Brian Hook on Iran: 'economic pressure and diplomatic isolation works'

In an exclusive interview with The National, the US special representative for Iran outlined the urgency of extending the UN arms embargo on Tehran

Brian Hook: 'If embargo is lifted, Iran will buy warships'

Brian Hook: 'If embargo is lifted, Iran will buy warships'
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The United States is on a diplomatic mission to ensure the continuation of a UN arms embargo on Iran, which expires in October.

Brian Hook, US Special Representative for Iran and Senior Adviser to the Secretary of State, told The National that the embargo, which has been in place for 13 years, "has constrained Iran's ability to freely move weapons".

Mr Hook said that even with the ban in place Iran has been able to provide weapons to its proxies in the region, including in Yemen and Syria.

“Iran smuggles weapons, but once this embargo expires, they will be able to do this stuff in broad daylight."

Mr Hook spoke during his visit to the UAE, the first stop in a regional tour focused on Iran.

The United States has circulated a draft UN Security Council resolution to renew the arms embargo. Mr Hook said it should not be a complicated choice to make.

“No one in the world thinks that what this region needs is more Iranian weapons,” he said.

“It is very important that the region speaks with one voice to call on the UN Security Council to extend the embargo. It is the right and necessary thing to do."

Both Russia and China have already rejected the idea of extending the embargo but, Mr Hook said if they have an interest in a peaceful, more stable Middle East they should not let it expire.

The US is pursuing a strategy of military deterrence to constrain Iran.

“The Iranians now understand the risks of escalation with President Trump.

“He has struck back repeatedly to protect American lives and American interests. He has attacked a number of Kataib Hezbollah sites in Iraq and Syria and he also took [Iranian Quds Force commander] Qassem Suleimani off the battlefield, who was plotting more attacks against American troops, diplomats and facilities."

Mr Hook added that “President Trump made it very clear that there are escalations that will come at a very heavy price and that is the type of deterrence that is very necessary”.

The US official said that leaving the 2015 nuclear deal “gives us a lot of leverage to put pressure on Iran financially, to isolate them diplomatically and President Trump has restored military deterrence. "That is really important in this region, that the US defend our interest and allies in the region, like the UAE, a great ally and friend of the US."

The US continues to strengthen sanctions on Iran and its allies. Mr Hook said Iranian proxies have been hurt by the sanctions imposed on Tehran as “their banker is broke”.

Brian Hook: 'Hezbollah had to undertake austerity measures'

Brian Hook: 'Hezbollah had to undertake austerity measures'

“As a consequence of our strategy, we have reduced the funding that Iran has available to Hezbollah and historically, Iran midwifed the existence of Hezbollah and they provided 75 per cent of its operating budget.

“Those days are over and Hezbollah has had to start fundraising drives in order to make up the revenue shortfall. I doubt they have been able to."

Mr Hook is confident that “economic pressure and diplomatic isolation works. It is the only language that this regime understands. We have seen this across the Middle East, whether Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shia militia groups in Iraq or Syria, the Houthis in Yemen, Iran is operating in a much less permissive environment than when we took office."

The US is also keen to support political actors pushing back against Iran. Mr Hook referenced the new Iraqi government saying: “We have been very pleased with the formation of the government in Iraq. We don’t have Suleimani’s usual influence at play there and we see the Iraqi people really standing up and protesting against the Iranian interference.

“We want to see an Iraq that is strong, stable and sovereign. The Iranian regime wants none of these things for the Iraqi people and I think they are beginning to understand that. We are very pleased with the early steps they have taken to stop that interference."

Mr Hook spoke of the significance of the changes in Iraq as part of a wider rejection of the “Iranian model” in the region, with “massive protests against the Iranian model of sectarian violence and corruption and the lack of accountability in Lebanon, Iraq and in Iran”.

He added that “the Iranian model is being rejected and what I see more clearly is that governments like the UAE that invest in their own people, that practise tolerance, that invest in the future [represent] the direction for the Middle East. Iran is a failed model."

Brian Hook: 'UAE is a model for the Middle East'

Brian Hook: 'UAE is a model for the Middle East'

Mr Hook stressed the significance of the work of the UAE’s Government.

“This is a government that invests in its own people and in the future. It has a peaceful nuclear power programme, which is fully transparent with the IAEA.

“Contrast that with Iran, which is not being transparent and denying access.

“The UAE under its great leadership has done a great job of setting the right example for the region."