The Iranian Regime’s Transfer of Arms to Proxy Groups and Ongoing Missile Development (November 29)
Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State and Special Representative for Iran
MODERATOR: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for waiting. Your excellencies, members of the diplomatic corps, and members of the press, we’re very pleased to welcome Special Representative Hook, who will be briefing today on the Iran Materiel Display. We will have brief remarks followed by questions. This event is on the record for the press. Let me turn it over to Special Representative Hook for his remarks. Thank you.
MR HOOK: Good morning, and thank you all for coming. I want to thank Secretary Mattis and the men and women of our armed forces for their brave service to our nation and for making this display possible. I want to recognize members of the diplomatic corps from several countries, including South Korea, Japan, Israel, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and Afghanistan.
I want to also extend a special welcome to His Excellency Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador; to Ambassador Ron Dermer of Israel; and to His Excellency Ambassador Shaikh Abdullah bin Rashed Al Khalifa of Bahrain. The United States deeply values our partnerships with the UAE and Bahrain and Israel, and I thank all of you for coming today.
In December of last year, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley stood here to highlight the dangers posed by Iran’s dangerous proliferation of missiles across the Middle East. She highlighted how Iran was illegally providing weapons to Houthi militants in Yemen. It was a clear violation of UN resolutions then, and it remains so today. She also spoke of the threat these weapons pose to peace and security and to the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire.
Today, the United States is unveiling new evidence of Iran’s ongoing missile proliferation. The Iranian threat is growing and we are accumulating risk of escalation in the region if we fail to act. In the time since Ambassador Haley’s remarks, Iran’s support of the Houthi militants has deepened. Its backing of terrorist activities across the world has increased, and its efforts to undermine regional stability have expanded.
The inventory in this display has expanded since December. This is a function of Iran’s relentless commitment to put more weapons into the hands of even more of its proxies, regardless of the suffering. Iran has been prohibited by several UN resolutions from exporting arms for a decade. These restrictions were in place starting in 2006 under UN Security Council Resolution 1737 and 1747, which I helped to negotiate. The prohibitions have continued since 2015 under UN Resolution 2231. This display and the items we have added to it reveal an outlaw regime exporting arms as it pleases.
Today we are unveiling Iran’s Sayyad 2C surface-to-air missile, which you see behind me. This missile was designed and manufactured in Iran, and the writing in Farsi on its side translates as “the hunter missile.” The conspicuous Farsi markings is Iran’s way of saying they don’t mind being caught violating UN resolutions. The Sayyad 2C is one of two identical systems interdicted by Saudi Arabia in Yemen earlier this year. The Iranians wanted to deliver this to the Houthis, who would have used it to target coalition aircraft up to 46 miles away. Given the Houthis’ reckless use of other advanced weapons provided by the Iranians, these missiles pose a clear and present danger to civil aviation in the region.
We are also unveiling anti-tank guided missiles. On display in front of me are two of the three types of anti-tank guided missiles that Iran produces and transfers: the Toophan and the Tosan. One of the Toophan rockets that is newly added was seized in an arms cache aboard a dhow in the Arabian Sea. The other was found by Saudi Arabia during a raid in Yemen.
The Tosan rocket on display is also new, and is one of five that were seized in a stockpile by Saudi forces in Yemen. These missiles enhance the Houthis’ capabilities and further intensify the conflict in Yemen.
Fajr rockets have also been added to the display and are located next the anti-tank guided missiles. These weapons were recovered in Helmand, near Kandahar Air Field, by the Afghan National Army from the Taliban. Iran has been providing materiel support to the Taliban since at least 2007. These same rockets have been used by Hamas in the past.
To my left is a new unmanned aerial system: the Shahed 123. We have debris from a Shahed which was recovered by coalition forces in Afghanistan after it crashed, as well as Shahed components that were interdicted in Yemen in early 2018. This missile system is primarily designed to conduct covert reconnaissance and surveillance missions, potentially putting American and coalition forces at risk. There are several new small arms of Iranian origin included here, such as sniper rifles, RPGs, AK variants, and hand grenades. These have been provided to us by Bahrain. Iran gave these weapons to Shia militant groups to carry out attacks against the government. I would like to thank Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Hahmed Al Khalifa for his commitment to exposing the Iranian regime’s activities.
In 2016, senior Iran Revolutionary Guard commander Saeed Qassimi publicly called Bahrain an Iranian province and said Iran is a base, quote, “for the support of revolution in Bahrain.” In a microcosm, this is exactly how Iran destabilizes the Middle East. But the United States stands with Bahrain to protect its sovereignty, and we will continue to work together to identify and intercept arms shipments in the region. This ongoing collaboration with Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, is critical to the safety of the region.
