overview, and they give specific examples of people who have given actionable intelligence that has disrupted terrorist operations.

We know in the case of Iran and the Qods Force that it uses its oil – the IRGC gets the revenue and the Qods Force, and then they spend it in places like Syria and on Hizballah and Hamas and on the Houthis in Yemen and proxies in Iraq and Syria.  And so that’s why we’re calling it an oil-for-terror network.

There are so many touch points along sort of the chain that moves from when the oil is loaded and when it reaches its destination – the crews, the captains, the people who re-provision ships, et cetera.  There are many people who are involved in that, and it’s often the tips that you don’t think are going to lead to something big that often do.

QUESTION:  All right.  And then on the second one?

MR HOOK:  The President left the Iran deal because it provided Iran with a pathway to achieve a nuclear weapon.  He’s been very clear that it is a bad deal.  We have much more leverage outside of the deal to achieve our goal of preventing Iran from ever getting a nuclear weapon than we had inside the deal.

The President would very much like to see a diplomatic resolution to this.  It would be helpful if Iran would meet our diplomacy with diplomacy instead of kinetic force.  As the President has made clear, we do not want to see a conflict in the Middle East, but we’re also going to intensify our maximum pressure campaign because Iran – we need to deny it the revenue it needs to fund its foreign policy. 

And it also, as history shows, is the principal means by which you bring Iran back to the negotiating table.  The President would like to negotiate a new and better deal that will address the range of threats that Iran presents to peace and security – the nuclear program, the missile program, the regional aggression, and the arbitrary detention of American citizens.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  But the concern about this unelected cadre of people who are running around trying to subvert the President’s intention, is there any truth to that?

MR HOOK:  I can only speak for the State Department, and the State Department – the President enjoys the full support of the State Department and the work that Secretary Pompeo does on behalf of American citizens.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Brian, since, as you said, the President wants to negotiate, do moves like this chip away at any sort of positive environment that might take place ahead of a leader-level meeting that he said would be very soon?

MR HOOK:  No, I don’t think it does because if you look at the history, the 40-year history of the Islamic Republic, they’re very good at cat-and-mouse diplomacy; they’re very good at nuclear extortion.  And so the deadline is coming up on September 6.  I saw something today that they may be giving Europe another couple of months.  We believe this is nuclear extortion.  Iran does not need to enrich fissile material to have a peaceful nuclear program.  That’s why the first demand of the Secretary’s 12 demands is no enrichment. 

And so if you look at the history of this, Iran never comes back to the negotiating table without diplomatic pressure – diplomatic isolation and economic pressure or the threat of military force.  That’s just been the history of it.  And so we will continue, as we have today, to deny the regime revenue, to drive up the costs of its malign behavior, and we think that this creates the right atmosphere that will lead eventually to talks.  But that’s a decision that the Iranians have to make.

QUESTION:  Is there a point, or at what point when it comes to Iran and its nuclear enrichment does the United States expect the E3 to respond, those in the context of the deal?

MR HOOK:  Respond in what way?  What do you mean?

QUESTION:  Respond by snapping back sanctions or anything specifically related to Iran’s nuclear activities. 

MR HOOK:  Well, we are outside of the Iran deal.  The E3 are still in the deal; they continue with talks with Iran that is in material breach of it.  We’re not a party to those talks, but I am in regular contact with our counterparts in the E3.  We share the same threat assessment.  They do not want Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.  They do not support Iran’s regional aggression.  They do not support Iran’s ballistic missile testing.  They don’t support Iran’s missile proliferation.  They also don’t support Iran’s arbitrary detention of dual nationals.

So we agree on much more than we disagree.  For those that are left in the deal, they’ll have to decide how to best to achieve their national security objectives.  We know that being outside of the deal helps us to achieve ours much better.

QUESTION:  So considering the fact that you guys are rolling out these sanctions today saying that they’re designed to deny the regime revenue, and then at the same time we’re hearing reports that President Macron is meeting with the Iranians to offer them a $15 billion bailout to stay in the deal, how do you square those two things?  They seem like they would counteract one another directly.

MR HOOK:  No, it doesn’t contradict it at all.  The President very much would like to resolve our differences with Iran diplomatically.  He has been in regular touch with leaders around the world, including Prime Minister Abe, President Macron, Prime Minister Boris Johnson.  He meets regularly with a range of people.  As I said, we all share the same threat assessment.  We have the same concerns, especially with our European allies.  I think we have tactical disagreements on how to achieve those.  But there is no concrete proposal that has been generated. 

There have been a number of meetings.  The President enjoyed his visit with President Macron.  He’s very much open to a number of options, but what we really need to see, we have to see a change in Iranian behavior, which we still haven’t seen yet.  And so the President, over the last couple of years, has said many times that he would be glad to meet with the Iranians, but the Iranians have to make a decision about whether they want to start behaving like a normal nation, and that’s a decision that only Iran can make.  We hope that they will, and when they do, we will be prepared to negotiate a deal.

QUESTION:  And is now the time for France to be conducting these kinds of conversations?

MR HOOK:  That’s a question for France.  The United States is – we are sort of very focused on our national security objectives and we’re happy with the progress we’re making to achieve them.

QUESTION:  Can you rule out that the U.S. would be willing to provide waivers to allow the $15 billion credit line offer to proceed? 

