QUESTION: Secretary, thanks for the time.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, it’s great to be with you again.
QUESTION: I want to start with Iran. With its recent behavior, is Iran emboldened, or is it desperate?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, we’ve been talking about Iran, you and I, for four years now, five years since I was back in Congress. I think what you’re seeing a continuity of the indecision on their part. They continue to engage in malign activity. They continue to develop their missile program. They continue to work on their nuclear systems. And yet they want to tell the world that, no, they’re just defensive, and they’re just being a normal nation, and we all see it differently.
So what you’ve seen over these past few weeks is, in our judgment, is a disconnect between their actions and their words. And President Trump’s been very clear: We’re watching their actions. It’s not what they tell us, it’s what they do that will drive our policy.
QUESTION: There’s a JCPOA meeting this Sunday in Vienna. So what is your message to those countries? Is it time to punish Iran for violations of that deal? We’re no longer in it; they are.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. Look, the Iranians have also chosen now to violate the deal. I’ll leave that to them; they’re still in the deal. They can make their decisions about what to do on the deal itself. But Iran’s increasing its capacity to have enriched uranium and is creating more risk for them. Our goal is to make sure everybody understands the threat in the same way that we do, and that we should act in concert to push back against that threat.
QUESTION: But what’s the overall strategy? What do you need Iran to do, and what can the U.S. give Iran to get to the table?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, well, what we’ve done is really straightforward. Our strategy is simple and elegant. The strategy goes like this. It says: step one, do not create wealth for the ayatollah who is wreaking havoc around the world, who is the largest destabilizing influence in the Middle East, and the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. So our economic pressure campaign has been designed to cut off their capacity to inflict malign activity, and we’ve been very successful at that.
The second piece is to convince the Iranian leadership – that’s not Zarif, who everybody meets with when he comes to New York and he wears nice suits; this is the ayatollah. This is Qasem Soleimani. Those are the individuals that have to decide that the cost is too high, the cost to the Iranian people is simply too high and they can’t continue to engage in this behavior, and so they will sit down and negotiate – negotiate to terms that just make Iran look like a normal nation. They’re – we’re fine with them having defensive weapon systems. Every country can do that. But they can’t conduct assassination campaigns. They can’t arm Hizballah. They can’t help the Houthis in Yemen. Those are things that are terror campaigns, and they just aren’t tolerable.
QUESTION: Obviously, things they’ve done for years. But what could the U.S. give Iran to get that result?
SECRETARY POMPEO: When they rejoin the community of nations, the wealth that will be created for the Iranian people will be enormous. Commercial activity, all the things that normal nations get to do. People want to conduct business with the United States of America; we’re prepared to do that. But this simply can’t happen with the Iranian leadership behaving the way it is today.
QUESTION: Will the U.S. escort American vessels through the Strait of Hormuz?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We are at the beginning stages of developing our maritime security initiative. We’ll be a part of that, but so will nations from all across the world.
QUESTION: The Brits?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve asked the Brits, the French, the Germans, the Norwegians, the Japanese, the South Koreans, the Australians – I’m sure I missed a few. Every country that has an interest in ensuring that those waterways are open and crude oil and other products can flow through the Straits of Hormuz needs to participate to protect not only their own interests, but the fundamental understanding of free and open waterways.
QUESTION: If Iran tried to seize a U.S.-flagged vessel in the Strait, how should or would U.S. forces in the region respond?
SECRETARY POMPEO: You never want to get out in front of what we’ll do in any particular situation.
QUESTION: But it would be a bad thing.
SECRETARY POMPEO: But President Trump’s made unambiguously clear: When American lives are at risk, the United States will defend itself wherever that risk takes place.
QUESTION: North Korea. Ambassador Bolton was in South Korea, and North Korea just launched these two missiles, 30 miles in the air. It’s made – North Korea has made clear it does not like the national security advisor, they do not particularly like you. They talk about you quite a bit. What message is the administration taking from this latest action?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So when the President and Chairman Kim were together now just a few weeks back in the DMZ, Chairman Kim made two commitments. One, he said he’d commit not to conducting nuclear tests, and that he would continue to avoid launching intermediate-range and long-range ballistic missiles. He also said that he would put his negotiating team back in the game, that we’d have another round of negotiations. And we’re working our way towards that. I think we’ll be able to pull that off in just a handful of weeks.
QUESTION: But does this hurt that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think we’re still going to proceed, right – I mean, I think we’re still going to go sit down and have a conversation about this. North Korea has engaged in activity before we were having diplomatic conversations far worse than this – more importantly, far more dangerous for America and Japan and for South Korea than this. I think this allows the negotiations to go forward. Lots of countries posture before they come to the table.
QUESTION: I mean, he was just seen inspecting a submarine a couple of days ago. He fires a couple of missiles. I mean, this is not making it easier —
SECRETARY POMPEO: I went to a defense facility. We all go look at our militaries, and we all take pictures of them.
