Iran Snapback

Co-sponsored by the National Security Institute - George Mason University

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Iran is in significant non-performance of its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  Yet, the United Nations Security Council and America’s European allies have failed to “snapback” sanctions on Iran as agreed in the JCPOA.  Join us for a conversation between Brian Hook, former Special Representative for Iran, and Dr. Jeremy Rabkin, Professor of Law at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School, for a conversation about the future of U.S.-Iranian policy and how to prevent Iran from achieving its nuclear ambitions.


Brian Hook, former U.S. Special Representative for Iran and Senior Policy Advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin, Professor of Law, Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University


Co-sponsored by the National Security Institute - George Mason University



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Event Transcript



Dean Reuter:  Welcome to Teleforum, a podcast of The Federalist Society's practice groups. I’m Dean Reuter, Vice President, General Counsel, and Director of Practice Groups at The Federalist Society. For exclusive access to live recordings of practice group teleforum calls, become a Federalist Society member today at


Micah Wallen:  Welcome to The Federalist Society's teleforum conference call. This afternoon's topic is titled "Iran Snapback." This is a co-sponsored Teleforum with the National Security Institute at the Antonin Scalia Law School. My name is Micah Wallen, and I'm the assistant director of practice groups at The Federalist Society.


      As always, please note that all expressions of opinion are those of the experts on today's call.


      Today, we are fortunate to have with us Professor Jeremy Rabkin, who is a Professor of Law at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University. We also have Brian Hook, who is a former U.S. Special Representative for Iran and Senior Policy Advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.


      After our speakers have their opening remarks and discussion, we will then open up the floor for audience Q&A. Thank you both for sharing with us today. Professor, the floor is yours.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  Okay. Thank you very much. First, I just want to say a little about Brian Hook, who I've known for many years and has been at many Federalist Society events as a speaker. When he was in the Bush administration, at the end, he was assistant secretary of state for international organization. That was when John Bolton was our ambassador to the UN, so Brian was actually, in a way, Bolton's boss. I just want to say he came out of that very well, probably much better than Donald Trump came out of being Bolton's boss later on. So he has that in his resume.


      I want also to mention that before he went to law school, he studied medieval philosophy at Boston College, and I had a number of really interesting conversations with him about Dante and other medieval writers. One of the things which I generally admired about him was he did not ever do the foreign policy nerd thing of "let me quote Thucydides." He was actually interested in the books that he was interested in and was not just looking for ornamental quotations and speeches in the future.


      In the current administration, Brian Hook started as the director of the policy planning, assistant secretary of state for policy planning, and since September 2018, or starting in September 2018, he was U.S. special representative for Iran and a senior policy advisor to the new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.


      He retired from this, or disengaged from this, in August 2020, so he saw quite a lot of the development of our Iran policy and our mid-east policy generally, in the Trump administration, or in the first term of the Trump administration.


      I just want to start by getting a little background. What happened with the snapback? Those of us who were paying attention at the end of the Obama administration remember President Obama saying the agreement that we'd made with Iran is really reliable because if Iran violates the limits on their purifying uranium and producing material for a bomb, if they cheat on this agreement, the sanctions we've already had in place will snapback.


      I think there's general agreement that they have actually violated these limits, and the sanctions haven't snapped back. So let's just start with: What happened?


Brian Hook:  Great, Jeremy. Thank you, and thanks to The Federalist Society for this platform so that we can have a conversation about the Islamic Republic of Iran. Always a pleasure to be reunited with Jeremy Rabkin who's taught me so much about sovereignty in his books on the subject.


      On Iran, yes, Professor Rabkin's right about there was a lot of skepticism when the Iran nuclear deal was being negotiated in the Obama administration that Iran, given its history for mendacity and skullduggery, would not comply with these voluntary obligations.


      A number of people—President Obama, John Kerry, Wendy Sherman—a number of folks all made public representations that that the United States can end the Iran deal, and they don't need the permission of anybody on the security council. We can do it unilaterally.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  Yes.


Brian Hook:  What a lot of people, I think—for sophisticated listeners like those in The Federalist Society—I think they know that the Iran nuclear deal is temporary, but there's a lot of people that don't know that. This is a modest and temporary non-proliferation plan. It's not even an agreement. This is what Foreign Minister Zarif once told me in a meeting as he was criticizing the Iran nuclear deal. He said, "It's not even an agreement. We couldn't agree to call it an agreement. It's only a plan of action. The JCPOA."


      This deal is going to expire, and it's already started expiring. It's going to continue to expire. The first thing on the expiration menu is the arms embargo and the travel ban that has been in place going back to when I was working at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, and I was one of the negotiators of all of the Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran.


