Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin held an unannounced briefing to talk with the press about sanctions the administration placed on Iran Monday.
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Hello everybody.
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: So I think, as you know, I just left the Oval Office, where President Trump signed a new executive order authorizing even more expanded sanctions against Iran. So now — along with our existing sanctions authority, we have additional sanctions to go after the Supreme Leader’s Office and lock up literally billions of dollars more of assets. Along with that action today, we are also announcing specific actions targeting those responsible for recent activities.
I think, as you know, previously, we have sanctioned Soleimani for his behavior. Along with that, today I am going to announce three of his other senior leaders: Tangsiri, who is responsible for the Iranian regime’s forces threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz; Hajizadeh, who is the Commander of the Air Force and responsible for downing the U.S. unmanned aircraft in international air space; as well as Pakpour, who is responsible for IRGC’s ground forces.
Along with those, we are also designating five Naval District’s leaders: Gholamshahi, Zirahi, Yadollah Badin, Mansur Ravankar, and Ozma’i. These sanctions are all very important for recent activities.
The President has also designated — instructed me that we will be designating Zarif later this week.
So, with that, I am happy to take a few questions.
Q Mr. Secretary, the President indicated last week that he believed that the shoot-down of the drone may have been a mistake that was made by local commanders on the ground. Taken together what you’ve announced today, it would seem to indicate that maybe this wasn’t a mistake, that it was an intentional act that was known all the way up the chain of command.
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: No, I wouldn’t read anything into that. Again, many of these — the executive order that the President signed was in the works previously. These actions are people who have either made threats, or specific things. And, again, I don’t think you should interpret this anywhere otherwise, other than we are designating people who we believe were responsible for the chain of command, whether they knew it or not.
Q Secretary Mnuchin, thank you so much for doing this briefing. What is your response to your critics who say these sanctions are more symbolic than substantive, and they won’t bring Iran to the negotiating table because Iran has said they’re not coming back to the negotiating table after the President ripped up the nuclear deal?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Well, I think the President was very clear. If they want to come back to the negotiating table, he’s ready. If not, they won’t. For the people who say these are just symbolic, that’s not the case at all. We’ve literally locked up tens and tens of billions of dollars. These sanctions will come along with additional entities where people are hiding money. So, no, these sanctions are highly effective.
Q Mr. Secretary, we’ve seen the attack on the oil tankers. We’ve seen the attack on the drone. What makes you think that these sanctions have been effective? What signs are there that they have been —
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Oh, there’s no question these sanctions have been very effective in cutting off funds going to the IRGC and other people. And I can only presume — I’m not going to presume why they’re doing things, but these are highly, highly effective on locking up the Iranian economy. And as the President said, we look forward to a time in releasing sanctions if they’re willing to negotiate.
Q Thank you. When you talk about sanctions on the Supreme Leader, that is as high as you can go inside of Iran. Can you give us the thinking as to why the administration wanted to bring it up to that level?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I think the President had been clear: maximum pressure on the sanctions. So that is — that is our strategy. And it’s not just him; it’s the Leader’s office, which encompasses a whole range of activities.
Q Mr. Secretary, thank you. Have you done the intelligence research to figure out what assets any of these individuals that you just named actually have in the United States or in the global financial system? That is, do any of these people have money or assets outside of Iran?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: So the answer is: Whenever we do sanctions, we do do intelligence. I can’t comment on any of the specific intelligence. But again, I would say we follow the money and it’s highly effective.
Q Do any of these people have assets outside of Iran?
Q Mr. Secretary, thank you. Is a military option or military reprisal still on the table?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I obviously can’t comment on that. I’m going to leave that to the President.
Q Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Have you consulted with America’s allies, regarding these sanctions? And is there buy-in from America’s allies? Will they also be imposing sanctions similar to what the U.S. —
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: No, I have not consulted on these specific sanctions. The answer is: In general, I’ve had many, many conversations with all our allies. I was in Japan 10 days ago, meeting with the finance ministers and discussed our sanctions program. I’ll be going to the G20 with the President. Again, this will continue to be a topic of discussion.
Q Yeah, Mr. Secretary, if that’s to me —
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I’ll give it to you. It wasn’t, but then we’ll go to you.
Q All right, thank you. You said this was in response to events of — and the recent events. Is that about the shooting down of the drone or the attack on the six tankers or both?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, what I said is: Some of these were in the works. Some of these are an addition. All of the above.
Yes. Go ahead.
Q I mean, you know, this is — the President came close to military action. Now you’re coming back with sanctions. What was the direct response to the shoot-down of the drone?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, I said “some of them.” I’m not going to identify which ones are which. I’ve said that some of this was in the works, some of this is a result of recent activities.
Q Mr. Secretary, how do these sanctions deal — how do these sanctions relate to President Trump’s “deal of the century” — what’s happening coming up in Bahrain?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I look forward — I’m leaving for Bahrain in about an hour. So I look forward to our discussion in Bahrain. We’ll be rolling out the economic plan, which will be great opportunities for the people of Palestine. We have a terrific group there of finance ministers, business leaders all around the world. I think we have about 350 people going. So I look forward to it.
Q Mr. Secretary, thank you, sir. Yeah, just following up on an earlier question. You talked about the sanctions are effective, in terms of inflicting pain on the economy. Is there evidence yet — or will there be evidence, do you think — that this is having an effect on Iran’s behavior?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Well, let me first comment that our issue is not with the people of Iran. So I just want to be very clear: We are not looking at creating issues for the people of Iran.
Having said that, we are — have sanctions against bad behavior. And there’s no question that locking this money up worked last time. And there’s no question locking the money up works now.
Thank you very much.
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