QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning, George. It’s good to be with you. Thanks for having me on this morning.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Let’s begin with this Afghanistan announcement. On Friday, you said the peace talks were making progress. What happened between then and now?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, sir, we’ve made enormous progress over the last months working with the Afghan Government of National Unity, other Afghans, as well as with the Taliban. We had a number of objectives, right? The President’s mission set has always been to the State Department negotiate a resolution that allows America to have less risk to our young men and women.
George, I was out at Dover Air Force Base just a handful of hours ago with Sergeant First Class Barreto’s wife, their two kids. He’s a great American serving in the 82nd Airborne who was killed this past week, and it’s a reminder that we’ve got to get it right. We’ve got to protect American national security interests so that terror can never strike again from Afghanistan, at the same time reduce America’s treasure and blood and that we’ve given for now almost two decades.
And we had been making progress. We’d had a commitment from the Taliban that said that they would break with al-Qaida publicly and permanently. We had a commitment that said that they would reduce violence, that they would for the first time – George, you know this. You were in an administration that tried to get Afghans to sit at the table together. We had a commitment that they would meet in Oslo to begin a reconciliation conversation. And then the Taliban overreached. They killed an American in an effort to gain leverage at the negotiating table, and President Trump said enough.
QUESTION: But there have been periodic attacks throughout the talks. Why pull the plug after this one? In the past when there have been attacks, you’ve said that was a reason to continue the talks.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, it’s true. There have been attacks during the talks – attacks from the Taliban on Americans and an enormous attack from American forces putting in real pressure on the Taliban. George, we have, in just the last 10 days alone, killed over a thousand Taliban. We have been fighting and talking in a way that America often doesn’t do. It’s what’s driven us to be able to have the success at the negotiating table that we were beginning to have.
But we finally reached a point where we were close. We had made real progress, and then the Taliban failed to live up to a series of commitments that they had made. And when that happened, President Trump said I’m not going to take that deal, I’m not going to work with someone that can’t deliver on their commitments. Because in the end, George – you know this – a deal, an agreement, is just a piece of paper, and we have to actually see that change in behavior.
And when we saw this activity, when we saw this action, when we were closing in on a solution and closing in on opportunity for the President to actually meet with the decision makers that can actually deliver that reconciliation and peace to the Afghan people, President Trump said that’s enough, we’re not going to do that, we’re not going to reward that behavior, and broke it off.
QUESTION: So are the peace talks now dead, Ambassador Khalilzad’s efforts dead as well?
SECRETARY POMPEO: He’s coming home for now. I hope it’s the case that the Taliban will change their behavior, will recommit to the things that we’ve been talking to them about for months. In the end, this will be resolved through a series of conversations. I hope the Taliban will agree to meet with the Afghan Government. President Ghani asked for that.
QUESTION: They say the jihad’s going to continue. They just put out a statement.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. Well, we’ll see. Let me assure you, America’s capacity to protect our nation from a terror attack ever emanating from that place again, that effort will continue.
QUESTION: The proposed deal included a withdrawal of more than 5,000 U.S. troops within 135 days of the signing of an agreement. Does this collapse put any U.S. pullout on hold?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The President hasn’t yet made a decision on that. We’ll be talking about that in the coming days. President Trump has been very clear. We spend, George, goodness, over $30 billion a year in Afghanistan, and as you well know, we have terror threats from lots of parts of the world, not just from Afghanistan, unfortunately. And frankly, our soldiers have delivered the crushing of al-Qaida in Afghanistan that’s taken place over these last almost two decades. We’ve decimated al-Qaida leadership. There are still challenges. ISIS is there as well.
But President Trump is going to focus with the Secretary of Defense. They will think about making sure that we have the right force posture to deliver on the President’s objectives to protect America from terror threats everywhere they emanate from, including Afghanistan, and we’ll have to make the decision about what the right force posture in Afghanistan will be going forward.
QUESTION: So it’s still possible that the pullout will continue. Won’t that increase the prospects that the Taliban could gain strength and make this a standing ground for al-Qaida again?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ll never let that happen.
QUESTION: So the troops will stay?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We will conduct a mission in Afghanistan in a way that reduces risks to the American people. The right number, the force posture, the nature of those forces – George, as you know well, there’s different kinds of forces that are there. Our continued train-and-assist mission for the Afghan forces so that they can take the fight to the Taliban such that we can ultimately get the peace and reconciliation that I know every American wants – those are the missions we’re setting out. The details of the right level of forces and the nature of those forces, President Trump and the Secretary of Defense will make good decisions on it. I’m very confident of that.
QUESTION: So the President is not ruling anything out, but he hasn’t made a final decision yet. But meantime, the administration is already taking some heat for even considering having the Taliban to Camp David. A couple of Republican members of Congress – Adam Kinzinger said, “Never should leaders of a terrorist organization that hasn’t renounced 9/11 and continues in evil be allowed in our great country. Never. Full stop.”
Liz Cheney: “Camp David is where America’s leaders met to plan our response after al-Qaida, supported by the Taliban, killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11. No member of the Taliban should set foot there ever.” She said the President was right to cancel.
