QUESTION: Let’s get the latest from America’s top diplomat. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joins us tonight. Good evening, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good evening, Mike. Good to be with you.
QUESTION: The images are striking. What is your assessment of what we saw in Baghdad today?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, what you saw was Iranian-backed terrorists – many of them are individuals that have been designated terrorists by the United States and others – come into the American embassy and posing a risk to American diplomats and personnel inside the embassy.
You saw President Trump direct a quick, decisive, prudent response by making sure that we had all the resources necessary to keep our people safe and to secure the compound as well. And as we go into the evening tonight, we’re continuing to watch, we’re continuing to monitor. As you know, Mike, this is a difficult place, tough terrain, and so we continue to take the situation seriously and President Trump and our entire team are watching it closely.
QUESTION: Any plans to evacuate the embassy in Baghdad, sir?
SECRETARY POMPEO: None.
QUESTION: Okay. Any plans to pull some of the 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq out?
SECRETARY POMPEO: None.
QUESTION: Okay. We are reporting that up to 4,000 more troops – 82nd Airborne – could be going into the region to bolster American forces in the region. Is that accurate, sir?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Mike, you have to put this in a larger context. This is 40 years of the Islamic Republic of Iran engaged in global terror campaigns, a nuclear weapons dreams, and nuclear enrichment capability existing today. We came in when the previous administration had provided lots of money; lots of money that was used for that nuclear program; lots of money that has been used for terror all around the world, to develop their missile program.
The Trump administration has taken a very different view. We’ve put real pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran. We will continue to do so. And as you saw the President say today, we will continue to hold the Islamic Republic of Iran accountable wherever we find their malign activity, and we’ll make sure we have the resources to do so.
QUESTION: So is that likely to be more ships in the region, sir, or —
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I’ll leave it to the Department of Defense to talk about specifics, but make no mistake about what the guidance President Trump has given to both the State Department and the Department of Defense. It’s to make sure that we have all that we need to perform the missions that he has set before us with respect to pushing back against the Islamic Republic of Iran.
QUESTION: What’s your assessment of the Iraqi Government’s response to what we saw at the embassy today?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So we worked alongside them today. I early this morning spoke with Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi. I spoke with President Barham Salih. Later in the day, some of my officials did. The President spoke – as your piece reported, spoke with the prime minister late in the day too.
We were urging them to continue to fulfill their responsibility, their obligation to protect our facility and our people. We were happy to see them deploy forces there to do that. We continue to ask them to do everything it takes to ensure that that facility is protected, as they have an obligation to do.
QUESTION: Is the administration confident the Iraqis can protect U.S. personnel and facilities going forward?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Collectively we’re going to make sure that that gets done. We’re going to make sure that we do everything we can to keep that facility safe and secure and have the resources to push back against anything that may confront us there.
QUESTION: President Trump tweeted this afternoon – let’s put it on the screen – “Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very big price. This is not a warning, [it is] a threat. Happy New Year.” Your reaction, sir?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve been working on convincing the Islamic Republic of Iran to behave like a normal nation for the entire three years we’ve been in office. We inherited a terrible nuclear deal; we inherited a terrible situation where the regime had lots of money to go foment bad things around the world. We withdrew from the nuclear deal. We’ve imposed an incredible economic burden on the regime.
We’ve watched, too, Mike. We’ve watched the Iranian people demand that their leaders behave differently. You’ve seen the protests. Unfortunately, the Iranians responded by killing hundreds of their own citizens, but we’ve watched even in Beirut and in Iraq. Even today, we saw protesters today. They weren’t covered in your footage. They weren’t at the embassy. But we saw protesters – real protesters, not Iranian-backed militiamen who’d been directed to go to the embassy by Qasem Soleimani but rather real protesters – demanding to say that those folks at the embassy, those aren’t Iraqis, those aren’t Iraqi people, they’re not people who care about Iraq, We care about Iraq and we want an Iraq that is free, independent, and sovereign. And the United States, under President Trump, will continue to work on that project.
QUESTION: We reported at the top a hundred U.S. Marines going to the embassy. Their role there, sir?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Their role there is security and deterrence, to ensure that we have the resources available to combat anything that should come at the embassy, but also to signal very clearly to those who might think about bringing harm to our facility, to our people, that they ought to think twice. These are very capable young men prepared to deliver real force if that’s what’s called upon.
QUESTION: Are other assets likely to go into Iraq if necessary?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Absolutely. If required, I am confident President Trump will authorize whatever it takes to keep American young men and women safe wherever we find them – not only at our embassy but at the other locations and facilities we have where there are Americans today.
QUESTION: Now that ISIS is largely defeated, is it your sense that the Iranians really want the United States out of the region, so there’s a big void there?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I think they probably do. But more than that, the Islamic Republic of Iran has had a singular mission, right? They’re kleptocrats, they’re theocrats and they want to steal stuff, loot, and destroy the lives of their own people. And they do that. They think they’re protecting themselves by committing terror all around the world, by assassinating people in Europe. The Islamic Republic of Iran has fundamentally failed the Iranian people, and I am convinced that the Iranian people know that. And you’ve seen President Trump make very clear we will continue to support the Iranian people.
QUESTION: You’ve made it clear the United States is not going anywhere in terms of its resources there. What do you think would happen if the United States were to leave Iraq?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t want to engage in a hypothetical. We’re engaged – you talked about ISIS. We’re still there working to build out the Iraqi Security Forces to conduct the counter-ISIS campaign. There’s still a threat from terrorism in parts of Iraq, in Anbar province and other places. President Trump is committed to completing that mission. We talked about this in the context of Syria several months back. We said the caliphate is gone – President Trump put together a strategy that delivered the destruction and defeat 100 percent lock, stock, and barrel of the caliphate. Now we have a responsibility to ensure that the remnants of ISIS can’t harm us here in the United States of America.
QUESTION: Are more airstrikes likely, sir, on Iranian-backed assets in the region?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t comment on future activity, only say simply that we’re committed to the project that we began when we made the policy decision at President Trump’s direction that we were going to push back against the Islamic Republic of Iran to create stability throughout the Middle East. We’re still fully committed to that mission set.
QUESTION: I know you have a busy schedule planned for the start of 2020, including going to Ukraine. Is this situation likely to disrupt your planning at this point?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I’m hoping I can still fulfill those commitments. I’m headed to Ukraine, and then to Central Asia, and then on to Cyprus. But I’ll make sure I’m in the right place to ensure that our people, the people of the State Department and Americans, are safe and secure in the Middle East. And if that means I have to change or delay my trip for a bit, that’s what I’ll do.
QUESTION: There was a bulletin a short time ago from the North Korean leader saying the world will see “new strategic weapon” in “near future.” Your assessment of that, sir?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I’ve seen that reporting publicly. It remains the case that we hope that Chairman Kim will take a different course. President Trump came into office with the threat of war from – with North Korea real and a true concern for the American people. He took a tack; we said we can deliver a better outcome for the people of North Korea. We’re hopeful that president – or that Chairman Kim will make the right decision and he’ll choose peace and prosperity over conflict and war. I saw that reporting. I hope he doesn’t go in that direction.
QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, Happy New Year. Thanks for your time, sir.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. Happy New Year, Mike.
QUESTION: Safe travels.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, sir.