MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon.
Q Happy New Year.
MS. SANDERS: Happy New Year. It’s great to be back with all of you — start by wishing everybody a Happy New Year, but you guys kind of stole my thunder a little bit on that.
With the new year, we also have a renewed appreciation for the freedoms we enjoy here in the United States. Unfortunately, millions of people around the world are not so fortunate. In recent days, we have watched widespread protests erupt in many Iranian cities. Years of mismanagement, corruption, and foreign adventurism have eroded the Iranian people’s trust in their leaders.
The Iranian regime spends its people’s wealth on spreading militancy and terror abroad, rather than ensuring prosperity at home. Prices for everyday staples and fuel are rising, while the Revolutionary Guard spend the nation’s wealth on foreign militant groups and enrich themselves in the process.
The Iranian people are angry at the rising tide of corruption in their daily lives. The people are tired of paying the price for their violent and corrupt rulers. As a result, we are now seeing an organic, popular uprising organized by brave Iranian citizens on the largest scale since 2009.
But the international community cannot sit silent as it did then. The United States supports the Iranian people, and we call on the regime to respect its citizens’ basic right to peacefully express their desire for change. America longs for the day when Iranians will take their rightful place alongside the free people of the world.
As the President said in October, “We stand in total solidarity with the Iranian regimes longest-suffering victims: its own people.” The citizens of Iran have paid a heavy price for the violence and extremism of their leaders, and the Iranian people long to reclaim their country’s proud history, its culture, its civilization, and its cooperation with its neighbors.
Q The Iranian protest — does that create an opening or renew the President’s desire to re-impose sanctions as part of the Iran nuclear deal? And I have a follow-up on Pakistan also.
MS. SANDERS: Look, we certainly keep our options open in terms of sanctions. In terms of signing a waiver later in January, the President hasn’t made a final decision on that, and he’s going to keep all of his options on the table in that regard.
Q Has the Iranian protest changed the calculations about that — meaning, created a situation in which the President, who was already inclined to be moving in that direction, could move more rapidly in that direction to send a signal not just to the Iranian regime but to the world?
MS. SANDERS: Not necessarily. I mean, I think the President has been very clear what his position is in support of the Iranian people. And in terms of what decision he’ll make on that waiver, he hasn’t made a final one yet, but he’s going to keep every option on the table with regard to that.
Q What does the President see as the end game in Iran? Would he like to see regime change?
MS. SANDERS: I mean, I think the ultimate end game would be that the citizens and the people of Iran are actually given basic human rights, and he’d certainly like to see them stop being a state sponsor of terror. I think that’s something the whole world would like to see.
Q Just to follow up, is there a risk that, by encouraging these demonstrators, that there could be a backlash against them from the Iranian government?
MS. SANDERS: No. And, you know, I think one of the big things — and I think even Hillary Clinton outlined this when she said that the Obama administration was too restrained of the 2009 protests and said that won’t happen again. And, for once, she’s right and we agree with her because President Trump is not going to sit by silently like President Obama did. And he certainly supports the Iranian people and wants to make that clear.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Two on Iran. The President tweeted over the past weekend that the U.S. is watching very closely for human rights violations. What actions are being considered by the Trump administration should these violations occur?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we’ll keep you posted on any actions that we plan to take, and we’re keeping a lot of options on the table at this time.
Q And if I could follow up on Steve’s question about regime change. There are protestors who are calling for regime change in the country. Does the Trump administration support regime change in Iran?
MS. SANDERS: We support them giving basic rights to the people of Iran, and we support them stopping being a state sponsor of terror. And we want to see those actions take place.
Q All right, let me try to drill down on the President’s tweet about Iran earlier today. I know you’ve been asked a version of this question, but just to be very specific, the President said it’s time for change in Iran. Did he mean in leadership or in policy, or both?
MS. SANDERS: I think, again, the biggest thing is the change would be that the people of Iran have basic human rights, which their government is, frankly, not allowing them to have at this time, and certainly, in large part, stop being a state sponsor of terrorism. I mean, I think those are the changes we’re looking for. If they want to do that through current leadership, if that’s possible, okay. But those are our priorities, is making sure those principles are met.
Q Does the President think it’s possible with the current leadership?
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t ask him that direct question.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Several of the Iranian exile groups in the United States have praised the President’s comments and statements on Iran, as have former prisoners of the Iranian government, Pastor Saeed Abedini among them. Is the President in touch, either directly or indirectly, with any of the exile groups, notably the National Council for Resistance, in Iran?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of any conversations, and certainly not directly between the President. But I’d have to verify that no one in the administration has had those conversations. I’m just not prepared to answer that extensively.