Vice President’s Ceremonial Office
Q Mr. Vice President, nice to see you, sir.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good to see you, Greta. Thank you.
Q Much is going on in Iran, and I realize it’s a very tough situation. The situation is very fragile over there. What is the United States going to do, if anything? I know that there has been a tweet and verbal statements and support, but what about doing?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it’s important to remember, first and foremost, that Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world. I mean, not only do they oppress their own people, deny human rights to their own, but they also export terrorism across the region and continue to be an enormously dangerous, destabilizing force. And so to see the people of Iran rising up to demand change in their country should hearten every freedom-loving American and people who cherish freedom around the world.
And I have to tell you that the contrast today between the deafening silence from an American President in 2009, during the Green Revolution in Iran, and the clear —
Q He waited a few days. He waited a few days but then he spoke out.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, but the clear affirmation and support that President Trump has provided to protestors rising up in cities across Iran is dramatic. And I think it’s very consistent with America’s role in the world as a leading champion of freedom.
Q In terms of support, though, there’s verbal support and there was — admittedly, President Obama was a few days late back in ’09, but —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it wasn’t just a few days late, because I was there. I was a member of the Congress. You’ll recall I served on the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives. And I remember back in 2009 seeing this largely youth-driven movement following a fraudulent election in Iran — people taking to the streets, demonstrating incredible courage that the people of Iran did to claim a democratic and free future. And we looked to the White House in those days in 2009; we looked for American leadership, and there was none. There was deafening silence from the Obama administration.
So as a member of Congress, I authored a resolution with a Democrat congressman by the name of Howard Berman, who was at the time Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. We introduced the resolution that passed almost unanimously in the House of Representatives. Then, Senator McCain and Senator Lieberman introduced it in the Senate, where it passed unanimously. And then, and only then, did we hear from President Obama and the Obama administration.
The contrast between the silence and the failure to support freedom in the last administration, and President Trump’s unapologetic willingness to stand with the courageous people of Iran — I know it is giving hope to the people on the streets of those cities across the country. And we’re going to continue to support them not just verbally, but as they bring about change in their country. I can assure you the United States and the wider world stands with the people of Iran who want a better and more prosperous and freer future.
Q All right. In 1956, the same thing happened in Hungary where the people rose up and there was verbal support. We’ve had it with the Kurds, with President Bush 41. We had the Green Movement, which the Congress, as you say, supported. And you and I may differ on how fast President Obama responded. But when you support them verbally, it has not had necessarily the intended consequence. This is a chance where the United States has supported them verbally. Is there something more that the United States intends to actually do to support them as they take to the streets?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think there’s an extraordinary amount that the United States and countries around the world can do for the people of Iran if they will continue to stand up for their own freedom and to stand up for change, and to reject the radical ideology that overtook their country decades ago and continues to beset the wider world through the export of terrorism from Iran.
Look, the last administration not only was silent when the good and courageous people of Iran were rising up for democracy, but they also pushed forward and embraced the disastrous Iran nuclear deal that President Trump refused to recertify and we’re continuing to provide leadership on.
You know, the hope of the Iran nuclear deal was that it would encourage a more moderate Iran, but we’ve seen nothing of the kind. But to see people taking to the streets again in Iran, and to now have an American President who’s willing, in that great American tradition, to affirm and to say to the people that we’re with you, we support you, we’re prepared to help you achieve that freer, more prosperous future, I think it represents a genuine opportunity.
And if I had one hope today, it’s that just as the dissidents in the old Soviet Union heard of Ronald Reagan’s evil empire speech and were encouraged to know that they were not alone, my hope is that the people who are taking to the streets in Iran know that under President Donald Trump they are not alone, that the American people stand with them. And if they will just continue to show the courage of their convictions and reach out and embrace a free and democratic future, that America and the world will be with them.
Q Well, there are a couple of issues. Number one is that the way the President has done it so far is by Twitter, and the Iranian authorities — the government has shut down Twitter, Telegram, Facebook, and Instagram. So social media in Tehran is not reaching everybody. I realize that this interview will reach into Iran because Voice of America does reach there. And so the President may not be reaching them.
The second thing is that I suspect that many people in Iran are a little bit distressed with the President’s immigration, in terms of banning people from Iran from coming here to the United States. So I don’t know how receptive the people are in Iran unless he reaches out more to them.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the repression by the regime, by the Ayatollahs in Iran is not surprising. They continue to be a nation that denies basic human rights to their people. And to be shutting down communication means and social media is no real surprise.
