Interviewer: So three of the candidates are getting support from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, you’ve got the top hostage negotiator, Robert C. O’Brien, Brian Hook, special envoy for Iran, Ricky Waddell, he is assistant to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. So, although the President says that he will make the final decision, how much will Secretary Pompeo’s weigh in?
Dubowitz: Well I think the Secretary’s opinion will matter a lot. He has obviously a very close relationship with the President, certainly one of his closest national security advisors and is instrumental in most of the national security policies and challenges that the President will face over the next year and a half or longer.
Interviewer: Another name floated out there is US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell. Would he be good for the position?
Dubowitz: Ambassador Grenell would be great, he’s got a very close relationship with President Trump, he’s been the ambassador in Germany, really sort of in the belly of the beast there. Doing great work in Iran, on US NATO relations, and so I think ambassador Grenell is also somebody who the President admires greatly. He’s got a great personality, he’s been out in the media and very articulate.
Interviewer: How hawkish or dovish can you expect the next security advisor to be?
Dubowitz: I would say that they’re all going to be on the hawkish side. At the end of the day, the President himself, despite the fact that he doesn’t want to get into additional wars, certainly talks tough and is willing to use instruments of national power, so I would imagine he would bring in someone who reflects those views. So it’s really going to be either hawkish or very hawkish but I don’t imagine you’re going to get anybody there who doesn’t understand that American power and American leadership is essential for American security.
Interviewer: I also want to talk about the other big story today, the drone strike on the two major oil installations by Houthi rebels that knocked out 5% of the world’s oil production, so Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying this was directed by the Iranian government. Do you agree with the Secretary, and if so, what is Iran up to?
Dubowitz: There’s no doubt this came from Iran, that Iran directed one of its proxies, whether it’s the Houthis in Yemen or some Shiite militias in Iraq, we don’t yet know. But we certainly know this is Iran’s mo. and they’ve been on a major campaign of destruction through the Middle East over the past number of decades, but certainly over the past recent months, trying to respond to the United States because we’re finally pushing back against Iranian aggression under this President with a maximum pressure campaign.
Interviewer: So you agree with the Secretary of State. Meanwhile, we’ve been getting reaction from Democratic senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut who disagrees, he by the way sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Murphy, again, on twitter is saying “this is such irresponsible simplification and it’s how we get into dumb wars of choice. The Saudis and Houthis are at war. The Saudis attack the Houthis and the Houthis attack back. Iran is backing the Houthis and has been a bad actor, but it’s just not as simple as Houthis=Iran.” What do you say about that?
Dubowitz: I actually think it’s that simple. I think the Houthis, and we know this, have been trained by Iran and been trained by Hezbollah, they’ve been supplied with advanced weaponry by the Iranians and by Hezbollah and you have to understand, and I think everybody does on this network, that Iran has a business model and their business model is to basically replicate the Lebanese Hezbollah model across the Middle East in Yemen, in Iraq, in Syria, and obviously in Lebanon. So the Houthis are trained by Hezbollah, trained by Iran, supplied advanced weaponry by the Islamic Republic, and Iran is certainly not going to be able to hide its fingerprints behind this attack.
Interviewer: And as we told you, and as you well know, those oil installations are in Saudi Arabia. And we can report that today President Trump called Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to reassert the President’s readiness to cooperate with the kingdom by all means, conducive to maintain its security and stability, reaffirming that the negative effects of those attacks on those facilities there, on the US economy as well as the world economy. And then, on top of that, because this is a developing story, moments ago we’re getting word from the US special envoy to Yemen urging all parties to “prevent such further incidents which pose a serious threat to regional security, complicate the already fragile situation, and jeopardize unled political process.” So will, or should, this impact any potential talks or meetings between President Trump and Iranian President Rouhani?
Dubowitz: Well it may. The President reportedly has been considering providing some kind of sanctions relief to Iran in order to enable that kind of meeting, there’s been talks about green lighting the $15 billion dollar French credit facility which would provide enormous relief to Iran. There was talks and reports that he might even be offering US sanctions relief. I think it would be very difficult for the President to do that now, in the wake of these Iranian and Hezbollah/Houthi attacks. I think the President is not somebody who’s going to be blackmailed by the Iranians and not going to be providing them billions of dollars in sanctions relief in the wake of these attacks.
Interviewer: So that’s a strong position. What’s the likelihood that in a couple of weeks when President Rouhani is here, that our President meets with him and looks him in the eyes and says just that – “I’m not going to be blackmailed”?
Dubowitz: Well I think President Trump would do that. I mean, if President Rouhani understands his predicament, he faces a severe economic crisis which could precipitate a major political crisis inside Iran, then he, if he’s smart, should sit down with the President and try to negotiate a comprehensive agreement. I think President Trump is going to sit down there and tell President Rouhani that no agreement will be acceptable unless it deals with the full range of Iran’s malign activities, its destructive activities in the region, its nuclear program, terrorism, missile program, the fact that it’s still retaining US and Western hostages. I think the President’s made that clear – an acceptable deal has to address the full range of those destructive behaviors, and the President is not going to be blackmailed by Iran and President Rouhani or anybody else.
Interviewer: Alright, we have to leave it there. Mark Dubowitz, thank you very much.