The White House has warned private entities, especially technology companies, about the risks of their products ending up in Iranian hands. Russia has been using drones in its war against Ukraine, attacking cities and destroying infrastructure, and — according to the White House — is working with Iran to produce them from inside Russia.
VOA Persian's White House correspondent Farhad Pouladi on Friday spoke with John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, about this and other issues the administration is tackling regarding the Islamic Republic.
VOA: On Iran and Russia cooperation on drones, what advice does the administration have by issuing this new advisory?
NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS JOHN KIRBY: Well, we want to make sure that private entities, certainly technology companies, understand the risks of their products potentially ending up in Iranian hands to be used for the manufacture of Iranian drones in this case that can be used to kill innocent Ukrainian people. So, the purpose of the advisory was really to make sure that the business community understands our concerns and is taking a look at its own procedures and procedures.
VOA: In the past two weeks, Iran unveiled a hypersonic missile called Fattah and a 2 kilometer-range missile called Kheibar. With the arms embargo under UNSC Resolution 2231 coming to an end in October, and considering Russia’s veto power, what is the U.S. hoping to do?
KIRBY: Well, I can't get ahead of the U.N. process here. But you're right. This activity by Iran, particularly with ballistic missiles, is a violation of 2231. Again, I won't get ahead of the process here and where it's going. Clear violations, we're going to continue to work with our allies and partners at the U.N. and outside the U.N. to make sure that we're putting enough pressure on Iran so that they stop this destabilizing activity. Their ballistic missile program continues to improve. It presents a clear threat to the region, certainly to our friends in the region. And now some of these capabilities, not ballistic missiles necessarily but in terms of UAVs, [unmanned aerial vehicles] now, this capability, this technology is being used inside Ukraine to kill innocent Ukrainians. And now we know that Iran is working with Russia on the potential construction of a manufacturing facility, or the conversion of one, to be used inside Russia to actually produce, organically, there inside Russia, Iranian-designed UAVs, so all the more reason to continue to put pressure on the regime.
VOA: So, Europeans swap their prisoners with Iran. What is the holdup for the Americans in Iran? You mentioned it behind the podium that a blue passport is a blue passport. So what is the holdup for them?
KIRBY: I would tell you that we never lose sight of our obligations, our sacred obligation to get home wrongfully detained Americans overseas, including in Iran. I don't have anything with specific cases to talk to you today. I can just tell you that we never stopped working on this. We're always going to try to find a way to bring these Americans home in a way that comports with our obligation to them but also with our national security. And we're doing that right now.
VOA: The IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] Board of Governors and the U.S. “urged Iran to fully cooperate with the agency.” And if it fails, the board should be prepared to hold Iran to account at the appropriate time. Isn't that just a slap on the wrist from the U.S.?
KIRBY: We have done an awful lot inside the United States, just unilaterally let alone multilaterally with other countries, to hold the regime accountable for their destabilizing activities, for their constant pursuit of nuclear weapons capabilities, for their support to Russia inside Ukraine, for their attacks on maritime shipping. I could go on, and on, and on. And we're not going to take any tools off the table to continue to hold them accountable going forward. So I think in Tehran, again, I won't speak for the regime, but I'd be hard pressed to look at the pressure they're under and for them to believe that the United States is simply slapping them on the wrist. Now, yes, we want them to comply with the requirements of the IAEA as they should, as they must, but we're not going to take any options off the table in terms of our ability to continue to put pressure on them so that they do comply, so that ... we can get to a place where they don't have a nuclear weapons capability.
VOA: Going to the sanctions issue as part of Iran's nuclear deal, specifically on Iranian blocked assets, that can be used only for humanitarian relief and humanitarian commodities. Any changes to that, especially when it comes to news reports that Iran's Central Bank chief was here?
KIRBY: I mean, I don't have — I don't have anything on those press reports. Look, we have sanctions in place that are going to stay in place to hold the regime accountable for their activities in the region, for the way they're treating their own people, and certainly for the manner in which they're supporting Ukraine — I’m sorry, Russia — in their fight inside Ukraine and killing innocent Ukrainian people.