Foreign Press Center Briefing with Senior Administration Officials
Topic: The President’s Iran Policy Rollout
Friday, October 13, 2017, 10:00 A.M. EDT
The Washington Foreign Press Center, Washington, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. Thank you so much for coming in and thanks to our colleagues here at the Foreign Press Center for pulling this together. Also, thanking our administration officials for coming in to talk a little bit about the President’s Iran policy rollout, which will be announced later today. For purposes of this conversation right now, this will be on background attributable to senior administration officials. It will be embargoed until 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time today, please. We ask that you not take any pictures. You may use voice recorders; those are for reference but not for broadcast, so meaning you cannot use them for radio, TV, et cetera, but for your reference and reporting. Reporting on the briefing is embargoed, again, until the President’s address.
We’ll have some opening remarks from each of my colleagues, and then we’ll do some question-and-answer period. And if you could please state your name and your news organization. And why don’t we start out with [Senior Administration Official One]. [Senior Administration Official One], do you want get us started?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. Just to be clear, 11:30 will – is the embargo, so the – since senior administration officials briefed the White House press corps last night and then there – an embargo on their remarks lifts at 11:30, so this can lift at 11:30 as well.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I guess I only have a few points. Number one, when the President speaks later today, this has really, I think, been by some a little bit mischaracterized as a JCPOA or a nuclear deal speech. It will address the JCPOA and the nuclear deal, but it is fundamentally an Iran policy and Iran strategy speech that will lay out a full range of Iranian malign activities and the full range of the United States’s actions to counter all of those malign activities, which of course includes nuclear but stretches well beyond that.
The second point to make is that – and there’s a hotly anticipated decision on the certification or not certification of the JCPOA. Some people often use the – you hear the word “decertify” a lot. Kind of a minor detail, also inaccurate. It’s more of a decline or unable to certify. I would say that to try to sort this out in everybody’s heads, the INARA, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, is a U.S. law that’s completely separate from the JCPOA itself. The certification is a requirement only in the INARA law and does not affect United States compliance or noncompliance or in any way the United States’s involvement with the JCPOA.
So if, as one has heard reported for at least the past, I don’t know, 90 days, that the President is expected not to – not to recertify compliance with the JCPOA, that absolutely does not mean – it does not mean that the United States has on that day unilaterally walked away from the JCPOA. And you will certainly hear the President address that point, but there’s so much confusion about it, I thought I would make that clear.
So, really, that’s it for me. This is an Iran strategy speech. It’s not simply a nuclear deal speech. Second of all, if you hear him say that he declines to certify, that doesn’t mean the United States is out of the deal. In fact, the decisive event of the last month was the September 14th sanctions waivers, which the United States did sign and move once again. Those keep the United States in the deal for another 180 days. Not to say that we’re obligated to stay for 180 days. The President can – since this is an executive agreement, the President can unilaterally abrogate it at any time, but declining to certify does not do that.
MODERATOR: [Senior Administration Official Three] or —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: [Senior Administration Official Two].
MODERATOR: [Senior Administration Official Two].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Okay, thank you. So I can give you the outlines of the strategy, the integrated Iran strategy that the President will be announcing today. For a number of months, both the President, Secretary of State, and others have been saying that we’ve been undergoing a comprehensive Iran policy review. So what the President is announcing today in terms of his strategy is the product of that review. It’s gone through thousands and thousands of interagency man hours of research and development and analysis. So it’s been pretty – it’s been a thorough zero baseline review of the United States policy and strategy toward Iran.
The strategy that he’s going to outline today has four major elements or strategic objectives and lines of effort. The first strategic objective which is going to be turned into a line of effort, as we call it in the interagency, is to neutralize Iran’s destabilizing activities and constrain its aggression, particularly its support for terrorism and militants, and that’s with a focus on its destabilizing activities in the Middle East in particular, Afghanistan as well. So this includes, for example, the destabilizing activities we see them taking in Syria; its support to terrorism through groups like Hizballah, Hamas, the Taliban, Iraqi Shia militant groups; its destabilizing activities fueling ethnic – or ethnic and sectarian conflict in Iraq; fueling the civil war in Yemen and beginning to use the Houthis as a militant proxy there to create a threat to the region around it; as well as the activities that it’s undertaken in places like Bahrain, the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia, and so on.
