Jun 30, 2020 - World

U.S. willing to take military action to stop Iran's nuclear program, envoy says

Hook today in Jerusalem. Photo: Abir Sultan/POOL/AFP via Getty

The Trump administration will use military force if that's what it takes to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, President Trump’s envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, told me in an interview today in Jerusalem.

Why it matters: Hook is on a regional tour to discuss Iran with U.S. allies, with stops in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Israel. The main issue on his agenda is the U.S. efforts to extend an international arms embargo on Iran beyond October, when it is due to expire.

What he's saying: “What I am hearing very clearly is that the arms embargo on Iran cannot be allowed to expire. When you see the Israelis and the Arabs agree on something so strongly, people should listen," Hook said.

The problem: Russia and China, both members of the UN Security Council, oppose the U.S. efforts to extend the embargo.

  • The U.S. has attempted to apply public pressure on those countries, and Hook is trying to mobilize support from other Security Council members.
  • "I am hopeful because Russia and China also want a stable Middle East and if they let the arms embargo expire, that won’t be possible, because in four months Iran will be free to import and export heavy weapons," Hook said.
  • "They will move them to their proxies — Hamas, Hezbollah and other Shia militias that threaten Israel and our Arab partners."

What to watch: Extending the embargo is plan A for the Trump administration, but if it fails, the U.S. will demand that a snapback mechanism from the Iran nuclear deal be implemented to resume UN sanctions on Tehran.

  • Hook claimed in the interview that the U.S. has a legal basis for doing so even after it withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018.
  • "We will exercise our legally available options to make sure the arms embargo is extended. We can do it the easy way or we can do it the hard way. Our preference is to extend the arms embargo. If we are successful with plan A we won’t have to go to plan B," Hook said.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed for an extension of the embargo today at the Security Council but received a frosty reception, with many of the 15 members criticizing the U.S. for withdrawing from the nuclear deal, per Foreign Policy.

  • Germany agreed with China's argument that the U.S. does not have the right to trigger the sanctions snapback.
  • The European signatories are hoping to keep the deal alive through November's election, partially in hopes that a Biden administration would rejoin.
  • They're concerned about Iran trading arms, but they're also worried about what Iran — which has already violated several of the deal's terms since America's withdrawal — will do next if denied some of the incentives from the deal.
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