      The arms embargo was something that we were able to pass unanimously in the UN Security Council. Unfortunately, when the prior administration was negotiating the Iran nuclear deal, they gave that away. So, in year five, it expires.


      So we decided to exercise the right that President Obama had sort of bragged about, which was we're going to unilaterally ensure that the arms embargo doesn't expire, and we did that through snapback. In late August, Secretary Pompeo notified the Security Council of Iranian noncompliance with its obligations under the Iran deal. That started a 30-day clock, and so, on October 19th or 20th, all of the UN -- sorry, September 19th. We notified the Council in August.


      It was on September 19th we announced that all U.S. sanctions on Iran have snapped back into place, and that includes the arms embargo, but it's much more than that. So that's where we stand. We have resorted UN sanctions.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  Wait, wait. Just to be clear. We said this, and then our sometime-partners in Europe said, "No, that's your opinion, and we don't feel bound by that." Right?


Brian Hook:  That's right. Look, the E3—UK, France, Germany—are all still in the deal. My view has been there isn't really much of a deal left to protect.


      There was a transatlantic disagreement over the snapback of UN sanctions.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  Maybe this is not central to the whole debate, but I would like to get you to just address does this show that we were mistaken to rely on them as partners? I don't mean to prompt you. Just like we were supposed to be in this together, and then it turns out that, actually, we're not in this together, and we're all alone.


Brian Hook:  It was a disappointment. President Trump has repeatedly proposed to the parties to the Iran nuclear plan that they join his very successful policy towards Iran. We think that -- well, we know. We know that our strategy of being outside the deal is much more likely to deny Iran a nuclear weapon than the Iran nuclear deal.


      If you want to know how the movie with Iran ends, you'll just have to watch the North Korea movie. The '94 Agreed Framework gave North Korea a path to a nuclear weapon. It was designed to do the opposite, and it failed. We have to learn the lessons from North Korea. We cannot have the world's leading sponsor of terrorism and antisemitism acquiring a nuclear bomb and the means of delivery.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  Yeah, so let me just push you a little more on this. We seem to have decided that we could live with a nuclear North Korean. I mean, we say that we won't, but we are, and the world doesn't seem particularly insistent that anything be done about North Korea.


      Just say a little more about why Iran is different. Or is it really different?


Brian Hook:  It is different in a number of ways. I think a much greater threat to U.S. security, and here's why. North Korea is a hermit kingdom. It has really not had the kind of revolutionary ambitions, beyond the Korean peninsula, that the Iranian regime has had since 1979.


      So, when you look at Iran, this is a country that -- Iran and Persia go back 2,500 years. This is an internationally engaged government. It is also the last revolutionary regime on earth, and it has also, at times, flirted with an apocalyptic vision of how the world ends and their role in bringing it about, and the return of the hidden imam.


      I remember when Ahmadinejad was president, there were a lot of concerns about some of the things that he was saying. When they do chant "Death to Israel" and "Death to the United States," the assassinations they conduct around the world. This is a regime, given its history and given its capabilities, we have to take it very seriously. The Middle East is also, unlike Asia, has been, over the last many decades, the most volatile region of the world.


      We cannot allow Iran -- it will change the balance of power in the Middle East for good. I don't mean for good, but I mean going forward. It will also have -- it's very hard to negotiate with a country that's wearing a suicide vest. It changes the whole character of negotiations.


      So there's a host of reasons why we need to be sure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon, and President Trump has made that clear repeatedly. He has had the military option on the table. Other presidents have had it on the table, but this president -- I think they know, the Iranian regime knows, that he's serious.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  Just two more follow-up questions and then we can see if listeners want to pose some questions. The first thing I want to ask you is regarding the military option. Should we understand the Trump policy as the United States reserves the right to do this on its own? Or would we feel that this is so serious that that would have to be at least discussed with our sometime-partners in Europe?


Brian Hook:  I think it's probably fact specific, or circumstance specific. The President -- we have worked together in a coalition in Iraq to deter Iranian aggression. The President took action against Kata'ib Hezbollah in Iraq and Syria.


      When the base housing, our coalition partners, was attacked, we took action. So the President, I think, likes to work with allies, likes to work with partners, to address national security threats.


      The subject of Iran is -- you have to get it right, and the President has put in place exactly the right policy to deny Iran the revenue it needs to fund terrorism around the world. They've conducted terrorist operations across five continents, and they've been enormously successful in the gray zone in the Middle East with their revolutionary Guard Corps. The President took decisive action to prevent Qasem Soleimani from executing plans that would've resulted in the deaths of possibly hundreds of Americans.


      I think the Iranian regime understands the dangers of climbing the escalation ladder with this president.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  It was notable that they huffed and puffed and then didn't respond after we did the strike against Soleimani.