The second line of effort or strategic objective is to work to deny Iran, and especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, funding for its malign activities. These – so the destabilizing activities I just listed, the IRGC is the main action arm for that, and so a complementary line of effort here is to go after the funding that the IRGC and the rest of the Iranian regime use as – to fuel its activities. That’s both its activities outside Iran pertaining to its funding for terrorists and militant proxies, but also the funding that it generates inside Iran in the way in which it has hijacked a large portion of the Iranian economy so that, for example, we’re talking about trying to drain the funding and resources from IRGC front companies that operate inside Iran and use those funds, or charitable endowments that are associated with the IRGC and the Iranian regime that divert those funds into support for terrorism.
The third line of effort is to counter the threats to the United States and our allies from Iran’s ballistic missiles and its other asymmetric weapons and advanced threatening technologies. So this includes things like not just ballistic missiles, but the cruise missiles that it’s been proliferating through the region, as well as things like fast boats that threaten shipping in international waterways, and things like its cyberattack capabilities that it’s been developing. So that’s designed to – and to do that also with the support of our allies, in concert with our allies.
The fourth and final line of effort is to deny Iran all paths to a nuclear weapon, and of course that’s linked to what the President is going to announce today respecting INARA and the JCPOA.
Now, there are a couple of enabling activities that go along and really support all four of these lines of effort, and the first of those is that the President intends to revitalize the United States traditional alliances and regional partnerships as bulwarks and better counterweights against Iranian subversion and destabilizing power projection in the Middle East, and to restore a more stable balance of power in the region, and to be able to bolster our traditional allies so they serve as a better deterrent against this destabilizing Iranian activity.
And the second enabling activity, which is something that the President has already begun to mention as a theme, for example, in his UN General Assembly speech, is to rally the international community to condemn the Iranian regime and particularly the IRGC’s gross violations of human rights and its oppression of the Iranian citizenry, as well as its unjust detention of American citizens and other foreigners on specious charges. So this goes to, for example, making the clear and conscious distinction between the activities that the Iranian regime is undertaking in a malign way and the Iranian people, and the gulf between them, and the way in which it’s the Iranian regime and the IRGC and their malign activities that are actually the biggest obstacle to the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people.
And I’ll end it there.
MODERATOR: Okay, [Senior Administration Official Three] from the State Department.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: I’d like to say a few words about the – a lot of the diplomacy that we’ve been doing with our allies during this review of the Iran strategy. [Senior Administration Official Two] has – [Senior Administration Official Two] has talked about the comprehensive approach that we are taking to Iran. And this is the discussion that we’ve been having with allies over many, many months now, that the Iran deal in the – the interest in securing the deal caused the – many of the signatories to the deal to look the other way on the range of malign activities that Iran was engaging in, not only in the region but around the world.
We are trying to recover a much more comprehensive approach to all of the activities that have been enumerated. What we have found in our discussions is a clear understanding that we have – that the international community has not taken a comprehensive approach to Iran’s terrorism, its missile development, its malign activities, its proxy network that operates in a gray zone, its destabilizing activities in the region. And a lot of our discussions with allies have been to recover a comprehensive approach to Iran. The Iran deal became a proxy for an Iran policy, and that needs to be revised.
Our early discussions with our allies have been encouraging around taking a comprehensive approach to Iran. And I just want to then echo one thing that was said earlier. Today’s actions are a matter of implementing domestic law. It is separate – INARA is separate from but related to the JCPOA, and there has been a lot of confusion about what INARA is and what it isn’t. And what the President has done – we’re looking at this in sort of stages – we are working with the Congress to amend INARA. At the same time, we are working with our allies and partners to address the flaws and the deficiencies of the JCPOA. And these are going to be done in parallel. And the consultations on that – sort of on that approach have already begun.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL FOUR: Thank you. Good morning. So I’m going to speak to you a little bit about the specific actions that Treasury OFAC is taking today, which are in line with the President’s broader efforts to counter the Iranian regime’s growing reckless, dangerous, and destabilizing behavior. So today, we’re taking action with respect to the IRGC’s role in helping perpetuate the ongoing campaign of violence in Syria, and persistent efforts by other specific entities that I’ll just – that I’ll talk to you about – to support previously designated entities involved in Iran’s missile programs or defense industries. Specifically, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, OFAC, is designating the IRGC under Executive Order 13224, which targets terrorism consistent with the bill that the Congress passed over the summer, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.
