QUESTION: Welcome back, America, to you and so pleased to welcome back Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. My mandatory disclosures: He’s an old friend; he’s been on this show dozens and dozens of times; my son works at the State Department; and most importantly, the Secretary is from Kansas and I am still very bitter that the Wichita State Shockers beat the Buckeyes in the Elite Eight in 2013. Disclosures out of the way.
Secretary Pompeo, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hugh, great to be back with you. It hurts me greatly to be described as an old friend. How about a long-time friend? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Longtime friend. There you go. Been a long-time friend.
I want to talk China and Iran, but first a couple of questions from the headlines. Do you know Lev Parnas?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Never met him.
QUESTION: All right. Until this story broke, were you aware that Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was being surveilled while serving as ambassador?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. I never heard about this at all, Hugh.
QUESTION: Okay. Now —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Until the story broke ahead. To the best of my recollection, I had never heard of this at all.
QUESTION: And now on to the impeachment very quickly. Does this impeachment, which I believe to be an ultra-partisan charade – does it hurt America abroad from your position at the top of the State Department?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The team, Hugh, is very focused. I have done my best to make sure that everybody here knows that we have got a mission that’s ongoing, to make sure that we tell our partners and friends around the world that too. We’re still very focused on the things that President Trump set out his agenda and that this activity, this noise here in Washington, is to be compartmented and kept out of the way of important things that truly keep Americans safe. And that’s what we’ve tried to do. It comes up from time to time. We do our best to make sure that everyone is focused on the things that really matter.
QUESTION: Now I want to turn to two of those, China and Iran. First of all, yesterday, President Trump declared that the China trade deal is one of the biggest deals in history. It is big and it is significant, but do you, Secretary Pompeo, still consider the PRC as the most significant competitor to the United States on the globe?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. I think that’s consistent with our National Security Strategy where we identified the fact that this is a long-term challenge and there’s real opportunity there as well, but we have to make sure and get this right and to – I think the President has said as much as well. We got the phase one trade deal done. It’s a good thing, but there remain things in our trade relationship that we still have to work on as well. And then there’s other issues outside of the trade where their continued efforts in the South China Sea, the human rights conditions inside of China, the challenge they present when they show up with big bags of money around the world to exert political influence through economic means, those challenges still remain.
QUESTION: Now, President Nixon did deals with the USSR during the Cold War, and those deals were good, but they did not make the Soviets any less of a threat to us. Is that the same situation that we are in vis-a-vis the PRC today?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I think there’s still a lot of work to do. Hugh, I’ll give you a good example. I was out in northern California this past week talking with the most innovative, creative business people in the entire world. And privately they shared with me that the things that the Chinese Government are doing to place restrictions on them, to make their business life difficult there, the fact that we still don’t treat investments in the United States from China the way that American investments in China are treated there, those are things we still have to do on the commercial side. And then China’s rise, its desire to impose its will around the world, continues to be something that America has to be very focused on.
QUESTION: And when you were talking to the tech execs, should they be selling technology to China that can be used for the surveillance of the people of the PRC?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I was very clear to them about this. They need to be very, very focused on what the end use of their products are. Look, we have a set of laws, and these are companies that have a commercial enterprise. They are focused on delivering value for their shareholders. But I reminded them that as American companies they also had to make sure that they had their eyes wide open about what it was their products – whether it was hardware, or software, or some other form of technology – how that was being used, and they needed to make sure. These are companies that talk about lots of things – a good, clean environment, treating their people with respect and dignity, all these things that matter that are different from purely financial. This is one that they’ve got to take full account of as well.
QUESTION: Now, the transition from the PRC to Iran is linked. Should the People’s Republic of China stop buying oil from the Islamic Republic of Iran, which attacked us last week?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, it’s illegal. It violates U.S. law, and we are doing our best to enforce our sanctions across every entity that violates the U.S. sanctions regime. And to the extent there is a Chinese entity or a Chinese company that’s purchasing products from Iran that violate our laws, we’re going to do everything we can to enforce those sanctions against every violator of our restrictions.
QUESTION: As to Iran, they fired volleys and volleys of missiles from Iran at our soldiers and our allies last week. Was that an act of war against the United States?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The President took a sharp response to the actions taken by the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Make no mistake about it; we were very clear that the United States was going to respond. You’ll recall you – I think there were those who discounted the President’s statement that if a malicious, not just formal IRGC soldiers or Artesh soldiers took action against the United States, if the proxy forces that were controlled, operated, trained, equipped by the Iranians threatened American lives in a way that was significant, or, in the case of what happened back in December, took an American life, that we would respond directly against Iran. I think we made that clear that still stands.
