QUESTION: Welcome back. This is the Ben Shapiro Show. Well, the situation in Iran continues to simmer. It has not boiled over as of yet. Last week, obviously, the Iranian navy went after a UK-flagged ship. We’ve seen the Iranians getting more and more militant in the Persian Gulf, in the Gulf of Oman, in the Straits of Hormuz. Joining us on the line to discuss is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Secretary of State, thanks so much for joining the show. Really appreciate it.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Ben. It’s great for having me – great to have me on again. Thank you.
QUESTION: So Secretary, why don’t we start with this: Where do things lie at current? So, the latest that I’ve seen is that the Royal Navy says it will now accompany British-flagged oil tankers through the Strait of Hormuz. So it seems that there is sort of an international consensus, at least among Western countries, that they’re going to make sure that their own ships are protected. Is there any sort of international force that’s being created for this, or is it that every country is supposed to protect its own shipping?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Ben, I am confident that we will all form a collective defense. The United States is calling it our maritime security initiative, and we have asked countries from all across the world to participate in that to assist in the defense of the waterways through the Gulf and through the Straits of Hormuz.
And so we’re still at just the very beginning of this, but I already have commitments from a number of nations that said they will provide resources – both naval resources and resources that are aviation resources – that can help us do two things: first, to keep these waterways open so that commercial traffic can continue to flow there; but second, to reduce the risk that the leadership in Iran thinks that they can take a ship from the sea or do harm to any of our vessels, an American vessel or otherwise. The presence – kind of like a neighborhood watch party. The presence there of multinational forces all working towards the same end reduces risks, it de-escalates, and puts Iran on its back foot.
QUESTION: So let’s talk for a second about whether this sort of deterrence you think will be sufficient to push back against the Iranians. The Iranians obviously becoming more and more militant. They shot down a U.S. drone. They’ve been going after shipping from a variety of nations. This is designed as a deterrent force in the aftermath of the President deciding not to strike back against Iran directly in the aftermath of the drone attack. How successful do you think this deterrent strategy is going to be?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It will work. It won’t be perfect. My guess is that the Iranians will continue to try and impose costs on us, but I don’t think anyone should ever mistake the United States for having an absence of resolve under President Trump. We are effectively and continuing to put increased pressure on Qasem Soleimani and the IRGC, his forces, as well as on the ayatollah.
You’ve seen it. We’ve taken almost 95 percent of their crude oil revenue, and it has evaporated. It’s gone. That revenue is not available for Iran to conduct naval exercises, terror campaigns, assassination efforts around the world. We are denying them wealth and resources.
We’re still – it seems like a long time, Ben, but we are still only truly a handful of months into a full-on ban on crude oil shipments. This will begin to force the Iranian leadership to make very difficult decisions about how to spend the now limited money that they have in their hands. This is the opposite of what happened in the previous administration.
QUESTION: We’re speaking with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Secretary, the commentary from a lot of opponents of the Trump administration has been that the Trump administration is pushing too hard here, that the Europeans will be pushed by the Iranians and that they eventually will – they’ll eventually seek to push the Trump administration to get back into a different version of the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear agreement, that what the Iranians are really doing here is getting more and more violent, more and more erratic, simply in order to drive the Europeans to say, well, it was better when we were in the Iran nuclear deal, let’s push back into the Iran nuclear deal.
Is there any movement inside the administration to move back toward some sort of negotiation with Iran? What would that negotiation look like? And is it true that relations between the United States and Europe are strained on this point with regard to Iran?
SECRETARY POMPEO: A few facts are important. While we were in the horrific Iranian deal, Iran continued to build out their missile program. They continued to enrich uranium. They continued to arm Hizballah, the Houthis, the Iraqi Shia militias that are under Iranian control. All of those things happened while we were in the deal, and the Europeans know that too. They chose a different path. The Europeans have chosen today to stay inside of the deal. That’s their sovereign decision.
America has a strategy which we are convinced will work. We will deny Iran the wealth to foment terror around the world and build out their nuclear program. I am convinced that the Europeans are now seeing that this effort to sort of try and go along with the Iranians is not going to lead to the outcome – it was a British ship that was seized. There was – we shouldn’t forget that there were other ships, that there were explosives placed on them, a Norwegian ship included, so another European vessel damaged by the Iranians.
The Iranians will continue to act out. Our mission set is very clear: to deny the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, who’s now conducted an act of piracy on the open seas against a British vessel in Omani waters – to convince them that this piracy, this terrorism, is unacceptable and the regime must change its ways.