I want to also highlight the recovered pieces of an Iranian Qiam missile fired by the Houthis into Saudi Arabia, which Ambassador Haley unveiled last December. The missile’s intended target was the civilian airport in Riyadh, a G20 airport through which tens of thousands of people travel each day. Imagine a missile of this size and power hitting a civilian aircraft or terminal one at the airport.
The new weapons we are disclosing today illustrate the scale of Iran’s destructive role across the region. The same kind of rockets here today could tomorrow land in a public market in Kabul or an international airport. As the Bahraini victims of attacks carried out with some of the weapons here could tell you, the Iranian regime uses arms to export revolution, prolong crises, and inflict death and suffering. The tools of Tehran’s foreign policy are here before you today. Tehran is intent on increasing the lethality and reach of these weapons to deepen its presence throughout the region.
This is why it is especially important that we get the de-escalation of conflicts in places like Yemen right. Secretaries Pompeo and Mattis have called for a ceasefire in Yemen, and the United States is committed to the efforts led by UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths. Iran has no legitimate interest in Yemen, other than to expand its sphere of influence and to create a Shia corridor of control. Although Iran’s role in Yemen has been underreported by the media, there is no question Iran has intensified the humanitarian catastrophe and prolonged the conflict. Iran has been funding, arming, and training the Houthis, which has allowed them to continue to fight well beyond what would have made any sense at all.
The United States and our coalition partners have provided billions in aid to the Yemenis, while Iran has provided nothing but weapons and fighters. Just today Houthi rebels fired missiles into Saudi Arabia. This strike is an example of the destabilizing agenda the Houthis are pursuing in partnership with Iran. They act in this way even as UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths is exerting maximum effort with our full support to bring the parties together for talks.
In the months ahead, we must be careful not to affirm Iran’s role as a legitimate political actor in Yemen. The clerics in Tehran will exploit any opening to gain a foothold in Yemen, a place where it has no business being in to begin with. Historically, there has not been a religious connection between Iran’s Twelver Shiites and Yemen’s Houthis, who are Fiver Shiites. In fact, Iran’s religious authorities have long been dismissive of the Fiver Shiites.
Just imagine what Yemen would look like in the future with an entrenched and enduring Iranian presence. We already know how this movie ends, and we cannot watch a new version of Lebanese Hizballah slowly emerge in the Arabian Peninsula. Since the end of 2006, Iran has supplied Hizballah with thousands of precision rockets, missiles, and small arms. It now has more than 100,000 rockets or missiles in its stockpile. If Iran were allowed to operate with similar freedom in Yemen, we can expect the Lebanization of Yemen. The Houthis have launched Iranian-origin missiles at Riyadh, with an estimated range of 560 miles. Iran has funded the Houthis with hundreds of millions of dollars since the conflict broke out. With Iran’s ongoing help, the Houthi threat will grow as their capabilities steadily expand.
Iran could use such newfound influence as a power broker and arms dealer to threaten our allies and partners in the region and unravel the stability that we have worked so hard to achieve in the Gulf. It could also create challenges in the Bab al-Mandab Strait in much the same way Tehran leverages its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz. An estimated 4.5 million barrels of oil per day transits through the Bab al-Mandab, while about 17 million barrels a day flow through the Strait of Hormuz. Iran has threatened repeatedly over many years to close the Strait of Hormuz. Give Iran a free hand in Yemen and it can threaten to close both straits and commit acts of maritime aggression with impunity. Just as we must constrain Iranian expansion in Syria, the Golan Heights, and in Iraq, we must also prevent Iran from entrenching itself in Yemen.
I want to now highlight the Iranian regime’s investment in missile testing and development. It is increasing. The regime’s pace of missile launches did not diminish after implementation of the Iran nuclear deal in January of 2016. Iran has conducted numerous ballistic missile launches and space launches since this time as it continues to prioritize missile development as a tool of revolution. We assess that in January of 2017, Iran launched a medium-range missile, believed to be the Khorramshahr. It can carry a payload of more than 500 kilograms and could be used to carry nuclear warheads. Its suspected range is over 1,200 miles, which is far enough to target some European capitals. Iran’s ongoing missile development puts Europe in its range.
