QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, it’s great to be with you.
QUESTION: You heard the setup there by Rich. We know what you said today about how important this moment is and that nobody should be surprised by it. However, there are some people inside the Pentagon, we’re told – senior military leaders and Pentagon officials – who are surprised by it a little bit and perhaps they have objections to it, fearful that it could mean harm to U.S. troops, for example in Iraq. Your response to that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, we just called the reality of what it is. The IRGC is a terrorist organization. We have now designated them. We are always doing everything we can to make sure we protect every American soldier everywhere, but the fact is the IRGC has already killed over 600 American soldiers. So you can’t have peace, you can’t have stability, you can’t have security in the Middle East, without weakening the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. That’s what our sanctions today were aimed at doing, and we’re confident this increased pressure will save American lives and create more stability, more peace, more security throughout the Middle East.
QUESTION: You know that that the Iraqi Shia forces, the militias there, are tight with the Iraqi army. U.S. troops obviously work with both of them, frankly. How will they distinguish, and will this become a complicated problem on the ground?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, it was a complicated problem when Barack Obama entered into a disastrous nuclear deal. You and I have been talking about Iran since I was a member of Congress, and then we had a long conversation when I was the director of the CIA, so it was complicated long before this morning’s announcement.
What we’re trying to do is reduce that complexity, take down this malign activity that the kleptocrats, the clerical kleptocrats in Iran, are engaged in; to change their behavior in such a fundamental way that we can be safe all across the world, and certainly in Iraq and in the Middle East.
QUESTION: The head of the IRGC, this man Qasem Soleimani, is by all accounts a bad character and has led all kinds of attacks. But are you saying that he now is equated to, let’s say, the head of ISIS, al-Baghdadi, in U.S. policy perspective?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. He is a terrorist.
QUESTION: So we as a country have a policy to target him or capture him?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Qasem Soleimani has the blood of Americans on his hands, Bret, as does the force that he leads, and America is determined. Each time we find an organization, institution, or an individual that has taken the lives of Americans, it is our responsibility – it’s indeed President Trump’s duty, and we have made tremendous progress in this administration’s first two years – to reduce the risk that any American will be killed by Qasem Soleimani and his merry band of brothers ever again.
QUESTION: Critics, including the Iranians, say this move had more to do with the Israeli election tomorrow than it did with U.S. policy toward Iran. Your response?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve been working on this a long time. I personally have been working on this a long time. It took a lot of work to make sure that we had all the facts right, that we had everybody in the United States Government in the right place so that we could announce this. It happened today because today was the day we were ready to make the announcement.
QUESTION: All right, I want to talk about Libya quickly. Another move by a general there, Haftar, launching an offensive on Tripoli. Your sense of the situation in Libya, and could there be sanctions heading that way too?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve watched the movements of Haftar and his militias in and around Tripoli, now into the southern part of Tripoli. We’ve urged Haftar, we’ve urged all the parties there to solve this, to solve their dispute through a political process. We think that’s the only way that this can be resolved. This won’t be resolved through force of arms. There’s just no way that’s going to take place. There’s a UN process. We have been part of that, General Haftar’s been part of that. We urge General Haftar to stand down, move back to the negotiating table so that we can get a political resolution in Libya.
You know, Bret, the history of Libya. You know the fractured nature of the place. And absent a political resolution, we’ll continue to have fighting, we’ll continue to have chaos, and there’ll continue to be risk to the United States of America from ISIS there and from other terrorists. It’s not in America’s best interests, and so we’re urging all of the parties to re-engage in conversation so that we get a political resolution.
QUESTION: I want to turn to Venezuela, bouncing around here. Will there be more efforts against the Cuban Government for supporting the Venezuelan Maduro regime that seems to be not budging, despite actions from the U.S. and around the world?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, it’s the Cubans that are providing the security for Maduro. That’s got to be embarrassing if you’re a Venezuelan general. But apart from that, the Cubans need to understand that Maduro is a lost cause, it’s not going to happen, his days are numbered; they need to get on the right side of history, they need to leave Venezuela, and we will continue to do all we can to encourage the Cubans to take on board that understanding, stop supporting Maduro, and allow the Venezuelan people to have the democracy that they so richly deserve.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we heard from the Obama administration that Bashar al-Assad’s days were numbered, but we just didn’t know the number. He’s still there. We’re hearing that Venezuelans’ – not recognized leadership – days are numbered too. What do you put the number at?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I don’t have a number for you, Bret. But suffice it to say we know that the Venezuelan people will ultimately demand – these two situations are very different. I might add, Bashar Assad controls a small fraction of Syria today. The work that the Trump administration has done to deny Assad the capacity to rebuild his nation – this is a guy who believes he won, but the truth is the Middle East is in a much more stable, much better place today than it was when President Obama was running the joint in Syria. He left the Syrian people in a bad place, millions of displaced persons. And our efforts to take down the caliphate, to create an opportunity and a political process in Syria are yielding real results in Syria.
QUESTION: Back to Cuba for a second. Is the Major League Baseball move today more effort to pinch Cuba?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yep.
QUESTION: Okay, cut and dry. Yes, it is. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, Bret, look – yeah, look, Bret —
QUESTION: All right, we’ll leave it there. Go ahead.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, it’s very important we get that part right. It’s very important we get that part right. The Cubans are the folks who are providing the support along now with the Russians in Venezuela. We’re going to do everything we can to pull – pull them out, pull them apart – so the Venezuelan people can have what they deserve.
QUESTION: Two more quick things. Since, over the weekend, the Homeland Security secretary has now resigned – Kirstjen Nielsen – there have been more cabinet shakeup moves, people leaving the administration, than in any administration since Woodrow Wilson. Your sense about the people moving in and out of this administration and what that means to somebody sitting at home?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m not sure about your data, Bret. I had a chance to speak with Secretary Nielsen today. I wished her well. This mission down at the border is incredibly important. We’ve got to make sure we have the laws right. I’d urge every member of Congress to help us fix it so that we can do what the American people are demanding: regain American sovereignty along our southern border and solve both the security and humanitarian crisis that exists along our southern border.
QUESTION: Do you think that the family separation policy is going to change along the border?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll leave that to the Department of Homeland Security to respond to questions like that. Our role, the State Department’s role, has been to work with elements in El Salvador, the Hondurans, and Guatemala and in Mexico with those governments so that they can better secure their borders and keep individuals from making this trek up and through Mexico, which is very dangerous and resulting in real risk here in the United States as well.
QUESTION: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you these last two things. Have you ruled out running for Senate in Kansas in 2020?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I have.
QUESTION: Have you ruled out running for governor in Kansas in 2022?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Haven’t given it two seconds thought.
QUESTION: Okay, Mr. Secretary, we appreciate your time from the State Department.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Bret.
QUESTION: Have a good one.