QUESTION: What is the end game here? So again, there’s been talk about opening negotiations with the Iranian Government. Has there been any movement from their end on the possibility of negotiations, cutting back on terrorism, reentering some sort of nuclear deal but including within that deal all the provisions that the Obama administration deliberately and wrongly ignored, including backing of terrorism and development of the ballistic missile system? Has there been any movement on the negotiation strategy or is this basically just contain them and cut off their supply to the world economy until they come back to the table?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So there’s no negotiation underway. Our mission set is clear. We don’t want war but Iran has got to make the decision. It won’t be about words; it will be about actions. That is – it is what we laid out, I laid out directly in May of last year’s set of 12 simple things they need to do to act like a normal nation. And when they do that, frankly, an agreement is great, but if they do that, there’s no need for an agreement. If they start to take the actions that put them in the place where they’re not trying to assassinate ambassadors here in the United States – these are the kind of things that Iran has engaged in over the last decades and it’s unacceptable. And President Trump had made clear we’re going to get that behavioral change and we’re going to use every tool in our arsenal to do that.
QUESTION: And it’s pretty clear that the Iranian Government is obviously getting more and more militant as these sanctions are beginning to bite, and they’re biting incredibly hard. They’re experiencing all sorts of simmering discontent inside Iran that the media have not been covering sufficiently. Again, where do you think that this goes? Because it seems that at a certain point, the mullahs will be forced into a harsh decision. Either they will be forced to come to the table and try and do something, or they will be forced to capitulate, or they will get so extraordinarily militant that they try to unify their people around them by attacking America, our allies, in more and more militant ways.
Which direction do you think this is going?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We could see any of those three or we could see multiples of those three. Some of them aren’t even mutually exclusive. Our hope is that Iran will just see that the cost is too high, that the Iranian people will tell their leadership that they have to change their behavior, and that the Iranian leadership will see that the risk to what they care about most, which is staying in power, is real, and they will come to the table. They will have a serious conversation about their behavioral changes.
I couldn’t tell you, Ben, when that is. But to your point, I remember talking to the media saying – when they told us, oh, American sanctions won’t work. Well, we’ve taken more than 95 percent of their crude oil off the market. The inflation inside the Islamic Republic of today is literally off the charts. You can see this as the Iranians begin to act out. We saw their inability to respond effectively to floods that devastated significant parts of Iran. We can see the internal discontent, and we hope that soon the Islamic Republic of Iran’s leadership – and here I’m not talking about their foreign minister, here I’m talking about their decision makers, the ayatollah and Qasem Soleimani – will see the error in their ways and have a fundamental strategic course correction.
QUESTION: It must be sufficiently incredible and annoying to members of the administration to watch as the media tries to portray the Iranian administration as this battle between moderates and hardliners, the same sort of false narrative that was put out by the Obama administration routinely and then was admitted to by Ben Rhodes.
Question, Secretary: Are our resources in the Middle East sufficiently protected? So one of the concerns that I have heard from folks on the right is that while the United States is taking a hard line and as Iran becomes more erratic and militant, as we talked about – more violent – that our resources in the Middle East are in serious danger, that Iran could do us serious damage if they decided to actually up the ante, go to war with us. Are we sufficiently protected in that way?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The entire plan for deterrence is aimed at addressing that very risk that you talked about, Ben. Look, there’s – any time we deploy our State Department officials in another country or our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines into places like the Middle East, there’s always risk. You’ve seen President Trump take very prudent actions to increase our force posture in the region. We are prepared for potential responses from Iran, and I don’t think there should be any doubt – the American people should certainly not doubt nor should the Iranian leadership – that President Trump will, to protect American interests, respond in ways that continue to deter that behavior. We will protect the American people, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines all around the world. And if Iran should make a decision that would be a bad one for them, President Trump will respond in a way that imposes enormous cost on the leadership inside of Iran.
QUESTION: The final question for you, Secretary Pompeo. I know you’ve got a busy day. President Trump obviously did not end up launching any sort of retaliatory strike in return for the Iranians shooting down a U.S. drone, and he suggested at the time that his real red line was the killing of an American citizen, the death of an American service member. Are there red lines for this administration at which military action must be taken? I’m not talking about full-scale war, I’m talking about contained military action, attacks on Iranian navy vessels in the Gulf of Oman. What are those red lines?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Ben, I would never tell our adversaries precisely what our red lines are. That’s how President Obama rolled. I can say this – I can say this for sure: We’ve worked through a lot of options. The President will have at his disposal all the tools he needs up and down the scale. He did respond when the drones were shot down. He didn’t – we ended up not taking a kinetic action, but you’ll recall there were other actions that were taken that day. I don’t want to talk too much about it, but we – nothing was not – I’ve heard people say the President did nothing. That’s not true. The President will take the appropriate responses to each of these threats, and I must say, I think the Iranians know this too. You’ve watched as they have taken actions; to date they are doing their best to make sure that they don’t take an action which will cause President Trump to make the decision that we need to come back at them in a way that will have an enormous cost on the Iranian leadership.
QUESTION: Well, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, thanks so much for joining me, sir. I appreciate what you’re doing. Stay safe out there, sir, and thanks for all the hard work you’re doing.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Ben. You all have a good day.