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State Dept. official says Iran engaging in ‘nuclear blackmail’

Iran announced its partial withdrawal from a 2015 nuclear treaty on Wednesday, citing the failure of other member nations to deliver promised economic relief after the U.S. pulled out of the deal a year ago. What does the development mean for the relationship between the U.S. and Iran, already tense? Judy Woodruff talks to Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran.

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  • Nick Schifrin:

    And now with me for the Trump administration's view is Brian Hook, the State Department's representative for Iran.

    Brian Hook, thank you for coming back to the "NewsHour."

    You just heard Ambassador Ravanchi accuse the U.S. of saying that your real intention is to provoke Iran and to — quote — "prepare for war." Is that the U.S. intention?

  • Brian Hook:

    I didn't really hear what he said.

    I can just say today what we saw with the Iranian regime is another example of nuclear blackmail. This is a strategy that they have used very effectively for many years. They do it to intimidate other nations, so that they then give Iran the economic benefits that it think it — that they think they deserve.

    And, in fact, Iran doesn't need to be enriching any fissile material at a level that is above what is required for a peaceful nuclear program. And so we're very happy to be outside of the Iran nuclear deal. We have a lot more freedom to deter Iran and prevent it from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, you call it nuclear blackmail.

    Let me go into what President Rouhani said today. He said that Iran would no longer abide by the caps on heavy water and low-enriched uranium. He threatened in 60 days to do more when it came to enrichment.

    But they are in the deal. And, as you heard the ambassador say, diplomacy is still an option. So, in some ways, is their response restrained?

  • Brian Hook:

    No.

    I think — as I said earlier, I think this is the Iranian regime, the world's leading sponsor of terrorism, threatening to enrich levels of uranium beyond what is necessary for a peaceful nuclear program.

    They have also used the nuclear program to — as cover to expand their range of activities, to run an expansionist revolutionary foreign policy around the Middle East. And it runs all the way from Lebanon to the Houthis in Yemen.

    And so what we have done outside of the deal is to drive up the costs of Iran's very expansionist foreign policy. And also being outside of the deal, with the enormous economic pressure that we're able to put on this regime, we're in a much better position to achieve our national security goals outside of the deal.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    I think your critics would point out that it would be easier to confront Iranian malign behavior while restricting their nuclear program.

  • Brian Hook:

    Well, Iran is still in the Iran nuclear deal. We're outside of it. And so we're not under any of those restrictions any longer.

    When we were in the deal, we weren't able to use any of our oil and banking sanctions against Iran to change their malign behavior around the Middle East. We have now sanctioned almost 1,000 Iranian individuals and organizations for a range of activities around the nuclear program, the missile program, the regional aggression, and the arbitrary detention of American citizens.

    We are seeing a difference. Iran has had to cut its defense budget for two successive years. Its biggest client in the Middle East, Hezbollah, has been making a public appeal for donations because the money from Iran is running out. So we're very happy with the positive impact that we're having just in the one year — and today is the one-year anniversary of us getting outs of the Iran deal.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Brian Hook, we have about a minute left, so I want to ask you about that maximum pressure campaign. You just talked about almost 1,000 people or entities. Today, you announced new sanctions on Iranian steel, aluminum and copper.

    One of the goals that you and I have talked about is getting Iran back to the table to renegotiate what you have called a bigger nuclear deal. Is there any evidence that your maximum-pressure campaign is convincing Iran to come back to the table?

  • Brian Hook:

    Well, we have a goal of getting to a new and better deal to succeed the existing Iran nuclear deal, which is only limited to the nuclear program.

    We are interested in an agreement that would address the nuclear program, the missile program, regional aggression, human rights abuses, and the like.

    Secretary Pompeo made that very clear about a year ago, the kind of demands that we that are — we have placed on the Islamic Republic to behave more like a normal nation and less like a revolutionary cause.

    Putting in place that sort of clarity, we think, has been very helpful for the international community and it's highlighted Iran's regional aggression. And we're having more countries come our way over the last year because of our diplomacy.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Brian Hook, special representative for Iran at the U.S. State Department, will have to leave it there. Thank you so much.

  • Brian Hook:

    Thanks, Nick.

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