Q But are they hearing from our government? I mean, if it’s done by Twitter and not by — I mean, is there another vehicle that the President has other than — I mean, of course you’re speaking out here today, but is there another vehicle that the President intends to use? Senator Lindsay Graham suggested that he address the nation, for instance, on this issue — our nation on it.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think — you know, the President again spoke out on social media this morning directly to the people of Iran. And I can assure you —
Q But they don’t have social media. That’s the problem.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I can assure you that whether it’s the President, whether it’s myself, whether it’s our Secretary of State or Ambassador Nikki Haley, we’re going to continue to send — different from nine years ago — we’re going to continue to send, from the very outset of this effort on the streets of Iran, an unambiguous message that the American people stand with freedom-loving people in Iran and around the world.
And I think this is a very hopeful moment. And my hope, and really my prayer, is that the people of Iran — a youthful population, a well-educated population — understand that the United States of America and the people of this country are their natural ally. We want to see them achieve a free and democratic future. We want to see them step away from a regime that continues to menace the world and threaten the world and threaten to develop nuclear weapons.
Q What can the people expect in this if the President doesn’t recertify the deal? Now, the people of Iran thought with the deal that all the money that was going to be unfrozen would go to them and would revitalize their economy. That hasn’t happened —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q — which is what has provoked, in part, these protests. What happens without the deal being recertified? What do you see happening to the people in Iran?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the President made it clear that we’re not recertifying the deal.
Q So what happens to the people of Iran?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: But there are other decisions that have to be made, to your point, Greta, whether or not we’ll continue to waive sanctions. And the President is actively considering that decision that needs to be made by the middle of this month. But I would tell you —
Q Is that good? Do you think that will help — the sanctions? Because sometimes that hurts. I’m not opposed to sanctions; I want sanctions in Myanmar. You know, so, I mean, I’m not opposed to sanctions. But will sanctions — upping the sanctions in Iran, will that harm the people who are protesting on the street or does it help them?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We believe that the sanctions are working. They’re not just working in Iran; we believe they’re working in North Korea. And this President, this administration, are absolutely committed to continue to bring the full economic weight of the United States and these economic sanctions to bear on Iran.
Now, we’re also working with the Congress to arrive at a new agreement and a new set of conditions for sanctions going forward. The reality is the Iran nuclear deal was so ill-founded because, in part, it not only did it not deny that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon; by only being a 10-year agreement, it virtually guaranteed that they would develop a nuclear weapon after that 10-year period of time.
What we want is to have a long-term agreement in place, long-term legislation in place, that it says, if at any time Iran attempts to obtain a usable nuclear weapon and the ballistic missiles to be able to deliver it, that all sanctions would be re-imposed immediately. But all of those decisions going forward.
But I think as you see what’s happening on the streets of Iran, you have to believe that the sanctions that are in place today, and the additional pressure that we can bring to bear, is having an effect on the nation, it’s having an effect on the economy, and it’s emboldening the people of Iran to be able to have the courage to step forward.
Q You brought up North Korea — and this will be my last question to you. The President has tweeted that he has a bigger button than Kim Jong-un. Is he playing with fire with Kim Jong-United Nations, and sort of tweeting him in this Twitter war with him, back and forth?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: President Trump has provided the kind of clear leadership on the world stage that’s made measurable progress, particularly with regard to North Korea. In the message the President sent — in the wake of Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s message, where, while on the one hand he talked about wanting to reach out to his neighbors to the south, it’s the same moment he spoke of having missiles that could reach the United States and having a button on his desk — President Trump made it clear: America will not be bullied, America will not be threatened, and that the United States of America has, by being clear, managed to marshal an unprecedented amount of economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea.
And after decades of North Korea stalling and ignoring the world community and continuing to develop nuclear and ballistic missiles, we’re now literally beginning to see some movement among nations in the region.
China is —
Q So you’re not worried?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: China is doing more than ever before. China needs to do more, but they’re doing more than ever before to isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically.
And I truly do believe that making it clear that all options are on the table; that, as the President has done, making it clear the United States of America has the capacity to defend our people far beyond anything North Korea could imagine; but also making it clear that if North Korea will abandon their nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions, if they will dismantle those programs, there’s an opportunity for a peaceable solution.
Q Mr. Vice President, nice to see you. Thank you, sir.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Great to see you, Greta. Thank you.