US sanctions do not give Iran right to breach nuclear commitments, Brian Hook says

Washington is seeking Nato support to contain Iran

Brian Hook , the U.S. special envoy for Iran, gestures during an interview in Paris, Thursday, June 27, 2019. Brian Hook is meeting with top French, German and British diplomats in Paris for talks on the Persian Gulf crisis at a time when European powers are trying to save the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran. (AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)

The US policy of maximum economic pressure on Tehran is working, but its sanctions did not give Iran the right to breach its nuclear commitments, a senior US official said on Monday.

"We are dedicated to this policy of maximum economic pressure because it is working, it is denying the regime historic levels of revenue," US special representative on Iran Brian Hook told Reuters.

Mr Hook was speaking before a meeting with senior French, British and German diplomats in Paris to convince them that the US policy was the best way to get Iran back to the negotiating table.

"Our sanctions do not give Iran the right to accelerate its nuclear programme," he said. "It can never get near a nuclear bomb.

"We are looking very closely at that so it doesn't get below the one-year nuclear breakout time."

Meanwhile, acting US defence secretary Mark Esper was seeking Nato support in Brussels for a global effort to secure international waterways against Iran.

In a closed-door session on Thursday, Mr Esper told Nato defence ministers that the US held Iran responsible for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman but did not want the situation to escalate.

“His first words were, 'We don’t want to go to war with Iran',” one diplomat said.

Another diplomat said Mr Esper made it clear that the attacks were "about the limit" of what the US would tolerate from Iran, and that nothing more should happen now."

“One important message is that the United States has so clearly stated that they don’t want a war," Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after the meeting.

"They actually said very clearly that they are ready to talk with Iran without a precondition.”

A week after US President Donald Trump called off air strikes on Iran at the last minute, European defence ministers led by France sought to cool the confrontation between Washington and Tehran, diplomats said.

Five Nato countries spoke after Mr Esper in the meeting. French Defence Minister Florence Parly told him not to involve the Nato alliance in any military mission in the Gulf.

Together with Germany and other European allies, France also made a plea to uphold the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran.

Turkey told Mr Esper that “dialogue was better than sanctions” with Iran, and others including the Germany minister said they would do everything possible to avoid an escalation.

Mr Esper said he had no firm commitments from Nato allies but would provide more details to them next month on how the Iranian threat had escalated and how they could work together to deter further aggression.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif criticised US President Donald Trump on Twitter on Thursday, saying: “Sanctions aren’t an alternative to war; they are war.”

Mr Zarif said Mr Trump was mistaken in thinking that a war between their countries would not last long.

"'Short war' with Iran is an illusion," he tweeted a day after the US president made his remarks.