QUESTION: Now, there’s a very important question, Mr. Secretary: Does the willingness of Iran to launch ballistic missiles from its own territory against targets in another country strengthen the case for any eventual preemptive strike against their nuclear facilities should Iran approach breakout to a nuclear weapon?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hugh, it’s an important question, one we’ve given a great deal of thought to. If you look at the President’s remarks that he made now last week, his first sentence – that Iran would never have the capacity for a nuclear weapon – I think answers that question by making clear it is fully our expectation not only will there be a commitment by the Iranian leadership not to have a nuclear weapon, but we’re going to do all the work that’s needed to be done to ensure that that statement, that commitment that the Iranians claim that they have made, is real, validated, verifiable, and we never let it happen. The President has been unambiguous about this. I am confident that we will execute on the commitment that he made to the world that day.
QUESTION: What I’m underscoring, Secretary Pompeo, is that if they were willing to launch missiles last week, that means they might be willing to launch missiles in the future. And if they get a nuclear weapon, they could have them on the tip. I don’t think we can allow them to get that.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Now, this is the President’s entire point. And this was frankly what the JCPOA failed at, right, the Iran nuclear deal failed at. It let them proceed along every element of development of a program that could lead to the capability to, have a nuclear weapon that was fully deliverable. So whether it was UN Security Council Resolution 2231 that gave them license to build out their missile program and to conduct space launches that could ultimately lead them and to have a capability to deliver a nuclear weapon through medium and long-range missile systems, or the ability to, as you can see, to very quickly reinstall centrifuges when the time was right – these were the fundamental failures of the nuclear deal. It’s why we’ve taken a fundamentally different approach.
QUESTION: At the Democratic debate this week, no one – not one of the candidates – brought up the attack on the American military and the allies from Iran. Are you surprised by the lack of mention, much less the lack of outrage?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I try not to do politics. It is, however – I must say, Hugh, it is disappointing that senior U.S. leaders – many of these are not only candidates for president but are current senior U.S. leaders – don’t understand that President Trump is committed to protecting the American people, that an American life was taken by the Islamic Republic of Iran, and that the response that we took was not only appropriate but reduced risk to our citizens around the world.
QUESTION: That response, the targeting of Soleimani – was it legal?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Absolutely.
QUESTION: Do other members of the Qods Force and the IRGC traveling abroad with the intent of doing harm to Americans present legitimate targets under the law of war?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The IRGC itself is a designated terrorist organization, so all that flows from the fact that they are designated terrorists is certainly something that’s available to the United States to respond to that terrorist threat.
QUESTION: Just a couple more questions on this, Mr. Secretary. I know your time is short. Has the American media grasped the strategic consequences to the Islamic Republic of removing Soleimani? It is a profoundly destabilizing event, and I don’t think our media gets it.
SECRETARY POMPEO: This was a very strategic effort that was undertaken by the President. This was a unique character. He was a terrorist. He’d taken hundreds of American lives. He’d led the efforts that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of lives not only in Syria but hundreds of lives inside the Islamic Republic of Iran itself. The world is safer. There is a strategic difference with him absent from the battlefield and from the political space that he attempted to occupy. This was a lawful, important, strategic effort that the President undertook, and I am confident that the world is safer as a result of it.
QUESTION: Penultimate question: I’ve seen it compared to our targeting and killing of Yamamoto in World War II. Do you agree with that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: They’re very different situations. But suffice it to say this guy was a battlefield commander who was actively engaged in plotting strikes against Americans in – not only in Iraq but in the region. And the President took action that reduced the risk that those attacks would take place in the short run, the medium run, and in the long run.
QUESTION: Last question: The wake for the JCPOA goes on. Are the people who mourn its passing ignorant of the nature of the regime, or are they indifferent to it?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I imagine there’s probably some of each, Hugh. But it is absolutely the case that the fundamental nature of this regime and the behavior that it undertakes always presented enormous risk when you enter into a deal that at best covers just a small fraction of the risk that they present to the world. So even if one thought this adequately addressed the nuclear problem – which I certainly don’t believe that it did – all the other components of the threat that are posed to the world by the Islamic Republic of Iran were not only ignored by the deal but were fueled by it.
QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, thank you for your time. Press on.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Hugh. So long, sir.