US envoy for Iran heads to the Gulf to 'share intelligence on threats'

Brian Hook’s trip comes as France’s envoy heads to Iran and Kuwaiti Emir visits Baghdad

Brian Hook, the US Special Representative for Iran, testifies before a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism hearing at the Capitol in Washington, DC on June 19, 2019.  The subcommittee holds the hearing on the Trump Administration’s policy toward Iran. / AFP / ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS
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Brian Hook, US Special Representative for Iran, will head to the Gulf on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing tension with Iran whom he believes, “without any question”, is behind the attacks on six oil tankers in the region.

Mr Hook will be visiting Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, the Sultanate of Oman, and the Kingdom of Bahrain in weeklong trip where he will hold bilateral meetings with government officials. Qatar, who has been critical of US sanctions on Iran and withdrew its support for the Arab League statement condemning Iranian behaviour, is the only Gulf Cooperation Council country that is not on Mr Hook’s itinerary.

The State Department said Mr Hook “will discuss Iran’s regional aggression” and plans to share additional US intelligence on the range of active threats Iran currently poses to the region.

It reiterated the US commitment to safeguard “freedom of navigation and deter Iranian threats to international trade and shipping.”

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arabian Gulf Affairs Tim Lenderking has also visited the Gulf this month.

Ahead of his trip, Mr Hook told Congress on Wednesday that “those who have seen the [US] intelligence, all come away without any question Iran is behind these attacks.”

Without specifying the nature of intelligence collected by the US, Mr Hook said: “I can also say that a senior IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) official confirmed that personnel, IRGC personnel, had completed two actions.”

He said the increase in US military presence in the region and deployment of aircraft carrier, two destroyers, B-52 bombers, and now an extra 1000 troops, was to help deter Iran from carrying a large scale attack.

“We think that has helped to decrease the risk of miscalculation,” he said.

He insisted, however, that the US is not seeking military action with Iran. “No one should be uncertain about our desire for peace or our readiness to normalise relations,” Mr Hook told the Foreign Affairs committee in the House.

But the US official did not rule out the use of the Authorisation for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) law from 2001 as basis for war against Iran if the administration chooses to. The AUMF was used to launch the war in Afghanistan after the attacks of 11 September 2001.

“We will do everything that we are required to do with respect to congressional war powers,” he said.

Mr Hook will head to France after the GCC trip where he will meet on June 27 representatives from the United Kingdom, Germany, and France to discuss Iran.

All three European nations are trying to save the Iran nuclear deal as Tehran threatens to break the uranium stockpile limit next week. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel said there was "strong evidence" Iran carried the attacks in the Gulf of Oman, while Britain has said it’s “almost certain” that Iran is responsible.

France dispatched its Presidential Adviser Emmanuel Bonne to Iran on Wednesday, an official told Reuters, with a goal of de-escalating tensions in the region.

The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, began a rare visit to Iraq on Wednesday to discuss bilateral co-operation and keeping peace in the region. Sheikh Al Sabah was received by Iraqi President Barham Salih, and will be meeting Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abd Al Mahdi, in a first visit of its kind since 2012.