QUESTION: Welcome back, America. I’m Hugh Hewitt in the ReliefFactor.com studio. Thank you for joining me this morning. Now I’m joined and honored always to have the United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo as my guest. Good morning, Mr. Secretary. How are you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m very good, Hugh. How are you today?
QUESTION: I am terrific on the West Coast. We had a great day at the Nixon Library yesterday. Ambassador Grenell was out talking about the Trump doctrine, quoting you that America first does not mean America alone. Is that the most succinct statement, you think of it?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. Look, it’s a good description. I know there have been those who critique us, but our fundamental obligation as leaders here in the United States is to make sure America is secure. That requires us to work with partners all around the world to develop coalitions, but our focus – our focus is always on American national security.
QUESTION: Well, Ambassador Grenell echoing your point of view yesterday very well. Now, I want to talk about the ministerial, the second annual ministerial on religious liberty. That’s the bulk of our time, but a couple of quick questions on Iran and the headliners.
It appears that Iran has seized the United Arab Emirates tanker. Do we know where it is and will we help the UAE get it back?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I can’t say much about that, but we are – we’re following very closely what’s taking place more broadly even than just this tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. The President’s made pretty clear that this is an international obligation to keep these waterways open, and we’re working diligently to build out a maritime security initiative – a broad range of countries participating in that. The Iranians’ effort to deny transit for commercial vessels, crude oil vessels, and other vessels is something that – frankly, it’s consistent with 40 years of their history and it’s something that the United States is prepared to do our part to make sure that those waterways remain open.
QUESTION: Now, Congressman Gallagher told me earlier on the show that the UAE is known as “Little Sparta.” Would they do something without our cooperation if they think their tanker has been seized by the mullahs?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I hate to speculate. There’s no doubt the Emirates will make the decisions that they believe is in their national interest, but they are a great partner. We work closely with them every day not only in the region, but on matters around the world, and they too share our commitment to ensuring that Iran is not an abnormal nation, that it ceases its destabilizing activity there. And so we have a great partner in the United Arab Emirates.
QUESTION: All right. Last Iran question: If they want a war, there’s very little we can do to prevent that. If they want a conflict and they keep poking the bear, or in this case, the eagle, they’re going to get one. At what point do you give up on Iran coming to the table? Ambassador Grenell said the President always invites people to the table. I saw you with – yesterday on his right hand talking about bringing Iran to the table. All instead they do, they seize tankers and they fly drones at Saudi Arabian airports. They’re not coming to the table.
SECRETARY POMPEO: The American people should never underestimate the broad range of responses nor should the Islamic Republic of Iran misunderstand our efforts. The best solution here is for the Iranians to decide that the diplomatic path forward is the best one for the people inside of Iran, and we try to talk to them because the Iranian regime has clearly done things that are inconsistent with what the Iranian people want.
But our mission set – our mission set is to find a diplomatic path forward that denies Iran the capacity to be the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, to continue to build out their missile program through proliferation, and gives them no pathway to a nuclear weapon. Those are the three benchmarks that the President has laid out and we’re going to achieve it. What – how Iran will choose to respond, whether that is by continuing to enrich at higher and higher levels or by taking on kinetic activity, the President is prepared with a full range of responses so that we can get to the outcome that we’re looking for.
QUESTION: One more follow-up: I saw you sitting next to the President yesterday. I don’t believe Foreign Minister Zarif sits much next to the supreme leader. I think he’s kind of an empty windbag; he’s up in New York holding court. Should we be bothering any time with him? Should other Americans be meeting with him? He just seems to me to be a false flag of moderation when in fact, the regime remains the regime it has always been since 1979.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hugh, your core point I think is correct. In the end, the ayatollah is calling all of the shots, 100 percent of them, with respect to the big strategic issues inside of Iran and how their national security apparatus will work. He has at his right-hand side Qasem Soleimani, who is driving much of the activity that we’ve talked about so far.
I don’t – there – view there as being two camps. There is a singular set of activities that every leader inside of Iran is responsible for. So it is – Zarif comes around and talks about how he’s the good guy. He has been the foreign minister while the Islamic Republic of Iran has taken every action we’ve seen and he is equally responsible for those activities.
