Thank you very much for having me to speak to you today. First, let me compliment Mrs. Rajavi on that powerful address. It is also incredibly impressive the way that the organizers have brought together so many people from so many different locations in a very interconnected way. In today’s world, with all the challenges we face in putting together this type of conference, it’s impressive that you have overcome those challenges. You should feel very proud of the way that you have connected everyone.
Today, the Iranian regime remains the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism. The regime also poses the greatest threat to the United States and our allies in the Middle East. Terrorism has been at the heart of the Iranian regime and part of its ideology since the 1979 Revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power. This ideology embraces terrorism as a tool of stagecraft. It envisions spreading this revolution across the region, and the Supreme Leader, who is in power today, remains committed to this vision. We have seen the Iranian regime using Iranian forces and utilizing its embassies and people registered as diplomats to conduct and support terrorism across the Middle East and globally in Europe, Africa, Asia, even in North America and South America.
The regime in Tehran continues to provide a great deal of financial support to terrorists around the world, despite ongoing economic troubles for the people of Iran. As the U.S. State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Nathan Sales pointed out in late 2018, at that time Iran provided close to $1 billion annually in support to terrorist groups around the world. Just imagine the difference that that scale of spending could have made in improving the livelihood of the Iranian people at home had it not been spent on terrorism around the world.
The regime has had a policy of promoting terrorism and supporting proxied militias around the world. In Syria, since the early days of the civil war, Iran has been involved in propping up the Assad regime to include providing arms, training, advisors, and combat personnel. Throughout the conflict in Syria, in which over 500,000 civilians have been killed, Iranian forces have played a key support role in this appallingly brutal conflict that has included the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against his own people.
In Iraq, the regime in Tehran has backed Shia militias, like the Badr organization and Hezbollah, who have long served as reliable partners for conducting attacks on U.S. military personnel in Iraq. Using Iranian-provided weapons, these groups were responsible for over 600 U.S. personnel killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2011. Elsewhere in the region, Iran maintains strong ties to the terrorist group Hezbollah in Lebanon. In 2018, Iranian operatives were arrested for planning attacks in Denmark, France, Albania. And authorities in Austria, Belgium and German arrested operatives planning attacks.
In so many areas, the regime is just not on the same page as the Iranian people, who do not support the regime backing terrorism or trying to spread this malign influence across the region.
It is very important that we continue the maximum pressure campaign that has been undertaken by the Trump administration, to deplete and limit the ability of the regime in Tehran to support terrorism and export its malign influence across the region. We have seen the maximum pressure campaign substantially reduce the ability of the regime to support terrorism abroad. As Mrs. Rajavi discussed, it is very important that this complex web of cutouts, front companies, individuals, and the financial tools that are used around the world must be targeted and attacked. Private sector companies need to be very careful in understanding who they are dealing with to prevent them from supporting these kinds of terrorist or illicit actions.
We need to continue to use U.S. military forces to work with partners in the region to deter and where necessary take steps like the strike on Qassem Soleimani to restore deterrence and to deter further terrorist attacks where we see that deterrence fraying.
We need to recognize that terrorism is a part of the fabric of this regime in Tehran. It has been since the start and remains so today. This means that things like Iranian Embassies and so-called diplomats will continue to be employed in supporting terror. Countries must act accordingly to very closely monitor and surveil the activities of those Iranian diplomats posted abroad, and in some cases like we have seen in Albania, they will need to shut down embassies that support terrorism.
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