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This Week in Iran Policy (April 24)
April 24, 2020

“If Iran needed aid on this, I would be willing to do something…they were hit very hard.  Obviously, those numbers weren’t correct numbers that they reported.  But if they needed help, if they needed aid, if they needed ventilators — we have thousands of ventilators currently on hand, and ventilators under construction– yeah, we would certainly be willing to help.  What they should do is be smart and make a deal.”

 -President Trump remarks at White House Briefing, April 19, 2020


Iran has long used its naval forces to terrorize the international maritime community – this is not a new phenomenon. In 2015, during negotiations of the Iran Deal and after its adoption, the U.S. Navy recorded 22 incidents of unsafe and unprofessional conduct by the IRGC Navy (IRGCN), many that risked collision. An additional 36 incidents of unsafe and unprofessional conduct were recorded in 2016.

This includes the January 2016 incident where IRGC naval forces seized two U.S. Navy riverine boats and detained ten U.S. sailors for a period of 15 hours, parading them in front of their propaganda cameras.

When President Trump took office, he initiated a comprehensive review of the United States’ Iran policy in light of the Iran Deal’s failure to address the regime’s growing threats to international peace and security. During this review period, Iran continued its dangerous naval activity.

  • In March 2017, the USNS Invincible was forced to change course to avoid collision with multiple approaching IRGCN fast-attack small crafts.
  • In July 2017, an IRGCN vessel came within 150 yards of the USS Thunderbolt in the Persian Gulf, forcing it to fire warning shots.
  • In August 2017, an unarmed Iranian drone flew close to the USS Nimitz as fighter jets landed at night, threatening the safety of the American pilots and crew.

In October 2017, President Trump announced a new Iran policy that made clear the United States would not tolerate the status quo from Iran, nor appease their provocations. Following the President’s announcement, incidents of IRGC naval harassment sharply declined and remained depressed even after the United States left the JCPOA.

In May 2019, Iran began a panicked campaign of provocative actions to extort the world into granting it sanctions relief.

  • On May 12, 2019, IRGC naval personnel placed and detonated limpet mines on two Saudi, one UAE, and one Norwegian-registered ships while they were harbored in UAE territorial waters near Fujairah Port.
  • On June 13, 2019, IRGC naval personnel placed and detonated limpet mines on one Japanese ship and one Norwegian owned ship while they transited the Gulf of Oman. The U.S. later released a video showing IRGC naval personnel removing one of their limpet mines off the side of the Japanese tanker.
  • On June 19, 2019, IRGC personnel deployed a surface-to-air missile to shoot down a U.S. unmanned aircraft lawfully operating near the Strait of Hormuz. IRGC Commander Hossein Salami announced that Iran had shot down the drone, claiming that it was operating over Iran’s territorial waters.
  • On July 19, 2019, the IRGC Navy seized the British-flagged, Swedish-owned Stena Impero tanker while it was transiting the Strait of Hormuz. On the same day, the IRGC also temporarily detained the Liberian-flagged Mesdar tanker. The Stena Impero and her crew were detained in Iran for more than two months as negotiating leverage.

At the same time the Iranian regime is seeking sanctions relief, it focuses its resources and efforts to harass the international maritime community.

  • On April 14, 2020, the IRGC Navy forcibly boarded and detained the Hong Kong-flagged SC Taipei oil tanker outside of Iran’s territorial sea, and sailed the tanker into towards an IRGC naval base in Iran.
  • On April 15, 2020, eleven IRGC Navy small boats disrupted five U.S. naval vessels conducting a routine exercise by repeatedly engaging in high speed, harassing approaches. The Iranian vessels repeatedly crossed the bows and sterns of the U.S. ships coming as close as to within 10 yards of a US Coast Guard Cutter.

In response to the elevated risk posed to commercial vessels transiting the Strait of Hormuz, the United States spearheaded the creation of the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC), a coalition of eight European, Middle Eastern, and Asian nations committed to ensuring freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce through the strait. Since the IMSC was stood up in August 2019, Iranian mine attacks have ceased.

President Trump will not tolerate or appease Iran’s foreign policy of violence and intimidation. Iran must act like every other normal nation, not a nation that sponsors piracy and terror.


  • QUESTION: “Thank you, Morgan. Thanks, Mr. Secretary, for doing this. Let me try Iran and China, if you don’t mind. The IRGC today said that it launched a military satellite into orbit for the first time. Could that technology be used for ICBMs? And we’ve seen from Iran expanded nuclear capacity, Iraqi militia rocket attacks, harassing of a Navy ship in recent days. After the Soleimani strike, there was talk of reestablishing deterrence. Do you fear the deterrence has slipped?And on China, there are millions of PPE items stuck in China despite the fact they’ve been bought by U.S. companies. Do you believe the PPE is stuck because of red tape, China trying to make sure the quality is high, or because China is actually hoarding them and keeping them from the U.S.? Thanks.” SECRETARY POMPEO: “As for your second question, I’ll leave to the Vice President’s task force to talk about those goods and their transit. The good news is we have seen China provide those resources. Sometimes they’re from U.S. companies that are there in China, but we’ve had success. The Vice President and his team have talked about the air bridge that has delivered products to the American people from China, and we appreciate that. We are counting on China to continue to live up to its contractual obligations and international obligations to provide that assistance to us and to sell us those goods – often these are commercial transactions – in a way consistent with all of the international trade rules.

