MR CLEMONS: Hello, and welcome. I’m Steve Clemons, editor-at-large of The Hill. Thank you for joining us for New Threats, New Defense: The Future of National Security. Before we get underway, a message from the chairman of The Hill, Jimmy Finkelstein.
MR FINKELSTEIN: Good morning. I’m Jimmy Finkelstein, chairman of The Hill. I want to welcome you all here today. We have a tremendous program throughout the day moderated by Steve Clemons. I want to thank the faculty, a great program.
A special thanks to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who has spent so much of his valuable time with us this morning. The Secretary has a tremendous background. As most of you know, he was number one in West Point. He was on the board of editors of the Harvard Law Review. He was a lawyer at Williams & Connolly. He was a successful businessman. He was a captain in the Army. He served in Congress. He was head of the CIA. And now, of course, he’s Secretary of State. Any one of these accomplishments would be a major accomplishment for any one of us, but he has them all.
So with that, I want to welcome you again and hand the program over to our great editor, Bob Cusack, who is now going to interview the Secretary. Have a great day.
QUESTION: Thanks, Jimmy and Steve, and thank you, Mr. Secretary, for joining us. I want to jump into the news. Just recently, Mr. Secretary, you said that the U.S. may ban TikTok and other Chinese apps. Is there going to be a decision on that this summer?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Bob, thanks. First of all, thanks for having me on here as well. Jimmy, thanks for that very, very generous introduction. Yeah, I made a comment about TikTok. We’ve got to go back to first principles. The mission set is to protect American national security, and in this case, the information of American citizens. And so whether it’s TikTok or any of the other Chinese communications platforms, apps, infrastructure, this administration has taken seriously the requirement to protect the American people from having their information end up in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.
And so we are working through a process where all the relevant agencies and the private sector are getting to say their piece. We hope to have a set of decisions shortly which will reflect this central understanding. We’ve been working on ZTE. We’ve been working on Huawei. We’re pleased to see the United Kingdom make its announcement that it’s going to pull out Huawei technology from its telecom infrastructure. We’ve watched telecom companies all across the world, from Orange and others, to say no, we understand. We want to make sure that our data flows only across trusted vendors. That’s the mission set, and that’s certainly the mission set when it comes to applications that our kids may be touching.
When I made those remarks (inaudible) I got lots of notes from mothers saying, “Please, please take it away, make it go away.” That’s for the parents to decide their kids’ usage on their cell phones. It’s our task to make sure that their children’s information doesn’t end up in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you and others have said that Russia did meddle in the 2016 election. You faulted the Obama administration for not doing more back then. Is Russia meddling in the 2020 election? And if so, are you being successful in stopping it?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, I’m confident that many countries will do their level best to have an impact on our election. This isn’t new. I was reading a book the other night talking about Senator Kennedy dealing with this issue back when he was running for president. Foreign efforts to interfere in American elections are something that we constantly must contend with. We’ll contend with that here. We did a good job in 2018 during the midterm elections. I’m very hopeful we’ll do a really good job. I have seen the work that’s gone in largely from the Department of Homeland Security, a little bit of work done by the State Department as well, to make sure that our foreign counterparts understand the costs that will be imposed if they choose to engage in malign activity related to our election.
I think the American people should rest assured that whether it’s threats of Chinese interference, Iranian interference, Russian interference, or North Korean interference, any country, or even non-state actors who now have capabilities to try to meddle in our elections, know that this administration takes seriously its responsibility to make sure every American’s vote is counted, counted properly, and that foreign influence is minimized in its ability to impact an outcome of an American election. I am confident we’ll achieve that successfully.
QUESTION: You spoke with the Russia foreign minister this week. Did the reported bounties on U.S. troops come up and/or Russia’s support for the Taliban?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, of course. I talk to my Russian counterparts a lot. I talked to the – my Russian counterparts when I was the head of the CIA. I spoke to my two intelligence counterparts in Russia. Yeah, we talked about Afghanistan a great deal and the need to achieve the outcome that President Trump has set forth, which is to get America’s role there greatly reduced as quickly as possible, ultimately get our combat forces out of Afghanistan in a way that leads to a peaceful reconciliation among all the Afghan people.
