Jake Sullivan Dodges Question Whether Iran Protests Will Jeopardize Nuclear Deal
White House Press National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan talks to reporters during the daily press conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House February 04, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

National security advisor Jake Sullivan dodged a question on Sunday about whether the recent protests in Iran would jeopardize nuclear talks.

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” the host asked if the demonstrations that erupted after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini would jeopardize ongoing negotiations around restoring the Iran nuclear deal. Authorities say Amini died of a heart attack while in police custody, but her family has accused them of lying. Sullivan talked around the question, saying it is important to call out human rights violations while still negotiating to ensure national security.

“Well, first, George, let me just say that the fact that we are in nuclear talks is in no way slowing us down from speaking out and acting on behalf of the people of Iran,” Sullivan said. “We’re not going to slow down one inch in our defense and advocacy for the rights of the women and citizens of Iran. But at the same time, at the height of the Cold War, at the very moment that Ronald Reagan was calling the Soviet Union an evil empire, he was also engaged in arms control talks, because he knew that, on the one hand, we had to push back vigorously against the repression and violations of human rights of the Soviet Union, and at the same time, we had to protect and defend the security of ourselves, our allies and our partners.”

“The same thing is true with respect to making sure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon that they can threaten the world with,” he continued. “And to do that, we believe diplomacy is the best option.”

Massive protests erupted throughout Iran last week after Amini died in the custody of Iranian Gasht e Ershad, the so-called “morality police.” While visiting the capital city of Tehran earlier this month, Amini was taken by the Gasht e Ershad, which enforces the Iranian regime’s dress code. She was taken to a detention center, and she died under mysterious circumstances, prompting some to conclude the regime had murdered her. Video taken from the streets of Tehran showed people burning a hijab in the streets while protesting Amini’s alleged murder.

The U.S. responded by levying sanctions on the “morality police” and several high-ranking officials in the Iranian government.

“Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is designating Iran’s Morality Police for abuse and violence against Iranian women and the violation of the rights of peaceful Iranian protestors,” The Treasury Department said in a statement, “The Morality Police are responsible for the recent death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested and detained for allegedly wearing a hijab improperly.”

“OFAC is also targeting seven senior leaders of Iran’s security organizations: the Morality Police, Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), the Army’s Ground Forces, Basij Resistance Forces, and Law Enforcement Forces. These officials oversee organizations that routinely employ violence to suppress peaceful protesters and members of Iranian civil society, political dissidents, women’s rights activists, and members of the Iranian Baha’i community.”

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