QUESTION: There are those who say that the U.S. not responding to Iran, and maybe not North Korea, is empowering both these countries to threaten allies. Is this kind of the new normal, that we’re trying to get them to the table so we just have to put up with some stuff?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think about it completely differently. I think – I think that captures this completely 180 degrees out. I think the actions that the United States has taken with respect to North Korea are unmistakable. We built out a coalition that’s enormous. The UN Security Council resolutions are the strongest. We’ve enforced in ways that they’ve never been enforced before. I don’t think anybody in Iran believes for a second that the United States isn’t serious about changing the leadership’s behavior there in Iran.
No, I don’t think these actions show weakness. I think America has demonstrated its resolve to change fundamentally the situation and the security risk to the United States of America.
QUESTION: The President met with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan this week, and he asked about Afghanistan, and he said this: “I have plans on Afghanistan. If I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth. It would be gone. It would over in literally 10 days. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to go that route.”
Did you get pushback from the Afghans that the President of the United States was talking about wiping the country off the map?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, my team’s on the ground there, I think even as we speak, working for reconciliation. We’ve made real progress. This is consistent with what the President said, goodness now, a year and a half ago that he wanted to end these endless wars. Afghanistan is one of those wars. I think you’ll see real progress in the weeks ahead where we get less violence, a complete reduction in the scope of the conflict there, which would — which —
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m hoping September. These things have a way of slipping days and weeks, but I’ve seen the progress.
What this will permit us to do is when that violence level comes down, we will be able to have discussions with all Afghans. Afghans as part of the government of national unity, other Afghans, Taliban will all come to the table and have inter-Afghan dialogue to create the right conditions. And when that happens, we can begin to withdraw U.S. forces –
QUESTION: All of them?
SECRETARY POMPEO: — and NATO forces as well. It’s not just a U.S. force there. So it’ll be all of us leaving together. I’d love to get to a place where I felt like we had enough counterterrorism posture still in the region and in the country that we could substantially reduce the number of soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines that are at risk there every day. Would be a good thing.
QUESTION: And is that the goal of the President, pretty soon?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. He’s said all along he wants to reduce our risk, reduce our cost in Afghanistan. We need to do that, and we need to do it in a way that ensures that we can prevent the risk, to the maximum extent possible, that there will ever be a terror act from that region again.
QUESTION: I interviewed the Pakistani prime minister after that meeting. He said he was open to a prisoner swap. Dr. Shakil Afridi, who sits in this Pakistani jail after helping the CIA find Bin Ladin, for Aafia Siddiqui. She is the MIT-trained Pakistani scientist convicted of attempting to kill U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan. Is the U.S. open to that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m not going to talk about anything —
QUESTION: Did you —
SECRETARY POMPEO: — anything that sensitive. We work every day to try and get people free, get Americans back home. We’re always and constantly working towards that end. Dr. Afridi is a very special person. He is someone that we would love to see released.
QUESTION: So you’re thinking about it?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’d love to see him released.
QUESTION: The other thing was the prime minister said that we might have some good news about an American and an Australian held hostage in Afghanistan in 48 hours. It’s been 48 hours. So do we have anything on Kevin King or the Australian?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I wish I could break some news for you here, Bret. You’ll be the first I call —
SECRETARY POMPEO: — when we get these people back. We’re – I don’t mean to make light of it. These are serious matters. You’ve got an Australian and an American who are being detained. I’ve personally been working on this for two and a half years. I hope that we have something, some really good news for them and their families, here in the coming days.
QUESTION: We hope so too.
I want to go to a couple more hotspots. One is Hong Kong. Are you concerned that China may use military force in Hong Kong? And if that happens, what does the U.S. do?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, I hope they don’t. Any time you see protests in a country, you want them to be peaceful. You don’t want violence. You don’t need militaries getting involved. We’ve watched most of these protests be largely peaceful for a number of weeks now. I hope that remains the case. As for how the United States would respond, I don’t want to get out in front of the President’s decision on this. There’s a lot of context. It’s a —
QUESTION: But I mean, it could be another Tiananmen.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I hope and think that that won’t be the case here.
QUESTION: Did you watch any of the testimony of Robert Mueller yesterday?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I watched a few clips last night. I didn’t see any of it live.
QUESTION: I don’t want to get into the weeds of all those arguments being made, but the one thing that jumped out, as did – it did in the report – was that the Russian Government interfered in sweeping and systematic fashion. Now there’s a Senate intel report out that essentially says the same thing, detailing that. Are you confident that the U.S. is prepared if Russia, as expected, tries to do it again in 2020?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I am, Bret. I don’t know that we’ll achieve perfection, but take a look. There’s been an election after 2016. We had one in 2018 as well. The Russians had intent to mess around in that as well. We were pretty effective. We certainly had safe and secure elections, and we reduced the Russians’ capacity to have an impact on that election.
The entire United States Government is focused not only on preventing Russia from interfering, but Iran, North Korea, China, anybody who wants to mess with American elections. The American people should know that this administration is incredibly focused on it. I only wish the previous one had been.
QUESTION: Is the message getting to Russia publicly or privately?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It is. It is. Look, this is what we do: we protect elections, whether that’s from cyber threat or technical threats or propaganda threats.
QUESTION: The President doesn’t speak out about it that much.
