QUESTION: Good afternoon, Wichita. What’s trending today is a visit with U.S. Secretary – oh my goodness gracious – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the state of Kansas last Friday for the Landon Lecture Series at K-State University.
Secretary of State Pompeo, a lot of discussions going on with Iran of late and the U.S., and a deal that the U.S. is purportedly closing in on with the Taliban, designed to wind down America’s 18-year war with Afghanistan. A lot of people say it’s a risky venture. In fact, they’re saying that your action in declining to sign that deal points out just exactly what the risks are. Can you put in layman’s terms why you did not want to sign that deal?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. Well, first of all, those stories don’t quite capture what we’re working on. Go back to first principles. The President gave us this mission set. He said in Afghanistan, we’ve been there now coming on two decades; it’s time for us to relook at that commitment that we have there. So he made unambiguous during his campaign that he wanted to reduce our risk and reduce the chances that our young men and women would be killed there. He wanted, at the same time, to do everything we could to reduce risks to the United States that terror could ever strike the United States of America again from Afghanistan.
And so we’ve been working for months now with the Afghanistan Government, with other leaders in Afghanistan, and, in fact, with the Taliban to try and come to a set of commitments that would deliver on those twin objectives. And we’re getting closer. We think we’ve made real progress.
The American people should know President Trump will never take an action that increases the risk that terror will strike the United States. We – this is the administration that destroyed the caliphate in Syria; this is the administration that has continued to decimate al-Qaida, not only in Afghanistan, but in other places around the world. We’ve killed numbers of senior leaders in those radical Islamist terror organizations. We will continue that mission.
But we need to do so at the same time mindful that we’ve spent over $30 billion a year in Afghanistan for decades now. That’s not a sustainable model. We’ve got to get it right. The terror threats now emanate from places other than Afghanistan, and we’ve got to make sure we’ve got our forces and our young people who are serving in the American armed forces properly allocated in a way that preserves American security but doesn’t put our young men and women at risk nor bankrupts America by spending so much money where we’re not getting good value for that money.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I know you don’t have a crystal ball, but if you were going to prognosticate on how close we might be to a deal with Afghanistan and when, in fact, a deal might be reached, would you see the potential of that happening before the end of the year?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Boy, I hope so. I hope we can get a – I hope we can get the parties to come together. The Afghans have refused to talk to each other for almost two decades now. We think we’ve got a basic understanding of getting them back to the negotiating table. In the end, the Afghan people will have to demand a reduction of violence and peace inside of their country. It can’t be imposed on them through military force.
And so we hope. We hope we can get them back to the negotiating table; we hope we can get the Taliban to make a commitment to break from al-Qaida and to reduce violence in the country. If we can get those three commitments, we’ll reduce the need for America’s young men and women to put their lives at risk by going and serving in this faraway place.
QUESTION: One would think that even just being able to have conversations at this point with the Taliban is huge progress.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, at the end, it’s good. We think it’s important. But we – the Afghans are going to have to own this process, and our conversations with the Taliban are aimed solely at convincing them that they’ve got to talk with others in Afghanistan. They’re going to have to deliver the right political outcome. They’re going to have to set up their own nation with a set of rules that’s acceptable to the Afghan people. We do hope that these conversations can continue; we think they’re important. And we hope that this inter-Afghan dialogue can commence in the not-too-distant future.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, an upcoming United Nations meeting – conference in New York. Do you have expectations or anticipations of positives that may come of that for the United States?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So yes, the world will be gathered at the UN in the – goodness, it’s the third week of September. Leaders from all around the world will come together.
I hope we can do a handful of things. I hope we can continue to make progress on the denuclearization of North Korea. I hope that we can convince the world that they need to join us in the efforts to ensure that Iran never has a nuclear weapon.
And I’m confident, too, there’ll be a great deal of discussion about China and the opportunities that there can be between the world and China, if China would simply engage in behaviors that are consistent with the trade rules that we have all across the rest of the world. And I hope countries will all come together to recognize that if we get that right, if China will stop stealing intellectual property, if it’ll stop engaging in forced technology transfer from American companies, if they’ll allow Kansas farmers and Kansas manufacturers to sell our products inside of their country on a fair and reciprocal basis, that the world will grow. And Americans will be better off, and our farmers, manufacturers, service providers right here in Kansas will benefit from that as well.
QUESTION: And finally, Mr. Secretary, you were in the Sunflower State last Friday for the Landon Lecture Series at K-State University. USA Today on Friday put out an article saying that there was a lot of speculation swirling as to whether or not an announcement was going to be made by you on a run for Senator Pat Roberts’ vacated Senate seat. At the same time – at the same time, there was word in that article from USA Today that Mitch McConnell has both publicly and privately pressed you to run for that Senate seat. Is it something that might be under consideration?
SECRETARY POMPEO: When I was asked about this on Friday, I was pretty clear. I’m very focused on what I’m doing. It’s a privilege to serve as President Trump’s Secretary of State, to try and serve America in this way. I’m focused on that; it’s what I intend to continue to do, so long as President Trump wants me to be his Secretary of State. And that’s my mission set today. And I’ve seen all the speculation; I’ve talked to Senator McConnell and others. It’s humbling to have them think I’d be a good United States senator representing Kansas, but I’m focused on what I’m doing.
QUESTION: Hey Mike, thank you so much for the interview. This is going to air at 12:15 on Monday afternoon, and I appreciate you taking the time out of your day to check in with us.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Very good, sir. You take good care. Bless you. Have a great one.
QUESTION: You too. Thanks, bye.
SECRETARY POMPEO: You bet.