MR HOOK:  That would be – in light of our actions today, I think that speaks rather clearly.  We announced new sanctions today. 

MS ORTAGUS:  And yesterday.

MR HOOK:  And yesterday.  We did sanctions yesterday.  We did sanctions Friday.  We did sanctions today.  There will be more sanctions coming.  We can’t make it any more clear that we are committed to this campaign of maximum pressure, and we are not looking to grant any exceptions or waivers.  We made it very clear that when we were done with our SREs – these are the oil waivers – when those were gone, those were gone.  And so we’ve ended those and we’re very focused on our maximum pressure campaign.

QUESTION:  Right, but there’s quite a bit of ambiguity about your attitude toward this $15 million program.  On a background call just now, an administration official said it was too early to tell.  You yourself are saying there’s no concrete proposal on the table.  The President seemed to be suggesting that he supported it when he spoke in Biarritz.  So, I mean, is this is an idea that you’re willing to consider?

MR HOOK:  I think what the President said is that when the conditions are right – and we’ve laid out very clearly what those conditions are and you see them in Secretary Pompeo’s list of 12 demands.  So our focus is on those various buckets of the nuclear program, missiles, regional aggression, and hostage taking.  And so that is the area where we need to see some progress.  That’s our focus.  The maximum pressure campaign helps us to achieve those.

QUESTION:  So when there will be a French proposal or a European proposal for this credit line, will you be ready to assess any possibility to green-light it from the U.S. stance?  And also, do you also still think that a leader-level meeting is possible with Iran in the next couple of weeks, as said in Biarritz?

MR HOOK:  Yeah, there is no concrete proposal.

QUESTION:  But when there will be one, are you ready to assess the possibility of green-lighting?

MR HOOK:  We have no idea if there will be one.  There is no proposal, and so we’re not going to comment on something that doesn’t exist.

And then what was the other one?  The President has said many times that he wants to resolve our differences diplomatically.  He has said many times that he is open to meeting with the Iranians.  He has now met twice with Kim Jong-un. 

MR HOOK:  Three times, sorry.  Three times he’s met with him, making my point even stronger.  Steve Biegun should be up here for this.  So he obviously is somebody who believes very much in bilateral diplomacy.  There’s nothing more that needs to be said on it.

QUESTION:  I wanted to ask you actually about conflict.  You said that the President’s trying to avoid conflict.  How do you view the Israeli attack of Iraq or Iranian positions in Iraq? 

QUESTION:  Do you view this as pushing the United States and Iran towards a global conflict?

MR HOOK:  The IRGC and Qods Force that we sanctioned today, again, is leveraging its foothold in Syria to threaten Israel and its neighbors, and so Israel has an inherent right of self-defense, to take action to prevent imminent attacks against their assets in the region and also to protect their own people.  And so we very much support what Israel is doing.

QUESTION:  But on Iraq, sir, because apparently the Iraqi air space is supposedly protected by American assets or the American airpower.

MR HOOK:  The position on that is the United States had no role in the alleged attacks in Iraq, nor is it clear who carried out the strikes.  Statements alleging a U.S. role in these events are false.

QUESTION:  I have one quick question about China.  The Chinese announced a $280 billion investment in Iran’s oil sector.  I’m wondering what you think of that.  And then quickly to follow up on this idea of a meeting, I mean, the President said he was open to have a meeting in the coming weeks. Is there any diplomatic leg work?  Have you reached out to the Iranians about setting up such a meeting?

MR HOOK:  So on the first question, we will sanction any sanctionable activity.  We’ve already done that once with China, and so that is our policy.  We’ve demonstrated that many times since we have left the deal, and we will continue to sanction any sanctionable activity.  And we also don’t preview our sanctions. 

On the second question.  As Morgan said, he’s said it so many times that he is open to meetings.  I don’t think – that’s an open secret that the President is very open to doing meetings with the Iranians.  The Iranians – this is really a question for them.  I think it was as recently as today that they expressed no interest in such a meeting.  Iran has rejected diplomacy too many times.  When Prime Minister Abe was in Japan, he went – he asked the President if he could make the trip.  It was the first visit of a Japanese prime minister to the Islamic Republic of Iran.  The supreme leader, he met with him.  The supreme leader put out five tweets rejecting Prime Minister Abe and his diplomacy.  And then just for good measure, he bombed a Japanese oil tanker while Prime Minister Abe was still in Iran.

You’ve seen also various leaders who’ve also attempted to try to get Iran to de-escalate, and they’ve not succeeded.  So the President’s very comfortable with our foreign policy.  Iran doesn’t like it.  Iran is not used being told no.  They have had a very long run of many years executing a foreign policy without impunity.  And the United States, this administration, is standing up --

QUESTION:  With impunity.

MR HOOK:  With impunity.  Very good correction, Matt.  With impunity.  And so we are standing up to that in ways that don’t have any historic precedent, and it is not a surprise that Iran doesn’t like it and they’re acting out in very kinetic ways, which is also something which is sort of an evergreen in Iran’s playbook.  They’ve been doing this for many decades.

So we’re going to stick with our policy.  We’re very comfortable with the progress we’ve made.  We know that we are making contributions to peace and security every day that we run this policy.