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This Week in Iran Policy (May 8)
May 8, 2020

“They’re telling the world that they’re broke and they need relief from American sanctions, they need humanitarian assistance.  But we’ve offered humanitarian assistance, and the ayatollah and the kleptocrats, the theocrats that lead the Iranian regime today are still out spending money on things that don’t benefit the Iranian people, things like the military missile launch in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, and they’re continuing to fund Lebanese Hizballah and the Iraqi Shia, all the things that take money out of the mouths of the people inside of Iran.  So no one should be fooled about this regime.  If they truly cared about their people, they’d behave in a way that is fundamentally different.  It’s what we’ve been trying to get them to do for our three years in office, and I’m convinced we’re on the right path to deny them their resources – the regime the resources to threaten America.  That’s been President Trump’s goal, to deny them a nuclear weapon.  We’re determined to do that.”

-Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, interview with Fox and Friends, April 29


  • SECRETARY POMPEO: Last week, the United States sanctioned an individual and his company who were doing business with the IRG Qods Force for years, generating revenue and resources for their terror campaign. Anyone conducting business with Iranian entities should exercise extreme caution to ensure that they are not working with the IRGC.
  • And I’d like to take this moment to commend our German friends for banning Hizballah and taking strong action against suspected Hizballah supporters. I hope that all other EU member states will follow.
  • Our gratitude also goes out to Switzerland, the United States protecting power in Iran for now four decades, for its efforts to extend Michael White’s medical furlough seeking – and seeking humanitarian furloughs for Siamak Namazi and Morad Tahbaz and bringing home all U.S. citizens wrongfully detained. We welcome their assistance and we appreciate all that they’ve done.
  • We are not the only nation whose citizens are subject to the Iranian regime’s brutality. I was appalled to see reports last week of Iranian guards on the border of Afghanistan’s Herat province abused, tortured, drowned Afghan migrants who dared to cross the border simply in search of food and work.  We encourage the Afghan authorities to undertake a full investigation and to seek to hold those perpetrators accountable.
  • QUESTION: “… Israeli defense officials said that Iranian forces are pulling out of Syria and closing military bases there. Can you confirm these reports?”
  • SECRETARY POMPEO: “…We have been very clear to the Assad regime all along, and to the Russians in Syria: The Iranians need to leave.  They need to leave not only the southwest corner that has a direct and real impact on Israel and risks to the Golan, but more broadly throughout the country.  The very terror regime that we talk about in the Islamic Republic of Iran has got a campaign that supports what Assad has done that has brutalized and destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands, caused six or seven million people to have to flee Syria.  The Iranian regime is responsible for that in the same way that the Syrian regime is.  We hope that they’ll rethink that and get back to doing what Iran needs to do, which is to take care of its own people in this very difficult time inside the Islamic Republic of Iran.  We think those resources could be much better used to support the Iranian people.”


  • QUESTION: “We’re speaking with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Mr. Secretary, you and Senator Elizabeth Warren – former presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren – you had a bit of an exchange on Twitter. You told her that she “should review the law again – our rights under UN Security Council Resolution 2231 are separate from [the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] the JCPOA. But I’ll put you down for Chinese arms sales to Iran on October 18th. Which weapons is it okay with you if they send? A couple of divisions of VT-4 tanks good?”  Secretary, just tell me this: What is this dispute about and what are you saying and what is Elizabeth Warren’s position?”
  • SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, President Trump came in knowing that the Iran nuclear deal was a disaster and got out of it in May of 2018. One of the reasons it was such a wreck was that most of the major provisions weren’t permanent. They began to expire. The first of such provisions expires in October of this year, just – Buck, just a handful of months away. Excuse me. So we’re going to use every tool we have in our diplomatic kit bag to ensure that come October of this year the Chinese can’t sell tanks, the Russians can’t sell armaments. All conventional arms sales that this provision prohibits today will expire and they’ll be – the world’s largest state sponsor of terror in Iran will be able to purchase those weapon systems. And so we had a little bit of fun, but when Senator Warren said goodness gracious, you can’t use the JCPOA – we’re not doing that. The United States has an unambiguous right at the UN Security Council to keep these restrictions in place, and President Trump has made clear we’re going to make sure Iran never gets a nuclear weapon and we’re going to deny them access to weapon systems to the maximum extent feasible.”


