The United States wants to negotiate a treaty with Iran that will cover both its nuclear and its ballistic missile efforts, the Trump administration’s new special representative for Iran said on Wednesday.
Such a deal, said Brian Hook, would be more binding than the 2015 agreement from which the Trump Administration has withdrawn. If the Iranian leadership did not want to negotiate, however, he indicated, it would face stepped up pressure from the US.
“There hasn’t been any aversion to meeting with the Iranians,” said Hook.
As things stand, Iran’s leaders are not interested in talking, said Hook, and if that remained the case, stronger measures than the current sanctions would follow.
Speaking ahead of the UN’s General Assembly next week in New York, at which world leaders will gather, Hook, a senior adviser to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, spoke of “the new deal that we hope to be able to sign with Iran, and it will not be a personal agreement between two governments like the last one; we seek a treaty.”
In remarks to the Hudson Institute think tank, quoted by Reuters, Hook acknowledged that the regime in Tehran was rejecting overtures by President Donald Trump and Pompeo for talks. “The ayatollah [Ali Khamenei], the president [Hassan Rouhani] and foreign minister [Mohammad Javad Zarif] have all indicated they are not interested in talking,” Hook said. “We respect that though that does not change our plans. We have a sanctions regime that is underway, stronger measures are yet to come.”
Trump withdrew in May from the P5+1’s 2015 deal with Iran, negotiated during the Obama administration, which was designed to freeze and inspect Iran’s nuclear program. The deal was bitterly opposed by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who insists the regime continues to seek a nuclear weapons arsenal, and derided by Trump as “the worst deal ever.”
Hook’s comments Wednesday echoed those by Trump, who said in July, “We’re ready to make a real deal, not the deal that was done by the previous administration, which was a disaster.”
Hook noted that the 2015 deal was an executive agreement, not ratified by the Senate, whereas a treaty would require Senate approval.
“They did not have the votes in the U.S. Senate so they found the votes in the U.N. Security Council,” said Hook. “That is insufficient in our system of government if you want to have something enduring and sustainable.”
Trump and Rouhani will both be in New York next week for the United Nations General Assembly. While Rouhani will hold talks with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, no US-Iranian meeting has been announced.
The US re-imposed sweeping sanctions against Iran last month, and a new round of even harsher sanctions is set to go into effect November 5 targeting Iran’s vital oil sector.
Trump plans to lead a meeting of heads of state of the United Nations Security Council on Iran on September 26, his UN envoy Nikki Haley announced earlier this month. Haley said the aim is to further pressure Tehran over its alleged violations of council resolutions, including support for terror.
Pompeo last month formed a group to coordinate and run US policy toward Iran as the Trump administration moved ahead with efforts to force changes in the Islamic Republic’s behavior after withdrawing from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Accusing Iran of unleashing “a torrent of violence and destabilizing behavior against the United States, our allies, our partners and, indeed, the Iranian people themselves,” Pompeo announced the creation of the Iran Action Group, which he said would drive administration policy in Washington and overseas.
He said the administration remains willing to talk to Iran but that in order to do so “we must see major changes in the regime’s behavior both inside and outside its borders.”
Pompeo named Hook, the State Department’s director of policy planning, to run the group with the title of special representative for Iran. Hook led the administration’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to negotiate changes to the nuclear deal with European allies before Trump decided to pull out of the accord.
Since withdrawing, the administration has re-imposed sanctions that were eased under the deal and has steadily ramped up pressure on Iran to try to get it to stop what it describes as “malign activities” in the region. In addition to its nuclear and missile programs, the administration has repeatedly criticized Iran for supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror movement, Shiite rebels in Yemen, and anti-Israel groups.
It has also in recent weeks stepped up criticism of Iran’s human rights record and is working with other nations to curb their imports of Iranian oil.
The administration is warning Iran’s oil customers that they will face US sanctions in November unless they significantly reduce their imports with an eye on eliminating them entirely. It has also told businesses and governments in Europe that they may also be subject to penalties if they violate, ignore, or attempt to subvert the re-imposed US sanctions.
Hook, accusing Iran of being “a force for instability and violence,” said last month he would also keep the door open to talks but made clear that US efforts to isolate Tehran both economically and diplomatically would not end until its leadership changed policies.
“The burden is on the Iranian regime to change its behavior,” he said.
Critics of the administration’s approach suggested that Hook’s new position was a sign the US was adopting a policy of regime change in Iran, something that Pompeo and other officials have denied. They maintain they only want to see the government change course.