An official website of the United States government

This Week in Iran Policy (May 15)
May 15, 2020

“The Iranian people too know that the resources, the money being squandered, the loss of life that’s taking place – Iranian life – that’s taking place inside of Syria is not a good use of funds, especially at a time when Iran’s economy is suffering from low oil prices and the coronavirus.”

-Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, interview with Gili Cohen, May 13


  • The U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), and the U.S. Coast Guard issued a global advisory to alert the maritime industry, and those active in the energy and metals sectors, to deceptive shipping practices used to evade sanctions, with a focus on Iran, North Korea, and Syria. The advisory includes a detailed set of best practices for private industry to consider adopting to mitigate exposure to sanctions risk. The deceptive shipping practices discussed in this report may create significant sanctions risk for individuals and entities involved in these industries.
  • The advisory updates and expands upon previous advisories issued by the U.S. government. It is intended to provide actors that utilize the maritime industry for trade with information on and tools to counter current and emerging trends in sanctions evasion related to shipping and associated services. The advisory highlights common deceptive shipping practices used with respect to countries like Iran, North Korea, and Syria.
  • The advisory also includes best practices for different sectors of the maritime and energy industries, including global commodity traders, maritime insurers, financial institutions, ship owners and flag registries, and others, to assist in their due diligence and mitigation of sanctions risk. Additionally, the advisory provides information about U.S. and United Nations sanctions relevant to the maritime industry, including a non-exhaustive list of activities for which persons could be sanctioned by the U.S. government. The United States remains committed to disrupting shipping activities by malign actors worldwide—including sanctions evasion and smuggling—which may facilitate criminal activity and threatens international peace and security.



  • QUESTION: “You are visiting Israel in unusual circumstances, in a time of global crisis. May I ask you directly, sir: What was so urgent that led you to a face-to-face meeting today with Prime Minister Netanyahu?
  • SECRETARY POMPEO: “Yeah, these are difficult times all across the globe. But this is an incredibly important relationship at an incredibly important time. There’s a new government scheduled to be formed, and I wanted to get out here and meet with not only Prime Minister Netanyahu, but with Speaker Gantz, and talk to them about a range of important issues, not only issues that relate to the U.S.-Israel relationship, but issues that we work on together: countering the Islamic Republic of Iran, including our work to extend the arms embargo. So we had a handful of very important issues that we’re in important timing to discuss, and I wanted to be here, too, at the front end of the new government’s formation to express the importance that the United States places on our continued relationship with Israel.”
  • QUESTION: “Another main issue on the agenda of your visit is Iran. Top Israeli security officials believe that Iran is being pushed out of Syria thanks to Israeli efforts. Does the U.S. share the same view as well?”
  • SECRETARY POMPEO: “Both Israel and the United States have made clear to the Iranian regime that they need to get out of Syria. We’ve made that clear to the Assad regime as well. The Iranian people too know that the resources, the money being squandered, the loss of life that’s taking place – Iranian life – that’s taking place inside of Syria is not a good use of funds, especially at a time when Iran’s economy is suffering from low oil prices and the coronavirus. And so the work that the Americans have done, the work that we’ve done with our program, our maximum pressure campaign, we think has been effective at denying the Iranian regime the resources to inflict terror across the world. And we hope – we hope the Iranian regime will make the wise decision to move out of Syria, to cease their terror campaign there that’s caused six million people to leave, tens of thousands of lives lost. We hope the Iranian regime will make a different choice and that they’ll depart Syria, and the sooner, the better.”
  • QUESTION: “You’ve mentioned now COVID-19, that has hit hard Iran. Is this an opportunity for regime change there?”
  • SECRETARY POMPEO: “The United States policy is aimed at getting good outcomes for the Iranian people. They’ll choose their leaders; they have chosen their leaders. We hope now that they’ll make a choice of leadership that changes the fundamental behavior of the Iranian regime. Look, this is a nation that is the most anti-Semitic nation in the world. They have threatened to take Israel off the map. They also are the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. We are confident that that is not what the Iranian people want. We hope that regime will change its behavior in a way that’s consistent with what the demands of the Iranian people have consistently been.”



  • Department of State notified Congress that Iran, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Cuba were certified under Section 40A(a) of the Arms Export Control Act as “not cooperating fully” with U.S. counterterrorism efforts in 2019. This is the first year that Cuba has been certified as not fully cooperating since 2015. This certification prohibits the sale or license for export of defense articles and services and notifies the U.S. public and international community that these countries are not fully cooperating with U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
  • Iran: In 2019, Iran continued to be the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, supporting Hizballah, Palestinian terrorist groups, and other terrorist groups operating throughout the Middle East. In 2019, Iran maintained its support for various Iraqi Shia terrorist groups, including Kata’ib Hizballah (KH), Harakat al-Nujaba (HAN), and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH). Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, has been directly involved in terrorist plotting and has killed U.S. citizens. The IRGC – most prominently through its Qods Force – has the greatest role among Iranian regime actors in directing and carrying out a global terrorist campaign.



