U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Interview with Elise Labott of CNN (Excerpts)

January 5, 2018

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

QUESTION: Secretary Tillerson, thanks so much for joining us, and Happy New Year.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Happy New Year to you and to all the Americans out there as well. It’s a pleasure.


QUESTION: Let’s go to Iran. You’ve said that you want to support, quote, elements in the country that will lead to a peaceful transition of government. That sounds like regime change.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I think the Iranian people have suffered under this regime, the regime that has – it is a revolutionary government. They describe themselves as a revolutionary government. And the Iranian people have suffered under this regime. Very little good has happened for the Iranian people. Ever since this regime has taken power, they have suffered under economic sanctions because of this regime’s destabilizing activities in the region.

At some point, people will decide this is not how they want to live any longer, but we always support a peaceful transition of power. We do not support violent transitions of power, but we do support peaceful transitions of power, and we’ve seen those expressions in years past with the large demonstrations at the elections in 2009, the demonstrations that we see in the streets today. We are supportive of the Iranian people achieving their aspirations for a better quality of life, for greater freedom. We believe they deserve that, but it will be up to the Iranian people to manage that peaceful transition. We support that.

QUESTION: How do you help them facilitate that?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: I think by amplifying their voices. When they go to the street, we listen to why they are there, what are their concerns, and where there are legitimate concerns and we agree that their concerns are legitimate, we should support the expression of those. And that’s what the President has done, the White House, the Vice President, myself here at the State Department, through statements we’ve made, is to give their voice amplification. We know the regime listens to the world, and that’s why we’ve been working diligently with others in the world, including our European partners, to also amplify these voices within the country to say to the regime, you must address these concerns of these people and you should be address it by beginning a process of reform.

QUESTION: How does that factor into your decision on sanctions? Do you support waiving sanctions at this next certification?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, we’ve been very clear on our policy on Iran. The prior administration focused all of the Iranian policy around the nuclear deal, the JCPOA. Our policy is much broader. We look at the totality of Iran’s actions and behaviors. So the decisions around waiving sanctions relative to the nuclear agreement and decisions to take in terms of imposing additional sanctions on Iran that are unrelated to the nuclear agreement are – there’s a broad array when you talk about sanctions. And I think --

QUESTION: So non-nuclear sanctions, you’re talking about.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I think some people get confused --


SECRETARY TILLERSON: -- sometimes, and it’s understandable. But Iran’s support for the Houthis in Yemen, their support for destabilization efforts in Syria, the funding of militias, the sending of foreign fighters, arming terrorist organizations in the region, Lebanese Hizballah – that has to be dealt with. And our sanctions are targeted at Iran’s destabilizing activities within the region while still maintaining all our efforts to ensure Iran never acquires nuclear weapons.

So there are sanctions regimes built around both of those efforts. And what the President has done with his policies, is he’s now looked at Iran in its totality and said Iran has to be held to account in both of these areas.

QUESTION: So it sounds like maybe, even if you certify on the nuclear issue, more non-nuclear sanctions could be coming.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: They will be coming. There were non-nuclear sanctions announced yesterday by the Treasury Department in response to Iran’s missile – ballistic missile development programs, which are in violation of earlier agreements.

QUESTION: And more to come?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: In all likelihood, unless Iran alters its behavior. And again, this is the objective of the sanctions, is to put enough pressure on these governments that they decide the price, the cost of what they’re doing, is too high.

QUESTION: Well, and also the Revolutionary Guard’s grip on the economy, right? And that’s really what you’re trying to --

SECRETARY TILLERSON: That’s a lot of what the demonstrations in the streets were about, is young people and others saying, “There’s too much of our economy and our wealth of our country going to support these destabilizing activities of the IRGC, as well as the IRGC’s involvement in our economy. We’re not seeing enough of the benefit. The elites are seeing the benefit.”