SECRETARY POMPEO: Good afternoon, everyone. It feels a little like church; everybody’s in the back pew. (Laughter.) You’re welcome to come on up closer.
Brian, thanks for those kind remarks. I was sworn in to Congress in January of 2011 after being elected in November of 2010, and I’ve spent a significant amount of my energy on issues related to the broader Middle East, and Iran in particular, since that day – first, those six years in Congress, and then a year and change as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and now, again about that much time as Secretary of State.
I’ve spoken in those years often about the bravery that comes standard for diplomats, our State Department team, and I am honored to be with some of the greatest embodiments of that bravery in our 230-year history: survivors of the Iran hostage crisis.
I also speak a lot about the central importance of our families, without whom my service, all of our service, would be impossible. So it’s a privilege, too, to be here with the families who endured, with grit and dignity, one of the most harrowing episodes in our nation’s history.
It began 40 years ago today when heavily armed student followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini broke the gates and scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
I’ve read many of the accounts. They describe it variously as utter pandemonium. Shots sprayed into the air. The frantic rush to destroy classified documents. Locked doors battered open. Innocent people thrown to the ground.
For those who were there, for some of you, the terror would continue then for 444 more days, almost 15 months of not knowing whether you would live or die.
Fifteen months that included long stretches of sitting in silence, denied the ability to read or to talk, with hands tied behind your back.
Fifteen months of demeaning and terrifying situations, including interrogations, too many to count.
Colonel Charles Scott, a Vietnam War veteran among the hostages, once recounted as follows, quote:
“I am very familiar with the kind of courage it takes to fight in combat. But there is a different kind of courage to face interrogators when you are completely alone and don’t know when you will ever see another American.” End of quote.
And hostage Paul Needham said of his experience that, quote, “a miscalculation could have resulted in someone’s death. How did I make it through? With faith in God, my family, and this country.” End of quote.
And to those of you who are here today that are family members: You, too, showed extraordinary courage – enduring the media attention, the frustrating lack of answers that surely existed, the hundreds of restless nights waiting and hoping, worrying and praying.
You also showed some ingenuity and defiance. I love the stories of those who slipped veiled messages to their – into their letters.
The wife of one hostage, Gary Lee, informed him of the death of the Shah by writing that a nonexistent “Uncle Shaw” had died.
Another hostage, Donald Cooke, learned that a rescue attempt had failed when he asked his family to send a set of, quote, “Curtis LeMay stoneware,” end of quote. He sent that note to his family. His family responded by saying, “We sent the stoneware, but you didn’t get it. It broke.”
Two score, that’s how many years later we stand here today. I can confidently say that everyone involved in the Iran hostage crisis showed the world what they were made of.
The American hostages showed unimaginable courage and honor, and their families back home, dignity and resilience.
The countless Americans who worked to secure your freedom, including the eight service members who died, showed patriotism and sacrifice.
And as for the revolutionary regime in Tehran, they showed their true malice and evil.
For 40 years, the regime has continued taking hostages, and supporting proxy groups like Hizballah that do the same.
The Trump administration has made clear: Iran must release all missing and currently detained U.S. citizens, including Bob Levinson, Xiyue Wang, Siamak Namazi, and others.
Earlier today, I announced with the President’s approval a new reward through the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program of up to $20 million for the information that will lead us to the safe location, recovery, and return of Mr. Levinson. He is the longest-held U.S. hostage in history.
Some of the family members of currently detained Americans are with us today. We have an entire team dedicated to bringing their loved ones home. And our Middle East strategy broadly, and our counter-Iran campaign in particular are oriented, in no small part, toward that goal.
Some of you were among the last U.S. diplomats to be posted in Iran. I look forward to the day when we can again send members of our team to a safe and stable Tehran, to work toward an improved U.S.-Iran relationship.
That can only happen, and will only happen in this administration, when the regime comprehensively changes its behavior – when, as I’ve said so often, they begin to behave like a normal country. Until then, your harrowing experience stands as an enduring symbol of what the regime is made of.
Once again, on behalf of the Trump administration and the American people: Thank you for your service and for your sacrifice.
May God bless you and your families, and God bless this great nation. Thank you all.
And with that, I’ve got a few minutes. I’d love to shake as many hands as I can and meet as many of you as I can. Please enjoy the rest of your time here this afternoon. Thank you all so much for being here.