VIDEO - "Do you intend to sanction the activity by some of our closest allies, Germany, the UK, France, Korea, Japan, and others in this context in order to try and reescalate pressure on Iran?” said Coons.

Sen. Chris Coons, of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today asked Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about the Trump administration’s plan for Iran and the Treasury Department’s capacity to enforce sanctions around the world.

“Now that we’re not just departed from the JCPOA, but Secretary Pompeo has announced his intention to be far more aggressive, I’m concerned. Do you intend to sanction the activity by some of our closest allies, Germany, the UK, France, Korea, Japan, and others in this context in order to try and reescalate pressure on Iran?” said Coons.

Coons: Let me move on to sanctions. I think also on a bipartisan basis we’ve steadily increased our investment but we have a steadily growing range of sanctions around the world. This is very important work you’re doing and I look forward to supporting your work and hearing more about it that Senator Lankford was just asking about.

I’m concerned though that Treasury’s capacity to enforce all the different sanctions around the world, including on the continent of Africa where there’s sanctions against Burundi, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, the DRC, may not be fully funded, let me put it that way. We’ve heard Treasury may not be able to complete new mandated reports on Iran sanctions because the limited staff are too busy monitoring and implementing existing sanctions.

Is that correct and do you think the 12% increase requested for the Office of Terrorism and Financial Assistance is sufficient?

Mnuchin: Well, senator, first of all thank you very much and I’m glad as you appreciate we are busier on sanctions throughout the world than we’ve ever been and these are very important tools and I believe they’re working very well in that process with our foreign policy and our national security issues. As it relates to the Iran report, I can assure you we will have those reports. I think the increase is significant but, again, as you’ve outlined, these are areas that will have more and more demand and we will come back to you if we need additional resources once we staff up to these levels.

Coons: I was concerned by the President’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA, although I saw it as having real limitations and agreed with much of the initiatives proposed by Secretary Pompeo and the President to work with our European allies to strengthen our actions against Iran’s unacceptable aggressive behavior in the region.

I did think we’d be better off staying in the deal with our European allies. Now that we’re not just departed from the JCPOA, but Secretary Pompeo has announced his intention to be far more aggressive, I’m concerned.

Do you intend to sanction the activity by some of our closest allies, Germany, the UK, France, Korea, Japan, and others in this context in order to try and reescalate pressure on Iran?

Mnuchin: Senator, as you’re aware, the President has been saying for the last year he had he had serious concerns about the Iran JCPOA. I can tell you I just got back from the region and there are concerns there as well about Iran’s bad behavior.

The President is determined Iran never has nuclear weapons and I think that’s an important issue for the region. As it relates to the sanctions, as you’re aware the President, because he did not sign the certification, the Iran sanctions will go back in place, both the primary sanctions and the secondary sanctions and, yes, we’ve already communicated with our European partners both through Secretary Pompeo and myself that we will be enforcing the secondary sanctions.

Coons: I’m very concerned about how that will affect our relations. I agree with the broader objective of restraining hopefully ending Iran’s aggressive and bad behavior but the division with our allies at a critical moment concerns me. Let me ask the last question. ZTE corporation, a Chinese telecommunications giant, was subject to sanctions for violating our U.S. national sanctions on Iran and North Korea.

FBI Director Wray just testified the FBI is deeply concerned about the threats foreign telecom companies pose to the security of U.S. networks. Sanctions are a critical tool, if we don’t hold companies accountable for violating them they become ineffective but the President tweeted last week that he and Xi Jinping are working hard together to make sure that ZTE is able to function and be vibrant.

Given the clear findings ZTE is guilty of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea, why is the administration back peddling to make it easier for a Chinese company to operate and compete with U.S. companies?

Mnuchin: Senator, I would comment as I’ve said recently, first of all I don’t think it’s a function of back pedaling. President Xi did ask President Trump to look into this. This is not a surprise, President Trump often calls foreign leaders on business issues.

This is a Commerce Department enforcement issue working with the Justice Department, the President has been very clear that this is up to the Commerce Department, although I have participated in certain discussions, I can assure you that whatever the Commerce Department decides, the intel community has been part of the briefings. And we will make sure that we enforce national security issues.

So, if there are any proposed changes on ZTE, the objective was not to put ZTE out of business. The objective was to make sure that they abide by our sanctions programs, one proposal that the Commerce Department did was obviously limiting exports that create certain issues for our company and our jobs. I can’t comment on what the Commerce Department is considering but, again, I can assure you anything they consider will take into account the very important national security issues and those will be addressed.

Coons: Thank you, I certainly hope we’ll continue to rigorously enforce our sanctions against North Korea and Iran.