Transcript: National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan at

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The following is a transcript of an interview with White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan that aired Sunday, September 25, 2022 on “Face the Nation.”


MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. Good morning, Jake. Thank you for joining us.

NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR JAKE SULLIVAN: Thanks for having me.

MARGARET BRENNAN: President Zelensky told us that if this annexation happens, it will make diplomatic negotiations with Vladimir Putin impossible. They need artillery in Ukraine, he says, more air defense systems and tanks. Will they get it? And how significant is the escalation?

SULLIVAN: Well, Margaret, not only do they get it, they get it. The United States alone has provided more than $15 billion in weapons at this point, including air defense systems, hundreds of guns, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of guns. And we have facilitated the transfer of tanks from NATO allies who have Soviet-era tanks that the Ukrainians have trained on, we will continue to do all of that. As President Biden made clear on Friday, nothing Russia has done with this troop mobilization, with the sham referendum in the occupied territories, will deter us from providing Ukraine with the necessary assets and technology it needs to defend itself. And what Putin has done is not exactly a sign of strength or confidence, frankly, it’s a sign that they’re doing poorly on the Russian side. And we will help the Ukrainians to take advantage of the gains they have made and continue to push back against the Russian forces that are brutally occupying parts of their country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yesterday, Putin replaced one of the top logistics generals with a man known as the “Butcher of Mariupol.” Are we witnessing the beginning of the collapse of the Russian military?

SULLIVAN: I think it’s too early to make such comprehensive predictions. I think what we are seeing are signs of incredible fighting among the Russians, you have low morale where the soldiers don’t want to fight. And who can blame them, as they want no part of Putin’s war of conquest in their neighboring country. You have Russia, which has exhausted its stockpile of precision-guided munitions. You have Russia disorganized and losing territory to capable Ukrainian forces. And you have a huge amount of infighting among the Russian military leadership, and now the blame game has started to include these replacements. So Russia is fighting, but Russia still remains a dangerous enemy and capable of great brutality, as we saw with these mass graves outside of Izium. So we continue to take this threat seriously. And we continue to see our obligation to provide Ukraine with everything it needs to effectively defend itself and defend its country and defend its freedom. This is what we intend to do. And we don’t take our eyes off the ball.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Vladimir Putin will carry out this annexation of eastern Ukraine within the next few days. If Russia extends its nuclear umbrella over this part of the country. Does this bring the US into more direct conflict with Russia? And does the use of a nuclear weapon there bring Russia directly into conflict with the US and NATO?

SULLIVAN: We made it crystal clear to President Biden, including that we will not recognize fake referendums, they do not in any way represent the will of the Ukrainian people. And we will treat this territory as it is – Ukrainian territory, not Russian territory. And we will continue to support the Ukrainians who are trying to occupy this territory. So we have been clear, we will not stop or slow down our support for the Ukrainians, no matter what Putin tries to do with these fake elections, fake referendums and annexations. Now, when it comes to nuclear use, President Putin has waved around the nuclear card at various points in this conflict, not for the first time in the last few days –

(CROSSTALK)

MARGARET BRENNAN: – But he wasn’t cornered like he is now.

SULLIVAN: It’s true, and it’s a matter we have to take deadly seriously because it’s a matter of the utmost seriousness – the possible use of nuclear weapons for the first time since World War II. We have communicated directly, privately, at very high levels in the Kremlin, that any use of nuclear weapons will have catastrophic consequences for Russia, and that the United States, as our ally, will respond decisively. And we were clear and specific about what that would entail. We have been equally clear in public as a matter of principle that the United States will respond decisively if Russia uses nuclear weapons, and that we will continue to support Ukraine in its efforts to defend its country and defend its democracy.

MARGARET BRENNAN: For the last 24 hours, Russia has been talking more about this nuclear plant than nuclear weapons. Where does it fall? Is this an escalating threat?

SULLIVAN: So for your audience, there is a nuclear power plant that is in the Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine. It was put into cold shutdown to make it less likely that some catastrophic event would occur at the plant. In fact, it is still run by Ukrainian operators who are essentially gunned down by the Russian occupation forces. And the Russians keep hinting that there might be an accident at this factory. We have been working with the International Atomic Energy Agency and with Ukrainian energy regulators to make sure there is no threat from a meltdown or anything else from the plant. We’ll continue to do that, but it’s something we all have to keep a close eye on.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Jake, you’re a busy man watching the world now. I want to ask you a lot of things, but I have to ask you about Iran. And these protests led by women after the death of this 22-year-old woman who, from the point of view of the morality police, did not have her hair properly covered. She died. How significant is this, and does it make you reconsider the offer you made to lift sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program?

SULLIVAN: First of all, Margaret, the fact that we are dealing with Iran on its nuclear program does not in any way affect our willingness and our vehemence to talk about what is happening on the streets of Iran. President Biden took to the floor of the United Nations General Assembly and said that we stand with the brave citizens and brave women of Iran as they stand for their rights and dignity. In fact, we have taken tangible steps to sanction this moral policing –

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: — which caused the death of Mahsa Amini. We have taken steps to make it easier for Iranians to have access to the Internet and communication technologies that will allow them to talk to each other and to the world. So from our point of view, we will do everything we can to support the brave people, the brave women of Iran –

(CROSSTALK)

MARGARET BRENNAN: – But I asked you about the offer to lift sanctions against Iran in connection with its nuclear program, because that would allow the regime to have a financial lifeline.

SULLIVAN: I think it’s important for everyone to understand that at the height of the Cold War, as Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” —

(CROSSTALK)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. Weapon control.

SULLIVAN: — also negotiated arms control with Russia. So that’s what we’re talking about here. We are talking about diplomacy to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. If we can succeed in this effort and are determined to succeed in this effort, the world, America, and our allies will be safer. And that in no way stops us from pushing back and talking about Iran’s brutal repression of its citizens and its women. We can and will do both.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I understand the offer is still on the table. The strategy has not changed. Jake, thank you so much for your time. We’ll be right back with a lot more Face the Nation. Stay with us.

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