QUESTION: Do some of those actions, turning to the ministerial – and I want to, in fact, set up the ministerial. This is the second annual ministerial on religious freedom. I believe it is the first time that we’ve had back-to-back annual ministerials on any subject. You’ve picked the most important one. In the classic statement of rights, there are religious rights, social rights, and economic rights – and social rights including political rights. And the religious rights really come before anything else because it’s a consequence of what you achieve meaning in your life. Does Iran suppress religious rights?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Every day.
QUESTION: And for every person who is not a Shia in the way that they define Shiaism?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think that’s a very accurate description. We’ve seen how they treat women. We’ve seen how they treat religious minorities. We’ve seen how they treat homosexuals. We’ve seen – this is a regime with some of the worst human rights abuses of any country in the world on a consistent basis, every day.
QUESTION: Now we have 114 countries gathered at the State Department. There are a thousand representatives from around the globe here. I think you’re giving the keynote tomorrow – am I right about that, Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY POMPEO: You are.
QUESTION: So yesterday, I think you ran down victims of religious intolerance, and it was a wide variety of people, people who have suffered greatly across the world, from New Zealand, from Sri Lanka, from San Diego. What was the impact of these speakers and their – all different religions have all been persecuted in different places.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s truly remarkable, three days here at the State Department. No previous administration has prepared to defend this most basic freedom – you talked about that, Hugh – absent having the capacity to believe what you want, and to act in accordance with your own conscience. All of the other things that we talk about as freedoms or rights are subservient to this. So very important that we advocate on behalf on this. Some 80 percent of the people in the world today live in religiously restricted environments. So we brought in a group of people yesterday from a broad set of religious backgrounds who have lived in these spaces and who are working tirelessly to help their countries improve on religious freedom in their nation.
QUESTION: Now it seems to me that it’s a very difficult order, but if you could persuade your counterparts in the PRC and Russia that religious freedom practiced by all but the extremes of any faith – and every faith has extremes and they cannot be allowed to define the religion for which they appear to speak – but religious liberty is actually a stabilizing force in any country that embraces genuine, broad spectrum religious liberty. Have you made that argument to President Xi or to others who routinely try and control the house church in China, the Catholic Church in China, any other Protestant denomination? And of course, we’ll turn to the Uighurs in a second, but do they get a sense – do you get a sense that they actually listen to this argument?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s a good question. We’ve certainly made this argument, not only to the Chinese but to every country that’s not living up to their obligations for their citizens to give them the religious freedom that they have by right of their humanness. It’s absolutely also factually accurate, Hugh, your predicate of your question, which is nations become stronger when they permit their citizens to exercise their core beliefs about who they really are. And we make that case to each country about why this is not something that’s just intrinsically good, but also good for them in terms of their capacity to build out their country, to grow the economy in their nation, to keep their country secure and safe. This central premise of religious freedom makes countries stronger. It doesn’t create risk, which is what I think some of the countries like China are concerned with when they exercise political repression against various religious faiths. That makes their country weaker. And we’ve made this argument, and we will continue to build that argument out and try and convince every country including China that it’s in their best interest to increase the religious freedom in their country.
QUESTION: Well, let’s turn specifically to China for a moment. They have reached some sort of rapprochement with the Vatican, which has left a lot of Catholics unhappy. The house church, though, remains under significant – Christian church remains under significant restriction. Some churches have been torn down, burned down. But it’s the Uighurs and the Muslim population that is most beleaguered, and by an order of magnitude greater than the others. Can you tell us what it is that’s going on there? Eli Lake has a story today saying that China’s campaign against the Uighurs demands a response. What do you think, Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So this administration has responded to this threat to the world in ways that no administration has chosen to do. We’ve taken it on. We’ve been very candid about our view. You have some million Muslims – Uighur Muslims – there are Kazakhs, there are other – others there as well that are being detained and put in facilities, camps inside of Xinjiang that the whole world, when they see it, will be repulsed by. Our mission set is to respond – we have lots of issues that we’re dealing with with respect to our relationship with China – but to respond in an appropriate way, which always begins, Hugh, with calling it out, with identifying it for what it is, and appealing to people all over the world to respond in the most fundamental way to say this is unacceptable and demand that there be a change in behavior. Other responses how we might get this to change, I don’t want to get out in front of the President. But know that President Trump and the administration take this central core idea of religious liberty as a very important priority for the State Department, and indeed all of our government.
QUESTION: It is the first human right, and I want to quote Eli Lake. He says, “To be clear, there are no indications that the Chinese state has committed a mass extermination of the Uighurs. But its campaign can fairly be called a ‘cultural genocide’ – an attempt to exterminate every shred of the Uighurs’ language, society and history in Xinjiang. There is now vast public evidence that China’s campaign has been accelerating since 2016.”
