‘They Have 10 American Sailors in Custody Right Now, Josh’: CNN Host Presses WH Press Secretary on Why U.S. Should Relieve Sanctions on Iran

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the White House is actively monitoring the unfolding situation with Iran, adding that such “provocative” behavior from the Islamic Republic is why President Barack Obama made negotiating the nuclear deal a top priority.

“This is obviously a situation that we are monitoring closely,” Earnest told CNN host Jake Tapper. “We’ve received assurances from the Iranians that both our sailors are safe and they are being sort of afforded the proper courtesy that you would expect.”

“We’ve also most importantly received assurances that they will be allowed to continue their journey promptly,” he added, noting that the White House was “still learning more” about the situation.

Tapper pressed Earnest on whether the U.S. should continue with plans to relieve sanctions on Iran in the coming days as part of the nuclear agreement.

“In a few days they are scheduled to have the relief of all those sanctions,” Tapper said. “The basic question being: this does not seem like a country that is ready to be welcomed back to the community of nations.”

“That’s right, Jake,” Earnest said. “Certainly the United States has been concerned with the kind of provocative, destabilizing actions that have been a hallmark of Iranian behavior over the last several decades. In fact, that is why the United States and this president made it a priority to organize the international community to reach an agreement with Iran that will prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

He added, “That’s an indication that we are making some progress countering the threat that is imposed by Iran.”

Tapper didn’t appear sold.

“I hear you, but they have 10 American sailors in custody right now, Josh. I think there are a lot of Americans watching right now that are wondering why we are about to give them sanction relief when they have 10 Americans — wherever they have them,” Tapper said.

“Well, these were sanctions that were imposed on Iran over their nuclear program,” Earnest responded, adding that the U.S. “will continue to have sanctions on Iran” over the country’s support for terrorism.

Earnest added, “We continue to be concerned about this situation. That precisely is why the president made preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon a top national security priority.”

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