Brian Hook:  Well, there was a strike on one of the bases that housed coalition partners. Thankfully, there were no deaths, but there were some injuries.


Prof. Jeremy A Rabkin:  He was their foremost military strategist, and that wasn't our foremost base, was it?


Brian Hook:  Yeah. Well, Qasem Soleimani has had -- he's not a household name in the way that, say, Osama Bin Laden was or some people knew about Baghdadi, but Qasem Soleimani was enormously effective. He had, I think, a genius for organization. So many of these proxies that operate in the gray zone had been managed by Qasem Soleimani for a very long time. He is responsible for the death of 600 Americans in Iraq. There's a lot of blood on his hands.


      When the President and his cabinet saw the kind of plotting that Qasem Soleimani was up to, he took the necessary action. There was a unanimous view inside the President's national security cabinet that the risks of inaction were much greater than the risks of action given the threat that we saw for American lives both military and civilian.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  I think the President deserves a lot of credit for that. I'm going to ask you a question which is not meant to be a pre-election political question at all. Seriously. It's a kind of foreign policy assessment question. Do you think Arab countries are looking at the possibility of a Biden administration and thinking, "It's okay. There's bound to be continuity." Or do you think they are anxious about possible discontinuity in our policy in the region?


Brian Hook:  I think our partners in the region and in that grouping, I would say especially our Sunni gulf partners and Israel. Our partners in the region, those partners viewed the Iran nuclear deal as a betrayal, and that is the word they used to describe America's foreign policy to Iran during that period when we were seeking an accommodation with Iran.


They viewed the Iran nuclear deal as enabling Iran's nuclear program and not preventing it. They didn't have to dismantle much of their nuclear infrastructure. The fact that Iran has been able to restart its nuclear program so quickly should tell you something about the deal. It was a very weak deal. Very weak inspections. It's got sunset clauses. No mention of ICBMs, and anybody who has the ambition to become a nuclear weapon state always has an ICBM program that walks arm in arm with the nuclear bomb piece.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  And they seem to have this capacity to say, "Oh, no, we're not letting you inspect this place." At least not right away.


Brian Hook:  Yeah, no. The Iranian regime has had an almost perfect record with playing cat and mouse with the IAEA in Vienna. We've got a very good ambassador there, Jackie Wolcott, who's been there for this administration and has done a great job. I worked with her in the UN Security Council. We've shown a lot of leadership in the IAEA.


      We're going to keep holding Iran accountable. We were able to get --


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  I didn't mean to sidetrack you. Do you think that in Tel Aviv and in capitols of gulf states they are a little uneasy, somewhat concerned, or panicky about what might happen with regard to Iran in a Biden administration?


Brian Hook:  Well, I try to keep politics out of foreign policy when I'm overseas. I just know how they view the prior administration's foreign policy to Iran and the Trump administration's foreign policy, and I know what they prefer.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  Yes. Let me reframe this in a way that maybe you're more comfortable addressing. Would it be hard to undo the various sanctions that the Trump administration has put in place? Or is this totally up to the next president, whoever it is, to just say, "Ah, I changed my mind. We're going to do something different?"


Brian Hook:  Well, we have put in place a sanctions regime on Iran that doesn't have any precedent in this regime's 41-year history. It has been historic what Secretary Mnuchin, Secretary Tillis, and Secretary Pompeo, the President, national security advisors. There's been a real whole of government effort, and we have used every authority at our --


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  But it is unilateral in the sense that it derives from presidential directives, right? To undo it, you wouldn't have to change the law.


Brian Hook:  Yes. I do think, though -- you're right, Jeremy. That's true. I do think it's very hard to make the case for lifting sanctions on figures like Hezbollah and to lift sanctions on people in the IRGC who are complicit in the deaths and the murders of American soldiers.


      I just don't understand how lifting sanctions on terrorists, and those entities that organize, train, and equip terrorists, advances America's national security or the security of our partners in the region, like Bahrain, Saudi, UAE, Oman, Israel.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  To look at this in a more optimistic light, do you think it's possible that Britain and France and Germany, the co-negotiators on this agreement, would be more willing to go along with this program if it were—I mean the sanctions program—if it were a Biden program? Or do you think they are dug in on "No, we want to stick to exactly what Obama promised us?"


Brian Hook:  There's a deep affection for the Iran nuclear deal among western Europeans and among the foreign ministries, so I've seen that firsthand. It's obviously not much of a secret that we have a profound disagreement over the prudence of the Iran nuclear deal.


