QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, thanks for your time.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Ben, it’s great to be with you. And you’re right, it’s not a huge surprise.
QUESTION: Yeah, Secretary Pompeo, I want to talk about that for a minute here. So you came out several days ago, you suggested pretty quickly after the attack that Iran was behind the attack. It seemed obvious to anyone with a shred a knowledge about what happens in the Gulf of Oman that it was Iran. There were literally no other forces that could possibly be responsible for this, and yet, the media proclaims that you, the administration, the Intelligence Community, they lacked the credibility to speak on this particular issue. What did you make of that response?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, importantly, Ben, we had, at that point, certainly among government leaders, provided them with ample intelligence, to be very clear. I think there was ample public intelligence as well to see very clearly who this was. I mean, the pattern, the practice – we had been talking about this. Indeed, the Iranians had claimed this was exactly what they were going to do and then went and did it. So frankly, I think it’s people playing political games, trying to attack President Trump and his foreign policy. I think they, therefore, were doubting him because what’s their profession is, but unfortunately it has a real impact. It has a – when you see those stories written, when you see someone like Ben Rhodes go out and doubt it, when he in fact has to know but is protecting a policy of a bygone time – when Ben Rhodes does that, he puts American soldiers, sailors, Marine airmen at risk because it shows that America is not united and doesn’t stand behind its professionals who made this determination.
QUESTION: Yeah, for those who missed it, Ben Rhodes, who was a national security political advisor to President Obama, he suggested that the United States was quote, “isolated in trying to pin the blame on the Iranians.” It is somewhat rich to me that Ben Rhodes, who admitted openly to lying to the American people repeatedly about the Iran nuclear deal – claiming falsely that the Iranian regime was on the verge of moderation if only we signed a terrible Iranian nuclear deal, and then he went ahead and just admitted that that was all false and had been made up – that that guy is out there now claiming that this administration lacks credibility on Iran. It’s pretty astonishing.
SECRETARY POMPEO: And it’s unfortunate because it enhances risk. Ben, look, we knew early on. We’d seen plenty of information in the run up to this. We knew early on that not only the two ships that occurred on that day, but the four ships that had been attacked in a similar method while they were at harbor, we had high confidence that these were Iranian attacks and the pattern continued. And so now the task for us is to shape our policy moving forward, to regain deterrence to prevent Iran from denying freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf, raising the price of crude oil, which is exactly their mission set.
QUESTION: Yes, I want to talk about that mission set in just a second. I do have to ask you one more question about the media coverage of this, because it truly has been one of the more egregious displays that I’ve seen particularly following foreign policy in recent history, not surprising given who the President is and who the media are. But the media have been hammering on this notion that President Trump is somehow responsible or the Trump administration is responsible for escalation regarding Iran. So The New York Times ran a piece in which they suggested that it’s very odd that the escalation seems to occur right around the time – not because of but right around the time that Iran was threatening ships in the Gulf of Oman, but it was really President Trump being so militant about the sanctions – that has led to all of this. How do you respond to accusations that it’s the United States that’s turned up the temperature in the Middle East?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, it’s just false. These are actions that Iran took. I’ve seen some of the “blame America first” crowd talking about this in that way. This has frankly been – for those who haven’t been around that long, this is 40 years of Iranian activity, this pattern and practice. And for too long there weren’t responses, America didn’t respond. We have allowed Iran to believe that they could take actions like this and there wouldn’t be a response, not only from America, but from all those who have a vested interest in denying Iran its capacity to threaten these shipping lanes. And so it’s – I regret it’s the case that some are blaming the administration for the escalation when we have spent all of our energy over these past weeks working to create a situation where deterrence was sufficient so the – this would not escalate and we wouldn’t end up in a war or with kinetic action between our two countries.
QUESTION: I’m speaking with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. So, Secretary Pompeo, what exactly do you think the Iranian regime is attempting to achieve here? Because they have to know that if they go too far, they will no longer be there, right, and it is not in the interests of the Iranian regime to go to full-scale war with the United States. It’s not in anybody’s interests to go to full-scale war with the United States. What are they hoping to achieve with these sort of pinprick attacks on international shipping?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So President Trump has made clear that the deal that was struck by the previous administration, the nuclear deal, didn’t make sense because it provided a clear pathway for a nuclear weapon system in Iran. And so we’ve set forward a set of policies to try and prevent that. It was part – part of that was the economic pressure campaign that’s putting an enormous pressure on the Iranian leadership. They have fewer dollars to underwrite and pay for Hizballah, to threaten Israel. They have fewer dollars to threaten American soldiers throughout the region. All of those things – real pressure on the Iranian leadership. And so what I think they’re doing is they’re attempting to use these actions to convince the world that America should release that pressure, should allow Iran to have more money, more wealth, and so that they can get back to the kind of behavior that they’ve engaged in for 40 years and did so even while they were underneath this agreement with the United States of America.
QUESTION: It’s pretty obvious that the Iranian regime is obviously feeling the brunt of those sanctions. We’ve seen leaders of Hamas claim that they are running out of money. The Iranian regime itself is obviously under severe economic pressure. Its own people are deeply unhappy with the Iranian regime. It makes sense they’re trying to affect the international price of oil. At what point, Secretary Pompeo – what sort of options are on the table at this point to dissuade the Iranians from doing this? Obviously there’s the increased troop numbers in the region. At what point do we have to do something beyond that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, look, we never get out in front of a decision the President may make about how to respond. Our task is to ensure that we’re clear about our objectives, what it is we’re asking Iran to do, the behavioral change we’re asking from Iran, so they can choose to do it – that is, they can make a commitment to do that and we could have a conversation with them about how to achieve that. But beyond that, we’re prepared to do the things to make sure we protect all American interests and to work to build out a coalition around the world who identifies Iran as what it is, the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, and demands that they change their behavior.
I hope the Iranian leadership will see that that’s the best course of action for them, and frankly, I hope the Iranian people will express this to their leaders too, that they’ll tell their leaders: “This isn’t what we want. We don’t want war with the United States. Frankly, we don’t want to be the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. We want to take care of our families, to grow our businesses, to make Iran a great country that’s part of the community of nations.” I hope the Iranian people understand that they need to communicate that to their leaders so that the leadership will change its ways.
QUESTION: Well, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate you providing some insight on the situation in Iran. Suffice it to say all of the exaggerated talk about this being a wag the dog scenario is a bunch of garbage, and I really appreciate you being out there dispelling some of the myths.
Thank you, Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Ben, thank you so much, sir. So long.