Ambassador Khalilzad was on the phone with me just yesterday talking about the progress we’re making. It is – it’s tough work, but I believe we’re making real progress there. And I made clear to the Russians we needed their support in that effort as well. There’s a lot of history of Russia in Afghanistan. Those who remember the Mujahideen and all that took place there when Russia was forced to leave Afghanistan, there’s a lot of history. There’s a lot of Russian footprint; there are Russian weapon systems there. We have made clear to our Russian counterparts that we ought to work together to get a more sovereign, more independent, peaceful Afghanistan. We think it’s in Russia’s best interest, we think it’s in China’s best interest, we know it’s in the Afghan people’s best interest, and President Trump is working diligently to make sure we do that in a way that protects the American homeland and gets our boys and girls home.
QUESTION: Also, should Russia be allowed in the G7, especially in the wake of its activity over the last several years, or should it be conditional?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, the President’s made clear he think it’s important that we talk to the Russians, and I agree with that. I have lots of conversations with them. There’s places where we just – it’s not a democracy. They have a different regime than ours. They likely are to have that for an awfully long time. But there are places where we can work together, and we ought to do everything we can to maximize those opportunities to work together on behalf of the American people, and in the places where we disagree – whether that’s Russia’s involvement in Venezuela, the work that they’re doing today in Syria which fundamentally undermines important American national security interests – we ought to make that clear to them as well and have conversations with them about how we can reduce the risks to America from the Russian malign activity.
QUESTION: The last time we interviewed in person, you said you would stay on this – in the job as long as President Trump wants you. Should he win re-election, would you serve in a second term?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’ll be up to the President. Yes, I think the last time you were convinced I was going to run for the Senate in Kansas, if I recall. (Laughter.) If I recall correctly. And no one – no one believed me when I said I wasn’t back in June of last year. In any event, so perhaps folks will have some skepticism about what I say here as well. I love what I’m doing. It’s an incredible privilege to get to serve the American people and do every day the tasks that increase American opportunity to have the freedoms that we have because of this exceptional – exceptional, unique nation. And if President Trump asked me to serve in a second administration, it would be truly an honor.
QUESTION: And if that were the case, what would be your second term agenda? What would be your – obviously you want to talk about what you’ve done now, maybe the biggest thing since you joined State, but what would, going forward, you do in a second term?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We talked about the global mission set to secure American freedom. If you’d asked me what the biggest challenge is going to be for the second term from a national security perspective, it’s certainly going to be the Chinese Communist Party. It’s something that we have been focused on since the beginning of the Trump administration. It’s something that the previous administration allowed us to get just rolled by them in every dimension, whether it was intellectual property theft that they allowed to go on, whether it was the massively unfair trade relationship we had, whether it was China’s advancement in the South China Sea. The previous administration simply refused to take the actions necessary to secure freedom for the American people from the threat that the Chinese Communist Party presents, and President Trump has told our team we need to do everything we can to preserve that freedom and push back to make sure we have a fair and reciprocal set of relationships with the Chinese Communist Party.
QUESTION: On China, it is a tense time with the South China Sea, Hong Kong, conflict there. What is the status of the U.S.-China relationship?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re engaged in dialogue. I traveled to Honolulu now two, three weeks back to meet with Yang Jiechi. But sadly, they want to talk about cooperation, they want to talk about being a global power that complies with the rule of law, and yet everyplace we see their actions, their actions belie that. Examples: General Secretary Xi promised he would not militarize the South China Sea in 2015, in the Rose Garden. He militarized the South China Sea. They made a promise, a 50-year commitment, an internationally recognized agreement between China and the United Kingdom in Hong Kong, that there would be one country and two systems, and he’s now fundamentally violated that.
Everyplace the Chinese Communist Party – they make commitments under the Paris Climate Accord that they’re not remotely close to complying with. This is a Chinese Communist Party that is acting in a way that poses real threats to the world, and the United States is going to respond each – in each of those venues to make sure that we preserve American national security and impose costs on the Chinese Communist Party in order to achieve the change in behavior that will have a good outcome. So we want a free and open Indo-Pacific; the Chinese Communist Party continues to treat that body of water as its own maritime empire. We’re not going to allow that to happen.
