QUESTION: Joining me now to talk about all this, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Secretary Pompeo, thanks so much for joining us. When did you find out that the Taliban were coming to Camp David, and when did you find out that the meeting had been canceled?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Jake, it’s great to be with you this morning. I actually just a few hours ago was out at Dover Air Force Base for the dignified transfer of the returns of Sergeant First Class Barreto, and it reminded me of the obligation President Trump and our team has to deliver on the commitments the President made, which are to make sure that we never have a terror strike, or reduce the risk that we have a terror strike come from Afghanistan; and second, to make sure that we put our young men and women at risk as little as possible.
That’s been our mission set as we have tried to negotiate this peace and reconciliation deal with the Afghan Government and with the Taliban. And part of that was the President’s effort to bring the Afghan leaders as well as the Taliban here to Washington to have a conversation about how, after now almost two decades, we could begin to take down levels of violence, get the Afghans talking, and really make progress, so that after now almost two decades, America’s billions and billions of dollars of commitment, all the lives and sacrifice that Americans had made, would be properly honored.
QUESTION: And when did you find out that the Taliban were coming here, and when did you find out the meeting had been canceled?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So we’ve been working on those for a while, and it was the case that when the Taliban tried to gain negotiating advantage by conducting terror attacks inside of the country, President Trump made the right decision to say that’s not going to work. We’re going to walk away from a deal if others try to use violence to achieve better ends in a negotiation. It’s not right, it’s not appropriate. They killed an American. And it made no sense for the Taliban to be rewarded for that kind of bad behavior.
QUESTION: The Taliban have obviously been doing these kinds of attacks and killing U.S. service members and innocent civilians for a generation, as you note. What is different about the murder of the 16th U.S. service member this year as opposed to the previous 15?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve been working on this peace and reconciliation program for quite some time, and we had made real progress. We had the Taliban agreeing to, for the first time – I remember when President Bush tried to get the Talban to make a commitment to break with al-Qaida. The Taliban had agreed to do that. They had agreed to certain reductions in violence. They had agreed – for the first time, Jake, as you know – to sit down with their Afghan brothers and sisters and talk about the right process forward.
Jake, it’s also the case we haven’t been negotiating while they’ve been killing us and we’ve been standing still. We’ve been taking it to the Taliban this well, over a thousand Taliban killed in just the last 10 days alone. So the American people should know we’re going to defend American national interests. We’re going to be tough in making sure that we put pressure on all the powers, all the risks – not just the Taliban but ISIS that’s there in Afghanistan as well.
President Trump will always protect Americans and the American interests, and one of the ways we’re trying to do that is to take down the violence levels in Afghanistan so that we can rebalance. We’ve got challenges from terrorism not just in Afghanistan, Jake, as you well know. We have to make sure we have the right force levels, the right force postures, the right people, each and every place, so that we’re protecting America’s national security everywhere, not just in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Is the President willing to restart peace negotiations with the Taliban? And if so, is there a precondition that they have to agree to a ceasefire?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, we’ve got to see – you saw what President Ghani said this morning, too. That’s his ask. We need to see a significant commitment in two ways. One, we need to see that they’re committed to it; and second, we need to see that they’re capable of delivering on the promises that they’ve made.
This has been something that multiple administrations have tried. President Trump made clear we’re not just going to withdraw because there’s a timeline. We’re only going to reduce our forces when certain conditions are met; and if we can’t get those conditions met – just like the President has walked away from a deal with the North Koreans, just like the President has walked away from entrees from the Iranian Government, if it’s not right, if it’s not protecting the American people, if the conditions aren’t appropriate on the ground and proper to protect America – we’re not going to enter into any deal.
QUESTION: I want to read you a tweet by Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, an Air Force Veteran who has served in Afghanistan. He wrote, quote, “Never should leaders of a terrorist organization that has not renounced 9/11 and continues in evil be allowed in our great country. Never. Full stop.” Unquote.
I think there are a lot of Americans out there who are surprised that the Taliban had been invited to Camp David, especially the week of the 9/11 commemoration.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I know Adam well. I served alongside him as a member of the House of Representatives. I have enormous respect for him and for his service, continued service, in the United States Air Force. President Trump is working to construct an arrangement where we can take down the very violence that I know Congressman Kinzinger wants taken down.
And that renunciation, that break from the past, is precisely what Ambassador Khalilzad and my team have been working on for months and months now. We have made real progress. But to your point, Jake, it’s not just about commitments. We have to see them be able to deliver it. We have to have proof that it’s delivered. And when we get to that point, when American national security interests can be protected, I am confident President Trump will continue the process of trying to get what he has talked about since his campaign, is a reduction of our risk level and the cost to the American people both in terms of life and treasure there in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: I don’t think anyone begrudges the President or Ambassador Khalilzad trying to bring an end to this war that has been going on so long with so many innocent people and so many U.S. service members killed. But I guess the question is: Why invite the Taliban to Camp David?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve been having conversations. The President believed that we could further that, that we could further America’s national interest, by having conversations with the people that have the capacity to actually deliver, Jake, on what you’ve just described. That was the effort. That was the mission. That was the purpose that President Trump has laid out.
