QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. Secretary, how are you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: RJ, I’m great. It’s great to be with you this morning.
QUESTION: Well, it’s an honor to have you here. The reason that I say that is I try to think of your schedule for just a moment, and to get 10 minutes of your time is amazing. So thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: But you’re coming to the area today.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I am. I’m going to be in your neck of the woods today to speak to a group of great Americans who are out at Carlisle, the Army War College, talking to them about the important work that the State Department does to reduce the risk that those fantastic men and women of America don’t have to take on armed conflict, we can resolve American national security interests in a way that avoids war and conflict, and then the ways that we work together – the State Department, the Department of Defense – to deliver on behalf of the American people and the people of your part of Pennsylvania as well.
QUESTION: Well, we’re really honored to have four military installations here, and the Army War College is certainly a gem. But is this a homecoming for you? Because I know that you’re an Army guy.
SECRETARY POMPEO: In that sense, it will be very fun. The gentleman who runs the Army War College today, General Kem, is a friend of mine from 30-plus years ago. I won’t tell you exactly how many; I’m getting too old. But yes, it’ll be great. It’ll be great to be back around some amazing leaders. I get to work with the Department of Defense every day, and my life as a young Army soldier is – has fond memories. It’ll be a really fun day for me.
QUESTION: Well, one day, if you haven’t already, you need to get next door to the Army Heritage Center because that truly is a jewel. My father fought in the South Pacific in World War II and I learned so much about him there. So if you ever get a chance, you ought to do that.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll put it as a thing to do. I’ve not had the chance to be there. I’d love to see that.
QUESTION: That sounds good. Well, the tourism people in the area are glad that I mentioned it to you.
So one of the things I wanted to ask you about is Iran. We know that they’re a threat. I think there are a lot of folks that really dismiss that threat. You’re just back from the region. How much danger do we look at when we look at Iran?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So it’s very significant. Of the things that present risk to the American people in the Middle East, one has to put terrorism as the first risk, and they are, in fact, the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. I mean, the Islamic Republic of Iran threatens Israel, to wipe Israel off the map nearly every day. They talk about America as the great Satan. They want to come after us too. And President Trump’s mission has been to reduce their capacity to inflict harm on the American people. And so my mission, too, is to use all the powers of the Department of State to reduce risks – the risks to Israel, the risks to the Arab countries in the region, risks to Americans traveling there, and certainly to those of us here living in the United States.
QUESTION: When you talk about the leadership of Iran as well, you’re dealing with zealots, and I’ve heard those say because of that, you really don’t have the ability to negotiate in a normal fashion. Is that true?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, the previous administration took a swing at that by entering into a nuclear agreement, which was just destined to fail. We have not endeavored to engage with them. It is the case that it is a revolutionary regime, not normal in that sense. And our mission set has been to empower the Iranian people. You would know this: The people of Iran are educated, they’re talented, they have a rich history. We want to restore their capacity to live their lives the way they want to.
And so we’ve chosen to apply pressure, economic pressure, diplomatic pressure, to the Islamic Republic of Iran. We’ve built out a coalition of nations all around the world to assist us in that. And we hope that they’ll begin to behave like a normal country, and until such time as they do, we’re going to continue to apply that pressure. It’s the only right thing to keep Americans safe.
QUESTION: A lot of Americans, including me, are very optimistic with what is going on with North Korea. I believe we have great reason to be optimistic, don’t you think?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I do. President Trump has made clear that there’s no timeline, that this will be one step forward, one step back, perhaps. But I know we’ve made progress. I’ve been at the center of the diplomatic effort there. Chairman Kim has made a promise to – he made it to me, he’s made it to President Trump – that he will denuclearize. Now our task is to figure out how to do that, how to achieve that outcome, which will truly reduce the risk for people all across the world, including folks in your part of Pennsylvania.