QUESTION: There is bipartisan legislation in the House and the Senate that would give certain Hong Kong residents refugee status. Is that legislation a good idea?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The President hasn’t made a decision on this yet. I’m very confident that if there are people who are coming from anywhere in the world who seek asylum, the United States has always been a place that welcomes those people. We – it’s been a little bit slower, fewer people seeking asylum, and our capacity to process asylum claims has been a little slowed down by the virus that emanated from China. We’ll be back at it shortly, and I’m sure there’ll be people from Hong Kong – the United Kingdom has graciously allowed some 3 million people to come from Hong Kong. Australia has set up a set of rules, Canada too. The Western world – democracies understand what the Chinese Communist Party is doing to those of us who believe in freedom and liberty, and we will make sure and take care of those freedom fighters who want to travel, who don’t feel like they’re safe, and can continue to do good work inside of Hong Kong or in any other country for that matter.
QUESTION: On the coronavirus, how sure are you that it originated from a lab in Wuhan, and what is the proof of that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, so what I can say is that we know this much: We know that it began in Wuhan, China. The scientific community is quite confident of that. We don’t know precisely from where it emanated. As I’ve said before, there’s evidence that it came from a laboratory. We’ve seen other people who have said that it came from other places. And finally, we know this: The Chinese Communist Party has prevented anyone from finding out the answer to that question. They denied access to the laboratory, they’ve – to the World Health Organization, anyone who wanted to talk about it who was inside of that laboratory, whether they were a journalist or a doctor, has been precluded from talking about that. They’ve either been told they can’t talk or worse. And indeed, the scientific community who desperately needs still to figure out where patient zero came from has been unable to get that information. This is a result of the Chinese Communist Party hiding the data.
Bob, you know this. Countries that want to be global powers, countries that want to participate on the global stage, have a corresponding obligation to comply to the promises they make. China made a promise to the World Health Organization. There’s a set of rules about disclosure, and when you have an incident in your country that could potentially lead to a pandemic, you have an obligation to report that and to allow others to come in and help you be transparent about it. The Chinese Communist Party chose differently. They co-opted the World Health Organization to achieve that coverup, and the result today is that we have hundreds of thousands of people who have died and trillions of dollars in global damage as a direct result of the Chinese Communist Party’s decision that resulted following their knowledge about what was happening in Wuhan.
QUESTION: Should China pay a price for that, financially or otherwise?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think the world will absolutely make them pay a price. You can see it. Everyplace I go, every foreign minister that I talk to, they recognize what China has done to the world, and I’m very confident that they will – that the world will look at China differently and engage with them on fundamentally different terms than they did before this catastrophic disaster that could well have been mitigated had China behaved in a way that was consistent with the promises that they had made.
QUESTION: There is debate on Americans as far as voting this fall. There’s a debate among election officials and Attorney General Barr. Barr has indicated he’s concerned about fabrication of ballots being mailed in. Is this something you’re concerned about? Election officials say this is a virtual impossibility.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s not really my purview as Secretary of State. I’ll leave that to the Attorney General and the Department of Homeland Security, the agencies tasked with ensuring that we have free and fair elections.
QUESTION: This year, will there be another North Korea summit? And what have the prior ones accomplished?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, we’re getting pretty close to the election. The North Koreans have given mixed signals, but the truth is President Trump only wants to engage in a summit if we believe there’s a sufficient likelihood that we can make real progress in achieving the outcomes that were set forth in Singapore now, goodness, a couple years back.
We’re trying to have informed discussions with the North Koreans. We believe that denuclearization of the peninsula and, ultimately, resolution of the conflict there is important. And stability on that peninsula is incredibly important, but you need to have a willing partner, and the North Koreans have chosen at this point in time not to engage in a way that can lead to a potential solution. We hope they’ll change their mind. We look forward to engaging them in dialogue so that we can get to the right outcome, and so do our partners in the region – the Japanese, the South Koreans, they all want to achieve this. The Chinese too make it very clear their expectation that North Korea will denuclearize. We need to do that and we need to do so in a way that is completely verifiable.
