US Envoy to Iran: More Sanctions, No New Oil Waivers
By Nike Ching March 27, 2019
The United States will redraw government maps consistent with Washington's decision to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The move comes days after U.S. President Donald Trump signed a proclamation Monday officially granting U.S. recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.
VOA's State Department correspondent Nike Ching sat down Wednesday with Brian Hook, the State Department's special representative for Iran, to discuss U.S. actions affecting Israel and Iran. The following are excerpts from the interview.
Ching: How will President Trump's executive order change the way the U.S. displays the Golan Heights on its official maps of Israel? What is the time frame that we can expect the maps to be updated?
Hook: The president did sign an executive order recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. We think that this reflects, it's a reflection of reality and the facts on the ground, and the need for Israel to have secure and defensible borders. As a consequence of the executive order, the State Department will be redrawing the official U.S. government maps to recognize this. And those will be released as soon as they are ready.
Ching: Last November, the U.S. issued sanction waivers to eight economies, including Iran's major oil buyers in Asia: China, Korea, India, Japan and Taiwan. The waivers expire in May. Is the U.S. considering extending them?
Hook: The policy of the United States is that we are not looking to grant any new oil waivers. We did have to grant eight oil waivers in order to avoid shocking the global oil markets and causing a dramatic increase in the price of oil. We have taken off roughly 1½ million barrels of Iranian crude, and we have avoided a price increase in oil. And that's not an accident. We've done it very well and very carefully. 2019 is going to be a much better market for global oil supply, and the forecasters say that there will be more supply than demand. That gives us much better market conditions to accelerate our path to zero imports. But we have already taken off more than half of Iran's oil exports in just a very few months. The prior administration granted 20 oil waivers to 20 countries over three years. We are down to a handful of countries. There are 23 countries that used to be importing Iranian crude who are now at zero. So, Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo was very committed to that. We don't preview our decisions. The current oil waivers expire on May 2. And so the secretary, in consultation with the president, will make a final decision.
Ching: On Tuesday, the U.S. imposed new sanctions against networks supporting Iran's Revolutionary Guard. What are they, and how are they different from past sanctions?
Hook: You've got three organizations in Iran that are prohibited from accessing the U.S. financial system in order to get money, because these three organizations are engaged in weapons of mass destruction, proliferation and/or terrorism. So, these three organizations – the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, ANSAR bank and the Iran Ministry of Defense – have all been sanctioned.
What Iran did to try to get around our sanctions was they created four front companies. And over the last year and a half, they used these front companies to get $800 million, which then was spent on military vehicles for the Ministry of Defense, and the other money went to funding IRGC operations. Now, the lesson here for nations around the world is that the Iranian regime uses front companies to disguise their true identity. And that's very dangerous for corporations around the world who want to do business with Iran. When you do business with Iran, you never know if you're facilitating commerce, or terrorism, or WMD proliferation. We exposed this vast network of front companies, and now we've sanctioned all of these individuals. Twenty-four or 25 people and organizations were sanctioned.
Ching: There have been talks about why the U.S. does not revoke the visas of the children of Iranian authorities who are studying at U.S. universities or relative who simply live here and work. Is the U.S. prepared to revoke those types of visa as a form of punishment and deterrent to Iran taking dual nationals hostage? What has the State Department done in this regard?"
Hook: We do make exceptions for student visas and exchange visas. We are aware of the question that you talked about. And we are taking a look at our visa policy to figure out.
I mean, part of it is the first responsibility we have is to protect American people. And when you're the leading state sponsored terrorism in the world that has consequences on our visa policy, even though we make exceptions for it. And so there may be other people here who are here because they become American citizens. They married an American--there are a range of categories as to why people are here.
We have heard these concerns, we are taking a look at it. That's as much as I can say now.
Ching: With U.S. sanctions cutting off Iran economically, isn't that, in essence, punishing common people in Iran and creating more anger against the U.S.?
Hook: I get that question a lot from the press. I don't ever get it from the Iranian people. The Iranian people know where to place the blame on their economic troubles, and it's President [Hassan] Rouhani. They know President Rouhani has failed to deliver on his economic promises. It's also the case that for the 40-year history of this regime, they have prioritized their foreign policy over their domestic policy, and they have severely mismanaged their economy. When you look at the standard of living today, in many cases, it's lower than it was before the revolution. The Iranian people know that. They don't confuse us with the Iranian regime. They have run their economy into the ground. They've run their environment into the ground, because they care more about revolution abroad than their own people at home.
Adam Greenbaum contributed to this report.
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