Secretary Antony J. Blinken and UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly at a Joint Press Availability

January 17, 2023


Antony J. Blinken and James Cleverly

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U.S. Secretary of State and U.K. Foreign Secretary

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon, everybody. James, my friend, we’ve been around the world together on many occasions already – everywhere from New York to Münster to Bucharest, just in recent months. But it’s a special pleasure to have you here at the State Department for the first time in your current role, and we’re adding another chapter to a very long history of this Special Relationship at a time when it could not be more important and could not be more vibrant.


The foreign secretary and I also had an opportunity to discuss Iran. We stand with the British Government in condemning Iran’s execution of Iranian-British dual national Alireza Akbari, which was politically motivated and unjust. It fits a pattern of abuse by the regime: detentions, torture, forced confessions, unjust executions.

We’ll continue to work with the United Kingdom and our other allies and partners to hold Iran’s leadership accountable for these and other abuses. We’ll keep standing with the brave Iranians who are standing up for their own basic rights led by young women – all of this in the face of extraordinary repression.


FOREIGN SECRETARY CLEVERLY: Tony, thank you very much. I’m delighted to pay my first official visit to Washington as foreign secretary. As you’ve said, we’ve had plenty of opportunities to meet and work together over the last few months since my appointment in multilateral fora, where we reinforce often our respective positions. And I am incredibly grateful to Secretary Blinken for this opportunity to discuss a wide range of foreign policy issues and to reaffirm the unbreakable friendship and enduring alliance between the United Kingdom and the United States of America.


As Tony said, we also discussed the situation in Iran, where the regime has committed a cowardly and shameful act by executing a British-Iranian dual national Alireza Akbari. I’m very grateful to the United States of America for publicly condemning the execution and for Secretary Blinken expressing his condolences in our meeting a few moments ago. And also, our two countries stand with the brave and dignified people of Iran as they demand their rights to live free of terror and oppression. And the UK has sanctioned involved with the execution of Mr. Akbari and those involved in the oppression of their own people, including the Iranian prosecutor general.

For years, Iran’s leadership have inflicted bloodshed on their regional neighbors by arming and supporting military extremists and militias. Now Iran has gone further and supplied Russian with the drones that were used to kill civilians in Ukraine. And the UK will join with the U.S. and other allies to hold the Iranian regime to account for the violations of the rights of their own people and by making themselves accomplices to Putin’s assault on Ukraine.

Another threat to the international peace and security comes from Iran’s nuclear program, which has never been more advanced. And the U.S. and the UK are determined that Iran must never acquire a nuclear weapon.


QUESTION: Thanks for taking these questions. I wanted to follow up with a question about Iran following the killing of Mr. Akbari. I mean, you’ve both said here today and, Foreign Secretary, you said in the House of Commons that you will hold Iran to account. Can you be specific about what you mean given that these sanctions that you refer to have been in place for some time? And I wonder more broadly where this leaves our Iran policy. Do we regard leaders in Tehran as legitimate interlocutors in terms of the nuclear talks? Are they dead in the water or are they on life support or can they be potentially kept going even following the killing of Mr. Akbari, even following Iran’s provision of so much weaponry to Russia?

FOREIGN SECRETARY CLEVERLY: The execution of Mr. Akbari was a politically motivated act, and we acted swiftly to sanction the people involved with it, including the prosecutor general. We have already sanctioned members of the so-called morality police and of the members of the Iranian judiciary who have been involved with the crackdown of the legitimate protests of the Iranian people.

I would make the point that there have been around 500 fatalities because of the crackdown from the Iranian regime against their own people; 18,000 people arrested by the Iranian regime. And the point that I would make is the leadership of Iran is a decision for the Iranian people, but I would just make the simple observation that the Iranian people are telling their government that they are not at all happy with the situation that they are living under and the limitations and privations. And it is in the hands of the Iranian Government to make those changes. They call – they call for us, for the U.S., for us, and our friends to lift sanctions. And the point that we have made is that if they want to see those sanctions removed, they have to fundamentally change their behavior. Sadly, we’re not seeing any indication that they are ready to do so, and unfortunately that is as true with our efforts to prevent them acquiring a nuclear weapon as it is in the crackdown on the protesters and the persecution of their own people.

It is in the gift of the Iranian leadership to bring about change. We will continue to act in response to their behaviors, and you’ll have to excuse me, I’m not going to speculate about what further measures we might take. But I said at the dispatch box just before flying to the U.S. that we do not limit ourselves to the response that I have already announced.

But we will continue to speak to Iran where we’re able to and we hope that at some point soon they will listen properly to what we’re saying, because I don’t believe that a country with a multi-thousand-year history of sophistication and art really wants to have the international reputation of ugliness and brutality that Iran currently has. They are betraying their heritage. They are objectifying – sorry, they are oppressing their own people. And the simple message I would put across is that they should change – not for our benefit, not because of what we say or do, but because their own people are demanding that they do so.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: And really, I can only strongly echo what the foreign secretary has said. We were appalled by the execution of Mr. Akbari, just as we’ve been appalled by everything we’ve been seeing on the streets of Iran over the last months since these protests began – mass arrests, sham trials, the executions, the use of sexual violence as a tool for protest suppression. We, the United Kingdom – but not just us – countries around the world are watching this, seeing this, and share the revulsion that we have. And these abuses will not go without consequence. Together with many other countries, we’ve been moving forward with a variety of unilateral actions, multilateral measures, using UN mechanisms to try to hold Iran to account. And that’s played out in a number of different places in a number of different ways, and it will continue as long as necessary.

With regard to the JCPOA, the Iranians killed the opportunity to come back to that agreement swiftly many months ago. There was an opportunity on the table that they rejected, an opportunity that was approved by all who were involved – the Europeans, the United States, Russia and China even at the time. And so the JCPOA has not been on the agenda as a practical matter for many months now. It’s not our focus. We’re focused on what’s happening in Iran. We’re focused on what Iran is doing in terms of the provision of weapons to Russia to use against innocent people and the entire energy grid in Ukraine. And of course, we’re focused on its other destabilizing activities throughout the region.

What is also very much in our focus is the President’s commitment, President Biden’s commitment that Iran never acquire a nuclear weapon. Now, we continue to believe that the most effective way to do that is through diplomacy, and we saw the results and success of diplomacy when it comes to the original JCPOA, which put Iran’s nuclear program in a box. And it was a terrible mistake to have torn up that agreement and walked away from it, and now we’re dealing with the results. The results include, as the foreign secretary said, Iran making very significant progress on its nuclear program, and that represents an additional challenge to the other things that Iran has engaged in. But, as I said, the JCPOA right now is not on the table.