Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State
September 19, 2018
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us tonight. We really, really appreciate it.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Laura, it’s great to be with you.
QUESTION: Iran in the news. Brian Hook, your special envoy, saying: We want to deal with Iran, but a treaty with Iran. Iranian leaders: No go. They’re like: We don’t want any dealings with the United States at this point. What’s going on?
SECRETARY POMPEO: President Trump’s been very clear since the time he was running for office that the arrangement that the previous administration put in place was bad for America, frankly, bad for the world. And so I and Brian are working to get Iran to behave like a normal nation, right, stop being the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, stop launching missiles through proxies, stop attacking our embassies and consulates. When we get those basic things in place, President Trump’s made very clear we’d love Iran to rejoin the community of nations, but their revolutionary zeal causes them to be a bad actor and they need to shape up. And if they do, we’ll get it right.
QUESTION: Well, again, you and John Kerry have gone back and forth on this – former Secretary of State, Barack Obama – has met four times with Iranian leadership, and you guys criticized, saying that’s not appropriate given – it’s – you can’t have two-track foreign policy here. But he responded by saying “there’s nothing unusual, let alone unseemly or inappropriate, about former diplomats meeting with foreign counterparts.” Secretary of State Kissinger’s done it for decades with Russia and China. “What is unseemly and unprecedented… for the podium of the State Department to be hijacked for political theatrics.”
SECRETARY POMPEO: Secretary Kerry can’t seem to get off the stage, and you have to. When I’m the former Secretary, I’ll get off. Every previous former secretary’s done that too. It’s one thing to meet with your counterpart; it’s another thing to do what Secretary Kerry, Wendy Sherman, Ernest Moniz, frankly the whole gang has done, which is to actively seek to undermine what President Trump is trying to achieve. It’s okay to talk with them, but you have to be working for America, working for American foreign policy, and they’re not. They’re working for the foreign policy that is theirs, not the one that belongs to the United States.
QUESTION: Our own Dana Perino last week had Kerry on, and he did not deny that he wanted to basically tell the Iranians – whether he told the – to wait it out for the next administration. And he said everybody around the world is trying to wait this out. At what point does the administration pursue some type of legal action against former Secretary Kerry and others from the former administration?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I’ll leave the legal action to others. I’m trying to execute America’s foreign policy, and they are not only unhelpful, but they are acting in ways that are harmful to achieving what’s best for the American people, and that’s my criticism. Stop it. Let it go. You had your day. We think you fundamentally got it wrong with Iran, and we’re trying to make it right for America.
QUESTION: And reducing the refugee number, that’s caused great consternation. It’s another issue that President Trump campaigned on: extreme vetting, security for our country. Down to 30,000 next fiscal year. Bob Menendez, big fan of the administration, called it “cruel and shortsighted.” Human Rights First, another group: It’s an “abdication,” Mr. Secretary, “of our humanity.” Your response?
SECRETARY POMPEO: America’s the most generous nation in the history of civilization. It always has been and it continues to be under President Trump. We want to get it right for the American people. We’ve taken in over 4 million legal permanent residents in the last almost two decades now. We continue to take in more people than most countries in the rest of the world, but we got to get the security piece right. We’ve got to make sure that we allow those who are in most trouble, most harm’s way to be taken care of in the best place to take care of them, near their own country. Those are – those are not heartless things. Those are things that are kind and caring and decent. It’s the way we ought to treat our fellow human beings, and it’s what we in the Trump administration are committing to do.
QUESTION: What does our – this administration say to the Christian refugees who feel many of them abandoned in the – for many years predating this administration in Syria, in Iraq, and beyond? They can’t go to these camps because they’re afraid of going to the camps. How do we reach them? How do we get some of them into the country?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So it’s an important and difficult challenge. We want to bring in all those who are most in trouble and are having the most difficulty in the places in which they reside. Vice President Pence has made this a real priority, to ensure that Christians are being treated fairly and equitably in our processes. We’ve seen some of these issues in these camps. Rest assured that the State Department’s working to make sure that Christians are not being mistreated, prosecuted, persecuted, or treated in any way that’s unfair as they try to make their way into the United States of America.