      It's just very hard to predict. I haven't really spent any time studying how another administration would approach Iran. I have made the case that a policy of maximum economic pressure, diplomatic isolation, the credible threat of military force to defend our interests, and standing with the Iranian people is a formula that ought to persist across administrations. It has been very successful.


      We tried sanctions -- I hear this complaint sometimes from people that "Oh, you know, America's always just -- the answer to every question is sanctions." It's not true. We tried sanctions relief in the Obama administration, and it didn't work. The Iranian regime exploited it.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  And we tried it may times with North Korea.


Brian Hook:  We've also tried it with North Korea. These sorts of regimes, there's a certain language they understand. They, unfortunately, exploit the good will that the West has often displays. The Iranian regime says one thing and does another. This is just the nature of the regime.


      The foreign policy that the President has had in place from the time he's taken office has been enormously successful. I know that President Rouhani has publically said our sanctions have cost the regime over $200 billion. They are now -- there was an IMF study where they ranked the global economies. Iran has the third worst economy in the world, only better than Venezuela and there was one other country. It's not good company. They're in very bad company.


      This is relevant because the Iranian regime uses revenues, commercial revenues, to fund its terrorism, its nuclear program, its missile program, its oppression against the Iranian people. So if you want to get serious about terror finance, you have to set the goal of zero exports of Iranian crude oil. That's just the nature of it.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  I don't mean to put you on the spot, but maybe you could talk a little about what you think is the likeliest conclusion of this or what we should be aiming at. Is it a better agreement with better inspection controls? Or is it they can't bargain with us and so they just, say, lose power in Iran and success a regime?


      Is it worth the while for us to aim as a possible end point on a treaty?


Brian Hook:  The President has said that he would like to negotiate a new deal with Iran. Now, the new deal, the parameters of that, were laid out by Secretary Pompeo in May of 2018 after the President got out of the deal. Maybe it was June. He put out a list of 12 demands. At the top of that list is no enrichment.


After we left the deal and Iran started, when they restarted their nuclear program, I would get press questions of "Well, it looks like Iran is getting closer. How close is Iran to a weapon?" And I said, I would typically say, "Your question illustrates the problem. They're allowed to enrich."


More than half of the countries in the world that have peaceful nuclear power do not enrich, and that ought to be the standard. UAE, this year, is celebrating its tenth anniversary of peaceful nuclear power and no enrichment. When I negotiated the UN Security Council resolutions against Iran, we were able to get unanimous votes in the Security Council—the P5 and the elected ten—no enrichment as a matter of international law for the Council.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  I see why that is a reasonable criterion and adequate commitment on their part, but let me ask you. Do you think there is a reasonable prospect of getting that commitment from them? Or is the more likely outcome of this that we just have to continue with the sanctions and then the regime collapses?


Brian Hook:  Well, I've always viewed that whether there's a deal or not, we should keep in place this maximum economic pressure because Iran is broke. They have, as I said, the third worst-performing economy in the world. Unfortunately, under the Obama administration, you had Secretary Kerry largely playing the role of the president of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce.


      You cannot be cheerleading for that economy just given how the regime uses oil, its energy revenues, petrochem, minerals, how the regime takes that money, which should go to the Iranian people, and spends it on sectarian violence around the Middle East. It spends it on missiles and nukes and what have you. It spends it on the Houthis in Yemen, on Hamas, PIJ, Shia proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon.


      We've got to get serious about it. So whether there's a deal or not, this is the right policy for Iran, and we think that this policy of pressure on the regime, we know that it expands the space for the Iranian people to demand a more representative government.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  Yes. And they seem to be having more and more difficulty rallying the Iranian people, particularly young people, to support the regime.


Brian Hook:  Yeah, two-thirds of the Iranian people were born after the revolution. The revolutionary fervor died in Iran some time ago, and the regime today clings to power on the basis of brute force. They murdered 1,500 people 11 months ago, jailed anywhere between 8,000 and 10,000 people because the regime cut the gas ration.


Iran has one of the most heavily subsidized countries in the world, and when Iran started cutting subsidies, instead of, perhaps, taxing IRGC entities or even taking from the supreme leader's own hedge fund, they decided to balance their books on the backs of the Iranian people, and they rose up in protest, 31 provinces protesting. The worst political unrest in the regime's 41-year history.


      So the regime is very vulnerable, and they're facing a lot of headwinds.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  Yes. And they don't seem to be at all gaining momentum in the region. Right? People said, "Ah, they're going to take over Iraq." No, they have not taken over Iraq. And they don't really own Syria. At least Syria doesn't present itself as "Yes, Ayatollah, tell us what to do."


Brian Hook:  Great point, Jeremy. I remember, in 2014 during the Obama administration, there was one Iranian official who bragged that they now own four capitols: Tehran, Bagdad, Beirut, and Damascus. And then a couple years later, they would then add to that Yemen.


