QUESTION: We are joined now by the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us this morning.
We just heard Ian Pannell say that there were rocket attacks against military bases last night in Iraq. You said on Friday that the world’s a much safer place after the killing of General Soleimani, but more American troops now headed to the Middle East. Your own State Department has urged Americans to depart Iraq and other countries, including Pakistan, Bahrain, the UAE. And the Department of Homeland Security put out a bulletin last night saying an attack, quote, “may come with little or no warning.” If the world’s a safer place today, why are all those actions necessary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, George, good morning. Thanks for having me on the show this morning.
It’s very clear the world’s a safer place today. Qasem Soleimani no longer walks the planet. You know the history: hundreds of thousands of people in Syria, millions of refugees; Lebanon, Beirut, Syria, Iraq, Yemen; deaths to Americans in Iraq in the earlier war. This was a bad guy. We took him off the playing field.
And that’s important, because this was the fellow who was the glue, who was conducting active plotting against the United States of America and putting American lives at risk. President Trump made the right decision to stop Qasem Soleimani from the terror campaign that he’d been engaged in against America not only five years ago and ten years ago, but on December 27th, when an American was killed by Kata’ib Hizballah at the orchestrated direction of Qasem Soleimani, and to prevent the future plans that the terrorist Soleimani had in front of him.
The world is a safer place. We’re taking the actions that we need to take to protect American interests not only in Baghdad and in Iraq but throughout the region.
QUESTION: You said that he was planning an imminent attack against Americans. What evidence can you share about that? Because The New York Times is reporting this morning that there was skepticism inside the government about that rationale saying a U.S. official described the intelligence as thin, indicting a normal Monday in the Middle East.
SECRETARY POMPEO: George, the senior leaders who had access to all of the intelligence – there was no skepticism. I think General Milley used the term we would have been culpably negligent had we not taken this strike. The intelligence assessment made clear that no action – allowing Soleimani to continue his plotting and his planning his terror campaign created more risk than taking the action that we took last week. We reduced risk. President Trump is committed at every step to protect and defend American lives here in the homeland, and we’ll continue to do that.
QUESTION: Most analysts have said that it’s not a question of whether Iran will respond but how and when. Should Americans be braced for a counter attack?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, George, remember, Iran’s been at war with us for 40 years. In the previous administration, they had Navy sailors on their knees. They launched missile attacks throughout the region. This is a regime that has been acting against America for an awfully long time. And we are suffering from eight years of neglect and we’re trying to push it back. We’re trying to contain them. We developed a strategy, as a diplomatic strategy, as an economic strategy. You’ve now seen some of the military components of that strategy. We’re trying to correct for what was the Obama administration’s appeasement of Iran. And we have to do that. We have to continue to do that, or Americans will be less safe.
QUESTION: But before this strategy was put in place, the Iranians were abiding by the nuclear agreement. We’ve seen a spate of attacks in recent days and weeks in response to the maximum pressure. Can you say your strategy’s actually working?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Absolutely, George. Remember what happened during this terrible nuclear deal: hundreds of thousands killed in Syria; Shia militias, the ones that we’re fighting today, underwritten, resource growing, taking control in places like Iraq; missiles fired from Yemen that could easily have killed Americans when they attacked on September 14th. All of these things – these things were ongoing activities resourced and funded by the trade and the money that was provided under the JCPOA.
In October of this year, George, the JCPOA, that nuclear deal, will permit arms trade with Iran. That’s crazy. That’s crazy – have missiles and systems – high-end systems, from China and Russia in Iran lawfully in October. That was the deal we inherited. It’s the place we found ourselves, and we’re working diligently to execute our strategy to convince the Iranian regime to act like a normal nation. The Iranian people are demanding it. We’re supporting it, and we will be successful.
QUESTION: In the face of this, we are seeing new threats from Iran and a strong counter threat overnight from President Trump. I want to show a tweet he put out overnight. He said, “Let this serve as a warning that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago) some at a very high level and important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, will be hit very fast and very hard.”
As you know, the Geneva Conventions outlaw attacks on cultural objects and places of worship. Our own DOD War Manual discusses protection of cultural property. So why is the President threatening Iranian with war crimes?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, we’ll behave lawfully. We’ll behave inside the system. We always have and we always will, George. You know that.
The President was getting to this point. In the past, previous administrations had allowed Shia militias to take shots at us, and at best, we responded in theater, trying to challenge and attack everybody who was running around with an AK-47 or a piece of indirect artillery. We’ve made a very different approach. We’ve told the Iranian regime enough. You can’t get away with using proxy forces and think your homeland will be safe and secure. We’re going to respond against the actual decision makers, the people who are causing this threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran. We’re going to take this seriously, and we’re going to defend the American people at every turn, George.
QUESTION: So just to be clear, when the President said he had 52 Iranian sites, including sites important to the Iranian culture, that wasn’t accurate?
SECRETARY POMPEO: George, I’ve seen what we are planning in terms of the target set. I’m sure the Department of Defense is continuing to develop options. The American people should know that every target that we strike will be a lawful target, and it will be a target designed at the singular mission of protecting and defending America. President Trump has been diligent about that. He doesn’t want war. He’s talked about this repeatedly. He is a reluctant participant in this, but he will never shy away from protecting America.
QUESTION: Have you had any direct communication with Iranian officials – phone calls, a letter – and how have they responded?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t talk about private conversations, but make no mistake about it, I’ve been working on our allies in the region. We have built out an enormous coalition that shares our fundamental view that the primary threat to regional stability is the Islamic Republic of Iran. That regime is the terror threat that undermines so much that’s taking place in the Middle East today. And so we’re working it. I have no doubt in my mind that the Iranian leadership understands President Trump’s view and America’s view and gets clearly the message from the American leadership.
QUESTION: Before Congress – Democrats in Congress were given no advance notice of this strike. And the President retweeted about that as well, a tweet from Dinesh D’Souza saying, “Neither were the Iranians, and for pretty much the same reason.” Was the President suggesting that Senator Schumer and other Democrats shouldn’t be given advance notice because they can’t be trusted.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I hope we’ll get support from every leader all across America, from members of Congress. I am confident that they share the Trump administration’s desire to keep America safe. I’m confident, too, that they understand the threat and risk that Qasem Soleimani presented. We’ll keep them informed; we’ll do all that’s required. We’ve provided notice to them under the War Powers Resolution. We’ll continue to do that. We’ll brief them. We began our briefings on Friday of last week; we’ll brief them some more this week. We’ll keep them fully surprised. We need a united American front to push back and keep Americans safe. President Trump will lead it. We ask that they support it as well.
QUESTION: There’s also the question going forward: If you take any new action against Iran is Congressional authorization needed? Former Vice President Biden spoke out about that yesterday. Let’s listen:
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Let me make it clear. President Trump has no authority to take us to a military conflict with Iran, period. The bottom line is any further action against Iran requires Congressional authorization.
QUESTION: Will the President go to Congress before taking new military action against Iran?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Boy, it’s really something to hear the vice president from the previous administration be critical of this administration’s policy of Iran. We’re having to clean up their mess, George. We’ll do everything required under the law to bring us into compliance with all the relevant constitutional and legal provisions with respect to our duties to the legislative branch.
QUESTION: Does that mean you’ll seek new authorization or no?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We have all the authority we need to do what we’ve done to date, and we will continue to do things appropriately, lawfully, and constitutionally, George. We’ve been consistent about that. There’s no reason to expect we’d do anything different going forward.
QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, thanks for your time this morning.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, George.