The Trump administration’s envoy for Iran said Tuesday that the White House was willing to take military action against Tehran to prevent the regime from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran, said during a visit to Jerusalem that “the military option is always on the table.”
“We’ve made very clear, the president has, that Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon,” Hook said in an interview with Channel 13.
“The Israeli people and the American people and the international community should know that President Trump will never allow them to have a nuclear weapon,” Hook said.
Hook is on a Middle East tour meeting with US allies to seek support for Washington’s demand of extending a 13-year UN weapons embargo on Iran set to expire in October. He visited the United Arab Emirates over the weekend.
In a meeting with Hook on Tuesday in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the US to move forward with its threat to reimpose “snapback” sanctions on Iran.
Netanyahu urged that “in response to repeated Iranian provocations and violations… it is time to implement, now, snapback sanctions. I don’t think we can afford to wait. We should not wait for Iran to start its breakout to a nuclear weapon because when that happens it will be too late for sanctions.”
If the UN Security Council fails to extend the embargo, the US would seek to trigger the broad array of “snapback” sanctions due to Iran’s violations of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The US abandoned that deal in 2018, triggering a series of Iranian violations in the ensuing years.
Hook told Channel 13 that the US would prefer to extend the arms embargo over sanctions.
“When you play by Iran’s rules, Iran wins, so we are making the national security case for extending the arms embargo that has been in place for 13 years,” Hook said.
1 President Trump's envoy for Iran Brian Hook tells me in an exclusive interview in Jerusalem that the military option against the Iranian nuclear program is still on the table pic.twitter.com/pdSBBwH0Pn
— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) June 30, 2020
Russia and China, which are both members of the UN Security Council, oppose the embargo, however. Their support, or abstention from a vote, would be needed to extend the embargo.
“I’m hopeful because Russia and China also would like to see a peaceful and stable Middle East,” Hook said.
He highlighted ties between Israel and Arab states, which have likely been strengthened by shared concern over threats from Iran, and downplayed fears that Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank could damage those ties.
“We very much like the steps that have been taken by a number of governments I think to deal with Iranian aggression and we would very much like to see the Palestinians come to the table. With respect to annexation, that is a decision for the Israeli government to make. We are working on building support for the peace vision,” Hook said.
In his meeting with Hook, Netanyahu warned that the Iranian regime “deliberately deceives the international community. It lies all the time. It lies on solemn pledges and commitments that it took before the international community. It continues its secret program to develop nuclear weapons. It continues its secret program to develop the means to deliver nuclear weapons.”
He vowed that Israel would “do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons,” and told Hook, “I know that’s your position as well.”
“This is a policy, Brian, that we have adopted as well. We are absolutely resolved to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in our immediate vicinity. We take repeated and forceful military action against Iran and its proxies in Syria and elsewhere if necessary,” said Netanyahu.
Iranian officials have suggested they could expel international inspectors monitoring the country’s nuclear program in response to an arms embargo extension, or even withdrawal entirely from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The UN arms embargo so far has stopped Iran from purchasing fighter jets, tanks, warships and other weaponry, but has failed to halt its smuggling of weapons into war zones in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday urged the UN Security Council to extend the embargo, warning that its expiration would risk the stability of the oil-rich region.
“Iran will hold a sword of Damocles over the economic stability of the Middle East, endangering nations like Russia and China that rely on stable energy prices,” Pompeo told the virtual session. Both countries on Tuesday spoke out against extending the embargo.
European allies of the United States have voiced support for the embargo but also oppose new sanctions, saying the bigger issue is Iran’s nuclear program.
US sanctions imposed since the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal have created intense financial pressure on Tehran that have led to sporadic anti-government protests, including nationwide demonstrations in November that Amnesty International says saw over 300 people killed. While the Trump administration has maintained it doesn’t seek to overthrow Iran’s government, its pressure campaign has exacerbated public anger against its Shiite theocracy.
Since Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Iran has broken all the accord’s production limits. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iranian nuclear activity as part of the deal, says Tehran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium continues to grow.
While not at weapons-grade levels, the growing stockpile and increased production shortens the one-year timeline analysts believe Iran would need to have enough material for a nuclear weapon if it chose to pursue one. Iran long has denied seeking atomic bombs, though the IAEA previously said Iran had done work in “support of a possible military dimension to its nuclear program” that largely halted in late 2003 following the US invasion of Iraq.