Dubai - The US has branded Iran’s government “a corrupt religious mafia” that robs its own people and promotes violent policies abroad. In a news conference call on Thursday, US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said his country had shown seriousness of purpose to change Iran’s behaviour, and that actions taken so far in the Gulf region, which include repositioning of US military assets, have had the “desired deterrent effect on the (Iranian) regime’s risk calculations”.

Hook spoke to reporters ahead of emergency summits of Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia due on Thursday to discuss drone strikes on oil installations in the kingdom and attacks on four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, off the UAE coast earlier this month. Hook said the US will respond with military force if its interests are attacked by Iran.

Asked what will America’s response be to Iran’s alleged involvement in the aforesaid attacks, he said Washington would will wait for the investigation launched by the UAE in tandem with its international partners, and its response would be in concert with that of UAE, Norway and Saudi Arabia – nations whose tankers were targeted in the sabotage operation. Earlier this week, National Security John Bolton said Iran was behind the attack.

The US is pursuing what it calls a “maximum pressure campaign” of sanctions against Iran to reduce its revenue streams from oil and other economic activities. Responding to a question about China and India importing Iranian oil and whether it was possible for them to keep importing small amounts, Hook said there would be no more exceptions granted to sanctions against Iran oil imports. “There will be no more oil waivers granted,” he said, adding that any oil imported by any country beyond waiver limits that ran from November last year to May, would be subject to sanctions.

He said 30 countries that used to buy Iranian oil have stopped doing so.

Speaking about Iranian proxies in the region, Hook branded Lebanon’s Hezbollah as “Iran’s favourite son”. He added: “They [Iran] want to replicate the Hezbollah model in other parts of the Middle East. But the fact is Hezbollah is struggling financially [as a result of the US santions on Iran] as 70 per cent of the group’s budget comes from Iran, that is $700 million. They are now asking for donations through piggy banks and billboards. These are not signs of an organisation that is in a strong position. We are pleased with [this development]. The US respects Lebanon’s independence but Iran wants to see a Lebanon that it dominates.”