QUESTION: Joining me now on this issue and many others is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Mr. Secretary, welcome back to Meet the Press.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Chuck, it’s great to be with you this morning. Thank you for having me on the show.
QUESTION: Thank you for coming on. Let me start with what this means. So he canceled these talks. Is this – does this mean talks are off completely?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So for the time being, that’s absolutely the case. We’ve recalled Ambassador Khalilzad back to Washington. We’ve been working on this problem set for a number of months now and, frankly, had made real progress with the Government of National Unity, President Ghani, as well as with the Taliban.
Our twin aims were to reduce violence – I was just a few hours ago out at Dover Air Force Base meeting with the family of the last soldier, Sergeant First Class Barreto. I met his lovely wife, their two boys, 11 and four. It’s precisely those moments that make you recognize so clearly we have an obligation to reduce risk; at the same time, we can never permit terror to strike again from Afghanistan here into the United States.
Our negotiations have been aimed at achieving each of those objectives while reducing violence and getting the Afghans for the first time – and Chuck, as you well know, over 15 years – to actually sit at the table together and talk about the path forward in a more peaceful way.
QUESTION: I was just going to say it’s – there’s plenty of reporting out there that indicates that the Afghan Government had indicated they weren’t coming and that they sort of had pulled out first. Is that how the timeline of events went?
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s false, Chuck.
QUESTION: Okay. What – when did you know that this meeting wasn’t going to happen?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m not going to talk about specifics, but we had been working on this meeting for a little while. And then after the death of Sergeant First Class Barreto and the attack by the Taliban with a simple effort to improve their negotiating posture, that was something President Trump can never stand for, and we informed both President Ghani and our Taliban interlocutors that these meetings were not going to take place today.
QUESTION: But Mr. Secretary, the Taliban have been killing Americans throughout these negotiations, and some people had criticized the United States for participating in negotiations with the Taliban during this. Why – why now? Why wasn’t this a problem before?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, it’s always a problem anytime the Taliban conduct terror attacks, certainly when they injure Americans or kill Americans. So it’s always a problem. You should know, in the last 10 days we’ve killed over a thousand Taliban. And while this is not a war of attrition, I want the American people to know that President Trump is taking it to the Taliban in an effort to make sure that we protect America’s interests. We will never give up General Miller, Scotty Miller’s capacity to protect Americans. We are doing it now, we were doing it yesterday, we will continue to do it.
What we have been working on – and we knew the war had continued. You’ve got to get a deal. You’ve got to get an arrangement where both sides agree that they’re going to stand back and they’re going to reduce violence. We were making real progress towards that. We had a commitment from the Taliban to make a formal public announcement that they would break with al-Qaida, something that – an American demand that had gone back as far as President Bush. We were making progress along the way. President Trump was supportive of those efforts.
But make no mistake, Chuck. We’re not going to – we’re not going to withdraw our forces without making sure we achieve President Trump’s twin objectives. Any reduction in our forces will be based on actual conditions – not commitments, but actual conditions on the ground.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, given that conditions appear to be worsening, are – is —
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s not – Chuck, that’s not true.
QUESTION: You don’t believe? Okay.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t believe that’s true. If you’re the Taliban, conditions have been worsening, and they’re about to get worse.
QUESTION: What is – okay, you say “about to get worse.” So you’re going to – does this mean we are going to increase the military activity against the Taliban?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re going to make sure that everyone in the region understands that America will always protect its national security interests. I’ll leave it to the Department of Defense to talk about specifics, but no one should underestimate President Trump’s commitment to achieving those goals.
QUESTION: Is there – was there – did anybody bring up whether it was appropriate to have the Taliban set foot on Camp David? There are some people that that was a – that didn’t sit well with quite a few folks, given the important role Camp David played in planning the response to 9/11.
SECRETARY POMPEO: There were lots of discussions around that. Camp David has a long history, an important history, and it’s also had an important role in complex peace negotiations, sometimes with some pretty bad actors, as you well know, Chuck.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So yes, there was discussion about that, and the President ultimately made the decision that if we could get that, if we could get commitments and then put in place a verification regime that would give us confidence that we could observe that those commitments were being honored, that it was a – it was a useful effort to try and get all of those parties in one place so that we could have serious conversations about how to reduce America’s risk, and so that there won’t be other secretaries of state that have to travel to Dover to go see these amazing American heroes who’ve given so much for our country.
QUESTION: Look, I know you’re not a big fan of timetables. Nobody in these positions ever is. But does this mean the likelihood of withdrawing from Afghanistan now has been extended, that it isn’t going to happen in the next year or the next two years, that we may be looking at much farther down the road?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Chuck, I hope not. I’ve tried to answer each of your questions. You’re right; timetables are difficult things to know. I hope not. I hope we can begin intra-Afghan negotiations. I hope we can reduce the levels of violence. I hope the Taliban will continue to move towards their commitment to break with al-Qaida. If we can do that, I hope that we can reduce our cost in blood and treasure there in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you keep saying “hope.” Hope is always – I’ve noticed when officials say “hope,” that is usually the last – the last word they say because they don’t think progress is coming. You sound pessimistic.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m not pessimistic. I’ve watched these negotiations unfold. I’ve watched the Taliban do things and say things they’ve not permitted to do before. Frankly, I’ve watched the Afghan Government behave in ways that I think indicates that nearly every Afghan understands that this violence, these wars, can’t continue. No, I use the word “hope” because we’re going to continue to try and drive towards this outcome because we also want to deliver, most importantly, on behalf of the American people.
QUESTION: A domestic political note: on Friday, you were in your home state of Kansas. How come nobody believes your denials about your interest in that Senate race?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Because this is a pretty darn cynical town, Chuck. I think there’s no better reason than that.
QUESTION: So, okay. You could do the Shermanesque deal. You could say, “If nominated, I will not serve,” all of that business. You have not done that. Why?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ve been pretty clear, Chuck. I think it’s unambiguous. Others – others want to speculate on my future a lot more than I do. As you can see from today, I am incredibly focused on what I’m doing. It’s not just Hong Kong and Afghanistan. We’ve got opportunities all across the world. That’s what I’m focused on, and I intend to continue to do this so long as —
QUESTION: So you want —
SECRETARY POMPEO: As long as President Trump asks me to be his Secretary of State, this is what I intend to do.
QUESTION: You will not be on a ballot in November of 2020?
SECRETARY POMPEO: This is what I’m going to do. As long as —
QUESTION: You will not be on a ballot?
SECRETARY POMPEO: As long as President Trump wants me to be his Secretary of State, you’re going to have to have me on your show.
QUESTION: Well, Mr. Secretary, it sounds like if you won’t say you won’t be on a ballot in November 2020, the Kansas Senate questions don’t go away.
SECRETARY POMPEO: They’re going to go away. The clock continues to run. I think the American people should know their Secretary of State thinks about one thing and one thing only: protecting America’s national security interests —
QUESTION: All right.
SECRETARY POMPEO: — and trying to deliver diplomacy everyplace I go.
QUESTION: Well, obviously, General Sherman’s comments are not something you’re ready to quote just yet. Fair to say that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: My dog’s name is Sherman. I quote him all the time.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Oh, Mr. Secretary, you got me on that one. Secretary Pompeo, thanks for coming on —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thanks, Chuck.
QUESTION: — and sharing the administration’s views. I appreciate your time.