Is that consistent with your understanding, Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I might not use exactly the same language, but the risk is very real and it is the contra – and we tell countries around the world – it is the exact opposite of what America’s doing today here at the Department of State with our religious freedom ministerial. We’ve got people here who disagree with us on policy, we’ve got people here who have faiths that are very different than mine as a Christian Evangelical, but they’re all here because this mission set, this first freedom is so central to success for every country, and importantly to give every individual the rights that they deserve. And what you’re seeing take place with China is precisely the opposite of that.
QUESTION: And Burma, you have come out against Burma. I want to move, though, to the Commission on Unalienable Rights. Because when Jefferson penned the words “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” in the pursuit of happiness is necessarily embedded the inalienable right to religious freedom. Do you believe your new commission will reach that conclusion, led by Mary Ann Glendon – famed lawyer, legal scholar, and human rights activist? It’s a great development. What do you intend for this commission to do, Secretary Pompeo?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So the mission that I have given Professor Glendon and her colleagues that will sit on the panel is to go back to the fundamental grounding of human rights that the founders have set forth for us, to evaluate the various components of those human rights. Which ones are central? Which of this set of rights are core to America’s success, and indeed, more broadly, the success in the world? It’s very easy, Hugh. You’ve seen it. I’ll bet you’ve had 50 people on your show in the last 10 weeks identify some right. And that word gets thrown around loosely, and that’s dangerous.
It’s dangerous for two reasons: one, when you – when everything is a right, these most fundamental, foundational rights are neglected; and second, when you start to talk about that way – that way, when you have these broad set of – because you know that many nations will fall short of that, and it will misdirect American policy. We won’t be focused on those things that are most central to American security around the world.
And so that’s what we’ve tasked them to do, to go back and reground. We had – the State Department hasn’t done this in decades and decades, and I’m optimistic that they’ll come to a conclusion that will be important for the United States as we move forward, thinking about how to frame how the United States speaks about human rights and fundamental rights all around the world.
QUESTION: I hope it’s a persuasive effort. Again, thinking of President Xi and his close-in circle, if they can be persuaded that Jeffersonian democracy and rights language actually stabilizes governments without risking those at the top’s careers and livelihoods, that – it doesn’t have to end in the French Revolution, Secretary Pompeo. It can end in the American constitutional order of stability.
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s absolutely the case. Look, the fear in many of these countries is if they – if they grant these set of rights, that they will lose political control. But in fact, the opposite is true. Leadership that takes these rights seriously becomes stronger, their people become more capable of helping in the governance of their nation. You get good economic benefits too, but you get enormous social good that comes from the guarantee of this set of rights.
QUESTION: Last question. Of course anything you do is attacked. In The Atlantic, they have a story by Mattathias Schwartz titled “The ‘Religious Freedom’ Agenda” that alleges “one can see in the ministerial” – that you’re holding right now – “an effort to make Washington the center of a global faith-based conservative order, with its own doctrine of intervention and hierarchy of values – an order that seeks to augment, and perhaps even compete with, the existing liberal one.”
I know that’s silly; I’d just like your response.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. Maybe that’s the best response. We’re very focused on our mission. The fact that some on the left have become sort of crazed by the fact that we’re trying to define, trying to create this religious freedom around the world, or define the central rights for every American, I find confusing, befuddling, and perhaps suggestive that they know they have the wrong end of the stick, and we are going to ground America in our constitutional understandings in ways that some – they and their colleagues wish wouldn’t happen.
QUESTION: Does anyone ever read the founding documents anymore, Secretary Pompeo? I suppose they taught them at Harvard Law, so you came in contact with them. I know they taught them at West Point. But does anyone in the Capitol just routinely consult the documents on which our republic resides, in which it stands?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I have the core documents sitting on my bookshelf here, and that includes things that go beyond just the Constitution and our core founding documents, but the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers – all the things that these great thinkers who set our nation, the greatest nation in the history of civilization, on the remarkable course it’s been on. And if we can stay true to those, if we can continue to use those as our guideposts, America will continue to prevail in the centuries ahead as well.
QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, thank you for joining me. Good luck with your keynote tomorrow at the second annual ministerial. I hope there is a third and a fourth.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Hugh.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Have a good day, sir.
QUESTION: You too.