QUESTION: We are pleased and proud to welcome back to the program our Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo – former CIA director, former congressman. How are you, sir?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Sean, I’m great. How are you today?
QUESTION: How many miles a year are you traveling now as Secretary of State?
SECRETARY POMPEO: More than I’ve ever traveled before. I’m gone a lot, but it’s great to be out there representing President Trump and America.
QUESTION: Is this the best job you’ve had? Because I would think being the CIA director is a pretty cool job. I happen to know Gina Haspel, and I know what a hero she was after 9/11. I know she’s very quiet, behind the scenes, a lot of people don’t know her, but I’ve always liked her a lot.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I like Gina too. I think the President made a good choice there. And they’re both great jobs. They’re very different jobs. But I’ve now had the privilege of doing this for the President – both of those jobs for the President. I’m looking forward to the next months continuing to deliver on behalf of America.
QUESTION: I want to ask you about Iran, get an update about North Korea in a minute, but I first would like to ask you about what is the Unalienable Rights Commission as well as the religious freedom ministerial. Let’s start with that – 80 percent of people living in a religiously restricted environment, and the United States is leading partners to answer the call for religious freedom. What can you tell us about it?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So, Sean, this is something the State Department hasn’t done before, and I am proud to say that President Trump has made religious freedom a priority for our administration. And so we last year did it for the first time; this week we’re doing it for the second time. We’ll have a thousand-plus religious leaders, civil society people, government people who are in charge of making sure that their citizens can practice their faith. We sometimes take that for granted here in America, but I watch Christians being persecuted around the world and other faiths not – other countries not allowing people of all faiths to practice their religious preferences.
And we know how important this is for human dignity, and so we lead this ministerial. We’ll bring people from all across the world, trying to encourage them to behave more like the United States in allowing every citizen to practice their faith in the way they so desire.
QUESTION: We watched in horror what happened, for example, to the Yezidis and other Christian groups in Iraq and elsewhere. What do you do when a country practices Sharia law, and as part of that law they frankly abuse women and they’re treated like third-class citizens, and women are told what to wear, and some can’t drive, and they don’t consider marital rape a crime, and that they have to get permission to even leave their house or ever leave the country; and then, for example, they’re – if you’re Christian or Jewish, you can’t build a temple, you can’t build a Christian church? Under some of these countries’ laws, gays and lesbians are killed just for being who they are. How do we possibly bring together such contradictory values in a situation like that? And sometimes these are the countries you need an alliance with for other strategic reasons.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, Sean, they’re difficult, complicated issues for sure, but this is why we’re doing this. We’re bringing countries together. The first thing you do, every place you see that, is you call it out. You tell other countries that that’s not best for their country, it’s certainly not the right thing to do to their citizens, and you encourage them. You show them how countries are better off when they are – every single human being is permitted to practice their faith, or if they choose not to practice their faith. We also have a special envoy who is charged with tackling anti-Semitism all across the world, and including where we find it here in the United States. So we recognize we’re imperfect, too.
But our mission set for this ministerial, and the Unalienable Rights Commission as well, is to say these are basic human rights, these are fundamental rights that every human being has – they are God-given – and to ensure that as much as possible in every country America is pushing for those rights to be recognized.
QUESTION: Have you made any progress, especially with countries that practice Sharia?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We have, but there’s a long way to go, and it’s uneven, and sometimes we’ve seen backtracking too. But we have found countries that were prepared to permit at first – call them house churches if you will, or small gatherings, and we’ve watched that grow. We work hard at this. It is tough work in those countries that recognize Sharia law. But I think they are coming to see, too, how difficult it is when you’ve got people who are – who have a fundamentally different view of the world, how difficult it is to constrain people who are truly faithful to their particular religious leader.
QUESTION: Let me see how far you think you can get with this, because I agree with you. One of the things that comes up for me on the issue of immigration into this country – I don’t care where anybody comes from, I just want to make sure we vet everybody that comes into the country. I think we have so many people in the world that would like to be here that, number one, I believe in merit-based immigration. I also believe that we need to – that people that come here need to share our values.