  • QUESTION: Secretary, I want to shift gears a moment to Iran. You’ve been having to fight against the UN trying to lift a ban on Iran’s purchase of advanced military technology. Is this even really a question, whether we should let the folks in Tehran buy advanced military technology?
  • SECRETARY POMPEO: I hope not. Unfortunately, the previous administration, Secretary Kerry and President Obama, thought that October of 2021 was a – excuse me, of 2020, this year, a few months from now, was a perfectly good date on which the Iranian Government should be able to purchase conventional weapons systems from around the world. That was the date that was contained in the JCPOA.The good news is the UN Security Council resolution gives us the ability to make sure that that doesn’t happen, and we are working with our Chinese, our Russian, our British, our French, our partners on the Security Council to make sure – and even more broadly throughout the UN to make sure that they’re all on board in preventing this from happening coming October 18th of this year.
  • QUESTION: Secretary, I know as America’s top diplomat, you have to be diplomatic about this, but what in the world was the Obama administration thinking saying we’re going to take a state, a country, Iran, that was labeled by the United States as the top state sponsor of terrorism on the globe, and say it’s okay to let them start buying advanced bombs and bullets down – just a few years down the road? You have any insight to that?
  • SECRETARY POMPEO: No explanation that is remotely reasonable there. They – I think anyone who was staring at this, it’s just a matter of course to permit this to happen just a handful of years after the deal was signed. We’ve talked about this. The President talked about it as far back as his campaign about this crazy Iran nuclear deal, and one of the core failures of it was the fact that these provisions that prevented Iran from getting weapons that could do so much more destruction began to expire very quickly. And here we are, as soon as 2020, the first significant provision expiring, and we’ve got Iran failing to comply with their nuclear elements – their nuclear commitments under the JCPOA that we chose to withdraw from. This is a bad place that the world finds itself in, and your listeners should know President Trump and our team is going to make sure that when we come to October of this year, we’re going to have played every card in our kit to make sure that they can’t purchase tanks and armored vehicles from Russia or from China.”


  • MR HOOK: October 18th is when the arms embargo on the Iranian regime expires, so we are now within six months. It’s important to understand the history of this ban. So Iran has been under various embargoes since March of 2007, and that’s when – at that time I was on the UN Security Council and I was one of the negotiators of Resolution 1747, and that includes a ban on Iranian export of arms and material. And then in 2010, we’ve got UN Security Council Resolution 1929, which put restrictions on Iranian imports of restricted weapons in addition to their export.
  • These restrictions were – this is – I’m talking about the restrictions on the import and export of weapons – were unanimously passed by the UN Security Council. That includes China and Russia. And the reason is because Iran for decades has not been at peace with its neighbors and has not been a good neighbor and has also conducted terrorist campaigns across five continents. Unfortunately, the UN Security Council resolution that had – that prohibited the import and export of weapons was lifted. It was replaced by 2231.
  • And the mistake there was in year five of the joint – of the – under 2231, the ban – the arms embargo sunsets after five years. So we’re now getting very close to that point. And I think as we survey the last five years, I would be delighted to hear someone make the case as a policy matter why the Iranian regime should be free to import and export conventional weapons. I think Iran’s behavior over the last five-plus years proves why these restrictions are so important.
  • And going back to 2011, Iran was caught exporting explosives, AK-47s, machine guns, mortars, and rockets to Syria. And then in 2013 they were caught moving to Yemen anti-aircraft missiles, surface-to-air missiles, RPGs, and other explosives. Those were interdicted off the coast of Yemen. In 2014, 400,000 rounds of ammo and other rockets and mortars were seized in the Red Sea. In 2016 – this is off the Gulf of Oman – 1,500 Kalashnikov rifles and 200 RPGs, and then there were also 2,000 guns and other weapons found off the coast of Oman.
  • Since that period in 2018, 2019, and ’20, you have had hundreds and hundreds more weapons have been interdicted, and these are Iranian shipments of weapons to intensify and prolong sectarian conflicts in the Middle East. I’ve certainly seen the physical evidence on my travels, and so have the UN inspectors, and we’ve made a number of these public. I’ve spoken at the Defense Department at the base where they have a lot of Iran’s conventional weapons.
  • They have also provided to the Houthis advanced, state-of-the-art ballistic missiles which terrorize Saudi Arabia and UAE, and they’ve got anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, naval mines, and explosive boats.
  • So we can’t let the arms embargo expire. It was a mistake to ever put this in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. And we have drafted a resolution. It’s quite easy to renew the arms embargo, and since the arms embargo has been voted on unanimously in the past, there’s a lot of policy precedent to support renewing the arms embargo.
  • We have started our diplomacy on this. We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to do this in a very clean way through the UN Security Council, but we’re also prepared to use every diplomatic option available to us if those efforts are frustrated.
  • For more information, please see the full briefing.