Iran has the largest ballistic missile force in the region, with more than 10 ballistic missile systems either in its inventory or under development. Any environment where Iran is able to operate freely can become a forward-deployed missile base for such systems and for many other kinds of weapons that you see here today. This threatens Israel and other partners, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Just this month, rockets rained down on Israel from territory controlled by Iran’s Palestinian partner Hamas. In Lebanon, we have evidence that Iran is helping Hizballah build missile production facilities. In Iraq, credible reports indicate that Iran is transferring ballistic missiles to Shia militia groups. This comes as these militias carried out highly provocative attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Baghdad and Basra in September, which we know that Iran did nothing to stop.
Iran is also dumping cash and forces into conflict zones to support its proxies from the Levant to the Arabian Peninsula. It has extended $4.6 billion in lines of credit to the Assad regime, provided more than $100 million to Palestinian groups including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and manages as many as 10,000 Shia fighters in Syria, some of whom are children as young as 12 years old.
As the world strives toward peace and security in the Middle East, we are working to reverse advances made by Iran and its proxies over the last several years. In fact, we are using the full scope of our sanctions authorities to inflict real costs on Iran. In July of 2017, we sanctioned 18 key individuals and entities for supporting Iran’s ballistic missile program. In January, the U.S. designated four additional entities. In May, we designated five Iranians for providing missile expertise to the Houthis. These individuals were also responsible for transferring weapons to Yemen on behalf of the Qods Force.
While we are sanctioning Iran’s missile activity and weapons transfers, our economic pressure is much broader. Earlier this month, the United States reimposed the remaining sanctions that were lifted by the Iran deal. This is the largest ever single-day action targeting the Iranian regime. Our sanctions went back into place on more than 700 individuals, entities, vessels, and aircraft. This sanctions campaign puts us in a much stronger position to be confronting the same threats that I have described to you today. Our maximum pressure campaign will continue until Iran – the Iranian regime – decides to change its destructive policies. The regime can change its policies, or it can continue to watch its economy crumble.
For 39 years, the Iranian regime has shaped events in the region through illegal weapons transfers, proxies, and terror – a deadly trifecta. President Trump has made it clear that the United States will no longer tolerate the status quo. We seek a new and comprehensive deal with Iran that addresses the full range of Iran’s destructive activities in the region. As Secretary Pompeo said in his speech announcing our new strategy in May, Iran must stop testing and proliferating missiles, stop launching and developing nuclear-capable missiles, and stop supporting militias in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, and Yemen. Iran needs to start behaving like a normal country and surrender its title as the world’s number one sponsor of terrorism.
As the special representative for Iran, I have met with partners and allies across the globe to share the concerns that I have shared today and explain the purposes of our pressure campaign. Most of the countries I meet with share our assessment of the Iranian threat, and I invite any who remain on the fence to visit this weapons display to see the evidence for themselves. Delegations from nearly 70 countries have already visited here, and we welcome more.
Despite this clear evidence, not all countries are convinced of the need to take action. Too many remain on the sidelines, arguing that now is not the time to pressure the regime. But this approach has enabled – and will continue to enable – Tehran to expand its presence in the region and become a more destructive force in the Middle East, to say nothing of Europe. The current international environment has created unacceptably low expectations for the regime in Tehran. If, as some people argue, the demands of the United States for the Iranian regime seem too many, it is because Iran’s malign activities are too numerous. If our demands seem too unrealistic, it is because the world’s expectations are too low. We cannot simply admire the Iranian threat any longer.
The United States has a positive vision for the Middle East, where every state retains the right to defend itself. But no outlaw regime, like the one in Tehran, can freely undermine the sovereignty of other nations. This is not foreign policy; it is state-sponsored, revolutionary terrorism. The Middle East will be best served when an Iranian Government respects the rule of law, abides by fundamental standards and commitments, and rejects terrorism.
It is now up to the supreme leader to do something out of character and act in the interests of the Iranian people. Is it better to remain isolated from the world as an international pariah or to benefit and prosper from inclusion in the international community? It should not be a difficult choice. There is nothing noble about driving a great and proud nation into the ground.
The Iranian people have a rich legacy and a culture dating back to Cyrus the Great, and they deserve a government that represents their interests and not just the interests of their corrupt leaders. This room could just as easily been used to display the artifacts from Persian history or renowned contemporary artists from Iran, but instead we see only missiles, rockets, and small arms. The clerical regime in Iran has chosen this path, but the Iranian people are not destined to follow it. If Tehran changes its policies, a better future awaits the Iranian people.
History shows us clearly that America has no permanent enemies. Throughout our history, enemies torn apart by conflict often become the best allies united in peace, as Japan and others can attest. We hope for the same future with the Iranian people. The choice is now for their government to make. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We have time for a few questions. May I ask please that you wait for a microphone, that you state your name and outlet, and please – so that we can get as many questions as possible – limit to one question. And I’ll also say that if you have very technical questions about the equipment, we may take those for later. And we’ll start with Reuters please.