Additionally, OFAC is designating three Iran-based entities and one China-based entity for their connection to the IRGC, or designated Iranian defense-related entities. I’ll just walk you through some of the details, and others will be available once we issue our release today.
So specifically with respect to the IRGC, Iran’s IRGC is being designated for providing support to the IRGC Quds Force, the key Iranian entity enabling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s relentless campaign of brutal violence against his own people, as well as the lethal activities of Hizballah, Hamas, other terrorist groups. More specifically, the IRGC has been training IRGC Quds Force personnel prior to their combat deployments to Syria. They’ve been partnering with the Quds Force on the battlefields in Syria. They’ve been transferring military equipment to Quds Force in Syria, and recruiting, training, and facilitating the travel of Afghan and Pakistani nationals to Syria to fight for and alongside the Quds Force in Syria in support of the brutal Assad regime.
OFAC designated the Quds Force under the Global Terrorism Executive Order 13224 in October 2007 for providing support to Hamas, Hizballah, and other terrorist organizations. OFAC today is also designating three Iran-based entities for their activities related to two key elements of Iran’s military for the – Iran’s Naval Defense Missile Industry Group, or SAIG, and also the IRGC. And lastly, OFAC will be designating a China-based entity for providing support to Shiraz Electronics Industry, an entity that is owned or controlled by Iran’s ministry of defense and armed forces logistics and that produces a variety of equipment for Iran’s military.
As a result of this action, any property of the individuals and entities designated today subject to U.S. jurisdiction is blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them, consistent with multiple statutes. Secondary sanctions attached to these individuals and entities – meaning that non-U.S. persons who knowingly transact with these individuals and entities could themselves face being cut off from the United States – these types of tactical designations are critical, we believe, to combating Iran’s malign activities that you already heard about today and are very much in line with the President’s strategy.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you so much. And let’s start with questions. And do we have – Philip Crowther. Philip, go right ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: I’m sorry, please state your organization.
QUESTION: Sure. Philip Crowther with France 24. [Senior Administration Official Three], first of all, you said that you are already addressing flaws and deficiencies in the JCPOA. Are you happy with how things have evolved, and can you see that deal as sticking around for a long time? And if I may quickly ask whoever would like to respond to this question: How many people actually working on the new Iran strategy believe that the JCPOA is the worst deal ever?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: The President has declined to certify INARA on the grounds that the JCPOA gave Iran too much in return for too little. It’s not proportional. And so when the Secretary of State attended the meeting of the Joint Commission on the margins of the UN General Assembly, he presented to the members of the Joint Commission his views on the deficiencies on the plan of action. And we – he also laid out in the same way that you heard earlier the full range of Iranian activities that we do – that do not contribute to the cause of peace and security. And what we have found in our early discussions is a welcome shift of focus toward all the activities that are outside of the Iran deal.
The Iran deal has become the prism through which people view the totality of Iranian policy, but it is only a part of it. It is an arms control plan of action. It is not even an arms control agreement, as Zarif will tell you; it’s a plan of action. And if it’s just a plan of action, then plans can be changed. And given the widely known deficiencies in the JCPOA, we intend to have discussions about how to improve the plan. And there are many ways to address Iran’s nuclear program, and there are many ways to address all of the things outside of Iran’s nuclear program.
Historically, it’s been done – the nuclear file has been done through the UN Security Council, but it was also done through unilateral sanctions. So we had a multilateral and a unilateral sanctions regime that existed prior to the deal. That regime can be turned back on. The real question is: How do we prevent Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon? And our policy is to deny Iran the ability to ever acquire a nuclear weapon, and there are many ways to go about that, and we will be discussing with other nations how we can go about doing that. And we are open to many avenues to achieve those policy goals.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Anne Custer-Walters. Hi, Anne. And you’re from DPA, from Germany?