      This is what has been described as the Shia Crescent where Iran is trying to create this Shia corridor of power that runs essentially from the Palestinian territories and arcs north and then comes back all the way around to Yemen. This obviously encircles our partners, like Saudi, UAE, Bahrein, and Israel, and it expands -- it's part of Iran's hegemonic ambitions for the region.


      What I am very, very proud of with this administration's foreign policy on Iran is no one is talking about Iran controlling those capitols anymore. You have Shia in the south, in Lebanon, who were part of historic protests against Hezbollah in October. You had massive protests in Baghdad. You had massive protests in Tehran. In the Levant, you are seeing the people reject the Iranian model of sectarian violence, lack of transparency, no accountability, and deep corruption.


      Where I see the Middle East heading, very thankfully -- and maybe we can talk about the role that our Iran policy played in bringing about the three Arab peace agreements with Israel. But we're now seeing these failed states where -- look, there is a perfect correlation between Iranian interference and influence and failed states. Where you have zero, or close to zero, Iranian influence, you have security, sovereignty, and relative prosperity.


      This is all coming out of the gulf today. You look at cities like Doha, Manama, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Kuwait City, and then you look across the gulf at Iran and you get the profound sense that the Iranian people have been robbed of decades of progress because of the failure of their government to represent the interests of their own people.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  Yes. This reminds me of the last years of the Cold War where people looked up and said, "Wow, Taiwan is doing really well. Singapore is doing really well. South Korea is doing really well. There must be something to that."


Brian Hook:  Yeah. That's right. And a lot of Iranians go to places like Dubai and they say, "Gee, this sure seems a lot better than what I've got."


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  Yes, yes. Well, good luck. No, I mean -- I don't know, and maybe no one knows for sure, how much of this should be credited to the diplomacy of the Trump administration, but I think there are really favorable trends there.


Brian Hook:  There are favorable trends happening. This is really a hopeful time, I think, for a lot of reasons, especially with the young people that I've spoken to around the Middle East and what they want. They're tired of Sunni and Shia extremism robbing them of a peaceful and hopeful and prosperous future. They're tired of the role that religion has played and so much violence and bloodshed. They're tired of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and they do not want to let the past bury their future.


It's a much different -- and you see that reflected in a lot of the young leaders in the gulf. And then, of course, you look across the gulf and you've got people in their 90s, these clerics chairing these various councils, and there's an enormous divide between the clerical oversight of Iran and the Iranian people, and the regime knows it.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  Okay. That was heartening. Thank you. Let's see if callers want to bring up different questions.


Micah Wallen:  Absolutely. Let's go ahead and open up the floor for audience Q&A. We have a few questions lined up already, so without further ado, we'll go to our first caller.


Mary Ann McGrail:  Thank you very much. Mary Ann McGrail, an attorney in D.C. Thank you very much for your insights into Iran. My question is how serious a cyber threat does Iran pose? And given, as you've described it, its status as a rogue nation in the international sphere, how can that be countered? Thank you.


Brian Hook:  Well, in the Trump administration, we have imposed repeated sanctions on cyber actors who, in many cases, that are backed by Iran's intelligence ministry. We saw recently some news about Iranian interference in our upcoming election. Iran has a very sophisticated cyber capability, and obviously they would like to use that against the United States, against Israel, against Bahrein, and some of our gulf partners.


      We have Rob Strayer, who is the assistant secretary of state for cyber, and we have made a priority to do everything we can to target, to sanction, to put new sanctions on Iran so that we can in part disrupt their state-sponsored hacking campaign that has targeted dozens of countries worldwide, and they've also targeted human rights activists and others inside of Iran.


      So I know that, as I talked earlier, about the historic volume of sanctions that we've done. Just about a month ago we sanctioned 47 Iranian individuals and entities that are part of Iran's global cyber threat network. We're very vigilant about the threats that could come. We're very vigilant about protecting our homeland and our allies from Iranian hackers.


Micah Wallen: All right. We'll now go to our next caller in the queue.


Steven Dart(sp):  Hi. Yeah, this is Steven Dart. I'm an attorney in Austin. I saw an article just a few days ago that Iran and North Korea have reached a deal for sale of basically arms, that North Korean missiles will be imported to Iran in exchange for oil, sources close to the Iranian government told some newspaper. So I was wondering, is that true? Are there other countries that are going to be starting to trade arms with Iran very shortly?


Brian Hook:  Well, this is part of, this is related, this news that you're talking about. I think it was about Iran -- there was some news that Iran would import North Korean missiles and that they had also signed -- as you may remember, Iran was also doing a deal with China on the economic side. But then, I know that President Rouhani had thought that the expiration of the UN arms embargo was a big victory for the Iranian regime.


