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Iran Envoy On Sanctions

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump is still dealing with the diplomatic fallout from pulling the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. Yesterday at the sidelines of U.N. meetings in New York, he said this.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Doesn't matter what world leaders think on Iran. Iran's going to come back to me, and they're going to make a good deal, I think - maybe not.

MARTIN: Brian Hook is with us from our studios in New York. He is senior policy adviser to the secretary of state and special representative for Iran. Mr. Hook, thanks for being back on the program.

BRIAN HOOK: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: I want to start with something that Iran's President Rouhani said yesterday - that the United States of America one day, sooner or later, will come back. This cannot be continued. Come back meaning come back to the nuclear deal. Is he right?

HOOK: No. We have decided to leave the Iran nuclear deal because we didn't think that it advanced our national security objectives. And so we have presented a new strategy to achieve a much better deal with the Iranian government that would address the totality of the threats that Iran presents.

The Iran nuclear deal was limited to the nuclear aspects of Iran's threats. It goes much beyond that. It includes missiles. It includes terrorism, cyberattacks, maritime aggression. There's a whole range of threats to peace and security that Iran presents, not only in the Middle East but well beyond. And so we are very much about taking a comprehensive approach to these threats.

MARTIN: OK. As part of that, the U.S. is going to reimpose sanctions starting in early November against Iran. And President Trump has not minced his words here. He doesn't want other countries to violate that, in particular the Europeans, Russia, China, who have gotten together to create, essentially, a workaround for Iran. The president saying there would be severe consequences for any country that doesn't comply. National Security Adviser John Bolton went even further. Let's listen to this.

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JOHN BOLTON: If you cross us, our allies or our partners, you harm our citizens. If you continue to lie, cheat and deceive, yes, there will indeed be hell to pay.

MARTIN: People will interpret that a lot of different ways, but I think it behooves everyone for you to explain what exactly that means. What's the hell to pay?

HOOK: Well, it means that Iran cannot continue to threaten American lives and American diplomats in places like Iraq with impunity. It's really important that we restore deterrence in areas like Iraq and Syria, Lebanon. We need Iran to start operating within its own borders and stop behaving like a revolutionary regime.

MARTIN: But what are the consequences for those partner nations that are not abiding by President Trump's desires in this moment to stand by new U.S. sanctions?

HOOK: What we're doing is we're reimposing the sanctions that were lifted as part of the Iran nuclear deal. The first of these went into effect in August, and the remainder are going to be reimposed in November. And those sanctions coming in November go after Iran's energy sector and also the banking sector.

And the whole point of these sanctions is to simply deny the regime the money that it needs to fund terrorism. It spends billions of dollars supporting Assad in Syria. It spends billions supporting its proxies in Iraq and in Yemen. And we need to get at the money. And so that's the only reason that we're reimposing these sanctions.

And what we're seeing - businesses around the world, when faced with a choice between doing business with the United States and doing business with Iran, are choosing the United States.

MARTIN: But let's talk in particular about Iran's oil exports, which is something the Trump administration would like to reduce, and therefore, reduce their economic power. China is Iran's largest oil customer, and they're on board with the Europeans and the Russians on this particular workaround. What leverage does the U.S. have to compel China to stop importing Iranian oil?

HOOK: The European workaround that you describe won't have any relevance for China's purchase of Iranian crude. And so that's not something that we're focused on or worried about.

We very much want to have nations around the world that import Iranian oil get as close to zero as possible. Roughly 80 percent of Iran's tax revenues come from the export of oil. And if we're going to get serious about denying the world states - the leading sponsor of terrorism in the world the money it needs to be a terrorist nation, we've got to start getting serious about oil imports.

MARTIN: But how - again, even if the workaround doesn't apply to China, China's still going to import that oil. How do you get them to stop, especially when, yesterday, President Trump, with no evidence, in front of the Security Council, accused China of interfering in the U.S. midterm elections to hurt him politically? I can't imagine that helps your effort to get China to help you with Iran.

HOOK: Well, in the case of the - China's oil imports, we have made it clear to them that in order to achieve the national security objectives that we think advance the peace and stability of the world, that address threats to peace and security, it's very important that all nations around the world come together. We think most nations around the world share our assessment of the threat that is very broad and very dangerous. And China understands that we are very serious about sanctioning any activity that we believe is sanctionable, and that applies to oil imports.

MARTIN: You spent time traveling around Europe trying to get other countries there to join you in imposing sanctions against Iran. Have you had any luck?

HOOK: Well, our diplomacy is not limited to just sanctions. We work very closely with the Europeans. Secretary of State Pompeo is in regular touch with them and so is the White House. We do share the same threat assessment. We have disagreed on the Iran nuclear deal. We've made our decision to get out. Other nations need to make their decisions, and so we just respectfully disagree on that matter.

But when you look beyond the nuclear program, we work on a regular basis talking, especially about Iran's proliferation of missiles. And I think our European partners very much understand the missile threat that Iran presents. Iran has the largest ballistic missile force in the Middle East. And this is an issue that we all need to address together.

MARTIN: But you haven't moved the needle in any of those particular conversations yet?

HOOK: Well, during my negotiations with the Europeans earlier to address the deficiencies of the deal, every time we met, it included a discussion about missiles. I do think there is an opportunity there to make some progress with them.

MARTIN: Brian Hook - he advises Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Iran. Thanks so much for talking with us.

HOOK: Thank you, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.