QUESTION: Idrees Ali from Reuters. One of the missiles that you mentioned here was launched five days after Ambassador Haley gave her presentation last year. What benefit do you think there is of showing these weapons publicly, and how do you respond to critics who say this is simply a political stunt and propaganda that actually increases tensions in the region?
MR HOOK: I haven’t heard anybody say this is a political stunt. This is simply putting out in broad daylight Iran’s missiles and small arms and rockets and UAVs and drones. That missile right there landed right next to Riyadh’s international airport, and it’s very important for nations to see with their own eyes that this is a grave and escalating threat. We are one missile attack away from a regional conflict. These missiles – we’ve been very lucky – for the most part have not hit their intended target. But luck is not a strategy, and the international community needs to do more to get after the proliferation of Iran’s missiles.
The Iran nuclear deal has created a climate where so long as Iran is in compliance with a nonproliferation deal of modest gains and temporary benefits, that so long as Iran is in compliance with this deal, somehow they’re in compliance with all sorts of international norms and standards.
The fact of the matter is, is that during the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, Iran has expanded its threats to peace and security in almost every category: terrorism, terror finance, cyber attacks, maritime aggression, human rights violations. And so we are now out of the deal and it gives us a great deal of freedom and leverage to address the entire range of Iran’s threats to peace and security.
And so our pressure campaign that the President and the Secretary have put in place really yield two very, very concrete benefits: One, it will starve the regime of the revenue it needs to destabilize the Middle East and terrorize other nations. We need to starve these militias of funding. The other thing it does is it creates pressure on the regime to come back to the negotiating table so that we can get a new and better deal that doesn’t just address the nuclear threat that Iran presents, but also addresses the entire range: the terrorism, the nuclear threat, the cyber aggression, maritime aggression, the entire range. And we are very confident that we have the right strategy with the right diplomacy in place.
MODERATOR: Nadia, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. Nadia Bilbassy with Al Arabiya. Now that you’re showing us an expanded evidence of Iran involvement, what mechanism do you have to stop these weapons from reaching proxies, in particular the Houthis in Yemen? And what leverage do you have on allied countries like Iraq, for example? You just said that there’s weapons that goes through to the Shiite militias in Iraq, and Iraq is a close ally of the United States.
MR HOOK: Right.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR HOOK: Now that our sanctions are back in place, the President and the Secretary of State will be resolutely focused on sanctions enforcement, and we are doing everything we can to deter and discover sanctions evasion. All of our diplomatic posts in the region, especially in the Middle East and in Europe, are putting in place strategies to detect and to prevent sanctions evasion, and that includes the missile proliferation, the missile shipments that you described.
It also is very much going after the money. Eighty percent of Iran’s revenue comes from oil exports. We have taken over a million barrels of oil off of Iran’s export list and many more barrels will be coming off very soon. And so we have – our maximum economic pressure campaign is focused on the economics. We also need to be restoring deterrents. This display today helps educate people on this clear and present threat that we face. And we urge all nations, especially the European Union, to move missile sanctions through the European Union so that we can start managing the risk of a regional conflict through missile proliferation.
MODERATOR: Let me take VOA, please.
QUESTION: Hi, I’m with the VOA, Farhad Pouladi, Persian Service. Two questions: First of all, are there more actions coming in the way towards the Iranian authorities to stop their malign activities? If you can go briefly over that, whether they are from Treasury or from the Pentagon. And what leverage do you have to convince others to join the campaign of maximum pressure against Iran? Thank you.
MR HOOK: Well, on the first question, we never give advance notice on our sanctions. That’s something which is held very closely until they’re announced. What I can say is that since we have reimposed our sanctions on November 5th, we have already done two rounds of designations targeting individuals and entities who are trying to evade sanctions, and that we worked very closely with Secretary Mnuchin at Treasury on these efforts. And so yes, there will be more sanctions. We have already done two rounds just since we’ve restored the sanctions lifted under the Iran nuclear deal.
In terms of leverage, I think we’ve been very successful so far with putting in place an economic pressure that is going to drive the Iranian economy into a place that’s going to really force the regime to decide: Is the cost-benefit of their revolutionary behavior in their favor? Our policy in the Middle East is to reverse the balance of power in favor of our friends and our partners. Iran has had a really good run over many years, partly enabled by the cover that the Iran nuclear deal provided.
And so I think now we are in a much better position with our regional partners, with the United States. We have had enormous cooperation from European companies. Over 100 major firms have announced that they are ending business in Iran and, if given the choice between doing business in the United States and doing business in Iran, it’s the fastest decision you’ll ever make as an executive. And so we have been very pleased with the progress we’ve made so far on our sanctions.