QUESTION: The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom lists China and Saudi Arabia right in – well, one, and I think Saudi Arabia is number three – of the worst violators of human rights. I was thinking about this yesterday, because you think of the old Soviet Union and President Reagan, who both of us admire so much; we didn’t do that, really heavily engage trade with the Soviet Union – not just because of nukes, but because of what they were doing on human rights. So how do we justify this huge trading relationship with Saudi Arabia and China given how we treat, then, North Korea and a place like Cuba? It seems like there’s selective treatment of human rights violations.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So it’s always the case when you’re trying to advocate for America’s interests that you have to weigh the relative concerns, and it is the case that each country presents its own situation. What I think we’ve been incredibly consistent on is making sure that we identify, we call out these concerns. I’ve done it with respect to China, I’ve done it with respect to every place we find religious minorities being mistreated. We held the first-ever religious ministerial in the very room in which we’re sitting here. It was quite an occasion – people from nearly every religion and 80 delegations. This administration is taking religious freedom all around the world, in China and other places, very seriously.
QUESTION: A million Muslims in China —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes.
QUESTION: — are being detained; Christian churches, crosses being smashed; churches driven underground; pastors being imprisoned. And we have to talk about my good friend, President Xi. It’s just – it’s heartbreaking to so many of us who care about religious liberty. And I know this is an administration priority, but what do you do? What leverage do we have with China at this point other than what we’re doing now with trade?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Laura, I’m confident we’ll talk about China in other contexts too. It presents a myriad of opportunities, but lots of challenges. You speak of one. This is a nontransparent government. It is still a very centralized government. It treats our intellectual property horribly, it treats its religious minorities horribly. In each of these cases, we have opportunities. You’ve seen what the President’s doing with trade, to try and make it fair and reciprocal. What we’re asking of China is to behave in a way that if they want to be a power, if they want to be on the global stage, they have to operate in a way that global leaders have for so often. And frankly, as you point out in the religious dimension, they’ve not done that.
QUESTION: We talk a lot about big tech and the relationship between big tech and this administration, whether it’s adversarial. But Google specifically in China, assisting Google and developing an app to further censor free expression and the ability of Chinese citizens to get information – any thoughts on that, how a U.S. company – obviously, huge global company too – assists China in that oppression of free expression?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Laura, it is personally and professionally troubling to me when American companies behave one way here and another way when they’re dealing with China. It gets at the core problem that President Trump is trying to address, which is that China doesn’t permit American investors to invest on the same terms that Chinese companies can invest here, joint ventures. The list is long of the non-reciprocal relationship. The President’s trying to balance that. And when we get that right, when government gets that right, we can then force American companies to behave under that set of rules.
I want every company, including global giants, to treat American citizens as well as they treat the governments of some of these despotic regimes.
QUESTION: And yet they hit the administration, President Trump, the day after – a couple days after the election. You’ve got Sergey Brin up there. Again, brilliant guy, brilliant people, but criticizing this administration’s immigration policy when they’re assisting despotic – basically, obviously communist regimes overseas. But Trump’s the threat?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think we have American foreign policy on the right track on each of the dimensions that you’re describing. And when we get it right, when we ultimately see the end result of President Trump’s efforts, I see – I think you’ll see many of these things in a place that America’s not seen before. They’re going to be a great thing for the country.
QUESTION: We’ll leave China in just a moment, but the South China Sea, I think it’s an underreported story. I know you just met with the leadership from the Philippines here. They were talking to China about some type of agreement. Real concerns about that, that trading path – $3.3 trillion worth of goods go through the South China Sea, and China has very strong territorial ambitions to dominate it.