HADLEY: Brian Hook, thank you so much for joining CNBC, it’s great to have you on. I want to kick off by asking you to walk us through how you see Iran’s capability today, because critics of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, back at the beginning of the year said that that would further destabilize the region. But whether it’s due to COVID, or, frankly, what’s been happening with regards to U.S. sanctions, that hasn’t happened. Where are we today?

BRIAN HOOK: Well, today, I think the Iranian regime, by every metric is weaker. They’re facing their worst financial crisis in their 41 year history. They’ve faced their deadliest political unrest also in that same timeframe and Qasem Soleimani was the conductor. He was the master of the network of sectarian proxies who have done so much to destabilize the Middle East over the last many decades. And so we have done everything we can to restore deterrence. There’s no question that we have lost deterrence, under the Iran nuclear deal, getting out of it enabled us to put in place great pressure. And then I think decisions by the president to take cost Qasem Soleimani off the battlefield have improved regional stability.

HADLEY: When you think about what’s happening in the region today, obviously all of this happening against the backdrop of COVID-19. We’ve seen that hitting the Iranian regime pretty hard. That’s, of course, had an impact on Gulf Arab countries as well, Saudi Arabia, the UAE specifically. But now we’re hearing that the US military has decided to pull out personnel as well as Patriot missile systems from Saudi Arabia. Does this reflect a position from the administration that you believe Iran has been defeated in terms of their malign activities out here?

BRIAN HOOK: Iran certainly is an expansionist and revolutionary regime. They have never been at peace with their neighbors during the last 41 years. Our policy has really helped to restore, I think, the trust deficit that we inherited from the prior administration, which had really alienated so many of our Arab Gulf partners and the Israelis. And so we have increased the number of troops in the region. And in fact, I think since May, we have increased them by 14,000. And so I think the region understands that we are very committed to promoting peace and stability there. You mentioned COVID, Hadley. I think most of the countries in the Middle East that are facing COVID problems can thank the Iranian regime, because this is a regime that continued flights all over the Middle East while they were continuing flights to China. And as a consequence, you can see you can trace the spread of Corona in countries like Lebanon and Iraq and elsewhere directly to Iran, which exported patient zero in many cases.

HADLEY: But in terms of bringing out U.S. military personnel as well as those Patriot missiles, does that mean that Iran’s no longer a threat?

BRIAN HOOK: No, it doesn’t mean that Iran is no longer a threat. Our troop levels go up and down depending on the circumstances, but the mission set is the same. Our mission is not at all changed. We’re standing with our partners and our allies in the region. We’re doing everything we can to protect American interests. President Trump has restored a credible military deterrent to act in self-defense, which is something that had been lost. And so deterrence is something which is easy to lose. But maintaining it is the work of pretty much, it’s a policy you’d have to implement every day, and we’re gonna continue working with the Saudis, the Emiratis, all of our partners in the region.


Notable Tweets:

@statedeptspox May 14
The @StateDept@USTreasury and @USCG issued a global maritime advisory, which includes best practices for private industry, and flags deceptive shipping practices malign actors are using to evade sanctions related to Iran, North Korea, and Syria.

@statedeptspox May 14
The advisory will help the maritime community detect and avoid illusive methods by proliferators like the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines. The IRISL’s designation under our Weapons of Mass Destruction and Missile Proliferation Executive Order goes into effect on June 8th.

@statedeptspox May 14
Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook: The Security Council must pass a resolution to extend the arms embargo. If this effort is defeated by a veto, the Trump administration is prepared to exercise all legally available options to extend the embargo.

@SecPompeo May 11
Terrific call with Swiss Foreign Minister @ignaziocassis. Thankful for Switzerland’s help in repatriating U.S. citizens from Iran and Myanmar during #COVID19 and for its continued and constructive role as our protecting power in #Iran#USwissPartnership is stronger than ever.

@statedeptspox May 10
Normal foundations focus on humanitarian causes. What do terrorist foundations target?

The daughter of Iran’s Qassem #Soleimani says the likes of Hamas’ Ismail Haniyah, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and militia leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi were all capable of avenging the death of her father, according to a recent speech she gave.

@SecPompeo May 9
Two years ago, @realDonaldTrump announced the bold decision to protect the world from #Iran’s violence and nuclear threats by withdrawing from the Iran Deal. Today, Americans are safer and the Middle East is more peaceful than if we had remained in the #JCPOA.

@statedeptspox May 8
It’s been two years since the U.S. exited JCPOA – we will exercise all diplomatic options to ensure the @UN arms embargo is extended. We will not accept #Iran’s status quo level of violence and terror. And we will never allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.