QUESTION: It’s a 24-hour news cycle, so everybody wants everything now. How long a process is this with North Korea? I mean, I guess the answer is as long as it takes, but realistically, is there a kind of a timeline that you can put on it in your mind?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Boy, I try to be careful when it comes to making predictions about timing. The North Korean people are not doing great under the sanctions regime there. That, of course, speeds the timeline along and, of course, it’s in America’s best interest to resolve this as quickly as we can. Boy, I would hope in the coming months our two leaders will be back together when – in a way that we can achieve a substantive first step or a substantive big step along the path to denuclearization. Then the final, fully denuclearized North Korean peninsula can be realized, at which time, as President Trump said, there’ll be a brighter future for the North Korean people. It’s just hard to know what the timing will be.
QUESTION: I want to ask you about the Russian transport planes in Venezuela and the supposed troops that they dropped off there. Number one, is that real? And number two, why hasn’t that picked up traction in the U.S. press if the Russians really have such a presence there now?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So it is real. I can’t account for why it hasn’t received more national attention. Some 100 Russians were there. There have been Russians there before, so in that sense it’s not brand new, but as President Trump said I think two days ago now, they’ve got to go. And Maduro must also go, and that’s our mission set. We know that the Venezuelan people are suffering. Seven years of economic mismanagement have led to humanitarian crisis of epic proportion. Over 2 million people – almost 10 percent of the Venezuelan population – has left the country. Imagine that.
QUESTION: I can’t, yeah.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Imagine in the United States 33 million people, right – 10 percent of our country. This is horrific. It is a humanitarian crisis of the first order that, frankly, the American people have been most gracious to provide the resources to try and fix. Now Maduro must go so that we can get the humanitarian aid to people who are starving and sick who need the medicine that is sitting very, very close to the Venezuelan border today but simply can’t get in because Maduro won’t permit it.
QUESTION: Another thing I note that never picks up traction, or not usually, is my pastor for two Sundays in a row referenced that roughly 280 Christians were killed in Nigeria in a one-month period just last month. But that never seems to make the air either. I’m just amazed that we hear these things that go on with Boko Haram and the others but they don’t make the news here in America.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I regret also that it is the case that these stories don’t get the attention they deserve. It can never become the case that terrorism becomes normalized. I’ve heard some say this is the new normal. I refuse to accept that. America should refuse to accept that. And with respect to Christians or religious minorities in some of these countries, our administration has done more for religious freedom than any administration in history. Indeed, we’ve had a huge ministerial, and we’ll have another one this summer where we’ll invite leaders from all across the country[i] of every faith to come and talk about how we can ensure that every human being has the right to practice their faith, their religion – or no religion at all if that’s what they’d prefer – without government interference.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s an important role for the Department of State and one that Ambassador Brownback and I are fully committed to.
QUESTION: All right. Final thoughts here. Mike Pompeo, what did you want to be when you grew up, when you were a boy?
SECRETARY POMPEO: When I was young, I wanted to either play in the NBA or be an engineer. And I managed to get an engineering degree, but you probably wouldn’t want to drive across a bridge that I built. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Do you ever pinch yourself, though? I mean, you’re a busy guy. Do you ever pinch yourself and say, “I’m the 70th Secretary of State of the United States of America”?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Every day when I walk into my office, I see the pictures of the amazing people who came before me, Jefferson and Madison and all the greats, and I am humbled by that. I am – I don’t know if I pinch myself, but I am inspired to do my level best to live up to the history of this job and the asks, the duties that I have to the American people to keep them safe.
QUESTION: Wow. Well, listen, at the risk of sounding like a sycophant, I just want to tell you that I think you’re doing a great job, and this is a tremendous area of central Pennsylvania, one of the most conservative and supportive of the President in the country, and this region was one of the reasons that he won big here and will again. So – but thank you for your service all the way around, and I appreciate you spending the time with us today.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you very much, sir. You all have a good day and I hope all your listeners have a fantastic day too, sir. So long.
QUESTION: Thank you. Have a good day at the War College.
SECRETARY POMPEO: You bet. Bye-bye.
# # #
[i] We will invite leaders from all across the world[i] of every faith.