In other words, if you grew up and the only thing you knew was a very strict interpretation of Sharia law, many of those values are contradictory to our constitutional system, our republic. And I don’t know if people are able to – if they’re coming to bring their values to instill in us, or are they willing to accept our values as a lifeline to a better life for themselves? And I would think it’s usually the latter, but I, in my heart, think you have to vet that out, don’t you think?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Sean, it’s the obligation of every employee here at the State Department, and indeed I think of every American – right, we have – we are blessed to live in this most unique nation, the greatest nation in the history of civilization, and we each individually have a responsibility to recognize the United States Constitution as that sole governing document that’s foundational for everything we do, and we talk about what’s in there. And the Declaration of Independence described this value set with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and then the Constitution embodies that. I do think – I think every American, whether they are a government employee, an elected official, or just living their lives and taking care of their families, should take those as their central values in how government ought to work.
QUESTION: As it relates specifically to the second annual ministerial series that you’re having, or commission that you have to advance religious freedom, I understand that the UN General Assembly has established August 22nd as a day of remembrance for people that have been victims of religious persecution.
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s right, Sean. And we know this. We know that there have been – the Jews are treated poorly in many countries. We know that Christians have been persecuted all across the world. We know that people from other faiths, Muslims in China today, are facing an enormous challenge from the Chinese Government. So this isn’t – this isn’t faith-dependent. This is about making sure that every country is asked and indeed that the United States encourages them to treat their citizens with – it’s our first freedom, right? It’s the First Amendment. It’s at the beginning of the First Amendment it talks about this freedom, and we need to make that a priority, and President Trump has done that.
QUESTION: When your commission is asking simple, basic, fundamental questions about what does it mean to say something is an unalienable right, and how we know that – how do we know that claim is true, should their adherence to such be part of America’s willingness to only go so far in our relationships with people?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Sean, that’s a complicated question.
QUESTION: That’s a tough question.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, yeah, it’s a tough – that’s a tough question, yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, and historically, we did align with the former Soviet Union in World War II.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, there will always be places where our security, keeping America safe, forces us to deal with some folks that you wouldn’t want running your Boy Scout troop. I think that’s just a fact. But I think it’s also absolutely imperative that we here in the United States go back to the foundational ideas, we don’t forget where America came from, these traditional normative understandings that our founders laid out in the Federalist Papers and laid out in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution, and we set those as our hallmark. And then if there is a time when there is a nation that we’ve got to deal with as a transactional matter that doesn’t share our values but it’s an imperative that we keep America safe, we’ll have to make those decisions on a case-by-case basis.
QUESTION: Let me ask you about Iran. And more specifically my sources, for what they’re worth, and you have better sources than me on these issues, tell me that out of a fear of Iranian hegemony and possibly a situation where we would have a nuclear-armed Iran, that there is a closeness, a bond, the relationship that has been established between the U.S., Israel, the Jordanians, Egyptians, the Saudis, the Emirates, and others, that is at a level that has pretty much been unprecedented since, say, the UN partition plan in 1947 and ‘8.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, Sean, that’s something that’s really very – frankly, very encouraging. The framework that had set the Middle East for so many years was the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and now the major destabilizing force in the Middle East is the Islamic Republic of Iran. And so you see nations lining up, understanding that’s a threat. Whether you’re an Arab nation like the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia, or a Jewish state like Israel, they see this common threat, and we saw this. We held a gathering in Warsaw, now just a few months back, and we had Arab nations, Prime Minister Netanyahu was there. This is truly historic. And they have come to understand that they have a common threat, and they are increasingly finding ways to work together to keep each of their nations secure.