      North Korea does have a history of missile proliferation, and that includes to Iran. Iran has been very adept at taking North Korean missile technology and then improving it in a sort of homegrown capacity and developing domestic capabilities for their own.


      So many of the various missiles that Iran has the providence can be traced ultimately to North Korea. So they have been partners for a while. I'm out of government, and so I don't have any comment on sort of press accounts of a new deal.


      Understand, though -- one key thing to keep in mind. I remember after the China-Iran deal that was announced, I did an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that said that these two totalitarian twins have found each other. But one thing to keep in mind is that countries like China, Iran, and Korea are known for propaganda, so anytime these governments come and announce something, you have to be, I think, fairly skeptical about it.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  How would they pay North Korea? And is North Korea --


Brian Hook:  Well, it's difficult. It's very difficult to move money.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  It's difficult to move the money, and they don't have a lot of spare cash now, right?


Brian Hook:  That's one of the great things is that this is how we kind of build a hedge. Yes, let's just -- as it's turned out, other members of the UN Security Council don't agree with us about the snapback of the arms embargo.


      One of the nice hedges we built in is that the Iranian regime doesn't have the money that it used to do even buy weapons if it wanted to. That's what's so great about this campaign of maximum economic pressure. We are forcing Iran to choose between guns in Damascus or butter in Tehran. That is the choice that we ought to make this regime face year after year after year regardless of who is in office.


Anytime that we're cheerleading for the Iranian economy, we are, just given Iran's ability to mask terror finance. If you're investing in Iran, you can never know whether you are supporting commerce or terrorism, and we've just decided to -- look, we've collapsed foreign direct investment in Iran because we've educated countries about the dangers of doing business in Iran, and that's the kind of policy we ought to have.


      I don't know if this North Korea missile sale is true, but I do know that Iran certainly does not have the money that it would like to spend to build out its -- they already have the largest missile inventory of any country in the Middle East. They don't have much of an air force, but they do have the largest missile inventory in the region. That was a lesson they learned from the Iran-Iraq war in the '80s. But it wouldn't surprise me, this sort of news. But the good news is that they don't have the money that they would otherwise spend on it.


Micah Wallen:  All right. We'll now go to our next caller in the queue. We've reached the end of the queue, so if anyone would like to join, just press star and then pound.


Nathan:  Hi. My name is Nathan. I'm an attorney in Los Angeles. This is probably just wishful thinking, but when I think about the administration's track record in the Middle East, it seems like it's been unambiguously a success on so many fronts. The way things have gone with Iran, the historic peace deals between Israel and former adversaries, the diminishment of terrorist attacks, certainly in this country, maybe outside of France in the West more generally.


      I'm wondering if you could think about our friends on the other side of the aisle. Have they had any retrospection -- I mean, I know we're talking about a large group of people. Do you get any sense that people on the other side of the aisle might be getting to think that perhaps we were not quite thinking about these things the right way? Maybe we shouldn't have been empowering Iran. Maybe we shouldn't have been so on the fence with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and so on and so forth. I'm wondering if you have any insight into how the other side is seeing things.


Brian Hook:  I can't remember the name of the person, but there was one -- I thought there was one person, one sort of prominent Democrat who I thought had said at some policy conference that the Trump administration's Iran policy has been more successful than we have given them credit.


      So I think among the more hawkish Democrats. I think the ones who were probably -- look, there were a number of Democrats who opposed the Iran nuclear deal. Senator Mendez, whose ranking on Senate foreign relations, Elliot Engle, I think Chuck Schumer, if memory serves, didn't support it. Then, after the deal was after put into effect, people kind of largely started supporting it.


      But if you go back and look at the record, there were many Democrats who were very uneasy about the terms of the Iran nuclear deal. So many of the negotiating objectives, their own red lines, they stepped on repeatedly.


      I think some certainly recognize, but there are a number who don't. I think on the Palestinian part, we have put forward a vision for peace that we know would improve the lives of the Palestinian people. Unfortunately, they have a leadership that continues to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. I know that there's a great deal of fatigue with the leadership among the Palestinian people among a lot of Arab countries.


The fact that UAE and Bahrein and Sudan have all come to the table while Abbas decides to reject coming to the table, I think, says a lot about where the region is today. It's a much different Middle East, and unfortunately, there are some countries in the world and every time they look at the Middle East they think it's 1967. The Middle East is very different now, and having spent the last four years kind of working my way through the entire region on a regular basis, the kind of peace agreements that we're seeing -- I really do think historians will remember these three peace agreements as the beginning of the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Now, obviously, that's separate from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but we've put forward a very credible vision. There were many Arab governments who, when that plan came out, said that this is a credible proposal. It's put forward in good faith. It's a serious proposal, and it called upon the Israelis and the Palestinians to come to the table.