QUESTION: Yes, I’m from DPA, the German Press Agency. I was hoping that someone on the panel could talk a little bit more about the discussions that you’ve been having with allies, specifically European allies, ahead of this move, what kind of feedback you’ve gotten from them, and how you plan to convince them to go along with efforts to address these deficiencies in the JCPOA. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I can start with one very – two small comments. One is a lot of the conversations have centered on dispelling the confusion that I brought up in my opening remark, which is a concern that a decision to decline to certify means that the U.S. walks out of the deal today and reassuring European allies that that is not the case, and walking them through the distinction between the domestic law and the international agreement. I think – so there’s been some focus on that.
And there’s also been some focus, and [Senior Administration Official Three] will know more detail probably about this than I do, but several European partners have expressed many of the same frustrations with the limitations of the agreement that the United States has expressed, that this administration has expressed, that this president has expressed. In particular, if the purpose is to deny the Iranian regime a nuclear weapon presumably forever, why does it have sunset clauses? And the issue of coverage of ballistic missiles, which inherently go together with nuclear weapons – you can’t really separate the weapon itself from the delivery system – those things need to be addressed. So there’s common ground there that we are working to expand and solidify.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: And the corollary to that is that we reject the policy of containing a nuclear Iran. It is our policy to deny them the – a pathway to achieving – to having a nuclear breakout capacity. I think that over the last many years there has been such a focus on the Iran deal that people see the gains that Iran has made especially in the region but also around the world. And it’s been a policy of neglect for all of the policies – for all of the activities that are outside of the deal have been neglected, and we are going to turn our focus to that while we are working at the same time with Congress on fixing the deal and with our allies on fixing the deal.
MODERATOR: Okay. Is Miriam Burgues Florez here?
QUESTION: No, but I’m Lucia Leal with EFE. I’m her colleague.
MODERATOR: EFE, yes, thank you. From Spain. Thank you.
QUESTION: Sorry, she couldn’t be here today.
MODERATOR: Welcome. Thanks.
QUESTION: So my – I wanted to see – Secretary Tillerson said in his briefing yesterday that the administration would like to probably reach another agreement with the parties of the JCPOA to address all these deficiencies that weren’t included in the original agreement. So I wanted to say – to see if you could elaborate on what would you like to be included in that second deal. And what would be the trigger points that the President is asking Congress to include in their amendment of INARA? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I think the three – I’ll backfill this, but there’s really three main things to be addressed: sunset clauses, ballistic missiles, weak enforcement provisions – so stronger enforcement mechanisms. And just to clarify, as I – [Senior Administration Official Three], you correct me if you think this is a mischaracterization. What I heard the Secretary say was that we’re sort of agnostic about how we fix the – people say, “Well, are you going to just renegotiate the existing deal?” And he says: We don’t have to do it that way. We’re kind of agnostic about the way in which we address these deficiencies as long as they’re addressed, and one possibility might be a follow-on agreement.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: That’s right. The – I would just emphasize the deal’s single greatest flaw is that its restrictions sunset over time, and that leaves Iran free in the future to openly pursue industrial-scale nuclear fuel enrichment, and that’s an important step toward achieving a rapid nuclear weapons breakout capability. The Secretary talked about that yesterday, about the sunset is the single greatest flaw. We also have, as was said earlier, missiles and some of the enforcement mechanisms which we think – the Secretary said, the bar for compliance for Iran is so low that we should not be surprised that they are in compliance every 90 days when we have to do an INARA certification.
This is a deal that we think is a lopsided deal and that we had had Iran in a – through the sanctions architecture that was built over many years, we had, we think, an opportunity to strike a better deal. But a deal is not – as I said earlier, we are very open to the mechanisms to ensure that Iran never achieves nuclear breakout capability. And before the deal, we had a sanctions architecture. There’s many ways that we can go about doing this.
