QUESTION: There are over 2.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases around the world and over 900,000 cases here in the United States. While the U.S. and other countries work to find a solution to the pandemic, nations like Iran and China are playing the blame game saying the virus originated in America, being spread by U.S. troops. Considering the virus has not – had not even arrived in the United States while China was in lockdown because of the virus, that finger- pointing, well, it looks like it’s headed the wrong direction.
Joining me now to talk about this and more concerning Iran is the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Secretary, welcome back to the program.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, it’s great to be with you today. Hope you’re doing well.
QUESTION: Well, I’m doing fine. It is Friday. That’s always nice when we come to the end of the week. And I’m sure you’ve had a busy week with what’s been happening with – I’ll just stick with Iran, for one, as they have reportedly launched a satellite, a military satellite, revealing a space program that many were not aware of. What do we know about this? Is this real?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Tony, thanks for asking. It is real. This is a program that has been talked about some, the United States Government has had its eyes on for a period of time but Iran has denied to the world. They have said that their missile program was purely peaceful, that they were working on satellites for the sole purpose of commercial activity, and then this past week announced that their IRGC leadership team had launched a military satellite into orbit. You’ll recall these are the same air and space leaders that shot down a Ukrainian airline flight killing 176 innocent civilians now several months back. This is a regime that, in spite of all the challenges that the world is facing today, continues to be the largest world sponsor of terrorism and the most anti-Semitic nation on the world stage.
QUESTION: Well, Mr. Secretary, I mean, given the technology that they used or the technology that’s used in space programs – very similar to that used for ballistic missile programs, this would suggest that they’ve made tremendous progress in a ballistic missile program that is concerning to the entire world, is it not?
SECRETARY POMPEO: You’ll recall, Tony, when the previous administration entered into the JCPOA, one of the theories was that the deal would slow Iran down from doing just that, building out the weapons systems that could threaten the United States from a nuclear weapon on top of a missile that could travel throughout the region or indeed a long-range weapons system that might even be able to reach America. And what you can see is that the money that was given to them under the previous agreement has enabled them to make significant advances.
We’ve been doing our best with our pressure campaign, our diplomatic effort, our deterrence effort, our economic effort to make the Iranian regime less capable, less well-resourced, but they’re still there. And in spite of the fact that they’re having all these internal challenges from the virus, they continue to build away, chip away, showing that they have the real intention of continuing to develop those systems that threaten America and threaten the world.
QUESTION: That’s the only explanation would be that this was from the windfall that they received from the program previous – under the previous administration, because their economy is about to implode, from all indicators, internally, so they’re hurting. This had to be money they had squirreled away from other sources.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, we’ve seen the regime try to use the COVID situation to demand that the United States cease its sanctions campaign against Iran on the theory that we were not allowing humanitarian assistance to be reached or medical assistance couldn’t get to Iran. But I think this system’s firing and the activities that took place this week when they challenged an American ship in the Arabian Gulf, I think that demonstrates the lie, the lie that the regime has that squirreled away tens or hundreds of billions of dollars.
What it really tells you is they have that money. They have the resources to continue to build out these programs. They continue to threaten the world. But they choose to use it for those systems, to foment terror rather than to feed and to clothe and to provide the medical assistance that the people of their own country need. It is why we make very clear we are wholly supportive of the Iranian people, and we’re simply asking that the regime change the nature of its behavior and begin to comport with the norms of civilized society.
QUESTION: Yeah, you would think in the midst of this crisis and an already troubled economy that they would turn resources to help their people, but it appears that this is a flexing of the muscle very similar to the leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard General Salami, who basically warned yesterday that his forces would take on the U.S Navy after the President had given them instructions not to be harassed by the Iranian rowboats that are out there in the sea.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, the good news for the American people, and your listeners should know, is that this administration will respond very differently than the previous one. You’ll recall not too terribly long ago when that same force, the IRGC Navy, took 10 U.S. Navy men, put them on their knees –
SECRETARY POMPEO: — took them off their ship, that the previous Secretary of State apologized and said, “Hey, can we get our folks back?” I assure you that President Trump and Secretary Pompeo will take a very different response to that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: And I saw the statement – I saw the statement that Salami made yesterday. I think he knows that President Trump is serious about defending Americans, making sure that our soldiers and sailors and airmen who are in the region and defending America and deterring us from that threat have all capability, all the tools, and all the authority they need to respond if they are challenged.
