QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for joining us this morning. It’s our pleasure. We appreciate it. Not —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. Thanks for having me on this morning.
QUESTION: Absolutely. Happy New Year. We hope you had a great Christmas as well.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Happy New Year to you too.
QUESTION: And we want to ask you about this unfortunate anti-Semitic attack, but as the Secretary of State, you step back and see the whole world and you see the persecution of Jews and Christians. Talk to us about the state of sort of the war on religion, what’s happening, and what the United States is doing about it.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Boy, it’s important to put it into context. We have seen increased anti-Semitism around the world. We’ve all observed Christians under threat in the Middle East and other parts of the world as well. President Trump has made a true pillar of America’s foreign policy religious freedom, the right of each of us to practice our faith in the way that we desire to do so. And we work hard at this; we work hard. We’ve got a special envoy who handles anti-Semitism issues. We’ve got a special envoy, former Governor Brownback, who handles religious freedom issues. We make it a real priority working to message about how tragic and unacceptable it is for any nation to persecute any individual as a result of their religious beliefs and their duty to protect these practitioners of their faith in a way that preserves their security and allows them to practice their own beliefs.
QUESTION: Secretary, we’ve seen over Christmas some horrific attacks on Christians – by the way, the most persecuted religion on the planet right now – beheadings, a village attacked and seven killed there as well as the kidnapping of a young, teenage Christian girl. Why are we seeing this rise in attacks, specifically for Christians?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, it’s difficult to know precisely what the cause of these increases are. We can begin to identify them. They’re different in different places. But Rachel, as you’ve seen too around the world, respect for religious faith is something that governments have a responsibility to do. I’ve talked at some length about China and how it’s —
SECRETARY POMPEO: — persecuting over a million Muslims in Xinjiang Province. Leaders all around the world have a responsibility to protect their citizens and permit them to practice their faith. And so there are lots of different reasons for this. I’ve seen it in Christian communities around the world. We have a responsibility in the United States to work diligently to help protect these Christians wherever we can as well, Rachel.
QUESTION: Absolutely. Mr. Secretary, obviously a huge Fox News alert the other – just a moment ago – the U.S. carries out precision defensive strikes across five sites in Iraq and Syria in retaliation for attacks by Iran-backed militants following Friday’s attack that killed an American contractor and injured U.S. servicemembers. Well, what do we need to know about that, Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, it begins by an understanding that this was a defensive action designed to protect American forces and American citizens in Iraq, and it was aimed also at deterring Iran. This was an Iranian-backed rogue militia acting to deny the Iraqi people their basic sovereignty. It’s Qasem Soleimani, it’s the ayatollah working to expand their terror campaign all around the world. They took a strike at an American facility. President Trump’s been pretty darn patient, and he’s made clear at the same time that when Americans’ lives were at risk we would respond, and that’s what the Department of Defense did yesterday.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you – this administration has pursued a maximum pressure effort against the Iranian regime. If rockets are being launched against our contractors and our bases in Iraq, you know as – this is approved by Iran. What are we – how is Iran responding to this? What do you anticipate from them going forward, their nuclear ambitions? Where are we in our stare-down with Iran right now?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So it’s the case that this administration made a fundamental shift from where President Obama and his team were. They had greenlighted the Iranian nuclear program. They had allowed this terror campaign to continue. Indeed, they had permitted funds to flow into Iran to support and underwrite these very terror campaigns that we’ve seen carried out. We took a – we took a very different direction. We’ve put enormous pressure to deny resources to Hizballah, to try and deny resources to Shia militias like the ones that came after American – an Iraqi facility in Iraq yesterday where there were Americans working to – working to counter ISIS. That’s what the Americans are in Iraq for, to take down the very terror threats that are protecting – that are putting at risk the Iraqi people.
Our mission continues to try and get the Islamic Republic of Iran to behave like a normal nation. We laid out back in May of last year, after the President withdrew from the JCPOA – the nuclear deal – we laid out our demands, our requirements. We just want Iran to stop their terror campaign. We want them to agree that they won’t have nuclear weapons, that they won’t enrich uranium, a set of basic things.