But I think as you saw, if the Taliban don’t behave, if they don’t deliver on the commitments that they’ve made to us now for weeks and in some cases months, the President of the United States is not going to reduce the pressure, we’re not going to reduce our support for the Afghan Security Forces that have fought so hard there in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: You know it was just a few weeks ago – and I’m sure you’re well aware of this. It was jut a few weeks ago that the Taliban put out a video in which they supported the 9/11 attacks, reiterating their support for the 9/11 attacks, blaming it – blaming the 9/11 attacks on the United States and foreign policy.
I guess the question would be: Here is an organization that still supports 9/11, still believes that the United States was to blame, we brought that on ourselves. Why bring people like that to Camp David? I understand why you want to negotiate for peace, but why bring people like that to Camp David?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Jake, we’re trying to get this accomplished. The American people are demanding it – now almost two decades and the loss of life. When I was with that family last night, amazing patriots. Almost the whole family – Sergeant Barreto’s father himself – served honorably in the United States Armed Forces. We have an obligation to do everything we can to protect those men and women and take down that risk. That’s what President Trump was aiming to do.
We understand who the Taliban are. There is no more clear-eyed administration. When I was the director of the CIA I had young men and women serving in Afghanistan taking enormous risk to their lives. We are aiming to get this right. We’re working to talk with those leaders that can actually deliver on these outcomes. That what President Trump and I are both focused on, and we’re going to keep driving towards that outcome.
QUESTION: A UN Security Council team in July of this year said that al-Qaida, quote, “considers Afghanistan a continuing safe haven for its leadership, relying on its longstanding and strong relationship with the Taliban,” unquote. I guess the question I have is you keep talking about President Trump saying he believed that having the Taliban at Camp David along with Afghan President Ghani, that he would be able to get this peace negotiations going.
What about you? What did you think? Did you have any problem with the Taliban being invited to Camp David? You’re an Army veteran. I can’t help but think that if a Democratic president had talked about having the Taliban come to Camp David to negotiate a peace process that was not already a done deal, that you as a congressman, as a soldier, as a veteran, as a West Point graduate, that you would be rather upset.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, Jake, you’re just wrong about that. I’ve been fully supportive of this effort. The direction that we have taken at the State Department, the effort President Trump has given us guidance to go deliver on, is something I think is important. It’s valuable. I think the timing is just right.
We have made enormous progress. I know who the Taliban are, and I know who al-Qaida is, and I’ve seen that UN report. I will tell you that they described the al-Qaida leadership as being happy about the conditions in Afghanistan. Well, a lot of them are in their graves. And so make no mistake about it, we will continue to punish, we will continue to pound, we will continue to fight, we will continue to protect the American people. We will never construct a deal – if I was worried about Barack Obama and President Obama, it was because he was prepared to leave without ensuring that we could protect America. This administration will never do that.
QUESTION: But Khalilzad has said that he is satisfied that the Taliban would not allow al-Qaida to launch attacks against countries outside of Afghanistan.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Jake —
QUESTION: Are you satisfied?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Jake, more than that. More than that. They have committed to us that they would sign an agreement that so said, that said that they would break from al-Qaida, that said that they would take on —
QUESTION: Do you trust them?
SECRETARY POMPEO: — to take on – Jake, trust but verify. I just talked about that. It’s how I began. We are going to ensure that these commitments that they’ve made – and you know this. You know this history well, Jake. You know that previous administrations have tried to get that exact commitment from the Taliban for almost two decades now, Republican and Democrat alike. We have it in hand. And there’s still more work to do. There’s still lots of work.
But in the end, it won’t be about the commitment. It’ll be about their delivery. It’ll be about their execution. It’ll be about their capacity to actually do that. We will have to see that on the ground. We will watch them do that. And if they do, I hope that all Afghans – the Government of National Unity, those other non-Taliban Afghans that are there in Afghanistan that aren’t part of that government, and the Taliban – can find a way to talk to each other and bring peace to that deeply troubled country.
QUESTION: In 2012, President Trump, then a civilian, tweeted, criticizing President Obama for, quote, “negotiating with our sworn enemy, the Taliban, who facilitated 9/11.” Was he wrong then?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m very familiar with that. He was wrong because he didn’t believe that President Obama would keep our soldiers there, protect America’s interest, do the right things to ensure that Americans would be safe. That was the concern.
QUESTION: All right, Secretary Pompeo, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Jake. Have a great day.