The following is a transcript of an interview with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan that aired Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, on "Face the Nation."
MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. Good morning to you, Jake. Thank you for joining us.
NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR JAKE SULLIVAN: Thanks for having me.
MARGARET BRENNAN: President Zelenskyy told us that if this annexation happens, it will make diplomatic talks with Vladimir Putin impossible. They need artillery in Ukraine, he says, more air defense systems and tanks. Will they get it? And how significant of an escalation is this?
SULLIVAN: Well, Margaret, not only will they get it, but they've been getting it. The United States at this point alone has provided more than $15 billion in weapons, and that's included air defense systems, hundreds of artillery pieces, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of rounds of artillery. And we facilitated the transfer of tanks from NATO allies who have the 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 that Russia has done with this mobilization of troops, with the sham referenda in the occupied regions, is going to deter us from providing Ukraine with the necessary means and technologies they need to defend themselves. And what Putin has done is not exactly a sign of strength or confidence, frankly, it's a sign that they're struggling badly on the Russian side. And we're going to help the Ukrainians be able to take advantage of the gains they've made, and to continue to push back against the Russian forces that are brutally occupying portions of their country.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yesterday, Putin replaced one of the top logistics generals with a man who's known as "the Butcher of Mariupol." Are we seeing the beginning of the collapse of the Russian army?
SULLIVAN: I think it's too soon to make comprehensive predictions like that. I think what we are seeing are signs of unbelievable struggle among the Russians, you've got low morale, where the soldiers don't want to fight. And who can blame them because they want no part of Putin's war of conquest in their neighboring country. You've got Russia having depleted its stores of prec- precision guided munitions. You've got Russia disorganized and losing territory, to a capable Ukrainian force. And you've got a huge amount of infighting among the Russian military leadership, and now the blame game has started to include these replacements. So Russia is struggling, but Russia still remains a dangerous foe, and capable of great brutality, as we've seen with these mass graves outside of Izium. So we continue to take that threat seriously. And we continue to see our obligation, being providing Ukraine all that it needs to be able to effectively defend itself and defend its country and defend its freedom. That's what we're intent on doing. And we are not taking our eye off the ball.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Vladimir Putin will carry out this annexation of eastern Ukraine within the next few days. If Russia is expanding its nuclear umbrella over this part of the country. Does that put the US in more direct conflict with Russia? And does a nuclear weapon being used there, p-put Russia in conflict directly with the US and NATO?
SULLIVAN: We have been crystal clear up to and including President Biden that we will not recognize the sham referenda, they in no way represent the will of the Ukrainian people. And we will treat this territory for what it is - Ukrainian territory, not Russian territory. And we will continue to support the Ukrainians as they seek to deoccupy this territory. So we've been clear, we're not going to stop or slow down our support to the Ukrainians, no matter what Putin tries to do with these-these fake elections and fake referenda and annexation. Now, when it comes to the question of nuclear use, President Putin's been waving around the nuclear card at various points through this conflict the last few days are not the first time–
MARGARET BRENNAN: –But he hasn't been as cornered as he is now.
SULLIVAN: It's true, and it is a matter that we have to take deadly seriously because it is a matter of paramount seriousness – the possible use of nuclear weapons for the first time since the Second World War. We have communicated directly, privately, at very high levels to the Kremlin, that any use of nuclear weapons will be met with catastrophic consequences for Russia, that the United States in our allies will respond decisively. And we have been clear and specific about what that will entail. We have, in public, been equally clear, 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: Russia has been talking about this nuclear power plant rather than nuclear weapons just for the past 24 hours. Where does that fall? Is this an escalating threat?
SULLIVAN: So, for your viewers, there is a nuclear power plant that is in Russian occupied portions of Ukraine. It has been put into cold shutdown to make it less likely that there's some kind of catastrophic incident at the plant. It is actually still being operated by the Ukrainian operators who are essentially at gunpoint from the Russian occupying forces. And the Russians have been consistently implying that there may be some kind of accident at this plant. We've been working with the International Atomic Energy Agency and with Ukrainian energy regulators to try to make sure that there is no threat posed by a meltdown or something else from the plant. We will 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 right now. There's a lot I want to ask you, but I have to ask you about Iran. And these protests led by women after the death of this 22-year-old woman who didn't have her hair covered properly in the view of the morality police. She died. How significant is this, and is it making you reassess the offer you put on the table to lift sanctions on Iran in regard to its nuclear program?
SULLIVAN: Well, first, Margaret, the fact that we are in negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program is in no way impacting our willingness and our vehemence in speaking out about what is happening on the streets of Iran. President Biden went to the floor of the UN General Assembly and said that we stand with the brave citizens and the brave women of Iran as they stand for their rights and their dignity. We have in fact taken tangible steps to sanction those morality police -
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
SULLIVAN: – who caused the death of Mahsa Amini. We've taken steps to make it easier for Iranians to be able to get access to the internet and access to communications technologies that will allow them to talk to one another and to talk to the world. So, from our perspective, we will do all that we can to support the brave people the brave women of Iran –
MARGARET BRENNAN: – I was asking you, though, about the offer to lift sanctions off of Iran in regard to its nuclear program, because that would allow for the regime to have a financial lifeline.
SULLIVAN: Well, I think it's important for everyone to understand that at the height of the Cold War, as Ronald Reagan was calling the Soviet Union "the evil empire" –
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. Arms control.
SULLIVAN: – he was also negotiating an arms control with Russia. So that's– that is what we're talking about here. We're talking about diplomacy to prevent Iran from ever getting a nuclear weapon. If we can succeed in that effort, and we are determined to succeed in that effort, the world America and our allies will be safer. And that will not stop us in any way from pushing back and speaking out on Iran's brutal repression of its citizens and its women. We can and will do both.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay, so I understand the offer is still on the table. Strategy hasn't changed. Jake, thank you very much for your time. We'll be right back with a lot more Face the Nation. Stay with us.
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