US State Department spokesman Ned Price discussed protests in Iran after the death of a 22-year-old woman in the custody of the country’s moral police and Russia’s war in Ukraine in an interview with VOA Persian State Department correspondent Gita Arian. .
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
VOA: So the president of Iran talked a lot about justice in general and about Iran in particular, but at the same time we saw demonstrations, people taking to the streets over the death of Mahsa Amini while in custody of Iran’s morality police. Can you talk a little bit about that?
State Department spokesman Ned Price: This is a very simple fact. Mahsa Amini should be alive today. The only reason she isn’t is because of the brutal repression exercised against her by the morality police. And what we’re seeing is the same kind of oppression and brutality that the Iranian authorities are implementing or using against their own citizens, their own citizens to exercise a universal right for people around the world – the right to peaceful assembly, to freedom of expression. We have seen these protests continue in recent days. Again, peaceful protests are met with horrific violence. This is a hallmark of the Iranian regime and something the entire world is watching.
VOA: Treasury today sanctioned several people associated with the morality police. Do you think the sanction makes any difference?
price: This is an important measure of accountability. We want to do two things. We want to make it clear that the United States and the rest of the world stand with people around the world who are exercising universal rights, rights that belong to the people of Iran as they do to citizens of any other country. Freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of communication. We stand with all those who are peacefully exercising that right.
So, today we have taken action against the morality police, which we sanctioned as a unit. We have sanctioned seven additional persons. We will continue to seek ways to hold accountable the Iranian authorities who are behind this repression, behind this violence, behind this brutality.
VOA: Iranian President (Ibrahim Raisi) Critics here are saying that given what is happening in Iran, he should not have been allowed here. Not only what is happening now, but also his background in oppressing people or killing other people. What should you tell them?
price: Well, as the host of the UN, we are generally obliged to issue visas to world leaders who are traveling here to participate in UN meetings. The Iranian mission, the Iranian delegation here is under restrictions in terms of where they can go and what they can do other than attend meetings at the UN in New York City but it’s also important that the Iranian president is asking a lot while they’re here. Clear messages, messages from around the world, from the United States, from countries around the world stand with those who exercise their universal rights, the right to peace, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression.
VOA: On nuclear talks, Iran’s president says Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons and the ball is in the US’s court. So where do we go from here?
price: right, opposite, actually, true. And I think you know that we’ve been engaged in a sincere and determined effort over the last 18 months to see if we can achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, because we want to see these verifiable, these permanent limitations, once again, imposed on Iran’s nuclear program and that Iran’s program is entirely peaceful. In a way that allows the whole world to see and scrutinize what the president of Iran says. The virtue of the Iran deal is that it is verifiable, allowing the world to see the truth of those statements.
The only reason we cannot achieve a mutual return to compliance with the Iran deal is because of the intransigence of the Iranian delegation. As you know, we are exchanging proposals on the text put forward by the European Union. Unfortunately, the latest Iranian response does not put us in a position to close the deal. In fact, it took us back. We believe there is an opportunity to return to the Iran deal on a reciprocal basis. We will pursue that outcome as long as it remains in America’s national security interests.
VOA: Russia’s war against Ukraine is a major issue and a topic of discussion at the UN, is there a systematic way to prevent, stop killing people, Ukrainians?
price: Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken has a very simple message today, and in some ways, you can distill it down to one sentence. “If Russia stops the war today, the war will end, if Ukraine stops the war today, Ukraine will end,” he said. It is a war of territorial aggression waged by Russia against its peaceful neighbors. And most importantly, and the main objective of some today, is to inspire the rest of the world to speak clearly, speak consistently, and speak with one voice about Russia’s need to end this brutal war. About the need to stand against this aggression and the need to stand with our Ukrainian partners.
We and many other countries around the world are doing just that. We have been giving them billions of dollars in security aid, more than $15 billion since the beginning of this Russian invasion, as have other countries. And we take Russia into account. We have, as we said, imposed huge costs and consequences on key Russian leaders, key Russian institutions that led to this war. We will continue to provide support to our Ukrainian partners and increase pressure on Russia.
VOA: But that doesn’t seem to have stopped Russian President Vladimir Putin from continuing the war.
price: Russia is more isolated. I think that is very telling in the Security Council today, [Russian] Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov … came before he gave his remarks and left after he gave his remarks. If anything, it’s a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that Russia increasingly recognizes that even its longtime partners are drifting away from Russia. We saw this in Samarkand [Uzbekistan] Last week when he delivered tough messages to Vladimir Putin. We saw today in the Security Council, where country after country condemned this aggression and called on Russia to stop its aggression against Ukraine.