QUESTION: As long as that regime is there, Mr. Secretary, as long as that regime is there, that theocracy, radical Islamist regime, you – we can’t expect them to act like a normal nation, can we?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s interesting. Look at what the Iranian people are telling their leaders today when they walk in – when they march in the streets. When they march in the streets today, they recognize that it is their leadership that has led them astray. It’s their leadership that has denied them the ability to feed their families and to have prosperity and security.
I think the Iranian people understand that their leadership’s activities need to change, and we have been incredibly supportive of this effort for the Iranian people to get what it is that they so richly deserve, and we will continue to support the Iranian people. I think when they stare at what happened yesterday, when they see Iranian money launching an attack on an Iraqi facility, I think the Iranian people understand that’s not the best use of their money either.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, switching gears just a little bit. As the House Democrats drag their feet after impeaching President Trump, now, how is this playing out on the world stage? What are other world leaders saying about this – this – I would call it a charade?
QUESTION: It’s the circus going on in Washington. Does it affect your job overseas as – how are we perceived? Everything has a – has a consequence.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So for the most part, I think the leaders around the world understand that President Trump and his Secretary of State are focused on the missions that we have set out. They see it – they see the noise here in Washington, D.C. From time to time, they’ll comment it and shake their heads, but for the most part I think they recognize we have a mission. My team here at the State Department in 2020 has a set of objectives. We are very focused on this. We are – whatever happens here in Washington, the American people should know that President Trump and our national security team are focused on keeping them safe.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we know that you’re beloved in your home state of Kansas. There’s a lot of people that want you to run for Senate. So why don’t – are you going to?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So Susan and I love Kansas too. It’s home. It’s where our family, it’s where our friends are. You know, Rachel, coming from the great state that you and your husband both love. But it’s my intention to stay here and continue to serve as President Trump’s Secretary of State. I’ve said that consistently. I intend to keep saying it, and as long as President Trump wants me to serve in this capacity, there’s still work to do.
QUESTION: All right. You heard it here.
QUESTION: And so I’ve got – I’ve got just a little bit – (laughter) – so you intend, Mr. Secretary. Does that mean you write off completely the idea of going back to Kansas in 2020 to run?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ve watched my life take turns that one would never have expected, but it’s not something I want to do. I want to stay here and continue to perform the mission that I’m serving President Trump, and I hope doing a good turn for the American people as well.
QUESTION: That’s great.
QUESTION: Wouldn’t going from the secretary of defense to a senator be sort of a step down anyway? Do you want to be going backwards, sir? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, maybe secretary of defense next. We’ll see.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Secretary of State. My bad. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Real quick, though. Last question. North Korea has been a big issue for the Secretary of State and Defense, and they had promised a Christmas gift, a missile test, if their demands weren’t met. Are you anticipating anything from North Korea, Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s a great question. We’re watching it closely. We’re monitoring. We’re watching the North Korean end-of-year sessions where their leaders all get together has gone on for an additional day. We’re watching very closely. It’s – President Trump set out when he came into office to take down the risk that President Obama had identified of going to war with North Korea. He did so by engaging in personal diplomacy. I worked hard on the file as well. We’re still – maintain our view that we can find a path forward to convince the leadership in North Korea that their best course of action is to create a better opportunity for their people by getting rid of their nuclear weapons. That’s our mission set. We’re watching what they’re doing here in the closing days of this year, and we hope that they’ll make a decision that will lead to a path of peace and not one towards confrontation.
QUESTION: Well, Mr. Secretary, there was a lot of optimism on North Korea.
QUESTION: Meetings and historic events. But yet they haven’t seemed to move much. Is there a point at which the strategy might have to change?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We always stare at it. We’re always looking and thinking, do we have it right? Do we have the approach right? At this point, we’ll continue to work down this path. We remain more hopeful than others, but in – North Koreans get to make a choice. We hope they’ll make the right one.
QUESTION: Well, we understand it’s also your birthday today, Mr. Secretary, so from all of us, we wish you a very happy birthday.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. You’re reminding me how old I am. Thank you very much. I appreciate that.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Won’t ask.
QUESTION: You look great at 50, Mr. Secretary.
QUESTION: There you go. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, thank you, I appreciate that.
QUESTION: We love it. Well, thank you for joining us just ahead of New Year’s here. We appreciate your service to our country as well, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Happy New Year to you all as well.
QUESTION: Happy New Year.
QUESTION: Happy New Year. Appreciate it.