Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State
February 6, 2019
QUESTION: And joining me right now is the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Mr. Secretary, it’s good to have you on the program this morning.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s great to be with you, Maria.
QUESTION: The President breaking some news last night about this new meeting that he’s got on the books with Kim Jong-un. You’re among the few people that has been there meeting with Kim Jong-un. What should we expect in terms of a breakthrough from this upcoming summit?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, it’s a real opportunity for the world. I have a team on the ground in Pyongyang even as we speak beginning to lay those foundations for the meetings that’ll happen at the end of this month. We are very hopeful that Chairman Kim will fulfill his commitment, the one that he made back in June in Singapore, to denuclearize his country. It’s in the best interests of the North Korean people, certainly in the best interests to keep Americans safe as well. That’s the President’s mission, and that’s what we’ll seek to advance when we travel to Vietnam in a couple weeks.
QUESTION: And that’s the main point. I mean, the President seems to rely so much on personal diplomacy. “My relationship with Kim Jong-un,” he says a lot. And yet there seems to be this stalemate when it comes to exactly what you just said, the most important issue. Do you believe it is still possible for North Korea to denuclearize?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, of course. Of course, I do. We’ve seen it. We’ve seen it in the discussions. Chairman Kim has told his own people that they need to turn course, they need to advance their economic conditions inside of their country. Those are his words, not mine. I think there is every opportunity that Chairman Kim will move on to fulfill the commitments that he made, and then we’ll, in turn, fulfill the commitments we made towards stability on the peninsula and a better future, a brighter future, for the North Korean people.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, let me move on to Syria and the pullout. The President also spoke about that last night. There’s real opposition to the President’s withdrawal plans here. We saw the Congress vote 70-24 to stop it. There seems to be no real coherent message. John Bolton is out saying we’re going to go slow. You delivered a very important message in Brussels about multilateralism. What is the strategy in terms of troop pulling out in Syria and Afghanistan?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Maria, I think the place to start is: I think the American people should know America is fundamentally safer today than it was two years ago when this administration took office, whether that’s what the President spoke about last night in the near-total destruction of the caliphate. You remember people being beheaded, people put in cages from ISIS. It seems like a long time ago, but frankly, it’s just a couple years. We’ve made real progress there.
The threat from radical Islamic terrorism remains. It’s real. And the number of troops is a tactical decision about how it is we’ll achieve this mission that the President has laid out for his national security team defending America from this threat. We’ll put forces – as the President said last night, we’ll put forces where we need to. But when we don’t need them, when we can bring our young men and women home, it’s the right thing to do, and we’ll do that as well.
QUESTION: It seems like ISIS is moving into a different phase of their operation in Syria and Iraq right now. Fifteen assassinations a month which are not really reported; we never hear about it. Still dozens of attacks in northern and central Iraq. The President wants to pull out, obviously. But they’ve marked their territory still. And isn’t it true, Mr. Secretary, that, in fact, the Pentagon inspector general report just out within the last week – even you said unless we keep the pressure on ISIS, they will retake territory within six to twelve months?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I’m not sure there’s a timeline, but the President’s been very clear. We have to keep the pressure on. We have to defend the homeland from these threats from radical Islamic terrorism. It’s not just ISIS. There are al-Qaida remnants. There are groups by names that the American people wouldn’t recognize all over the world who are intent on the destruction of the United States and taking down our democracy. President Trump has been unambiguous about his commitment to using American power to protect the American people from these threats, and I am confident that we’ll continue to do so.
QUESTION: What about the oil fields? Isn’t it true that just looking at the Syrian oil fields, where right now the Americans and the allies control 60 to 70 percent of those fields – if we pull out, doesn’t that give ISIS the opportunity to once again sell that oil and fund their terrorist operations everywhere – even the airspace, the same thing?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t think that will happen. Remember the challenge in Syria. We took over from an administration who had refused to act inside of that country to keep America safe. They had put out a redline, and Assad continued to use chemical weapons. That was a mistake. It put us in a very difficult position when we took office. Today, Iran and Russia are important players there, and we have worked diligently to take down the caliphate, to reduce the risk from ISIS, and now have a political process in which we are seeking to find a resolution so that the some six-plus million people who have been displaced from Syria can return home and we can take down the violence level and begin to build back Syria.