One thing I will say that’s important to emphasize, the plan of action is not an arms control treaty. It was not submitted to the Congress for ratification, and it does not enjoy the support of the American people. The President has made a decision to change that and to work with Congress to make them partners in fixing the deal. At the same time, we are working with our allies not only on the deal but on the range of activities that are outside of the deal.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Let’s – that’s an important point to follow up on, especially – and I know you’re all foreign press who cover the American political system, so you’re familiar with it, but just to reinforce this point, it was not submitted for ratification because its authors knew it would not be ratified. So Congress felt that it had no choice but to insert itself into a process from which the Executive Branch excluded it. And this President is actively re-engaging with Congress, the elected representatives of the American people who have constitutional oversight authority over international agreements, to bring them back into the process where he believes they ought to have been all along.
MODERATOR: Is Julian Borger here? Julian? James Martone?
QUESTION: I’m here.
MODERATOR: How are you?
QUESTION: My —
MODERATOR: From Sky News Arabia, right?
QUESTION: Hi. So yesterday – and I was on the phone call with Secretary Tillerson – at some point he said that – in talking about INARA, and I could have gotten this wrong, that the – INARA can be changed – is with us forever except for a future president could change that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I think what he —
QUESTION: So —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: The point he was making with that statement was just simply that statute law has a greater – it’s not permanent necessarily. Statutes can be repealed, but something that’s in U.S. law has a greater permanence than a mere executive agreement, right? So you actually get amendments through both houses of Congress signed by the President that has greater force and staying power than an executive agreement. It doesn’t mean it’s forever necessarily. A future Congress can always repeal the law, a president could sign the repeal of a law, but that’s the point he was making.
QUESTION: So what would your argument be to people who say that that – the deal that’s in place now, the sunset is 13 years, which is longer or 15 years which is longer than, like, an eventual new president who could change —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I would say what I just said. I mean, most – very few U.S. laws are actually repealed. You get something through a long process of legislation through both houses of Congress signed by the President, they tend to be around for a very, very, very long time, especially some – a law that would – whose provisions would be to help deny the Iranian regime a path to a nuclear weapon. Kind of hard to imagine – I mean, one never knows, but it’s hard to imagine a future president or a future Congress saying, “Yeah, we’ve rethought this and they really ought to have nukes, so let’s repeal that law.”
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: And I would say that at the end of a – of this President’s second term, the Iran deal will still not have expired. And so we are not – we are mindful that we have a sunset – that this is – all of these provisions sunset. And if you work with the Congress to address a sunset, it endures after the administration, after its second term.
And one of the things that the Secretary has highlighted with signatories to the agreement when he was in the Joint Commission meeting is that this deal, because it wasn’t submitted as a treaty, is – it has – it’s not on solid footing. It’s not even an agreement; it’s a plan of action. And it’s not an agreement because it was such a difficult – they had a very hard time coming up with what it was, and it would not have passed Congress.
So this is something which we have inherited. We have a – what we believe is a very bad deal that does not secure the peace while Iran is engaging in a lot of activities which we think threaten – which we know threaten peace and security, and by working with the Congress and getting something that’s on firm footing, that is one way to fix the deal. You don’t fix it in its entirety that way, but by making Congress a stakeholder and a partner in this, you put it – you put the plan on much firmer footing than what we’ve inherited. And what we’ve inherited is not a treaty; it is a plan of action.
MODERATOR: Paolo from La Stampa.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for the briefing. Paolo Mastrolilli, U.S. bureau chief for the Italian daily La Stampa. After the agreement, several European countries including Italy have restarted a economic relationship with Iran. Do you consider that looking the other way? And considering the action that you are taking today, apart from what will happen if you reestablish the sanction, what would you ask the allies to do in order to help you in the – in the efforts to stop, for example, the activity of the Revolutionary Guard, that can be benefited from this economic agreement that these countries are pursuing at this point?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: So we hope to be working with allies and we already have been talking with them about ways in which to match our sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard to the greatest extent possible.
In terms of in particular European trade activity with Iran, I think the thing that both the Treasury designation that [Senior Administration Official Four] mentioned and our existing sanctions structure, what we would caution and have been cautioning our European partners is that they take great care in knowing who it is in Iran they’re doing business with – who are the beneficial owners of companies that they’re seeking to enter into contracts with, do trade deals with, and so on – that they have to be very cognizant of the way in which the IRGC and other elements that are already under sanction of the Iranian regime use front companies, shell companies, et cetera, or are silent partners in some of these Iranian commercial interests.
