QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo is here in New York for a UN Security Council meeting on the Middle East. You were supposed to get in last night, but even weather affects the Secretary of State.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, ma’am. It’s good to be with you this morning, Gayle.
QUESTION: Were you in the Acela in the quiet car?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We made our way here early this morning.
QUESTION: Yeah, we are so glad you’re here. There’s a lot going on on your plate. Listen, we’ve got new tensions in the Strait of Hormuz, protests in Hong Kong, North Korea testing short-range missiles. But we’re going to start with ISIS because it’s on the front page of The New York Times, where they say that ISIS is regaining strength in Iraq and Syria. What’s the reality of that from where you sit?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So President Trump’s been very focused on this. We executed a plan with 80 other countries to defeat ISIS. We were very successful.
QUESTION: Earlier this year, you said ISIS was done and done.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, what we’ve always said is the caliphate’s been gone and that there’s always risk that there’ll be a resurgence, not just from ISIS. There’s risk from al-Qaida, other radical Islamic terrorist groups. President Trump is very focused on making sure that we apply the right resources against the problem set everywhere to protect the homeland and keep the American people safe. We’ll do that.
QUESTION: Is it gaining strength, in your opinion?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s complicated. There are certainly places where ISIS is more powerful today than they were three or four years ago, but the caliphate is gone and their capacity to conduct external attacks has been made much more difficult. We’ve taken down significant risk – not all of it, but a significant amount. And we’re very pleased with the work that we’ve done.
QUESTION: Let’s go to the Strait of Hormuz because top Iranian officials, as you know, are getting tough with us, saying the United States to act with wisdom. Another Iranian official said there would be grave consequences if the U.S. acts there. What’s the situation in the Strait of Hormuz right now? Because the people are concerned, Mr. Secretary, that we’re about to stumble into a war.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So the good news is we are acting with wisdom. It’s wisdom to have withdrawn from the JCPOA, which was going to put Iran on the path to a nuclear weapon, and President Trump is determined not to let that happen. And so we have conducted our Middle East strategy and our work with Iran to say, nope, you can’t conduct assassination campaigns in Europe, you can’t conduct terror efforts from all across the Middle East, you’re not going to build out a nuclear weapons program. And we’ve put in place a set of sanctions that have denied the Iranian regime wealth, and we can see that that is working. Hizballah has less money. Some of the proxy forces have fewer resources. The Iranian leadership is having to make difficult choices about how to spend its now limited money. The previous administration wrote them a big check, sent across a pile of cash, and then opened up the Iranian economy so they could continue to grow their terror campaign all across the world. We’ll never let that happen.
QUESTION: We withdrew the deal, but we don’t have a new deal in place, and people are saying that the sanctions are actually hurting the Iranian people. What do you say to that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The Iranian people know that the terror campaign, the revolutionary campaign that their leaders are undertaking, isn’t in their best interest, and I hope that the Iranian people work to change the behavior of the Iranian regime. Ultimately, they’ll have to make that decision, and we’re very hopeful that they will see a pathway clear such that this behavior where Iran acts outside the normal course of what ordinary countries do, and that they’ll get their leadership to conform to what’s best for the Iranian people.
QUESTION: I know you can’t give details, but can you say if there are back-channel talks going on right now to get the parties to the table?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I just don’t want to talk about it. It shouldn’t take –
QUESTION: I don’t want details. I just said, “Are they going on?”
SECRETARY POMPEO: You shouldn’t read anything into that. I’d say that whether there were or weren’t. We just simply don’t talk about those things in this administration.
QUESTION: Can I focus on – can we take a look at the protests in Hong Kong, now in its 11th straight week? Extraordinary pictures coming from Hong Kong. There were violent protests at the airport, and now it’s very peaceful but very big – over a million people in the streets. Does the Trump administration support the protestors in Hong Kong?
SECRETARY POMPEO: President Trump captured this, I think perfectly, across the weekend when he said we support democracy, we support liberty. We very much want to make sure that those folks who have the desire in their hearts to protest, to speak out on behalf of their own freedom, their own liberty, can do so. They should do so in a peaceful way, and the Chinese Government should respect their right to speak out in the way that they’re speaking out.
QUESTION: I heard him say he did not want to see a Tiananmen Square and that this could have an effect on the trade talks in China. Is it?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well look, I think it’s important to understand that China needs to fulfill its promises. The challenge – one of the challenges of the trade deal is you have to make sure that China actually lives up to the commitments it would make. In Hong Kong, the Chinese Government made a promise. It has a central understanding that there would be one country, two systems, and they need to live up to that promise on behalf of the people of Hong Kong. We hope that they’ll do that. We hope they’ll fulfill their promise not to militarize the South China Sea. This is about China actually living up to the commitments that China made.