SECRETARY POMPEO: They do. This was a place that this administration found itself when it came in; China had advanced during the previous eight years dramatically throughout the South and East China Seas. I did have a chance to meet with some of the Philippine leadership today and share with them our concerns. I think they share them as well. They understand, as do all of the countries of Southeast Asia – they’d much rather deal with a United States and not be a vassal state for any other country.
And so America needs to remain engaged. We have important interests in the region. And if we do that, I am confident not only will we push back in a way that’s appropriate to make sure that we have a free and fair and open Indo-Pacific, but those countries will benefit as well.
QUESTION: Russia versus China. There’s a lot of focus on Russia because of election meddling, threats of future election meddling, Ukraine, the relationship with Europe and trade and so forth. As you see things, who’s the bigger threat to the U.S. position in the world, economically, strategically, Russia or China?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I often get asked these prioritization questions and it always makes me a little bit queasy to answer them. They present such different concerns. To rank them, I think, sometimes is – sends the wrong message to the American people. Russia has been aggressive. Russia has tried to meddle in our election. Russia, under Vladimir Putin, remains a bully. We need to push back and constrain them where we can. But longer term, if you’re looking at the things that threaten American livelihoods, that put America truly at risk of its continued economic growth, China prevents the – presents the far greater threat to the United States.
QUESTION: There was concern from the foreign policy elites, Mr. Secretary, early on and expressed throughout this administration that, oh, the Trump team kind of bumbles through these events; they go out and promise a lot but then the deliverables aren’t there. Of course, they cite North Korea – North Korea is not denuclearizing at a pace that maybe we thought they would, and so forth. But what’s the real status with our relationship with Europe and our relationship with the North Korean leadership given how things have transpired?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I’ll start with North Korea. We have made steady albeit slow progress, but it’s always – we’ve always known this was going to take some time. The South Koreans had a successful engagement – President Moon with Chairman Kim just over the last 48 hours – where we made another step, where we will get verification of an element of North Korea’s program on the ground. That’s a good thing. We’re moving forward. The relationship between Chairman Kim and President Trump is good. I talk to my counterparts there with some frequency. It doesn’t get reported. I’m glad about that; I’m glad we’re able to keep that quiet. And so we’re making the progress that we need.
With respect to Europe, look, there was a reset that needed to take place in the relationship. We needed Europe to step forward and begin to share the burden of defense for the European countries in a way that they had not done under previous presidents. President Trump is trying to right that ship. We still have a fascinatingly important relationship with Europe, and I’m confident that that trans-Atlantic relationship will always remain.
QUESTION: Project Veritas, I’m sure you know, released this video of a State Department analyst kind of bragging about his exploits working for the Democratic Socialists of America, typing things after hours and so forth. But it’s a concern. Other videos coming out – DOJ employee, similarly part of the resistance, perhaps bragging about it. Does this portend more problems of a internal resistance to this administration? Are you concerned about it and what next in this investigation of this particular employee?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So, Laura, I can’t speak about the particular case, but rest assured we’re aware of it and we’re taking a good look at it. But step back for just a minute. Here’s my commitment to President Trump and to the American people: Every single person working at the United States Department of State will be on President Trump’s mission. We all have good ideas; we’ll all share them, we’ll give our best thoughts. But at the end of the day, we have a single foreign policy that we’re executing and it’s the foreign policy that President Trump is directing, and I want every person all across the United States Government to understand that he’s our leader and we all need to be on the team.
QUESTION: But they shouldn’t be in this administration. If they’re going to be working against the administration, they should go probably find another job, don’t you think? I mean —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Absolutely. If you – if this is a mission on which you can’t sign up for, it’s time to go do something else with your time. Thank you for your service, but we need to be delivering for this President.
QUESTION: Do you miss the CIA?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I loved my time at the CIA. I am loving my time here at the State Department as well.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thanks so much —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. Thank you.
QUESTION: — for being so generous with your time.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. Good luck to you.