BRUSSELS - Brian Hook, U.S. Special Representative for Iran answered Radio Farda's questions in Brussels in an interview with RFE/RL correspondent Rikard Jozwiak.
RFE/RL: We've seen the initial reports from U.S. military intelligence saying that it might be Iranian or Iranian-backed proxies states attacks on these four ships anchored in the United Arab Emirates. Can you confirm this? Can you expand on this a bit?
Hook: I can't confirm it. None of our ships were attacked. It was two Saudi vessels, a Norwegian vessel and an Emirati vessel. These four boats were anchored off the coast of Fujairah and then you had four sabotage operations. The Emiratis have asked the United States military forensics teams to go in and do a site survey to try to figure out what exactly happened.
We assume that those countries that were sabotaged that they will be making some announcement about it. We are very concerned and I think we're right to be concerned there's been a lot of intelligence threat reporting, very credible threat assessments that the Iranian regime has been plotting attacks in the Middle East.
So, we'll have to see what the investigation produces. But we're very concerned about instability in the Middle East.
RFE/RL: But do you suspect that Iran or Iranian-backed proxy that have done this.
Hook: We don't know yet. And we don't like to jump to conclusions.
The Middle East can be very volatile. There's no need to sort of pour gasoline on it. So we're going to let those investigations play themselves out. But we are very concerned about obviously acts of sabotage in the Gulf against the oil vessels (which) seem to be designed to scare some people. And so we've got to figure out who did it and why?
RFE/RL: and what would the U.S. move be if it is confirmed that it is Iran?
Hook: Well, we've put in place military assets so that if the United States is attacked by the Iranian regime that we will respond with military force. We are not looking for a fight. We're not looking for a war with Iran or with anyone.
But we know that the world does have an interest in a peaceful and stable Middle East that includes our European friends here that we met with yesterday. So we are putting in place defensive measures, prudential moves to ensure that if we're attacked we can respond but that's only if.
RFE/RL: And it's the USS Abraham Lincoln and the bombers on it part of that response, would they be engaged in a military conflict?
Hook: Yes, the USS Abraham Lincoln and some of the fighters that we've put into place in the region are just simply designed to ... it's really a defensive move in light of all the multiple plot vectors that our intelligence community was seeing coming out of Iran. And if we didn't put in place assets to defend ourselves that would be negligent. But all we're doing, we're not spoiling for a fight.
We would like the Middle East to be peaceful and stable. The Iranian regime has been exporting violence and revolution for 40 years, not only around the Middle East but in Europe.
We've had recent bomb plots and assassinations in Europe, but it's been a 40-year history of Iran trying to destabilize the Middle East because it's a revolutionary regime.
This is what revolutionary regimes do. So we're trying to deter Iran. We're just trying to restore deterrence. That was Secretary Pompeo his message here in Brussels yesterday.
RFE/RL: But we've seen reports, for example in the New York Times last week, about the acting defense secretary Shanahan coming up with some sort of military plan involving 120,000 U.S. soldiers in the Middle East. Can you confirm that there is such a military plan and would that deter Iran as well?
Hook: I think that was a New York Times article that was talking about interagency deliberations. We don't as an official matter comment on interagency deliberations. We have a lot of military forces in the region. They're there now. We have been adding more publicly, we've announced that in order to make sure that we're prepared if attacked and we're always prepared if attacked. But in light of the very credible threat reporting that we were saying it was important that we do this.
RFE/RL: You mentioned that Secretary Pompeo was here yesterday speaking to his counterparts, his French, German and U.K. counterparts. It seems to be a bit of a divergence. Mr Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, said afterwards that we seem to be taking different courses on this does. Does this mean that the Europeans don't share your threat assessment?
Hook: We do have a very similar threat assessment. It's no secret that we disagree about the Iran nuclear deal. The United States was in that deal for some period of time. We decided to get out of the deal because we thought that being outside of the deal allowed us to achieve the goal of the deal which is to prevent Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon.
So we had great meetings yesterday with Heiko Maas, with Jeremy Hunt, with French Foreign Minister Le Drian, Federica Mogherini. Very good meetings yesterday. The secretary is very diligent about sharing information with our allies as threats to peace and security warrant.
And given all the information that we've been receiving about Iran, we wanted to share that and we also wanted to sort of go behind the intelligence and to explain to them why we've been doing what we're doing in the Middle East and very good meetings, very productive.
I don't think anyone would be surprised to learn that we disagree about the Iran nuclear deal. But Europe is a stakeholder. Europe wants to see a peaceful Middle East. Very hard to do that without a peaceful Iran.
RFE/RL: So they do agree with the threat assessment as well? And the intelligence that you shared with them yesterday?
Hook: Well, just look at what Europe has done over the last year. They have recalled ambassadors from Iran. They have expelled Iranian diplomats. They have written many letters to the UN Security Council condemning Iran space launches, the missile testing.
The EU just a few months ago sanctioned the Iranian Intelligence Ministry for its terrorism attempts in Europe. So, if you look at the record it's very clear that Europe is also concerned about Iranian aggression. They would like Iran to knock it off. They would also like Iran to stay in the Iran nuclear deal so that they never acquire a nuclear weapon. We just think being outside the deal gives us better odds than that.
RFE/RL: So the deal is dead?
Hook: For us we've been out for a year and about five days. We had the one year anniversary of us leaving the deal. We've been able to do a lot during that year. our oil sanctions and our banking sanctions have denied Iran tens of billions of dollars. That's money that they would otherwise spend on Hezbollah, on the Houthis in Yemen, on Assad in Syria, on Hamas in the Palestinian territories.
We had the leader of Hezbollah recently announce, he made an appeal for charity for public donations because they don't have the money that they used to. You have Shia fighters in Syria saying that Iran doesn't have the money that it used to. That's because our sanctions are working. And it's really good.
Iran had to make a 29% cut in its military spending in this year's budget. And that means our sanctions are making a difference and the less money that Iran has to spend on its proxies and its military in the Middle East, the better.
RFE/RL: At the same time INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) is up and Federica Mogherini said we will have the first transactions in the next coming weeks. What do you think about the timing of her announcement?
Hook: Well it's sort of up. The Iranians have not set up their side of the mechanism. This mechanism has two pieces, the European side, which is the UK France and Germany and then the Iranian side.
The Iranians have not put in place the transparent financial system that allows this to be operational. So, I'm not sure it will ever get off the ground.
The second thing is there's no corporate demand for this vehicle. So if you're the CEO of BMW and you are given a choice between selling BMWs in the United States or selling BMWs in Iran you are as a matter of economic necessity you're going to choose the United States market. That's the case for every significant European company that does sort of global financial work. So we don't see any corporate demand for it. And we haven't seen Iran do its part of the mechanism.
RFE/RL: President Trump said that recently that he heard little things about Iran. What does he mean by that? And was he talking about these attacks on the ships in the United Arab Emirates?
Hook: I think he was referring to the various intelligence reporting, the threat streams that we have been analyzing now for some number of days that suggests that Iran is plotting attacks against American interests. And so, the President has made clear that Iran should not miscalculate and decide to attack the United States. It would be a big mistake.
And that's the message of deterrence that Secretary Pompeo shared here when he was meeting with our European allies.
RFE/RL: You think Iran can actually attack American interests?
Hook: Well, Iran has been attacking American interests. They've also been attacking European interests as recently as the last year or two. So this Iran regime is the last revolutionary regime on earth and they use terrorism as a tool of statecraft. And they've been using it all over the world for 40 years.
So we would like Iran to behave more like a normal nation and less like a revolutionary cause. And if Iran can do that, we're going to have a lot a lot more peaceful Middle East.