And to – that our European – that European entities in particular should take great care not to make themselves vulnerable. That they should always do due diligence, and I think we’re going to be talking with our European partners in particular about ways in which to increase the level of awareness, to increase the level of information that’s available.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL FOUR: Yeah, and just to add to that, what we’ve also been saying, in addition to what [Senior Administration Official Two] mentioned, is that there’s no – there’s very little transparency in the Iranian economy.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Right.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL FOUR: So as you may know, they have – they are very far from meeting the FATF standards, the – which makes it very difficult to do the kind of due diligence that would be necessary, particularly when the IRGC is so endemic within the economy. So we’ve had ongoing discussions with them about that as well.
MODERATOR: Is Lignan (ph) from CCTV here, from China? Ching?
QUESTION: Yes, thank you.
MODERATOR: Yes, hi. You’re with Shanghai?
QUESTION: Yeah, with Shanghai Media Group. Thank you very much, [Moderator]. I have a question to [Senior Administration Official One] and also [Senior Administration Official Three]. [Senior Administration Official One], does – we talked about a lot of allies, but not partners, like China or Russia. There’s a credibility issue that not only – I mean, not only DPRK might not accept the potential diplomatic deal in the future with the U.S., but also we see Russia and China both are not only P5+1 member, but also Six-Party Talks member, but also Security Council members. So how can the U.S. assure the major powers that doing business with the U.S. is good? And also to [Senior Administration Official Three], has the State Department reached out to Russia or China, and what are their reaction to the new, latest decision? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: The Secretary – I’m sorry, you should go first.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: No, you go.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: No, no, no. You go.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: You can go first. I’m fine.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: The Secretary has made calls to a number of countries and – already, and will continue to make more as we roll out the President’s strategy. And he has – yes. I don’t have a readout of the calls, but he has made the calls. That was —
QUESTION: To China and Russia specifically?
QUESTION: To China and Russia as well?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Yes, both.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And what’s the —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I don’t have a readout.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Look, we’ve heard this argument over the past few days that the President’s action today will damage what we’re trying to do with North Korea and I think there’s – I mean, I don’t think it’s a particularly apt comparison, but first things first, it presumes something that’s not in evidence, that we’re kind of – our policy right now is let’s get a negotiation with North Korea started, which is not U.S. policy right now. In fact, you’ve heard many senior officials say many times now is not the time to talk to North Korea. That’s not to foreclose at some future date negotiations, at some point. I don’t know when that point would be. It doesn’t appear to be soon, and we know that we need to see some significant changes in North Korean behavior before we ever got to that point. So that’s the first thing, is just the sequencing of the question sort of puts the premise of the question in doubt.
If I think I heard you correctly, because I’ve heard this from others, what you’re saying is if you end up walking away from this deal, why would anybody ever trust you to do another deal, and so you’ve sort of undercut your future position forever. I think – I mean, the answer to that, for this administration’s perspective, is we don’t want to make bad deals. I mean, the United States isn’t walking away – first of all, we’re not walking away from this at all yet and may never; one doesn’t know. And second of all, we’re trying to address flaws in a deal that we think undermine the stated purpose of the deal. If this administration were to make another deal with another country – any other country, as the President I think will say pretty forcefully today – it will make a good deal that we think are in the American people’s interests and there won’t be this pressure or necessity for the United States to have to rethink it in the future.
And that’s one of the – and it’s not just the JCPOA. President’s been pretty critical of a whole variety of deals that this country – its leadership has made in previous decades, including a lot of trade deals and other things. And he says it’s part of a pattern of America’s negotiators not getting strong deals for the American people that he was elected to in very large part to counter, and he intends to live up to that promise.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Can I add something real quick on that? On whatever relation there is, whatever lessons there are between the Iran nuclear situation and the Korean situation – so we would turn that on its head. We think the lesson to be drawn here is not for the North Korean situation from the Iran situation; it’s the other way around. We think the North Korea situation demonstrates to us why it’s imperative to address the flaws in the Iran nuclear agreement now before they get to the point that you have another North Korea-like situation. That’s what we think is the main relation between these two cases analytically.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I should have said that. (Laughter.) In a way, the —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: In a way —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Again, it’s all – hey, we’re all on background.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: In a way, the agreed framework was the JCPOA of its day, a bad – a weak deal that didn’t work and look where we are now.