QUESTION: So what about those oil fields? If we were to – when we do pull out, where do those oil fields go in terms of ownership?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I am confident we will make sure that ISIS doesn’t have access to those oil fields.
QUESTION: The same goes for the airspace? If we do pull out sooner rather than later, does that open up the opportunity for Russia to control that airspace?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We are in conversations even as we speak about the – what the configuration will look like, what it will look like there. We’ve got folks on the ground talking to the Turks, we’ve got folks talking down to the Kurds – talking with the Kurds in Syria. We’ve also engaged with the Israelis, the Jordanians, all of our partners in the region. We’ve built out an enormous coalition to defeat ISIS. Indeed, today there’ll be 79 countries in the building, right here in the State Department, and the President is going to come address them to talk about the defeat of ISIS. It’ll be a great opportunity for him to reinforce his messages from the speech last night but importantly to remind the world that America has led this effort and we’re going to continue to keep Americans safe by leading.
QUESTION: How concerned are you about Russia’s intervention in this whole region? I mean, top story in the Journal today: Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies backing a formal partnership with Russia-led group to try to manage the global oil market. They’ve interfered, it seems like, as a tactical strategy not just to prop up Syria but also to continue a foothold in the region to perhaps replace the United States as the most important country outside of the Middle Eastern nations.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Vladimir Putin would love that, and it’s not going to happen under President Trump. The partnerships we’ve developed throughout the Middle East are deep and strong. In fact, in some cases we’ve been criticized for that. But these relationships – our relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with the United Arab Emirates, the work we’re doing with Egypt, with Jordan, with Israel – all of these countries form an important bulwark for the United States to continue to protect Americans from threats that emanate from the Middle East. I am very confident that Vladimir Putin’s efforts will fail.
QUESTION: So no concern about this deal with Gulf allies backing this formal partnership now with Russia?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I worry about lots of things. I am very confident we’ll be successful. The Middle Eastern countries know that America has been an enormous force for good in the region and will continue to be.
QUESTION: Let me turn to Saudi Arabia. Obviously, there’s been an enormous amount of political opposition now to Saudi Arabia, whether it be in the Congress or even in the American people, post the Khashoggi murder. Is this impacting your ability at this point to move forward with your plan? Is it impacting, for example, the expectations that you wanted to lead a NATO-type arrangement within the Middle East against Iran?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Those conversations are continuing to advance. We’re working with all the countries in the region to develop a historic alliance that will continue to keep Americans safe and folks in the Middle East and throughout Europe as well. I think we’ll have a big number of countries announce that they want to be part of this here in the not-too-distant future, and we’ll develop an outline that isn’t reactive. It’s President Trump’s way of saying let’s plan, let’s get this right. We’ll develop a strategic framework which will keep the Middle East more stable in the years to come.
QUESTION: Do you believe that you can still do a NATO-type alliance against Iran?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Absolutely. I’m convinced that we can. I think every country understands that it’s in their best interest. Now we’ve got to work through the details to deliver on that.
QUESTION: Tell me about that. I was speaking with one senator just last night, and he said to me, “Maria, I’d love to know why the ambassador is still 30 blocks away from the capital when we know Khashoggi called the ambassador to Saudi Arabia and said, ‘I need these wedding papers.’ And he said, ‘Well, go to Istanbul.’” And basically, this senator was suggesting they – he set him up. Why is he still there? Is there any other action that you’re going to take as a result of the Khashoggi murder?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Maria, I’d say three things. First, you should be careful about the facts that are out there. The —
QUESTION: You don’t think Khashoggi called?
SECRETARY POMPEO: There have – lots of facts —
QUESTION: And we know that that’s the crown prince’s brother.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I make it my professional business not to talk about American intelligence. You should be careful about the facts that are out there. Not all of them reflect the American understanding of what took place.
Second, we know that there is an important relationship between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We’re going to do our best to continue to build on that.
Third, with respect to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, this administration has already taken action, and President Trump himself has said repeatedly to the extent we continue to develop facts that implicate others in the terrible act, the terrible murder of Jamal Khashoggi, we will continue to hold all of the people connected to it accountable. It’s an American commitment; it’s deeply consistent with our value set, and we’ll do it.
