QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Tony Katz. How are you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hey, Tony. I’m very good. Thank you, sir.
QUESTION: It’s good to have you back on. We had a chance to speak when you were last in Indianapolis —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, it’s good to be back with you.
QUESTION: Good to have – good to have that one-on-one. Good to have you back now. I want to talk about your thoughts on impeachment and how it affects your job, but with everything that has just happened with Iran and with Qasem Soleimani, you keep getting talked to and pressured on the idea of this concept of imminent threat.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah.
QUESTION: That very concept, is that what moved us to the killing of Soleimani? Or was this, as has been reported, a plan that this is somebody who clearly wasn’t allowed to be around if Americans were going to have security, whether they be civilians or members of the military?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, Tony, thanks for the question. There were imminent plans Qasem Soleimani was working on. He traveled to Damascus, he traveled to Beirut, and then on to Baghdad, working to develop something that they believed was big. We don’t know precisely the time; we don’t know precisely the date. We’ve been criticized saying, “Well, how can it be imminent?” Well, we don’t know the minute, we don’t know the second, and we don’t know which square block, but we knew for sure that this man, who had executed many plans of this kind before, was actively plotting against America. And so the idea that somehow there was not an imminent risk is fundamentally false.
Second, Qasem Soleimani in his own right – I’ve now had dozens of people reach out to me since this strike on Soleimani and say, “My soldiers, my friends were killed by Qasem Soleimani.” We know the number amounts to several hundred Americans. He was directly responsible for their deaths. Moreover, he was also responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of people in Syria, and he was also responsible for what took place inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. You watch the Iranian people today, they understand that Soleimani was bad for them. He had killed hundreds of people inside of Iran who were just peacefully protesting. This was Qasem Soleimani. The fact that he’s no longer on the planet makes Iran safer, it makes the world safer, and I think the President’s decision was absolutely the right one.
QUESTION: Reports about 11 soldiers that were flown out of the area due to injury, but there has been no real description of what the injuries are. Did the administration not let forward information that the Iranians had actually injured U.S. soldiers? Or is this all, as has been reported, precautionary?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, I’ll leave to the Department of Defense the details on that, but I – I was watching as Department of Defense did a very thorough job of trying to – their best to make sure we had accurate information for the American people. I’m confident that at every turn they used the most current information that they had in their possession about what actually took place as a result of those strikes.
QUESTION: Talking to the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. I hate to be someone who brings up impeachment, but you had given the answer to Chris Wallace on Fox News when asked the question, “Does impeachment embolden our enemies?” Your answer was – and I’m paraphrasing here – “Ask Qasem Soleimani.” But there is a question as to whether or not you see threats on the horizon that come because there may be a worldview that the President is weakened by impeachment. Are we in that kind of place? Is that what we see? Do we see impeachment as weakening the President in terms of trade deals and other types of deals abroad?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, I gave that answer to Chris Wallace simply because I think it’s indicative of the capacity of both the President, and my team here at the State Department, and the folks at the Department of Defense continue to perform the mission that the American people demand of us. We get comments from folks around the world asking about what’s going on with impeachment, but for the vast majority of what we do every day, we are focused on the mission set that the President has laid out for us. We are continuing to execute it. We’ve been effective against Iran. You saw yesterday that there was a trade deal signed with the People’s Republic of China. We got the Senate to pass the USMCA. American security policy continues to work. It continues to function. And the noise and the sounds emanating from Washington, D.C. will not be permitted to impact that in a way that increases the risk to the American people.
QUESTION: Is the announcement out of Russia – Vladimir Putin announcing this change he wants to make to government, leading to the resignation of the government of Dmitri Medvedev and others – is that seen as problematic to our future relationship with Russia or to Russia’s future relationship with China?
SECRETARY POMPEO: My take is this: We’ll have to evaluate how this all plays out. From our perspective, we have relationships with countries. So in this case, it’s the United States’ relationship with Russia. And so they’ll present their government to us in the form that they choose, and we’ll continue to make sure that we do the things we need to do. An example: So last year, we made very clear that because of the Russian violations of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, it no longer made sense to be part of it, and we responded in that way. When the people of Ukraine needed defensive weapon systems, we provided them. The previous administration refused to do so. So our actions with respect to Russia aren’t likely to change as a result of some shuffling that takes place in the Russian Government.
QUESTION: But we would agree that the shuffling is about Vladimir Putin trying to make himself president for life a la Xi Jinping?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It certainly looks like this is an effort by Vladimir Putin to ensure that he has continued control after his current term ends in 2024, but only time will tell for sure exactly what this set of changes, this shake-up, portends.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I know it’s been a busy couple weeks, and I’m assuming in your world it’s always a busy couple of weeks. I want to bring it back to the impeachment conversation if I could for just a moment and the former ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch. If I go by reporting, which I only ever half-trust, it’s the questions of whether or not the former ambassador was under threat, something that publicly has not been discussed although the reporting shows that your staff is going to be at least having conversations with senators on maybe what was known.
Is there any of that that can be discussed with us here and now? Was Ambassador Yovanovitch under threat in any way?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I can’t say much about the work that’s been done other than to say it is always the case at the Department of State that we do everything we can to ensure that our officers, not only our ambassadors but our entire team, has the security level that’s appropriate. We do our best to make sure that no harm will come to anyone, whether that was what was going on in our embassy in Baghdad last week or the work that was going on in Kyiv up and through the spring of last year when Ambassador Yovanovitch was there, and in our embassy in Kyiv even today.
I’ve not met this guy, Lev Parnas, to the best of my knowledge. I’ve never encountered, never communicated with him. We will do everything we need to do to evaluate whether there was something that took place there. I suspect that much of what’s been reported will ultimately prove wrong, but our obligation, my obligation as Secretary of State, is to make sure that we evaluate, investigate. Any time there is someone who posits that there may have been a risk to one of our officers, we’ll obviously do that.
QUESTION: How would you characterize our relationship with Ukraine after everything that’s been said, everything that’s been put out there, the private conversations that have been made public? And can you, in a – almost in an elevator pitch kind of way describe their strategic importance as a friend of ours?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I’ve spoken to President Zelenskyy in the last couple weeks. We had a great conversation. This was in the immediate aftermath of the downing of the Ukrainian Airlines flight. President Zelenskyy turned to us for a handful of different types of assistance. We immediately agreed that we would provide him with every bit of that, to the extent that we could possibly do. But it was a great conversation. We talked about the strategic importance of the relationship between our two countries as well.
Ukraine has lots of history, some of it not great, right? There’s been real corruption inside of Ukraine for an awfully long time. But when that country made its fundamental decision during the time of the Maidan and after, and now it has a democratically elected president, we’re going to do everything we can to support President Zelenskyy in his efforts to get corruption outside of his government and to help them build their economy back as well.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, I appreciate you taking the time, sir. Go back to work.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, thank you, sir. So long.
QUESTION: Take care.