MODERATOR: Bruce Stewart from Shimbun – or Scott?
QUESTION: I go by Scott.
MODERATOR: Oh, I’m sorry.
QUESTION: It doesn’t matter.
MODERATOR: Scott Bruce.
QUESTION: Well, did the WMD cooperation between North Korea and Iran play a role in the development of the new policy toward Iran?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: There’s not a whole lot we can say on that topic beyond the general point that we’re always concerned about links between rogue state/bad state actors with bad proliferation records and are looking at that constantly and it plays into our thinking. If there’s any further you could go on that, [Senior Administration Official Two], I – but that’s about all I think I can say.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: No, I would leave it at that, that of course we’re concerned about two proliferators that have – that have – in the past, there’s been suspicions that they’ve had a relationship. We’re watching that very closely.
MODERATOR: And our final question. Go right ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Nadia Bilbassy with Al Arabiya. I have three quick questions, first for [Senior Administration Two]. You said that a component of the strategy is to put the RCG – to cut funds for them or to deprive them from getting money. But how can – what mechanism do you have? How do you stop them, especially after they got billions of dollars after they lift the sanction? And there’s no clause to say that this money has to be spent on improving the economy instead of supporting non-state actors or on terrorism.
And for [Senior Administration Three], I know that you said you want to strengthen the agreement and the same for – [Senior Administration Official One] said the same, but the Iranians already said they’re not opening for negotiation whatsoever. And the Russians already today actually warn against renegotiate the agreement, whatever way you’re going to look at it, whether you’re going to strengthen it, whether it’s an internal matter, whatever the deliberation. But they’re already making their point of view very clear, that that’s it, this is the agreement and this is what we’re going to live with.
Finally, for [Senior Administration Official Four], you said that you sanction entities that relate to RCG. Why not go after the RCG itself, as many people will argue? Because they are the main supporter of terrorism and the funds that goes to Hizballah and Houthi and – and the rest in the world.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL FOUR: We did designate the IRGC today under 13224.
QUESTION: Oh, under – I messed – okay, I messed up. Okay. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: [Senior Administration Official Two], do you want to do the next one?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Well, I mean, in terms of the – in terms of the way you actually get it, the IRGC’s funding, I would actually defer to [Senior Administration Official Four] and actually – I mean, the actions that [Senior Administration Official Four] is talking about today are the mechanism that we would use, but I would defer to [Senior Administration Official Four].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL FOUR: What is the question?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: The question was how to actually get at the IRGC’s funds.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL FOUR: Get at —
QUESTION: What kind of mechanism do you have to make sure that the money – they’re not going to go to terrorism or anything?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL FOUR: Yeah, so we – as you know, I’m sure, since the beginning of this administration, we have rolled out a number of designations against IRGC-related entities for – in connection with ballistic missile procurement development, in connection with human rights, in connection with their support for terrorism. That is one of the avenues that we take consistently to send the message that those assets should be blocked and that we’re very serious about continuing to curb that kind of activity. We’re also having continual discussions with our partners about taking similar actions. We still have our secondary sanction mechanism in place that – I think that the banks are also very much aware of the regime in – that they must comply with. So we’ve taken in the last nine, ten months a number of actions exactly in that direction and consistent with the President’s strategy. We’ll continue to take actions to drain the funding.
MODERATOR: All right. Thank you all.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: I can answer —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL FOUR: Go for it. Okay. Go ahead.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: I can answer your second question.
QUESTION: And just so you know, not everybody got the email to send in questions. So that’s why you may have a few extra people that haven’t gotten up to —
MODERATOR: I know. They all have to get on with their schedules today as well, so thank you so much.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: To answer your question, we expect a lot of posturing by Iran and don’t take its rhetoric very seriously at these early stages. Nations can take a hard line on refusing to improve the Plan of Action, but the plan is only one vehicle to deny Iran nuclear breakout capability.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you, everyone, for coming. Great to see you today. The embargo will be lifted at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time today, on background as senior administration officials. Thank you so much.