QUESTION: I recognize the threat of Iran, so tell us where we are in that regard. Because I know that the United States needs a strong player – that player is Saudi Arabia – to partner against Iran. Can you characterize the situation today?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. The President talked about this last night. We walked into a deal that had allowed Iran to move forward on its nuclear program. We’ve pulled out of that deal and we now have begun a serious campaign to work to make sure that the Iranian people had an opportunity to speak. We know that when they do, we know they don’t want to be fighting in Syria, in Yemen, in Iraq and Lebanon. The list is long where Iranian misadventurism is taking place. It’s now coming up on the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 40 years yet this week. It has been a tragic failure for the Iranian people and it continues to be the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, and we intend to fix each of those things.
QUESTION: Well, this is very important, and I know that Saudi Arabia was a partner in that. Are they – do you still consider them a partner in the fight against Iran and terrorists?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, of course.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay. The Muslim Brotherhood comes up a lot in terms of being a terrorist organization. Are they?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So the Muslim Brotherhood has many faces, most of which are not in the American people’s best interests to allow them to advance. Whether the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts take place in Egypt or in Turkey or wherever it is in the world, President Trump’s been unambiguously clear terrorism, extremism in whatever form will be defeated because it’s in America’s best interests and the security of American people and their best interest.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I’ve got to ask you about China. We’ve spoken a lot on this program about the economic aggressions out of China, and we understand the issues around trade and tariffs. What I’d like to get your take on is really the military aggressions, the way China intimidates our allies in the South China Sea, a procedure the Pentagon calls the gray zone operation. They’ve got 130,000 fishing boats, more so than the United States maritime. They’re violating maritime rights. Or the fact that they’re setting up military bases across the world as far as Djibouti. What is the campaign or the plan to push back on China’s military aggressions?
SECRETARY POMPEO: For far too long, under Republican and Democrat administrations, we have not taken the national security threat from China remotely seriously. We’ve seen it now. The President pushed back on the trade aggression. They’re connected, right? The theft of intellectual property has permitted them to grow their military. These are not unrelated issues, so we are responding in an appropriate way on every front.
On the military side, we’ve seen our military built up – $700 billion last year, 715 or so billion dollars this year – so that we have the capacity, the capability, to project power into Asia, into the Indo-Pacific. China conducted more ballistic missile tests last year than the rest of the world combined. This is a serious military threat. America must rise to push back against it, and President Trump is committed to doing that.
QUESTION: The more I look at this story, the scarier I get, frankly, Mr. Secretary, in terms of China and their wherewithal. They are ahead of us on AI. Look, in my opinion and the experts that I’ve spoken with, it doesn’t matter if they stop stealing our intellectual property tomorrow. It might be too late in terms of where they are. They’re using AI facial recognition with drones. They’ve got all of this data on people. Is this part of the conversation on trade? Because earlier we were saying, oh, it’s separate, what happened with Huawei is separate than the trade. Can you separate it?
SECRETARY POMPEO: These issues are connected. You can have conversations about trade that only address one piece of it, but the American policy more broadly has to make sure that it covers down on each of these threats. Maria, I’ve watched your show. I’m glad you talk about this issue. It’s something that was not on the radar screen of too many Americans. But I’ll say this, and I know you’ll hear people who have a different view: I fundamentally believe in America, especially under President Trump’s leadership. Whether it’s AI or facial recognition, all of the threats that you talk about, the American capacity for innovation, the American capacity to build that technology, the power of the American people – when we unleash that by getting rid of red tape and growing our economy, that people come to school here —
SECRETARY POMPEO: — because this is the place that the most creative activity in the world is taking place. I’m very confident that over the next years, we will continue to do the things that will push back against China.
QUESTION: I’m happy to hear you say that you can’t separate these because, of course, it’s connected. That’s what I expected.
Real quick, there are a group of Republicans in Kansas that want you to run for the Senate. Are you going to do it, sir?
SECRETARY POMPEO: As you can see from this morning, there is plenty on my plate today. I intend to stay the Secretary of State as long as President Trump will give me the incredible privilege to represent Americans around the world.
QUESTION: I know you’re going to talk about Venezuela later on today. We appreciate your time this morning.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Maria.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary.