QUESTION: Joining me now to talk about the decision to carry out this action, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Mr. Secretary, good morning. Thank you very much for being with us.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning, John. Thank you for having me on the show this morning.
QUESTION: You put out a statement a short time ago that says the decision to eliminate General Soleimani was in response to imminent threats to American lives. What was the nature of those imminent threats?
SECRETARY POMPEO: John, I can’t talk too much about the nature of the threats, but the American people should know that President Trump’s decision to remove Qasem Soleimani from the battlefield saved American lives. There’s no doubt about that. He was actively plotting in the region to take actions – a big action, as he described it – that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk.
We know it was imminent. This was an intelligence-based assessment that drove our decision-making process. The American people also know the history of Qasem Soleimani – hundreds of American lives on his hands too. He was involved in the Beirut bombings. He had orchestrated an attack right here in Washington, D.C. It ultimately failed. This is a man who has put American lives at risk for an awfully long time, and last night was the time that we needed to strike to make sure that this imminent attack that he was working actively was disrupted.
QUESTION: A specific target overseas?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m not going to say anything more about the nature of the attack, but know that this was not just in Iraq. It was throughout the region. It was using these proxy forces that he has manipulated for so long to bring so much destruction to the Shias and Sunnis, the Muslims throughout the region. This is a man who inflicted enormous harm not only on American lives but created terribly destructive activities supporting Lebanese Hizballah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad – all of the bad actors in the Middle East. Qasem Soleimani was at the center of all of it.
QUESTION: Right. Was there any imminent threat to the U.S. homeland?
SECRETARY POMPEO: These were threats that were located in the region.
QUESTION: And when I ask about the timing, the reason I am asking is because General Soleimani, as you well note, has been an enormous threat to the United States and U.S. interests for decades. I was in Iraq between 2003 and 2008, when he was responsible for the death of probably 600 or more U.S. servicemen. So what is different or what was different yesterday than over the last 15 years?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, John, you’re right about the history of General Soleimani for sure. What’s different today is that Iran has now been engaged for months and Iran managed to – dozens and dozens of attacks throughout the region. President Trump has shown enormous restraint to date. Well, we’ve made clear to the Iranians that we weren’t going to tolerate the killing of Americans on December 27th and Americans killed in Iraq, and then we watched the intelligence flow in that talked about Soleimani’s travels in the region and the work that he was doing to put Americans further at risk, and it was the time to take this action so that we could disrupt this plot, deter further aggression from Qasem Soleimani and the Iranian regime, as well as to attempt to de-escalate the situation. The risk of doing nothing was enormous. The Intelligence Community made that assessment, and President Trump acted decisively last night.
QUESTION: Was this attack in the coming days, do you expect?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re prepared. We’ve thought about this a great deal. But remember, they’ve been attacking for months.
QUESTION: Right. But I was asking, was the imminent attack —
SECRETARY POMPEO: You can’t forget that somehow —
QUESTION: Was the imminent attack —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Somehow I hear folks – oh, I’m sorry. Was the imminent attack —
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t want to talk about the details of the plotting that was taking place. I’m sorry, John. I didn’t understand your questioning.
QUESTION: Okay, no problem. Listen, listen, the President of the United States moments ago retweeted the State Department directive for all U.S. citizens in Iraq to get out. Why? What is the nature of the threat against U.S. citizens in Iraq this morning?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t want to elaborate on the statement that we put out just a handful of hours ago, but make no mistake about it: The Trump administration is focused on protecting Americans to the maximum extent feasible. We made the conclusion that a statement that we issued was appropriate, that the timing was right for that. We have, as you’ve seen over the past weeks, we’ve taken actions by building out coalitions in the region, by working to make sure we strengthen our partners in Saudi Arabia and the Emiratis – all things aimed at deterring Iran from aggression. We will continue that action, and we’ll continue to prepare to respond if that’s what’s required to keep Americans safe.
