QUESTION: All right. Let’s discuss that sentiment and many more hot topics with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Mr. Secretary, welcome back.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Shannon, it’s great to be with you tonight.
QUESTION: Okay. The reaction to that nomination from the LA Times in an opinion piece, the headline says: “Trump for a Nobel Prize? For what, fiction?” They’re not a fan of his foreign policy record, which you, of course, are a big part of. How do you respond?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Shannon, what the President accomplished and has accomplished in the Middle East is truly historic. I am not surprise he’s been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. If politics were taken out of it, we can say unequivocally that the reduction in risk that has occurred as a result of the work that the President did, whether that was the decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem, to build out a Middle East peace vision, and then ultimately to achieve the deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel – these are historic achievements that have set the conditions for a more stable Middle East.
And then he has, of course, confronted the most dangerous actor in the Middle East, the Islamic Republic of Iran, in ways that, frankly, President Obama was never able to do. These are important achievements and have certainly contributed to peace in the region. And importantly, they keep Americans safer too.
QUESTION: Okay, let’s talk about the other big news today regarding troop withdrawals or drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Retired Admiral James Stavridis writing in Bloomberg an opinion piece says this: “Winners: the Islamic State, Iran, Russia, and Syria. Losers: America’s allies. And, of course, the people of Iraq, who will slip further under Iranian control.”
So how do you defend the decision?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I can tell you that the entities that you just described, the nations that you described, don’t think President Trump is the president that is in their best interest. I’ll give you the work that we’ve done to make life more difficult for Bashar Assad. I’ll talk to you about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is no longer with us and whose caliphate has been decimated. The work too that the President has done to create the opportunity to reduce the number of Americans in Afghanistan and in Iraq by having an effective counterterrorism strategy – those are enormous achievements.
So the decisions the President has made about the number of troops we’ll have there reduces American risk for our young men and women and reduces the cost to American taxpayers, and we’re doing all of this against a backdrop of reduced violence, fewer jihadists, and the capacity to make sure we continue to protect America.
QUESTION: How do you respond to those, including the Daily Beast, who question whether this is election-year politics? They say that the President has told his allies he wants the Afghan withdrawal before November and that the Iraq pullback is politically timed to match Afghanistan.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I don’t know what they’re talking about in terms of politics. I have been in the administration since the very beginning, first as the CIA director and now as the Secretary of State. This has always been about delivering counterterrorism, protecting America, and reducing the cost both in blood and treasure to the American public. The President has been focused on that since the first day he took office, and he will continue to remain focused on that. We will get these force levels right so that we can deliver on those two objectives for the American people.
QUESTION: Okay, Bob Woodward has a new book coming out. He has hours of tapes —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, so I heard.
QUESTION: — of conversations with the President. There are allegations that are not directly attributed to what the President said in their taped conversations. There are other things. But in particular, in talking about North Korea and Kim Jong-un, it says, “Trump remarked that he was awestruck” meeting Kim for the first time in 2018 in Singapore, thinking to himself, “holy [blank]” and finding him to be, quote, “far beyond smart.” Trump also boasted to Woodward that “Kim tells me everything, including a graphic account of Kim having [his uncle killed.]”
You’ve been a key player in these North Korean negotiations. What do you make of that characterization?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I don’t want to comment on things that are reported to be in the book, other than to say this: I was the first American from the administration to meet with Chairman Kim to talk about putting together these summits. I went over there when I was first CIA director. I reported back to the President that we were dealing with an adversary who understood the needs of his nation but who was prepared to engage in a conversation about his nuclear stockpile. We built out on that.
The President’s historic visit to Singapore to have his first meeting with Chairman Kim some number of months later has put us in a position where I hope one day we can deliver on the fully verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That’s the mission that the President has given us. We’re continuing to work on it.
QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about Kim Jong-un’s status? Are there concerns within the U.S. intel or within the administration about his lack of public appearances and the rumors now swirling about him and his health?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I’ve seen the reports and the intelligence. I can’t comment on it, other than to say: Look, North Korea has had a number of challenges; they’ve got economic challenges; they have the risk of COVID in their country as well. We hope that we can get humanitarian assistance there to assist them against that set of challenges. We then hope we can one day again have a serious conversation to convince Chairman Kim that the best thing to do for the people of North Korea is to fully denuclearize and that that will lead to a brighter future for the North Korean people.
QUESTION: Okay, a bit of a lightning round if we can, so we can get in a couple more topics here. Senator Chris Murphy tweets about your allegation that Iran is 10 times more – more than 10 times in possession of the amount of uranium it should have. And he says, “Funny. If the goal was to get Iran to stick to the stockpile limits in the nuclear agreement, one possible path forward – just spit-balling here – would have been to not unilaterally end the agreement.”
We hear that Iran’s foreign minister is going to making the rounds in Europe, possibly traveling to convince our European allies to side with Iran on this deal and the decision of the U.S. to withdraw.
SECRETARY POMPEO: The previous administration gave the Iranians a clear path to a nuclear weapon and hundreds of millions of dollars with which to build out that weapon. This administration has taken the reverse course. We’ve made life more difficult for the Islamic Republic of Iran and its regime. We’ll continue to put pressure on them.
You can see by the fact that they’ve got this stockpile that this deal wasn’t worth a darn. They were easily able to turn their centrifuges on and create real risk. President Trump has made clear Iran will never have a nuclear weapon, and the strategy that he has taken reduces that risk to the American people.
QUESTION: You have called out along with your G7 counterparts the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and have asked Russia to bring those responsible to justice, to get involved there. That comes at the same time that we now have a whistleblower who has come forward to say that he was pressured to edit intel reports and other information and data so that it would downplay the threat of Russia, its interference in our elections, and that he was told to essentially falsify or edit out information that didn’t fit the President’s talking points.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ve worked on the Russia file for three and a half years now. I’ve watched an administration that has taken seriously the challenge that Russia presents to us and where I could work on counterterrorism together alongside them. I did today. The State Department is leading a team that’s trying to put together a strategic dialogue to reduce the risk from nuclear weapons.
But make no mistake about it: This administration has put real pressure on the Russians. I think we’ve sanctioned two or three hundred people now. This is an administration that has taken the Russian challenge seriously, trying to put America in the right place to keep Americans safe and secure.
QUESTION: Is there a direct link between Putin or the Kremlin, in your estimation, based on what you know, and that poisoning of the opposition voice?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I can’t answer that for you tonight, Shannon.
QUESTION: All right. Well, we will wait to see how that plays out. We know that there are a number of entities working together and calling for accountability, and hopefully we will get some answers on that front.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, always good to have you. Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Shannon, thank you. Have a good evening.