SECRETARY POMPEO: So a couple things. I actually just spoke with Foreign Minister Maas, telling him that I regret that we couldn’t make the meeting with both he and Chancellor Merkel. He understood completely. He also knows that our relationship with Iraq is important, and we’re partners in the challenges that Iran presents to Germany and to Europe as well. You’ll recall they arrested Qods Force folks not too terribly long in Germany, so he was actually happy that I was going. I promised him I’d reschedule it; we’d get it set as soon as we possibly could. He was most gracious.
So the reason we’re going is you’ve all seen the reports that there have been escalating – information that indicates that Iran is escalating their activity. I wanted to go to Baghdad to speak with the leadership there, to assure them that we stood ready to continue to ensure that Iraq was a sovereign, independent nation, and that the United States would continue to help build out partners in the region – the Jordanians, the Saudis, the Emiratis, all of the Gulf states who want to see a free, independent, sovereign Iraq. And so that’s the primary mission set.
There are also lots of business deals pending. I’m going to have the opportunity to talk about some of those, where these deals are important to Iraq – big energy deals that can disconnect them from Iranian energy, so also a central part of the conversation to be had.
And then I will obviously talk about the security situation there and the forces that we have on the ground in Iraq as well, and assure them that we’re going to continue to support the Iraqi Security Forces, the ISF – train them, professionalize them – so that the new leadership there in Iraq can have security control inside of their own country.
QUESTION: Okay. What is your response to people who say the U.S. designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization is related to these threats that we’re seeing against U.S. troops in Iraq from Iran?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ve seldom seen speaking the truth increase risk. This is something that – this was just calling out the truth. This is a terrorist organization. It’s killed over 600 American soldiers, continues to wreak havoc throughout the Middle East. It’s an enormously destabilizing force. It is the IRGC that is the lead element supporting what’s taking place in Gaza Strip today, underwriting Hamas. It’s the same set of resources coming out of Iran. We simply spoke the truth with respect to that designation.
QUESTION: Could you be at all more specific about the escalatory nature of the threat and why – I mean, was that the tipping point, when you decided to go to Iraq? And is the threat not just directed at U.S. interests but at Iraqi interests?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t want to go in – I just don’t want to go into the details of that any more.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is the threat something that also would – could impact Iraq?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, it certainly is the case that if American interests in Iraq were threatened it would impact Iraq as well. This would be an effort to take American forces out that continue our campaign against ISIS, something that’s incredibly important to the Iraqi Government. That campaign to continue to prevent ISIS terror inside of Iraq is something that’s very central.
QUESTION: You mentioned —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Central to the Iraqi Government. Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: Sorry. You mentioned business deals and sort of weaning Iraq away from dependence on Iran. Is that anticipated to eliminate the need for natural gas waivers then for Iraq?
SECRETARY POMPEO: These aren’t even all American business deals. These are – they’re – this is about trying to assist Iraq in obtaining their energy independence. Some of these are potential power line opportunities out of Jordan and out of Egypt, so electricity that could be provided. So this isn’t about American commerce; this is about ensuring that there is Iraqi energy independence.
QUESTION: Sure. I mean, I just – it was our understanding that certain areas are particularly dependent on the Iranian grid. So was this – the goal is to wean them away from this?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, it’s true there is a great deal of electricity that comes out of Iran into Iraq, and we want them to have opportunity, to have multiple sources, a diverse energy base. We think that’s better for an independent and sovereign Iraq.
QUESTION: So Secretary, in terms of what you’re communicating with the White House and President Trump, you talked about earlier having a number of options available to the President as escalation may continue.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Are you talking about in Venezuela, or are we still on Iraq?
QUESTION: In Iraq.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Okay.
QUESTION: In Iraq. We can talk about that, too, if you’d like.
SECRETARY POMPEO: All right.
QUESTION: In Iraq, in regards to Iran’s escalating behavior, have you been in communication with the White House? And —
SECRETARY POMPEO: I spoke to the President last night. I told him I was heading to Iraq. And we talked about all the things that I just spoke with you about – in a little more detail, but the same ideas held true. He asked me to, obviously, communicate a couple messages on his behalf. But the central messages are this: We want to make sure that Iraq is positioned so that the relationship that we’ve built with them and that our allies in the region have built with them – allies that range all across the Gulf, who understand that the primary threat in the Middle East is Iran – remains strong, that those relationships remain strong.