QUESTION: North Korea. When last we – when last we saw the President and Kim Jong-un, they were standing together in the Demilitarized Zone, the first time that has happened. And we keep hearing that there is going to be another summit. What are the talks – how are the talks going on that? And do you trust Kim Jong-un?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So Special Representative Biegun, who leads the negotiation effort on behalf of the United States, is actually in the region today, tomorrow. I think he was there yesterday as well. We haven’t gotten back to the table as quickly as we would have hoped, but we’ve been pretty clear all along: We know there’ll be bumps along the way. We —
QUESTION: They’re firing short – they’re testing short-term missiles.
SECRETARY POMPEO: They have fired short-range ballistic missiles. This —
QUESTION: That concern you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: This is true. Yes, I wish that they would not.
SECRETARY POMPEO: But in the end, Chairman Kim made a commitment to President Trump in Singapore in June of last year, where he said that he was prepared to denuclearize. Our team’s effort at the State Department is to deliver that on behalf of the American people. President Trump’s focus is exactly that, to keep the American people safe. And if we are successful, if we denuclearize Korea, the world – and I’ll be at the UN Security Council this afternoon —
QUESTION: Yes, yes.
SECRETARY POMPEO: These are UN Security Council resolutions that are putting the boundaries to what North Korea can do. These are a global sanctions regime, and we hope Chairman Kim will come to the table and get a better outcome. It’ll be better for the North Korean people; It’ll be better for the world.
QUESTION: You were the cover story in The New Yorker, 21 pages devoted to you, called, “Secretary of Trump.” And it’s interesting because it takes the evolution of you, Mike Pompeo, who grew up in Orange County, who – I was surprised to see you like AC/DC.
SECRETARY POMPEO: My younger days.
QUESTION: I did not see that coming.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I still like them today.
QUESTION: They call you – you’ve been called an old-fashioned American. Your dogs, golden retrievers, are named after generals. General —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Sherman and Patton are the last two.
QUESTION: Sherman and Patton. But the point I’m making is that people that know you and love you and support you say, “Look, this is a guy who loves his country.” And I think people are surprised to see the evolution of where you were in the beginning in 2016 when you supported Marco Rubio – and at one point said it’s time to turn the lights down on the circus to the Donald Trump campaign – to now being very closely aligned with Donald Trump. Somebody said, “He actually gets Donald Trump.” What is it that you get about Donald Trump that others don’t?
SECRETARY POMPEO: He cares deeply about America. And in the world that I’ve worked – I worked for him first as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, now as the Secretary of State. He wants to see the American people secure, he wants to grow our economy, he wants better lives for them. I see that. I’ve had lots of chances to engage with him.
QUESTION: But you see it now though. In the beginning you said authoritarian, trying to turn the – time to turn the lights out in the circus. I’m curious because they say about you, you are very patriotic, you get this country. The President is not always accused of telling the truth. He’s very loose with his tweets. It seems to be opposite of how you run your life.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of working for President Trump. No, the comments from back in 2016 – it was a tough political campaign, and when I’m on your team, I am all in, as I was. And when my candidate left, I was all in for President Trump then as well, and I’m in for America today.
QUESTION: You have a lot of support, Mr. Secretary. They say that State Department morale is better under your watch. People feel good about what they do, but you’ve got critics. One former American ambassador who shall not be named – this is delicate – describes you like a heat-seeking missile for Trump’s bottom, except he used the other word. When you hear stuff like that to compare how you are with this President, what do you think?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I find that language offensive and I find the statement ludicrous. I work hard. I work hard for the President of the United States, who was constitutionally elected. He is my leader. My task is to share with him the best information. If we disagree, my duty is to go share with him our disagreements. I do that with great frequency. But when he makes a decision and it’s legal, it is my task to go execute that with all the energy and power that I have.
QUESTION: If he wins a second term, will you continue to be Secretary of State? You know there are calls for you to run for Senate in Kansas. Don’t expect you to say, “Yes, I’m going to run here, Gayle.” But if he does, if he wins again, do you want to be Secretary of State?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I would love to serve for him just as long as I can. It’s a great opportunity to get to lead this organization of 70,000-plus great Americans who are out there all across the world taking real risk for themselves and their families and delivering good, solid American diplomacy everywhere they are.
QUESTION: Well, you don’t have a nickname. He hasn’t attacked you on Twitter. So far – so far, so good.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary of State Pompeo, for stepping in. It’s always good to see you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Gayle, thank you. Wonderful to see you too.