Since the announcement of its withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal in May last year, the United States has sought to tighten the grip on Tehran’s sources of income to prevent it from spending on its hostile activities and financing terrorism in the region.
The administration is currently considering listing Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its Quds Force as terrorist organizations, but there are fears that such a move would affect US forces in Iraq. The increasing influence of Hezbollah, backed by Iran, is also a growing concern for Washington.
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook on Washington’s strategy against Tehran and its efforts to isolate Hezbollah, as well as ongoing negotiations between the EU and the United States to reach a comprehensive political agreement over a policy to deal with Iran.
Hook noted that over the past year, there has been a wide debate among members of Congress and administration officials about listing the IRGC and the Quds Force as terrorist entities. The point of contention was that if the Palestinian Hamas movement and Lebanese Hezbollah party were among the targets, the Quds Force and the Revolutionary Guard should also be included. But the US official stressed that he would not anticipate any decisions concerning the inclusion of certain groups as terrorist.
Asked about the priorities of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in his Beirut visit, Hook said that Hezbollah and threats against Israel would top his meetings with the Lebanese leaders. The diplomat will talk about the party as a terrorist organization supported by the Iranian regime, he emphasized.
Hook told Asharq Al-Awsat that historically, Iran has funded Hezbollah with $700 million a year, and as a result Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon have been getting more money than Iranian fighters themselves.
The US is asking Iran to stop wasting its people's resources by spending on terrorist organizations, he said.
Washington was pleased to see that in just 11 months, since the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal, it was able to restore significant economic benefits enjoyed by the Iranian economy, after imposing sanctions on Tehran’s oil exports and financial institutions, Hook remarked.
He added that the US sanctions have curbed Tehran’s ability to spend on terrorist organizations and entities.
This is good; not only for the Lebanese people, but also for the peoples of the Middle East in general, he underlined.
Hook stressed that Hezbollah’s work from inside Lebanon and the danger it poses to Israel or others would create a real escalation.
During his trip to Beirut Friday, Pompeo urged Lebanese officials to stand up to Hezbollah and Iran.
"The Lebanese people face a choice: Bravely move forward or allow the dark ambitions of Iran and Hezbollah to dictate your future,” he said.
He added that the US would continue using "all peaceful means" to curb Hezbollah and Iran's influence.
Asked if there were any current discussions between the US and EU to try to reach a kind of political understanding with regard to Iran's nuclear program and activity in the region, Hook said that France was expected to impose a ban on Mahan Airlines, as did Germany and the United Kingdom.
He emphasized that there was growing interest by the EU and major European countries to exert more pressure on Tehran to stop its aggressive activities in the region and neighboring countries.