But what about this idea that the President was wrong to even consider having the Taliban at Camp David?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I served with Congressman Kinzinger. I know him well. I value him. I know Congresswoman Cheney as well, and I appreciate their points. In the end, if you’re going to negotiate peace, you often have to deal with some pretty bad actors. And I know the history too at Camp David. Indeed, President Trump reflected on that. We all considered as we were debating how to try and get to the right ultimate outcome.
Well, there have often been discussions about war at Camp David. There have been discussions about peace there as well, and some pretty bad actors traveled through that place throughout recorded history. It’s an important place. It’s a place where we thought we could convince all the leaders of Afghanistan – President Ghani and his team as well as the Taliban – we could convince them to begin to head in a direction that would create a better conditions – better conditions on the ground in Afghanistan not only for the Afghans, but better security for the American people as well.
It’s why the President was willing to go down that direction. You’ve seen, George, he’s willing to take some risks to do that, and he was prepared to do that in this case as well until the Afghans – excuse me, until the Taliban made this terrible decision.
QUESTION: Let me ask you about another one of those potential risks, and that has to deal with Iran. They have stepped up enrichment of uranium, announced that on Friday. This is exactly what the CIA under your watch predicted would happen after the U.S. pullout from the joint nuclear agreement. In the wake of this announcement, is the President still willing to meet with the Iranian president at the UN General Assembly next month?
SECRETARY POMPEO: George, what I predicted all along is if we stayed in the Iran nuclear deal that we were guaranteeing the ayatollah a pathway towards a nuclear weapon system. It’s why we broke away from the deal. It’s why we’ve now made Iran’s economy a shambles. We think their economy could shrink as much as 10 or 12 percent in the year ahead, and that’s important. It’s important because it denies their capacity to build our nuclear weapons systems. It denies their capability to work on their missile program. It —
QUESTION: Isn’t that what they’re doing now?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It makes – the terror attacks around the world increased under the JCPOA, George. The math is really very plain. And now Hizballah is struggling for resources. The Shia militias in Iraq, same thing. This is the mission set that we’re engaged in. We want to negotiate. President Trump says that he would meet with President Rouhani with no preconditions. He has said that repeatedly. We know how this must end. We don’t want violence. We don’t want war with Iran. What we want is that revolutionary regime to stop its efforts around the world to put Israel at risk, to put the American people at risk, and deliver national security for the American people. That’s the outcome we’re looking for. Iran will never have a nuclear weapon on President Trump’s watch.
QUESTION: Do you expect the meeting to happen?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Couldn’t tell you, George. It’s up to the ayatollah to make a decision about the direction he wants to take his country.
QUESTION: Meantime, on North Korea, their nuclear program, the talks have stalled since the Hanoi summit, and North Korea continues to test missiles. U.S. intelligence has concluded that they continue to add to their stockpile of nuclear weapons fuel as well. Are you concerned at all that Kim Jong-un is stringing President Trump along?
SECRETARY POMPEO: George, we took office with nuclear tests being conducted and long-range missile tests being conducted with all too great a frequency. President Trump and my team have been working to deliver on the promises that were made in Singapore back in June of the year before. We know Chairman Kim has continued to make the commitment to denuclearize. We are hopeful that in the coming days or perhaps weeks we’ll be back at the negotiating table with them. That’s the best outcome. It’s the best outcome for the North Korean people. President Trump has made a commitment to their security and economic prosperity. We know that we can turn around that economy.
The mission set, however, is to make sure that nuclear weapons inside of North Korea that have existed there for an awfully long time – George, you served in an administration where that nuclear stockpile grew as well – we have to make sure that Chairman Kim honors the commitments that he made to President Trump. I think President Trump would be very disappointed if Chairman Kim doesn’t return to the negotiating table or conducts missile tests that are inconsistent with the agreements that they made when the two of them were together these three times.
QUESTION: You put your finger on the problem. The North Koreans have continued the nuclear program through President Clinton, through President Bush, through President Obama. They appear to be continuing it now as well. And these short-term ballistic missile tests are improving their program, aren’t they? And isn’t that a violation of UN Security Council resolutions?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Chairman Kim’s commitment to President Trump was pretty clear. He has not yet violated that. It’s not that we don’t all wish – we’re disappointed that he is continuing to conduct these short-range tests. We wish that he would stop that. But our mission set at the State Department is very clear: to get back to the table, to present a mechanism by which we can deliver, George, what I know you share my objective of – a full, completely denuclearized and verified denuclearized North Korea. That’s the goal. It’s what we continue to work on.
QUESTION: Before you go, I have to ask you a question on politics. You were in your home state of Kansas on Friday. I know that the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has been pushing you to run for Senate next year. If President Trump asks you to run, will you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: George, I don’t speculate on stuff like that, other than to do what I did. It was pretty cool to be back home. I spoke as part of the Landon Lecture series, a prestigious set of speeches. It was neat to be able to go back home and do that. I’ve said this repeatedly: As long as President Trump wants me to be his Secretary of State, I will do what I’ve been doing for the last, goodness, almost year and a half now – focus on trying to deliver security for the American people. It’s my mission every day.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us this morning.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, George.