We still continue that mission. We’ve avoided having a long-range missile fired. We’ve avoided nuclear testing. Now it’s time to get to the harder problems and secure a better outcome not only for the security of the American people, but for the people of North Korea as well.
QUESTION: The State Department put out a report recently saying that globally, white supremacy is on the rise. What is the State Department doing to curb that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, so every place we go, wherever we think there are actors that pose a threat to the United States, we work on that. So any place we see – you saw the report that we put out. It’s comprehensive. In fact, it’s the gold standard when it comes to this set of issues. We work diligently to try to get other governments to conform to our conception of human rights not because it’s solely in America’s best interest, but we firmly believe that getting this right is in those countries’ best interests as well.
QUESTION: On Iran, you have been very critical of Iran. Is Russia on our side on Iran? I know that you are pushing for more sanctions.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, every nation including Russia signed off on UN Security Council Resolution 2231 which imposed an arms embargo that denies Iran the capacity to sell or buy weapons systems. On October 18th, because of mistakes made by the previous administration entering into the nuttiest agreement that I’ve seen, allows now after just five years the world’s largest state sponsor of terror to begin to freely engage in arms trade around the world, and become not only the largest state sponsor of terror but one of the largest arms dealers purchasing Chinese and Russian weapon systems.
We’re working and, we hope, alongside the Russians to ensure that that can’t happen. Now, Russia has a very different set of views with respect to Iran. They are working alongside of them in Syria against the interests of the Syrian people, and we regret that Russia has made that decision. We’ve had millions and millions of displaced people from Syria, enormous starvation. The United States is the largest contributor to the humanitarian relief effort inside of Syria, and Russia sadly is working against those interests and alongside the interest of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
QUESTION: We have a few minutes left. You got a lot of people talking this week when it was announced that you’re going to be speaking on Friday in Iowa, which obviously is a key state. Is a presidential run a possibility in your future?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bob, I always think it’s funny. If I travel to New York or to Boston or some – a solid corridor state, nobody says a word. When I travel to America’s heartland, everybody always has some second theory of the case about why Mike Pompeo might travel there. I think every American ought to hear it from America’s Secretary of State about our foreign policy, about our trade policies that affect the people of Iowa greatly, and that’s what I’m headed out there to talk to them about.
I’m also doing it on the heels of tomorrow, which puts me in Philadelphia where I’m going to announce the results of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, and I want to go to Iowa to talk about those very rights. Back to America’s heartland, back to the place that understands the founding of America in such a deep and fundamental way. And I want to talk about religious freedom and property rights and all the things that you’ll see in this report that ground American foreign policy in a set of understandings of our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution in important ways that give us a mooring, a capacity to go around the world as diplomats from the United States Department of State and encourage other nations to preserve and protect and secure freedoms for their people, religious freedoms for their people, the basic rights that we each have as a result of the fact that we’re made in the image of God and the dignity that every human being, regardless of race or nationality, deserves. So Iowa follows Philadelphia squarely.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) So, no campaign connection in that visit at all?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m so focused on what I’m doing, Bob. I – we know that we’ve got lots of work between now and September on so many fronts. We’re looking for some really good outcomes for the American people.
QUESTION: The UK reversed itself on Huawei and 5G. What – was that an intense lobbying campaign that you and others in the U.S. Government did to get them to reverse?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve been working everywhere in the world to make sure that every nation has trusted vendors for their information technology systems. Not just the United Kingdom, but 190 countries – we want every one of them to make sure that their citizens’ data isn’t in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party. We are pleased with the United Kingdom’s decision. We think they came to it after having reviewed the same data that we have seen about the risk of privacy of the facial recognition, data sets, all of that that transits across Huawei’s systems, inevitably being made available to the Chinese Communist Party. They concluded that wasn’t in their nation’s best interest and made the decision you saw this week. We were happy about that outcome because we think it helps the United States as well, because you have Americans that have their information transiting across those systems when they travel to the United Kingdom as well.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for joining us. We really appreciate it. And I will hand it back to Steve now.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Great. Thanks, Bob.