  • QUESTION: I want to ask you about another hotspot out there on the foreign policy front, because you raised the red flag today about the fact that absent some kind of intervention or action, come October 23rd, Iran will again be able to buy weapons systems from places like China, from Russia, from other places.  There are those who say listen, this administration walked away from the nuclear deal with Iran, and so you have no way to enforce obligations on them with regard to arms.  You have said you would go to the UN under a current existing resolution.  Are you able to get an enforcement against those arms sales under that resolution?  Is it tied to the nuclear deal?  Are they severable?  What’s the plan?
  • SECRETARY POMPEO: So, Shannon, the place to start with this is the fact that the Iran nuclear deal set October of this year, October of 2020, as a date that any country can sell conventional arms to the Islamic Republic of Iran.  We’ve seen their bad behavior.  That was nuts.  It’s why we got out of the deal.  It’s why we left it.  And now our task is to do our best to make sure those arms can’t be sold.  We’re working with our British, our French partners, our friends, saying you all know this doesn’t make sense either.  I think they agree with us on that.  We hope the Russians and the Chinese will see it that way, too.  But make no mistake about it; we’re going to use every tool we can in our diplomatic capability to ensure that that prohibition on arms sales to Iran doesn’t expire in just a handful of months.  One option is to go to the UN.  UN Security Council Resolution 2231 is pretty clear, and it’s pretty clear about what a participant is.  This is separate from the JCPOA.  We are one of the participants, and the participants have the right to invoke snapback in a way that will prevent this expiration of the arms sales.  It would be a good thing.  The whole world would benefit if we do that.  It will keep arms out of the hands of the ayatollah.  I don’t think anyone can dispute that that’s a good thing.
  • QUESTION: Well, Javad Zarif, the Iran foreign minister, tweets this:  “2 years ago, Secretary Pompeo and his boss declared ‘CEASING US participation’ in the JCPOA,” – or the Iran nuclear deal – “dreaming that their ‘max pressure’ would bring Iran to its knees.  Given that policy’s abject failure, he now wants to be JCPOA participant.  Stop dreaming: Iranian nation always decides its destiny.”  So you’re saying the path you may follow to stop these arms is separate and apart from the nuclear deal?  How do you respond to their assessment that you have no power to do that?
  • SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I don’t pay much attention to the words of Foreign Minister Zarif.  He is a professional disinformation campaigner.  What the American people should know is President Trump is committed to using every tool we have to prevent the Iranians from getting more conventional arms.  I am convinced that we have the capacity to do that.  It’s not about getting back into the JCPOA.  We have no intention of doing that.  That thing was a disaster.  It’s not our goal; it’s not what we’re going to do.  We’re going to use the United Nations tools that we– have been made available to us and UN resolutions that passed the UN Security Council to ensure that those arms sales don’t take place.


  • For years, Iran has claimed its space program is purely peaceful and civilian. The Trump Administration has never believed this fiction. This week’s launch of a military satellite by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, makes clear what we have said all along: Iran’s space program is neither peaceful nor entirely civilian.
  • In February 2020, the head of Iran’s national space agency, Morteza Berari, said Iran advocates for the “peaceful use of outer space.” He also said that “all our activities in the domain of outer space are transparent.” Iran’s Minister for Information claimed this week that “Iran’s space program is peaceful.” The most recent military launch, which was developed and conducted in secret, proves that these statements were lies.
  • This satellite launch vehicle and others launched before it incorporate technologies identical to, and interchangeable with, ballistic missiles, including longer-range systems such as intercontinental ballistic missiles ICBMs). No country has ever pursued an ICBM capability except for the purpose of delivering nuclear weapons.
  • All peace-loving nations must reject Iran’s development of ballistic-missile capable technologies and join together to constrain Iran’s dangerous missile programs. As a start, nations should support extending the UN conventional arms embargo on Iran, which is set to expire this October. The world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and anti-Semitism should not be allowed to buy and sell conventional weapons. We also call on the European Union to sanction those individuals and entities working on Iran’s missile programs.
  • When the Iranian people are suffering and dying from the coronavirus pandemic, it is regrettable to see the regime waste its resources and efforts on provocative military pursuits that do nothing to help the Iranian people.

Notable Tweets:

@SecPompeo May 1

Maduro’s thugs looted nine tons of gold bars and sent it to the Iranian regime. The world’s leading thieves are partnering with the world’s leading state sponsor of terror. The greatest victims are the Venezuelan and Iranian people.

@SecPompeo April 30

We are deeply concerned about #Iran’s destabilizing behavior in #Venezuela- over the last few days, Iranian aircraft have transferred unknown support to the regime. We continue our efforts to help restore democracy and call for the Maduro regime to step aside.

@statedeptspox April 30

Our German allies are standing strong against international terrorists by banning Hizballah, further limiting this Iranian proxy’s ability to plan and conduct attacks. Obstructing this terrorist organization’s ability to raise money will further reduce #Iran’s malign behavior.