QUESTION: And the will in this administration to take care of that, which is so refreshing, because as a veteran that was a tragic, tragic day when the Iranians captured those naval personnel, and it was humiliating, I think, to the nation, and then the way we responded to that was, in my view, was deplorable. So I think a lot of Americans applaud this – the unequivocal position that this President takes: America First.
But I want to continue with Iran because they were involved in other activity this week. Even my grandmother used to say that, “Watch out who you hang with, because birds of a feather flock together.” And Iran working with Venezuela, propping up their refineries and trying to get them money into Venezuela. What do we know about what they’re doing at our back door?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, they have for months now been working with the Maduro regime to try and prop it up, to try to allow it to continue. Your point on birds of a feather is very well taken. I thought you were going to mention that this week they also worked on a disinformation campaign alongside the Chinese Communist Party, where the two of them both put out messages suggesting that somehow the United States might be responsible for the virus that clearly originated inside of Wuhan, China. Those are the kind of things that autocracies do, that regimes that don’t value human life do. Whether it’s the Iranian regime or the Maduro regime, these are nations that don’t care about individuals and about people, and they do often end up working together trying to undermine democracies and freedom-loving people and those of us who appreciate the capacity to practice our faith in the way we want in other countries around the world.
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, that was actually on my list to get to was what I call the triangle of tyranny. You got China, you got Iran, but you also have Russia putting out the same message there. I don’t know if they’ve all gotten together or they’re just copying each other in the messaging, which is – it’s kind of – I know it just doesn’t add up. This breaks out in China in November. They’re in lockdown. It makes it way to the United States in February, and we started it; it’s a bioweapon that we created and we unleashed it on our own people? Is that the thinking?
SECRETARY POMPEO: This is a story that they have tried to propagate. We’ve asked them to knock it off. The world knows that that’s not the case. The world knows where this virus originated, right? We saw what happened in Wuhan, China. We saw that there were tens of thousands of people left Hubei province while the Chinese Government was aware that this virus was continuing to spread, and they didn’t alert the world in a timely fashion and created enormous cost and risk to the world. We’re still trying to figure out precisely how that came to be. It’s important our epidemiologists, our scientists – not only Americans but those from all across the world – need to understand more about this, and we’ve asked the Chinese Government, who tells us they want to be cooperative. We’ve said we want to cooperate too, but that requires an openness and a transparency that we’ve not been able to achieve just yet. I hope that we can because this is ongoing, and we continue to need that transparency about their weapons labs, their bio labs, all the places that this might have emanated from, so we can track down the original source of this virus inside of China.
QUESTION: So Mr. Secretary, let me ask you that question, because I know – I have a lot of confidence in our Intelligence Community and our ability as a government to track these things down. Without Chinese help and assistance in this, which, in fact, if they – if this is embarrassing to them, they most likely will not be helpful, but do we think that we’ll get to a point where we can identify the source of this virus, if, in fact, it did come from the lab in Wuhan, China?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, I don’t know the answer to that for sure. I hope that we can collectively do that. I saw Chancellor Merkel yesterday – I’ve seen leaders all across the world who have made clear the responsibility that every nation has, that China in particular has, since this epidemic broke out there – to open up, to get the information they need. We’ll work hard to do that and find out the answers to those questions.
If we get their assistance and consent and help to do it, that would certainly make it more straightforward, but if they don’t, it’s important that we know not only so that there can be appropriate accountability with respect to it, but also so that we can put in place systems and processes that reduce the risk that the world will ever suffer from the massive loss of life and the economic calamity that has happened as a result of this epidemic coming out of Wuhan, China.
QUESTION: Absolutely, extremely important. General – Secretary, we’re out of time, but very quickly on the way out, last time we talked you were bringing Americans back. Is that mission accomplished? All those that were stranded, are they now back on American soil?
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s a great question. Not mission accomplished yet, but almost 70,000 souls brought back to far. There’s still a handful more and we’re still hard at it.
QUESTION: All right. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as always, great to talk with you, my friend. Thanks for being on the program.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thanks, Tony. Have a great day. Have a great day, sir.