QUESTION: Will you remove – will you call for the removal or evacuation of U.S. State Department personnel from Iraq?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, we constantly evaluate our personnel not only in Iraq but all across the region and across the world. Every day we’re evaluating what the right security posture is. We will ensure that we get it right. We’ll rely on the people on the ground to help give us guidance about what they’re seeing and hearing, and we will make appropriate decisions about the posture of our diplomats and our military personnel throughout the region.
QUESTION: What do you anticipate the possible range of responses from Iran will be?
SECRETARY POMPEO: John, we’ve anticipated a wide range of possible responses and we have done our level best under the direct guidance of the President to prepare for all of those possibilities. We hope the actual response, John, is that the Iraqi people will do what they’ve been doing for months: they’ll demand that the Iraqi Government give them freedom, prosperity, and sovereignty. We’ve watched these protests over the last weeks. They weren’t burning American flags; they were demanding that Iraqi political leadership stop their kleptocracy, stop their political shenanigans. And Qasem Soleimani was at the center of that. He was driving bad outcomes for the Iraqi people. He was causing many Muslims in the region to be killed. I saw last night there was dancing in the streets in parts of Iraq. We have every expectation that people not only in Iraq, but in Iran will view the American action last night as giving them freedom.
QUESTION: Well —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Freedom to have the opportunity for success and prosperity for their nations. And while the political leadership may not want that, the people in these nations will demand it.
QUESTION: We’ll see. So far this morning on the streets of Tehran, we’ve been seeing pictures and we have a reporter there – we’ve been seeing pictures of large-scale anti-American demonstrations following the death – this is in Iran – following the death. We’ve heard from Iraqi leaders so far condemning the U.S. action. We heard from a French official this morning putting out a statement saying that the world is less safe following the killing of General Soleimani. And the concern there, no one is saying that General Soleimani was a good actor – he was a bad actor. What they’re suggesting is that destabilization will create a threatening environment. So when you hear from France the world is a less safe place this morning, how do you respond to that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, well, the French are just wrong about that. The world’s a much safer place today. And I can assure you that Americans in the region are much safer today after the demise of Qasem Soleimani. And as for the protest that you described, there is no doubt the last vestiges of theocracy, the kleptocracy in Iran will continue to try and put down these uprisings from the people. They’ve jailed thousands, they’ve killed hundreds. It won’t surprise me if they try to continue to do that. But know this: The Iranian people understand that America is a force for good in the region, and I am convinced that the support that we have provided to the people in Iran and the support we will continue to provide for the people in Iraq will work to protect American interests and make lives better for those people as well.
QUESTION: I’m very interested in what the future role for the United States in Iraq will be, particularly after this. Iraq’s prime minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, condemned this attack. He said it’s “a flagrant violation of the conditions for the presence of American forces in Iraq,” and the role which is supposed to be “limited to training Iraqi forces and fighting ISIS.” So do you see this as a threat to the U.S. presence in Iraq, which has been crucial over the last several years in the battle against ISIS?
SECRETARY POMPEO: John, I’ve spoken to acting Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi several times over the last couple days. The President spoke to him. I spoke with the head of the chamber of representatives, Mr. Halbousi. I spoke last night with the Iraqi foreign minister. I’ve seen their public statements. I know privately what it is they also see, and I know that what the Iraqi people will ultimately demand is that the Iranians get out, that the Iranians stop fomenting trouble, stop with these militias that are undermining their government. America is there to help protect Iraqi people. I’ve had friends – I’m sure you have too, John – that have been killed defending Iraqi sovereignty.
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re there to continue our counter-terror campaign. And in the process of doing that, we will make sure that as we engage that, as we try and stand up Iraqi sovereignty and give them the space to do that for themselves, we’ll protect American interests there.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I do have to let you go. But will the administration be releasing details of the intelligence which did lead to the raid, the imminent threat, over the next few days?
SECRETARY POMPEO: John, we’ll do our best to release everything that we know that’s appropriate, that we can, that doesn’t put anyone at risk. We’ll do our best. We want the world to understand that there was, in fact, an imminent attack taking place. The American people should know that this was an intelligence-based assessment that drove this.
QUESTION: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, we do appreciate you being with us this morning. Thank you for your time, sir.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, sir. Thank you, John.