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Transcript: Jake Sullivan on "Face the Nation," January 16, 2022

Sullivan warns of "severe economic consequences" if Russia invades Ukraine
Sullivan warns of "severe economic consequences" if Russia invades Ukraine 07:42

The following is a transcript of an interview with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan that aired Sunday, January 16, 2022, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Good morning to you, Jake. I want to start by asking you about what happened overnight in Texas with this synagogue and the hostage situation there. I know a British man who took the hostages is now dead, the others were released. Any indication that this is part of any kind of broader extremist threat?

WH NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER JAKE SULLIVAN: Well, MARGARET, it's too soon to tell at this point what the full parameters of this act of terrorism, this act of antisemitism were. We have the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and law enforcement and intelligence agencies working intensively to get a full picture of what this person's motives were and whether or not there are any further connections. So, I will leave it to the professionals to continue the work today, and as we have more information, we will share it. But I do think we should all take a moment today to pay tribute to the local, state and federal law enforcement officers who acted bravely, professionally and effectively to rescue those hostages and bring the situation to a safe conclusion. They are heroes and they deserve our support, and we then all should also raise our vigilance against acts of terrorism, acts of antisemitism, particularly at synagogues and places of worship in this country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Noted. Thank you, Jake. I want to ask you about what I believe is eating up a lot of your time right now, and this is this active threat from Russia. Microsoft last night said they discovered all sorts of highly destructive malware in computer networks in Ukraine. Ukraine was hit by a cyberattack earlier in the week as well. Is Russia using this to prepare the battlefield and will a cyber-strike draw U.S. sanctions?

SULLIVAN: We've been warning for weeks and months, both publicly and privately, that cyberattacks could be part of a broad-based Russian effort to escalate in Ukraine. We've been working closely with Ukrainians to harden their defenses and we will continue to do so in the days ahead. We're also coordinating with the private sector companies like Microsoft, both in Ukraine and here in the United States, in case there are potential cyberattacks that unfold in the coming months here. Of course, it's possible that Russia could- could conduct a series of cyberattacks. That's part of their playbook. They've done it in the past in other contexts. We have not specifically attributed this attack yet. Neither we nor some of the key private sector firms have attributed it. But we're working hard on attribution, and we will do everything we can to defend and protect networks against the type of destructive malware that Microsoft flagged in their blog post last night.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the Ukrainians are saying it looks like it has some Russian fingerprints on it. Why wouldn't this draw US sanctions? Why are you waiting for Vladimir Putin to go further and actually cross the border? Aren't we already in the middle of a conflict?

SULLIVAN: Well, first, MARGARET, as I said before, we need to work through attribution, and again, as I said, this is part of the Russian playbook, so it would not surprise me one bit if it ends up being attributed to Russia. But let's do first things first, let's get attribution and then make a determination about what we do next. In terms of sanctions, what we have laid out is a very clear message to the Russians, and we've done so in concert and in unison with our allies that if they do further invade Ukraine, there will be severe economic consequences and a price to pay. And yes, of course, if it turns out that Russia is pummeling Ukraine with cyberattacks, and if that continues over the period ahead, we will work with our allies on the appropriate response.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Russia has been moving, tanks have been moving military equipment, their top diplomat said Friday, "their patience is running out, diplomacy is not working." Are- are you planning to get President Putin, President Biden and President Zelensky of Ukraine all on the phone together, like the Ukrainians are asking?

SULLIVAN: Well, we're in close touch with our allies and partners, including the Ukrainians. I speak to my counterpart in Ukraine, the national security adviser, regularly. We've spoken seven times just in the past month, so we're coordinating closely our next steps. And we'll have more to share in terms of the next steps into diplomacy early next week. But the key point here, Margaret, is that we're ready either way, if Russia wants to move forward with diplomacy. We are absolutely ready to do that in lockstep with our allies and partners. If Russia wants to go down the path of invasion and escalation, we're ready for that too, with a robust response that will cut off their strategic position. So, from our perspective, we are pursuing simultaneously deterrence and diplomacy, and we've been clear and steadfast in that again, fully united with the transatlantic community.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Russia's been pretty clear in just charging ahead with this. Mike Morrell, who I know, you know, the former acting director of the CIA, said this comes down to a matter of American credibility, which will be lost if Vladimir Putin defies President Biden when- when the White House has set out these clear lines, that's what is- what is at stake here, Jake. I mean, we've been talking about the president's approval ratings being on the decline since that chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. This is a risk not just to foreign policy, but to the president's ability to set bright lines for adversaries.

SULLIVAN: Look, I'll leave the political analysis to you and others. Here's what I'm focused on. Will the United States and NATO and our allies emerge from this- whatever happens in a stronger strategic position, and will Russia emerge in a weaker strategic position? That's the test. And that test doesn't get passed tomorrow or the next day or the day after that test gets passed over weeks and months and years. And if Russia does move, we will take measures that go at their economy that go at their strategic position in Europe that strengthen the solidarity of NATO. And what we just saw this past week in Brussels at the NATO headquarters was 30 allies speaking as one after years under the previous administration, where NATO was fractured and beginning to- to lose focus. So, we actually believe that we have made strides in shoring up and strengthening our alliances and in putting the United States in a position whatever happens here to defend our interests, defend our friends and support the Ukrainian people as we have been doing.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Jake quickly on Iran. The Secretary of State says we are very, very, very short on time. Iran is getting very close here to the ability to produce a weapon. Are they just playing for time?

SULLIVAN: Well, I would say two things on this front. Number one, our policy is straightforward, we are determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Number two, we believe that diplomacy is the best way to do that. But as you said and as the secretary of state has said, time is running short, and I was in Israel at the end of last month–


SULLIVAN –coordinating on the possibility that diplomacy does not proceed.


SULLIVAN: We are working closely with our European allies and partners on this as well, and we will find a way forward. But Margaret,--


SULLIVAN: – a critical point here–

MARGARET BRENNAN: Jake I have to wrap you right now, I'm sorry. 

SULLIVAN: The reason we are in the situation we're in right now is because the previous administration pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, and we were paying the wages of that catastrophic mistake.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Understood. Jake Sullivan, thank you. 

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