Unfortunately, Abbas has decided to stay home. We think it's a mistake. I've seen columnists like Tom Friedman say it's a mistake, but that seems to be the track record of the Palestinian authority. We put forward a vision that, quite frankly, we were doing the work that Abbas should be doing for his own people.


I'm glad to hear you say that we've got a good record in the Middle East. I've certainly concluded that after four years. The President has done what he said he would do. He said he would defeat ISIS. He said he would create new partnerships for peace. He said that he would counter the Iranian regime. He said that he would restore our partnerships in the region; he has. He said that we would stand with Israel; we have. It's just been, I think, an extraordinary record for the Middle East. And no wars.


When we were in the Oval with the President, when we were doing, I think it was the Sudan. We were doing the phone call with Prime Minister Hamdok, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and President Trump, and President Trump said, "Peace without blood in the sand." "Peace without blood in the sand." He has been very successful helping to counter our threats and to stand with our friends.


I've always believed that America should be no better friend and no worse enemy, and with what the President has done to try to build up DOD, build up our defenses, and to stand with our friends, especially in the Middle East but also in the Asia Pacific, how much we've been able to really deepen our bilateral ties with India, economically, on security, diplomacy, culture, all of it. The free and open Indo Pacific and building out that necklace of alliances. These are all very important things. The success, I think, has been vastly underreported, but I'm glad to hear that you have seen the progress we've made in the region.


Nathan:  I don't know if my mic is still on, but not only do I see it, I think I'd put it in even stronger terms than you did when I think about where the world was four years ago around the time of the last election where you had Syria and just absolute crisis. You had ISIS running rampant. You had terrorist attacks all over the West. You had an Iranian deal that, by that time, had already seemed to be a clear mistake. And no reason to think that there would be any progress on the Israel-Palestinian issue. So I think it's clear and unambiguous, and I congratulate you and everyone else who had a part in these successes.


Brian Hook:  Well, thank you. That's nice to hear. You obviously don't hear that from the press, but that's the in-kind contribution the press is making this cycle, but that's how life goes.


      We know our record. We know what we've been able to do, and so do our partners. As you get around -- for those on the call who spend time in the region and talk with the various leaders and the various ministers, they know what we've been able to accomplish, and they're very pleased with it.


      Look at what UAE and Israel are doing. That relationship now is so dynamic and so many countries that see it are envious of what UAE, the commercial opportunities, the opportunities in ag technology, water, healthcare, cyber, common defense, all of it. It's great.


      And, then, now you've got Israel not objecting to selling F-35s to UAE. We have been a defense partner with UAE since the first Gulf War. We sold them F-16s in 2000. But we also sold F-16s to Egypt and Jordan.


When you take the bold step, the courageous step, of making peace, which is courageous—President Sadat lost his life over it—we then take a very different look at our partners, and we then enhance their security. It's a really promising time in the region, especially in the gulf. So many good things happening in the gulf today.


Micah Wallen:  All right. We don't have any other questions in the queue as of now. In the meantime, I'll toss it back over to Professor Rabkin, if you have anything you wanted to discuss?


In the meantime, Brian, if there was anything else you wanted to discuss or cover?


Brian Hook:  Maybe I can just while Jeremy -- he's having some technical issues, which is fine. Maybe I'll just wrap it up with some concluding remarks.


      We haven't had a peace agreement in the region prior to UAE Israel since 1994. You had 1979, 1994. You had Arab countries go to war three times with Israel. We went something like 26 years without a peace agreement. We have now negotiated three peace agreements in two months.


      To the extent that -- as I said, you've had three wars with Israel during that time. After the third war in 1967, all of the people who fought in that war, the Arab governments, flew to Khartoum, Sudan and they announced The Three No's, which was a rejection of Israel's right to exist. No negotiations, no recognition, no compromise.


      As the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. said, "The Three No's have become The Three Yes's." It was amazing to be in the Oval Office during the phone call between Prime Minister Hamdok and Prime Minister Netanyahu where they said that "We want to normalize now. We want to make peace." Because Sudan had had an official policy of belligerence and war with Israel.


      To see that changed is historic. It's remarkable how underreported it was. I had always thought peace in the Middle East was a big deal. It turns out, apparently, it's not that big of a deal when people put peace agreements on Page A17.


      But we know its significance, and I'm very hopeful that -- obviously, peace between the Arabs and Israelis is Iran's worst nightmare, and they have done so much to weaponize the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. All the weapons they supplied to Hamas and PIJ and to Lebanese Hezbollah.


