Brian Hook to Asharq Al-Awsat: Ghaani Faces Soleimani’s Fate if he Follows Similar Path
The US special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, has said that the successor to Iran's Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani would suffer the same fate if he followed a similar path of killing Americans.
After Soleimani’s killing on Jan. 3, Tehran swiftly appointed Esmail Ghaani as the new head of the Quds Force. He pledged to pursue Soleimani’s course.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Davos, Hook also said the UN Security Council should condemn the September attacks on Saudi oil facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais.
Here’s the transcript of the interview:
- The Europeans have activated the dispute mechanism with Iran, but say that they don't adhere to the US maximum pressure campaign. Doesn’t the dispute mechanism count as part of the maximum pressure campaign?
We were pleased to see the E3 initiate the dispute resolution mechanism. The regime has now violated the deal so many times that there isn't much left to preserve in the deal. British Prime Minister (Boris) Johnson called for a replacement of the deal with the Trump deal. We think that is the best path to deny Iran a nuclear weapon. It's a better path than the Iran nuclear deal.
By getting out of the deal, it puts countries in a position of strength to ensure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon, but it also allows countries to, as we have, not address Iran's threats in a silo. You need to take a comprehensive approach to this problem set. And that's the nuclear program, the missile program, the regional aggression, the expansionist foreign policy, the hostage taking.
We aren't going to make a difference in the Middle East unless we take a comprehensive approach, and the big mistake of the Iran nuclear deal, among many, is that it was very narrow.
- After the strike on Soleimani, there was a feeling that Washington was disappointed with the European’s response. There were also news reports about the US pressuring the EU and threatening to impose tariffs. Is that true?
I don't have any comment on bilateral discussions with Europeans, but we did enjoy wide support for the defensive actions we took, to both protect American diplomats and soldiers, and to prevent an imminent large-scale attack on American diplomats and soldiers in the region, that Soleimani was plotting. We took the world's most dangerous terrorists off the battlefield ... And as a consequence, the region is going to be safer because Solemani was the glue that held together the proxies, and his death will create a void that the regime will not be able to fill.
- The JCPOA is entering its fifth year and there's one particular issue that you mentioned many times before which has to do with the arms embargo that’s going to be lifted in October 2020. What do you intend to do before that date?
This is really a collective problem. The world's leading state sponsor of terrorism will have the UN arms embargo lifted in 9 or 10 months, and the only way to stop it is for either the deal to collapse, or for the UN Security Council to pass a resolution renewing the arms embargo, and it is hard to know what is going to come first. But it is the case that the council needs to act before October.
We've been raising the issue for well over a year. It's one of the great deficiencies of this deal, that in year 5 it lifts the UN arms embargo. I don't know who thought this was a good idea. Perhaps the theory was five years into the deal, the moderates would be in charge. That's foolish. This is a regime that does not have moderates. The supreme leader is in charge. He's called the supreme leader for a reason, and he's not a moderate. He's a hardliner. He makes the decisions and we judge the regime by what it does, not by what (Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad) Zarif says.
- You mentioned the Trump deal, what does it look like it?
It ensures that Iran has no path to a nuclear weapon by restoring no enrichment. That was the UN Security Council standard prior to the deal, and they gave it away. Another huge deficiency in this deal, was that it ended a unanimously passed resolution prohibiting Iran from enriching. Well more than half of the nations in the world that have peaceful nuclear power don't enrich. So if Iran wants peaceful nuclear power, it can have that, look no farther than then UAE … That's the right standard, not just for Iran, but for the whole region given its volatility.
Also (…) Iran's ballistic missile testing was prohibited by the UN Security Council, that ended under the (nuclear) deal. We need to restore it.
Iran also needs to stop funding these terrorist proxies, and it needs to stop supplying them with rockets and missiles. And then they need to end the hostage taking, It has been a tool of statecraft for 40 years, and it's got to end.
- There is a new leader of the Quds Force. What do we know about him? Is he going to follow a similar path to that of Soleimani? and have you been threatened by him?
If he follows a similar path of killing Americans, he will meet the same fate, because the President has made clear for years that any attacks against American Personnel or interests in the region will be met with a decisive response, and the President demonstrated that on January 2nd. So this is not a new threat. The president has always said that he will act decisively in defense of American interests. And I think the regime now understands that they cannot attack America at will, and expect to get away with it. So we will hold the regime and its proxies accountable for any attacks on Americans, or on American interests in the region.
- Only American interests, what about the allies?
No, we've also talked about our partners in the region. And we work very closely with our partners, so it's not limited to that.
- What are the updates regarding the investigation into the attack on Saudi oil facilities?
There is a role for the UN Security Council to play, to condemn Iran for violating the sovereignty of Saudi Arabia. That was an unprovoked attack by the regime against Saudi Arabia on September 14th, and the council needs to condemn it. And we continue to work with the Council on that. I believe Saudi Arabia is close to concluding its investigation and doing all the site exploitation, so that we can present the facts and demonstrate that this was an attack that came from Iran.
- If all diplomatic efforts and the maximum pressure campaign fail to change the regime’s behavior, will regime change become an option?
Well, we already have changed the behavior of the regime by denying them the money they need to execute attacks, and by denying their proxies many of their operations because we have enhanced our troop presence. We have enhanced our intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance. We have now an international Maritime Force patrolling the waters in the Strait of Hormuz.
So, Iran is not able to get away with the kind of terrorist attacks that they used to. That doesn't mean that we've eliminated Iran's ability to conduct asymmetric attacks, but our new policy is making a difference. The regime has never been weaker financially in its 40-year history, and it has never been under more domestic political unrest than it is now. And this is a consequence of the President's new approach to Iran.
- The US has voiced support for Iranian protesters. Do you think they welcome the support?
We know they welcome it. The President's recent tweet in Farsi broke Twitter records. And when you look at the November protests as we have, you see brave Iranian women climbing poles to tear down “death to America” banners. You also see brave protesters burning the image of the supreme leader, and tearing down posters of Qassem Soleimani. The global media does a very bad job of conveying the true beliefs of the Iranian people. They hate this regime and they love America, and they would like to see greater cooperation between Iran and the United States. The American people and the Iranian people have so much in common. And this regime has kept us apart for 40 years.
So we're going to continue to stand with Iranian people. Nations around the world are not doing enough to stand with the people of Iran who are the longest suffering victims of the Iranian regime, and we would like to see more people follow our example and stand with the people (of Iran) and stand up to the regime.
- Are you working with Canadians and Ukrainians and other countries to ensure there is a fair investigation into the Ukrainian plane incident?
Iranians did admit that they shot down the plane. It defies explanation why the regime would not shut down its commercial airport, at a time when it is launching missiles into another country. And the regime has been killing a lot of innocent Iranians, whether it's protesters in November, or innocent lives on the Ukrainian jet, innocent Iranians. We would like to see the supreme leader start making better decisions for the Iranian people.
The Treasury Department has granted exemptions to our sanctions on Iran for anybody to help with the investigation of the jet crash. We have many times offered the hand of assistance to the Iranian people in times of crisis. We'll see if the regime accepts it.