    As for Iran, you noted the launch last night. The Iranians have consistently said that these missile programs were disconnected from their military, that these were purely commercial enterprises. I think today’s launch proves what we’ve been saying all along here in the United States: The IRGC, a designated terrorist organization, launched a missile today. And I’ll leave to the Department of Defense to talk about the details about that. But when you talk about the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, I think every nation has an obligation to go to the United Nations and evaluate whether this missile launch was consistent with that Security Council resolution. I don’t think it remotely is, and I need – I think Iran needs to be held accountable for what they’ve done. They’ve now had a military organization that the United States has designated terrorists attempt to launch a satellite.

    You talked about the naval ships. You saw the President’s statement this morning. The President’s been very clear to the Department of Defense and frankly to the State Department team too to do everything we need to do to make sure that we protect and defend our officers, our military officers, our diplomats around the world, to continue to ensure that they are secure and safe. What he said this morning and what I know he’s told all of us in leadership inside the government is take whatever action is necessary to make sure that you can defend and keep our people safe. I’m confident that the Department of Defense will do that in response to what the President said this morning as well.

    And then finally, you talked more broadly about deterrence. Two thoughts. First: The Iranian regime has gone around the world spreading disinformation in response to this virus. One of the things they’ve said is that, boy, we need resources in order to take care of the virus at home. And all the while they are launching satellites, driving ships around the Arabian Gulf, coming and harassing U.S. naval vessels. They continue to underwrite Shia militias, they’re working to support Hizballah. Yesterday my Iranian counterpart – or the day before – was in Syria talking to the butcher in Damascus.

    I hope that the Iranian regime will respond to the Iranian people’s demands to prioritize resources, resources that the Iranian regime clearly has, to the health and security and safety of the Iranian people, rather than continuing their global terror campaign. You can see they’re still hard at it. You can see they still have resources. You should note, we, the – at the very first news that the COVID virus had hit Iran, offered humanitarian assistance to the people of Iran. That offer was rejected. That offer still stands. We’ve assisted other countries in delivering humanitarian assistance to the Iranian people. I only wish that the Iranian regime cared about its people as much as the rest of the world has demonstrated that it does.”


  • QUESTION: “Fair enough.  On Iran, I know it’s something you’ve worked on for a very long time as a congressman, of course the Secretary of State, CIA, all of that.  Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, obviously been designated a terrorist group by the United States.  Now we know they launched this military satellite into orbit.  You said that Iran needs to be held accountable for what they’ve done.  How exactly might that happen going forward, Mr. Secretary?” 
  • SECRETARY POMPEO: “Boy, it was really jarring yesterday to see that the Iranians had lied once again.  They told the world that they didn’t have a military program that was involved in missiles and satellites, and yesterday the IRGC, the cutting edge of the Iranian military, announced that they had launched a satellite into low Earth orbit.  What we intend to do is to gather the nations across the world.  The French put out a statement today.  They, too, know how dangerous and destabilizing what Iran did.  I’m confident that there will now be more countries that understand what President Trump has understood since he first came into office, that the Iran deal was a crazy, bad deal, that we all need to move away from it, that the world needs to disassociate itself from Iran, and that the community of nations needs to come together and convince the Iranian regime to cease their activity, which has led to them being the world’s largest state sponsor of terror for so many years.”


  • QUESTION: “Well, I have to ask you in closing, Mr. Secretary, about a tweet from President Trump earlier today.  He said, “I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”  Now, this came after Iran had successfully put into orbit what is called its first – I guess its first satellite, military satellite, hours before this tweet.  So where do things stand at this hour?  Is – that’s a pretty serious threat coming from the United States, and what’s next?” 
  • SECRETARY POMPEO: “It is pretty serious.  It’s a coincidence you asked that question, right, about talking about John Kerry.   You’ll recall when, under the Obama administration with Secretary Kerry, they took 10 of our Navy sailors, and John Kerry apologized to get them back.  This is a very different approach from our President.  He takes seriously the obligation to protect our forces wherever they may be, in this case, on Naval ships in the Arabian Gulf.  We’re going to do everything we can to make sure we defend our folks and continue to deter the Islamic Republic of Iran.Laura, last thing to say, they launched this military satellite today.  They had promised that their entire satellite program, their entire missile program, was civilian, and the person who oversaw this launch was General Hajizadeh.  This is the same fellow whose forces shot down an aircraft, killing 176 innocent civilians, just a few weeks ago.”

 Notable Tweets:

@SecPompeo April 24

The #IRGC, a U.S. designated terror organization, attempted to launch a satellite. As President @realDonaldTrump has said, we will take all necessary measures to protect our people.

@statedeptspox April 24

While Iranians suffer from the #COVID19 outbreak, the regime spends their time harassing U.S. ships and launching missiles in defiance of UN security resolutions. Why not spend that time and effort helping their own people who are suffering?

@realDonaldTrump April 22

I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.

@statedeptspox April 20

The Iranian regime’s only contributions to #Syria have been violence and instability. If the regime were truly concerned about the health and safety of the Syrian people, it would withdraw IRGC, Hizballah, and other Iranian-backed terrorist forces under its command from Syria.

@statedeptspox April 20

Since 2012, the Iranian regime has provided more than $10 billion of the Iranian people’s money to Assad. Wonder how much plundered cash the regime’s chief apologist is delivering to Damascus today?