QUESTION: Is there a threat to the Iraqi Government from the Iranians to be overthrown, since you’re talking about sovereignty? Or you’re just talking about it generally?
SECRETARY POMPEO: No, no. This is what – no, no, generally. We’ve been – this is something – this has been our position for – since the National Security Strategy came out in the beginning of the Trump administration.
QUESTION: So it’s nothing that escalatory?
QUESTION: Do you anticipate —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I didn’t mean to imply anything beyond what’s in the National Security Strategy. Look, we want the – there’s a long history in Iraq, and we want them to be successful and independent and have sovereignty and not be beholden to any country.
MS ORTAGUS: Abbie, do you have —
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, would it be possible to ask you a question about Afghanistan?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on the progress that’s being made by the special representative?
SECRETARY POMPEO: No, not much. I got a written report from him that I read early this morning. He’s traveling to India today. I think he’s – I think he may be in New Delhi now; indeed, he’ll be traveling back either to Doha or Kabul on his next leg. Steady but slow progress.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you anticipate our civilian, our military presence in Iraq shrinking any time soon or in the future?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, it’s all dependent on how successful we are, successful in the campaign against ISIS primarily. The – if we can continue to build out the Iraqi security forces, we’d then be in a position where we could reduce our posture, our military posture, and therefore the need to have the civilian infrastructure that underlays it.
QUESTION: Can I ask the question I asked of – I think it was yesterday, I think, I don’t remember now – of how – tomorrow is Wednesday. The Iranians – Rouhani or the supreme leader, I can’t remember which one, is supposed to give some big speech. I kind of asked you about this yesterday, I think it was, about them enriching – most likely going to announce a escalation in their own enrichment. Is this something – how serious a deal do you think – would that be if it were to happen?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So, I’ve read some of these reports as well that suggest that they’re going to make changes. I think I saw it described – I should be careful because I don’t know the source for sure. I think I saw it described – if what you’re asking about is – they’re going to comply with the JCPOA, just a little bit less. Is that what you’re referring to?
QUESTION: I guess so, yeah.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hey, this is binary. You’re either in compliance or you’re not. And so we’ll obviously have to wait and see what they choose to do, but in – you’re – it’s zeroes and ones. You’re either in compliance with the agreement or you’re not. And so, look, we’ve withdrawn from the agreement. The Iranians will have to make their own choice about how they want to proceed.
QUESTION: Okay, so it doesn’t impact – it won’t really impact your policy one way or another whether they remain in compliance or whether they don’t? Because for you, compliance isn’t the issue, the issue is the deal was a bad one and you can’t ever get —
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s largely right. And having said that, the substantive action they take will be something we’ll take a serious look at, right. That is, if – we will look at the substance of the action they took, its connection to the JCPOA, but I think other countries around the world – some countries who are part of the JCPOA and have remained in the deal, as well as those that were never part of the deal – I think everyone will look at the Iranians’ decision and have to make their own assessment of how much increased risk there is.
MS ORTAGUS: All right, we have time for one more.
QUESTION: Could you – would you like to summarize the Arctic Council ministerial, or say a few remarks about what happened and anything you’d like to say about that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. I think among the most important things that we were able to do was to heighten the awareness of the security threats that China and Russia pose in the Arctic region. It’s not new; in that sense, it’s not news. Excuse me. But it’s been the case that in the Arctic Council meetings previously, that has been under-addressed, and we wanted to make sure that that was part of the conversation. There are many things we work on in the Arctic – environmental issues that we work on, search and rescue issues, a broad range of issues. But this increasing risk that China and Russia will choose to militarize this place and use it for their own national security advantage is something that that was an important forum to have a discussion about.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MS ORTAGUS: No, we’re all good.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Great. Thank you all.
MS ORTAGUS: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: All right. Safe travels, everybody. Enjoy the rest of your ride.
QUESTION: Thank you.