MODERATOR: Let me take AFP, and then I will take one last over here.
QUESTION: Thank you. Tom Watkins, AFP. Can you explain a little bit about the timing of today’s presentation? Why now, why today? As you know, there’s obviously been a tremendous amount of criticism in the media recently about Saudi Arabia. Is this to try and sort of shift the narrative a bit, or can you just talk about why you’re doing this again? Thank you.
MR HOOK: Well, we’re doing it again because our inventory has expanded. That’s just the nature of this regime. As this regime continues its aggressive and revolutionary foreign policy, we interdict more and more equipment. And so at some point, we hope to have this room no longer build its inventory. We need to reduce the inventory here. And so it’s just a function of Iran’s campaign to export arms in violation of UN embargoes across the Middle East.
In terms of the timing, it’s – there isn’t anything tied to what’s happening in Saudi Arabia. The Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense testified yesterday before Congress, had a very fulsome discussion about Saudi Arabia. Secretary Pompeo published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal yesterday explaining our policy. And so today, of course it’s related. Many of the missiles here were interdicted by Saudi Arabia, which illustrates just how much of a threat it’s under and how much of a threat UAE and Bahrain and Israel are under because of these kinds of weapons, whether it’s in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, or Yemen. And we need to get serious about going after this stuff.
MODERATOR: So our last question is Al Hurra.
QUESTION: Hisham Bourar, Al Hurra TV. First I have a question, but I want to follow up on the AFP question first. To what extent the vote yesterday in the Senate to sort of stop the support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen hurt your efforts to curb these Iranian activities?
And my question is: You spoke about the risk accumulating if you fail to act. What would that look like? Would it look like a military strike at some point? And given that you have tried the sanctions and the maximum pressure, could anything short of a military strike against Iran stop Iran from continuing its proliferation?
MR HOOK: On the first question about Yemen, abandoning Yemen right now would do immense damage to U.S. national security interests and to those of our partners in the Middle East. Right now in Yemen we are carrying out three vital missions. We are trying to assist the coalition in fighting Iranian-backed Houthi fighters, we are decapitating al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, and we are promoting Americans – we are protecting Americans who are working in Saudi Arabia or transiting the strategic waterways around Yemen.
We definitely want to bolster the conditions for peace in Yemen. We have a number of goals which I would describe as working in parallel tracks. Secretary Mattis has talked about the need to build capacity of legitimate Yemeni security forces. We need to strengthen the defensive capabilities of our regional partners. We need to support our partners’ right to defend themselves against Houthi attacks supported by the Iranian regime. And at the same time, we are calling for an urgent end to the fighting, and we hope that all parties will attend the consultations next month in Sweden under the good offices of UN Special Representative Martin Griffiths.
What was the second part of your question?
QUESTION: The other question, you spoke about, if the risk is actually accumulating if you fail to act…
MODERATOR: Please wait for the mic, sir.
QUESTION: …would that take the form of a military strike? Is it – is the – going to war with Iran an option given that the sanctions and the maximum pressure policies have failed so far to curb Iran and to stop it from smuggling weapons to these militias?
MR HOOK: After the Shia militia attacks on our diplomatic facilities in Basra and Baghdad, the President put out a statement that promised swift and decisive action if any of our diplomatic facilities or diplomats are attacked or injured. And so we have been very clear with the Iranian regime that we will not hesitate to use military force when our interests are threatened. I think they understand that. I think they understand that very clearly. I think right now, while we have the military option on the table, our preference is to use all of the tools at our disposal diplomatically. And as I said earlier, being out of the Iran deal has given us a great deal of diplomatic freedom to address the full range of Iran’s threats.
And so we are working very closely with partners around the world. We have had road show teams from State and Treasury that have visited I think almost 40 countries now, and that’s helping to explain our sanctions regime and its purposes. And we’ve been very pleased with the progress that we’ve made so far. There’s a lot of work that remains to be done, and one of the messages that we’ve been consistently delivering is that preserving the Iran nuclear deal cannot come at the expense of regional stability, and just because Iran is in compliance with the deal does not mean that everything else is fine. And as we see here today and the missile here behind me, this is a grave and escalating threat that we must do more to address.
Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Thank you. That is the conclusion of our press conference. I want to thank Special Representative Hook and also want to thank the Department of Defense and our hosts here at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling. If I could ask the media please to hold your seats for a moment, we’re going to have some instructions for you, and then we can allow the dip corps to depart. Thank you.