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E.U. Remains At Odds With U.S. Over Exit Of Iran Nuclear Deal


The United States is working to build support for a new confrontation with Iran. This is the day that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets other foreign ministers in Warsaw, Poland. Their agenda is pretty broad - promoting peace and security throughout the Middle East. But some Europeans do disagree with the U.S. approach, particularly the U.S. withdrawal from a nuclear deal with Iran. And some Europeans are limiting their participation in this conference. Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative to Iran, is traveling with Secretary Pompeo, and he's on the line from Warsaw. Mr. Hook, welcome back to the program.

BRIAN HOOK: Hi, Steve, good to be with you.

INSKEEP: What do you want from U.S. allies who are still in this nuclear deal and still, frankly, want to do business with Iran?

HOOK: What we would like is for the Iran nuclear deal not to come at the expense of peace and stability in the Middle East. And it is the case that the deal by not making any mention of Iran's missile program has enabled Iran. It's facilitated Iran's missile testing, which is in clear defiance of the U.N. Security Council. And it's also facilitated their missile proliferation around the region. So this is an opportunity, as you said, here in Warsaw. We're going to be discussing a range of issues. But in the case of Iran, we agree to disagree with the Europeans on the Iran nuclear deal. But I think we share the same threat assessment when it comes to Iran's missile testing and missile proliferation.

INSKEEP: Is it a downside or a disadvantage that some key European leaders like the EU foreign policy chief, just to give one example, that they're not there?

HOOK: Well, we have every EU member state here in Warsaw attending. We have the British foreign minister, the Italian foreign ministers and a number of ministers from Europe. We have almost 70 nations attending from every region of the world. So we're very happy with the level of participation.

INSKEEP: You will be, I'm sure, meeting with diplomats from various nations that are talking about continuing to do business with Iran. What do you want them to know? What do you want them to do?

HOOK: When you are an investor in Iran's economy, you can never be sure whether you are facilitating commerce or terrorism. This is a country that doesn't follow international banking standards for a reason. They don't want people to follow the money. And this regime since 2013 has spent $16 billion in Syria and in Iraq and in Yemen, and it destabilizes the Middle East. It's a revolutionary regime that spends its commercial revenues in very malign ways.

INSKEEP: I want to check on the progress of one part of the U.S. approach here, Mr. Hook, because the United States has been working to reduce Iranian oil exports. That's where the money is - or the biggest money is - when it comes to the Iranian economy. How much do you believe you have been able to reduce Iran's exports over the last few months?

HOOK: Well, we've taken off over a million barrels of oil from Iran's export list. And that has denied them billions and billions of dollars in revenue. And that's a good thing. This is a regime that had a great opportunity with the Iran nuclear deal to get onto a better footing with the United States. And it took the sanctions relief and spent it in a lot of places where the United States is on the other side. And nowhere is that more true than in Syria.

INSKEEP: I want to figure out, though, where this policy is going. You may know that the Iranian leader, Ali Khamenei, has made a statement put on its website in the last few hours. One quote from this translated is "with regard to America, no problem can be resolved and negotiations with it have nothing but economic and spiritual loss." That is a quote from Ali Khamenei. Now, we should be clear, he's always saying that. He's always saying it's a bad idea to negotiate with the United States. But in this case, is he right? The United States really doesn't want to deal with this regime because you disagree with them so strongly.

HOOK: I think he has it incorrect. The United States doesn't have any permanent enemies. And you look at the trajectory of both Japan and Germany after World War II as an obvious proof of that. The United States stands and supports the Iranian people. I think they would like to have better relations with the United States. We would like that as well. But this regime stands in the way of that in terms of just having much better relations with the United States and behaving like a normal country.

INSKEEP: Can you imagine, at this point, President Trump getting on the phone with Ayatollah Khamenei and say, listen; the terms have to be different, but we could make a deal here?

HOOK: The president and his secretary of state have made clear that we are open to negotiations with the regime. It is very difficult to do that. Only a few days ago, the ayatollah, the supreme leader of Iran, issued death threats against the president, the secretary of state and his national security adviser.

INSKEEP: Oh, you're referring - there's an item on Twitter here - death to the few people running that country, meaning the United States. That's from Khamenei's Twitter account.

HOOK: Yes. And he specifically named President Trump, Ambassador Bolton and Secretary of State Pompeo. And this has been consistent with the kind of rhetoric from the regime. The ayatollah has said that he requires hostility with the United States. We don't look at it that way. We know the Iranian people would like to have much better relations with the United States. But this regime is doing a very bad job of representing its own people.

INSKEEP: Brian Hook is the U.S. special representative for Iran. He's on the line from Warsaw, Poland, where diplomats are meeting to discuss the Middle East today. Mr. Hook, thanks very much.

HOOK: Thanks for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.