Ellen Mitchell – The Hill Nov 29, 2018
The Trump administration on Thursday said military action against Iran could be possible should U.S. sanctions against the country fail to curb Tehran from delivering weapons to hostile groups in the region.
“We have been very clear with the Iranian regime that we will not hesitate to use military force when our interests are threatened. I think they understand that. I think they understand that very clearly,” said Brian Hook, the State Department special representative on Iran.
Speaking at a press conference at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C., Hook was asked about possible next steps the administration could take against Iran in its “maximum pressure” campaign against the country.
“I think right now, while we have the military option on the table, our preference is to use all of the tools that are at our disposal diplomatically,” he said.
Hook spoke at an event held to display pieces of what he said were Iranian weapons and military equipment — many handed over to the U.S. by Saudi Arabia — deployed by Tehran to militant groups in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.
The most scrutinized of the accusations is that Iran has been supplying the weapons to the Houthis in Yemen, now in its fourth year of a civil war against a Saudi-led campaign, after Houthi rebels took over the nation’s capital in 2015.
Such an act by Iran, if true, would be in violation of United Nations resolutions. Iran has denied the allegations.
Reuters, who viewed the weapons on display ahead of the press conference, was told that the administration wants “there to be no doubt across the world that this is a priority for the United States and that it’s in international interest to address it,” according to Katie Wheelbarger, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.
The Pentagon pointed to what it said were Iranian corporate logos on arms fragments as a way to prove that the arms came from Iran. It could not say when the weapons were given to the Houthis, and there was no immediate way to independently verify where the weapons were made or used, Reuters reported.
Hook pressed back on criticisms that the display — the second within a year — was a political stunt by the Trump administration that could increase tensions in the region.
“This is simply putting out in broad daylight Iran’s missiles and small arms and rockets and UAVs and drones. … It’s very important for nations to see with their own eyes that this is a grave and escalating threat,” Hook said.
Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley held a similar event in the same location last November.
Hook also denied that the timing of the event was an attempt to shift the narrative away from Saudi Arabia, which has come under intense scrutiny over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and skepticism that Riyadh is actively trying to limit civilian deaths in Yemen.
The Senate on Wednesday advanced a resolution that would end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen’s civil war in a sharp rebuke to President Trump, who has failed to condemn the nation for Khashoggi’s killing in October at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
“There isn’t anything tied to what’s happening in Saudi Arabia,” Hook said. “Of course it’s related. Many of the missiles here were interdicted by Saudi Arabia which illustrates just how much of a threat it’s under.”
In addition, he repeated other administration officials’ defense of Riyadh, saying that “abandoning Yemen right now would do immense damage to U.S. national security interests and to those of our partners in the Middle East.”
Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were on Capitol Hill on Wednesday ahead of the Senate vote to attempt to head off momentum for the resolution. The two argued that withdrawing U.S. support from the war would undermine efforts to improve Saudi targeting and broker peace.