QUESTION: Clearly, the President’s sanctions on Iran are having a strong impact. The other factor that I would argue that you pay attention to strategically speaking is the Straits of Hormuz, and for the first time the least important they’ve ever been to America. I mean, you’re talking about one of the most important waterways in terms of the lifeblood of every economy, which is oil and gas. Well, we’re now energy-independent and we’re now a net exporter of energy, but that still means that there’s a lot of oil and gas coming through there.
But with that said, it seems that the pressure of the President has been working. I know that the President is being pressured, especially by the French president and other people, to maybe sit down and do a new deal with the Iranians. I can’t imagine sitting down with them ever until they recognize Israel’s right to exist, number one; and number two, they pledge they will have anyplace/anytime inspections and their commitment is towards not becoming a nuclear-powered state. Otherwise, there’s no reason in talking to mullahs that chant “Death to America,” “Death to Israel,” in my opinion. But I’m not a diplomat.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Sean, you know we’ve laid out the standard much like what you’ve described for what the Islamic Republic of Iran needs to do, and we have placed sanctions on them. I remember, Sean, some saying – not you, but others saying that American sanctions wouldn’t work if the Europeans didn’t come along.
QUESTION: Oh, they’ve been working.
SECRETARY POMPEO: And that’s turned out to be false. They have worked. The President has done great work there. And so we do hope that the Islamic Republic of Iran leadership will come to know what I think their people know. I think their people think their leadership is on the wrong end of the stick. I think the Iranian people understand that underwriting Hizballah in Lebanon and in Syria and in providing money in Yemen —
QUESTION: Well, they’re fighting proxy wars, they foment terror —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah.
QUESTION: — they killed Americans in Iraq. Look, maybe I’m old-fashioned. Until they say they’re willing to have anyplace/anytime inspections and they’re willing to give up their nuclear ambitions, I don’t believe the power of the United States should give them the time of day, and the sanctions should remain in place until they are willing.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Remember, that was the fundamental flaw of the Kerry-Obama deal, the JCPOA, the Iran deal. They allowed Iran to have enormous wealth, lots of money, put cash on pallets and sent it to Iran, and then let them continue to enrich uranium so they had the capacity to build out their nuclear weapon system and foment terror. Those were the failures of the previous agreement the President identified, and I think we’ve made real progress.
QUESTION: 150 billion.
SECRETARY POMPEO: 150 billion. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Do you think Putin is in part responsible for assisting the nuclear ambitions of Iran and helping them in fomenting terror, fighting proxy wars?
SECRETARY POMPEO: They’re certainly working closely together in Syria today. The Russians and the Iranians are working closely together in Syria. They’ve caused one of the largest displacements of people. Almost now 6 million people from Syria have had to leave their homes. There is no doubt that Iran and Russia are working closely together, and Russia, who was one of the signatories of the JCPOA, has decided to stay in that deal, which we believe is fundamentally the wrong direction for the world to take in trying to constrain Iran.
QUESTION: What updates can you give us in terms of China and the trade negotiations, and is there any update with North Korea and Kim Jong-un?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So on North Korea, the President’s visit to North Korea, where he went across into North Korea for the first time a president had done that, has given us another chance to sit down with them and have another conversation. And I hope the North Koreans will come to the table with ideas that they didn’t have the first time. We hope we can we be a little more creative too. The President’s mission hasn’t changed: to fully and finally denuclearize North Korea in a way that we can verify. That’s the mission set for these negotiations. I hope that the opportunity – I was present when Chairman Kim and President Trump were together. I hope their meeting can put us on the right path to get that deal done.
QUESTION: And what about China and trade? Do we have any update there?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I think the two teams are going to get together. If it’s not this week, it’s next, and I hope China will at least come back to the deal that they had offered previously that was on the table and we understood was something that was acceptable to them. It began for the first time to get what President Trump has been aiming at: some reciprocity and transparency and reciprocity, which is what the American businesses deserve.
QUESTION: All right. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, thank you for being with us. We appreciate your time as always.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Sean.