      So these are all positive things for the United States and for the region. I am very hopeful that in a second term you will have more peace agreements. Each one of these, I think, helps to lower the temperature in the region to make it a little more peaceful than it's been since 1947 when the United Nations did its partition and recognized Israel.


      I'm hopeful that more good things are going to come. I think there is a great record of success that the President can build on for a second term on all the various things that we've done. I think we've had a lot of good policies and the right people at the right time to make them possible.


      I'll just end it there. I don't think Jeremy's been able to rejoin. Oh, is he back on?


Micah Wallen:  It seems like he's still having audio issues, but we did have one more question come in from the audience I'd like to squeeze in here.


Brian Hook:  Yeah. Fire away. Go ahead.


Micah Wallen:  All right, go ahead and proceed with your question.


Bob Fitzpatrick:  Hi. Bob Fitzpatrick here in D.C. First of all, I just want to thank you. A fantastic presentation. Really gives me an extra ounce of hope for the Middle East.


      My question has to do with the human rights activist known as Nasrin. I cannot and will not try to pronounce her last name. Can you give us any read on what's the likelihood that she might be released from prison before January 20th of next year?


Brian Hook:  I think you're talking about the British citizen, Nazanin Ratcliffe, former journalist. Is that the one?


Bob Fitzpatrick:  No, no. I'm not I'm talking about -- she's an Iranian woman, Nasrin S-O-U-T-O-U-D-E-H. I can't pronounce it.


Brian Hook:  And where is she being held? She's in prison?


Bob Fitzpatrick:  She is in Evin Prison, and she is the iconic female human rights activist in Iran. A lawyer. Very open in her advocacy for dissidence and has now been in prison for the last year. There is a movie that just came out that I recommend to yourself and all your listeners called Nasrin.


Brian Hook:  Well, I don't -- what I've been focusing on when I was the Iran envoy -- for people who are in Evin Prison. My focus was around the American citizens who were being unlawfully detained there. I was able to successfully negotiate the release of two Americans. They're both now with their families in New Jersey and California respectively.


      There are still some Americans that are in Evin Prison: the Namazis, father/son Namazis and Morad Tahbaz. They should be released. We've done a lot to do what we can. I wish we could've gotten them all out, but I know that my successor, Elliott Abrams, is still working on it.


      Look, we've made women's rights in Iran something that we talk about. Secretary Pompeo has hosted women who have championed rights for women in Iran. Women used to have a lot of rights prior to 1979. They enjoyed a lot of freedoms. Unfortunately, the regime, with the mandatory hijab and other restrictions on Iranian women serving in professional roles and in education have been extremely limited.


      I did one report I remember a few years ago on the nature of the regime, and we put on the cover a woman who was being teargassed for standing up for women's rights. It's unfortunate. I remember President Trump at his first address to the UN General Assembly said the longest-suffering victims of the Iranian regime were the Iranian people, and the woman that you described is a good example of that.


      From my own personal observations -- I meet with the Iranian diaspora around the world, and it's hard to find a more successful group of people than Iranians. The problem is that Iranians are thriving everywhere in the world except Iran. Someday that's going to change. We're out of the regime-change business. The future of Iran will be decided by the Iranian people. It will not be decided by the United States government, but we very much want the Iranian people to have a representative government.


      Since the early 1900s, Iran has had ups and downs on the path to a representative government, something which the Iranian people support. The last 40 years will be remembered as the dark ages. They're very frustrated with this regime and its brutality.


      We'll continue to champion and validate the concerns the Iranian people have and to be their voice as best we can.


Micah Wallen:  With that, I'd like to thank -- one last check. Professor Rabkin, did we get you back on?


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  Yes. Thank you.


Brian Hook:  Oh, there it is.


Micah Wallen:  Okay, we got you now.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  I heard everything. It was great. That was very good. Thank you.


Brian Hook:  So you want to wrap it up, Jeremy? Or any other thoughts or questions or?


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  Well, I just want to say I think that everyone who is listening will agree with the last caller that this was a really hopeful story that you're telling, and I hope that people will stick to this policy and it can achieve even wider results in the next few years.


Brian Hook:  Agreed. That's the hope.


Prof. Jeremy A. Rabkin:  That's the hope.


Micah Wallen:  On behalf of The Federalist Society, I'd like to thank both of our experts for the benefit of their valuable time and expertise today. We welcome listener feedback by email at Thanks to all for joining us, and we are adjourned.




Dean Reuter:  Thank you for listening to this episode of Teleforum, a podcast of The Federalist Society’s practice groups. For more information about The Federalist Society, the practice groups, and to become a Federalist Society member, please visit our website at