SECRETARY POMPEO: The President has been very clear to me both in my role as director of the CIA and as Secretary of State that he wants to make sure that we have free and fair elections here.
QUESTION: Quickly, the IMF Treaty. The Trump administration is going to leave this decades-old treaty with Russia this next week. You’re still planning on doing that August 2nd?
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s correct.
QUESTION: And should there be a deployment of land-based, intermediate range missiles to the Pacific, as some of the commanders are now recommending (inaudible)?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re working our way through that. We had discussions with the Russians now two weeks back at a very senior level. My deputy, John Sullivan, led our delegation to have a strategic dialogue about what this framework ought to look like. It’s unfortunate that the Russians chose to violate the INF treaty, right – two parties; one party bails out. We ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the (inaudible) – frankly, the routes the previous administration had taken staying in a treaty with two parties and only one actively complying.
QUESTION: The President just vetoed a bill prohibiting arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Does this send a message to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that he is essentially off the hook for the Khashoggi killing?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It sends a message to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that we’re with them and that we’re going to support them and that they are a good ally in keeping Americans safe. That was the message.
QUESTION: Nancy Pelosi put out a statement. She said, “It’s stunning the President has chosen [not to] only turn a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s horrific abuses, including the atrocity of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, but to go further and allow the sale of more arms that will be used to perpetuate more human rights abuses around the world.” Any response to the Speaker?
SECRETARY POMPEO: President Trump is very clear. The Islamic Republic of Iran is a real threat, and the Saudis are partners in pushing back against them. We’re going to continue to do all we can to partner with them.
But as for Jamal Khashoggi, this administration has taken action. We’ve responded with a dozen-plus sanctions, visa restrictions. We’ve taken serious action. We’ve promised that as the investigation continues, we’ll take action wherever we find those that were responsible.
QUESTION: There’s this question and a lot of pushback from Democrats and human rights leaders on this announcement of a commission on unalienable rights. What’s that about?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Boy, I must say it’s been funny to me to watch. So it’s important that the State Department and the United States Government understands our fundamental, most basic rights, the ones that you and I have by the nature of the fact that we’re human beings. And so we put a commission together to go back and ground this in our history, in the founders’ history. And you’ve got human rights organizations that don’t want us doing work on human rights. I am confounded.
QUESTION: They say it’s an Orwellian twist to defend the indefensible.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes. I hadn’t seen that, but I have seen comments much like that. There was a letter sent to me yesterday. It was signed by Susan Rice, Samantha Power, and a Chinese human rights organization. Given what’s going on in China today on human rights, that confounds me.
QUESTION: So it doesn’t empower the administration to abandon protections?
SECRETARY POMPEO: No. Indeed, what we’re trying to do is strengthen the core commitment to the most fundamental rights that each of us has because of the dignity of every human being.
QUESTION: All right, two more things. I asked you back in April whether you were going to consider running for the Senate in Kansas. You basically closed the door when we talked on the phone.
But in a radio interview this month, you seemed to crack it open again. Here’s what you said. You said to me: “Have you ruled out running for Senate in Kansas in 2020?” You said, “I have.” But to KCMO you said, “There is a lot of people talking and spending time on this more than Susan and I are … I intend to do this” – Secretary of State – “[as] long as President Trump wants me to… And so I always need to be open to the possibility that something will change and my path in life will change too. … But my mission set is really very clear.”
You have until June 2020 to decide, so where are we?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Those are the same answer. I said —
QUESTION: Just phrased differently?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I said I’d stay here as long as President Trump wants me to and that something could change. He may not want me to.
QUESTION: So it is safe to say you’re just going to take some time on this and not ruling anything out?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I am – we went through half a dozen things. There’s half a dozen more we could have talked about today, Bret. It’s a full-time gig. This is what I’m focused on.
QUESTION: All right, last thing. You and the President’s new Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, went to West Point together. In fact, you graduated in the same class, 1986. We have some good shots of you both in your uniforms. Were you friends in school?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We knew each other a little bit back when we were cadets. It’s been 30-plus years, so time marches on. But I consider Mark a close friend, a personal friend, and someone who I’m looking forward to working with alongside him as the new Secretary of Defense. I’m happy he’s there.
QUESTION: And so you’re going to be traveling with him soon?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes. In fact, we’ll both be in Australia next week. This is something that’s been on the books for a long time. I’m glad Mark was confirmed in time to go. We’re going to work with our Australian partners at their foreign ministry and their ministry of defense to keep each of our two countries more safe.
QUESTION: If you had one thing to say to the people sitting on the couch at home who watch the back-and-forth in Washington every day, and we cover a lot of it, what is it from your vantage point?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, you know what I think people here in Washington miss is how many serious people there are in the world that I spend my time, and working to make sure that they’re safe every day, making sure that the bad guys don’t win, that America prevails, and that when the President talks about America first, we aren’t political; we’re aimed to do the right thing on behalf of the American people every day; to protect our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines; to deliver good diplomatic outcomes. The bad guys must be stopped. President Trump has been very serious about doing that.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we appreciate the time.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, thank you, sir.