QUESTION: You’re speaking to the VFW today. Tell me about what you – tell me about the message you’re bringing to the VFW.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I’m thrilled to be down here today with veterans from all across America, people who have chosen a life of service to the United States of America, who have dedicated part of their lives, taken an awful lot of risk to keep you and me and our families safe. I want to tell them a couple things. First, I want to tell them that this administration honors their service. You can see that. You can see it in President Trump’s commitment to the Department of Defense, supporting those men women wherever they find them. You can see it in his work for the veterans administrations to take care of the health needs of these service members.
And then I want to talk to them as America’s most senior diplomat. I want to talk to them about how the State Department works to keep their kids and their grandkids, who have also chosen service, to keep them safe, to keep them out of harm’s way, to use diplomacy to achieve peace so we don’t have to send our young men and women to fight. And then finally, our obligation is more than that. It’s to make sure the bad guys don’t win, to make sure that America continues to be safe, strong, and prosperous, to keep peace around the world. That’s the State Department’s mission, and I want to talk to them about that and then thank them for what they’ve done for America.
QUESTION: As somebody who has worn the uniform, this is personal to you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s a very special day for me. I get – I served a long time ago. I served a couple decades plus back. But I loved my time as a young lieutenant, a young captain during the Cold War. It was an important part of my life. I know these people view their time in the service as an important part of their life as well. And I want to talk to them about the fabric of what that is, what that service means, about how we each can have an opportunity to continue to serve our nation and thank them for what they’ve done for every American.
QUESTION: I want to move on to some international issues. Iranian state TV reporting that 17 people have been detained, somehow tied to the CIA. Your thoughts on that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: As a former CIA director, I think my word for your viewers today would be: Take everything that the Islamic Republic of Iran says with a grain of salt. They’ve lied about so many things over so many years. I’ve seen this reporting. I’m not free to comment on intelligence matters, but suffice it to say we – everyone should be deeply skeptical when the Islamic Republic of Iran makes a statement like we saw this morning.
QUESTION: In ’88, we bombed most of the Iranian navy back to nonexistence. As we continue to see problems with the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Oman, are we getting to that tipping point where we may have to revisit what we did in ’88?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So the President’s been very clear: We don’t want war with Iran. We simply want them to stop engaging in terror activities around the world. They can’t continue to build out their nuclear weapons program. That’s been the strategy that President Trump has laid out. We’re not watching Iran continue what has been 40 years of just exactly what you described – challenging the world, conducting piracy with – you saw the videos from yesterday where they boarded a British commercial tanker. These are outrageous actions. No normal nation does that. The people of Iran don’t want their leadership to do that either.
And so we are working to change the behavior of the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran. And we are building out a coalition that will patrol the Strait of Hormuz to keep those shipping lanes, those sea lanes open. There’ll be nations from all around the world that participate in that. These are the deterrent activities. These are the very things I’m going to talk about here today with the veterans. I’m going to talk to them about how we’re establishing deterrents so that we can keep peace. But no one should mistake America’s restraint or prudence for the absence of power to protect America.
QUESTION: Do you feel like we’ve articulated an endgame strong enough for what we want?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think we’ve done it very clearly. I can’t – for those folks listening to you today, watching, I can tell you this: What we want is Iran to behave like a normal nation, like Norway, like any country that doesn’t conduct a terror campaign around the world. They killed – to your point earlier about the veterans that I’ll speak to – that they killed over 500 Americans with Iranian IEDs in the desert. That’s outrageous, and their response to that was too limited. I think the Iranians have seen that. I think it’s why they think they can get away with what they’re doing today. They should be very cautious. President Trump is serious about making sure that this behavior, this leadership behavior from the Iranian regime changes.
QUESTION: Do you feel like we send mixed messages when we have the President meeting with Kim Jong-un on the DMZ and seeming to have a very friendly relationship there? This is a nuclear power that is, I think by any stretch of the imagination, a rogue nation in and of itself, and the Iranians see that. Does this complicate matters when they see the President seeming to be friendly with this country, yet hostile with them?
SECRETARY POMPEO: No, I don’t think so at all. Indeed, the President has said that he’s happy to speak with the ayatollah, the leadership in Iran on the phone with no preconditions. The President firmly believes that talking and having these diplomatic exchanges to avoiding military conflict is the objective. But it doesn’t change the outcome we’re looking for. In North Korea, we want them to denuclearize. We want them to do so completely. We want them to do it in a way that we can verify.
In Iran, it’s different. We’re trying to prevent them from having a nuclear weapon and building out a program that frankly the last administration just ignored. It appeased it, allowed them to continue down the path towards creating a nuclear program. This administration is working to keep America and the world safe. We’re doing so in the first instance by being prepared, by having a strong military, but also talking to them, convincing them that this isn’t the path that their nation ought to go down. We do that both with North Korea, and we’re looking forward to the chance to do so in Iran as well.
QUESTION: Moving to Central and South America, obviously Venezuela continues to be a problem for the region. How difficult is it that Maduro continues to stay in power? Is – his power may be limited, he may be using some authority here and there, but we’re going on almost a year since we have asked him to step down, and he continues to maintain power.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m here in Florida today talking to veterans. I’ll talk about Venezuela. I mention Florida because Cuba is at the center of this problem as well. Several thousand Cuban intelligence officials, military officials propping up the Maduro regime.
To your question, Maduro has to go. While you’ve made a good point, that he’s not truly governing this country today, he’s inflicted enormous, enormous devastation on the Venezuelan people. Now, over 3 million people, 10 percent of their country, has fled the nation. Our mission set is to work alongside our partners, our friends in the region. I just traveled in from El Salvador, I was in Mexico, and Ecuador, and in Argentina, and they all understand the threat to their region from Maduro and the Cubans and their cronies. Our mission is to convince them that they’ve got to leave and then restore democracy for the Venezuelan people. It’s pretty straight forward.
QUESTION: It was Alexander Haig who actually said sooner or later you have to go to the source. Speaking of Cuba, is that still kind of where we’re at?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It is. In the end, the Cuban Government’s going to have a difficult decision to make. They’ve got to decide whether they want to support a rogue regime that has devastated the life of tens of millions of Venezuelans, allowed them not to have food, medicine, the basic things that every human being in the world ought to be entitled. If that’s the kind of regime they want to support, that’s one decision and America will respond as you’ve seen the Trump administration respond, by putting increased pressure on the Cuban leadership. Or if they want to (2) join the community of nations and be a good country, a country that works to develop their own country, to create opportunities for their own people. That’s the choice of the Cuban leadership. The United States is going to continue to do all that we can to convince them to take a better path.
QUESTION: All right. I’ve been given the wrap signal.