QUESTION: Well, thank you so much for talking to me today, Mr. Secretary. I want to ask first about your speech that you gave. You talked about Americanism and what it means to you and to us personally. Can you tell me a little bit about what it means to you to be here today, talking to the American Legion and our national convention?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So it’s fantastic to be here among all these amazing patriots. I spoke today about Americanism. It’s something that’s central to the legion. As a proud member of Post 4 in Wichita, Kansas, I wanted to come be with a group of people that I know care deeply about America and talk to them about how President Trump and this administration are working to deliver on that Americanism, how do we talk about the greatness of and the exceptionalism of our great country. And that’s what I spoke about this morning.
QUESTION: And so you’ve dedicated your life to service. You started off at West Point. How did that set the trajectory for your life?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think it did set everything in motion. I had this incredible privilege. I got accepted into West Point and got a chance to go through these amazing four years, where I was taught not only to be an engineer, but, importantly, about the value set and the history and what it means to serve. And then I got a chance to go be a soldier and be alongside some great young people, delivering American lethality all across the planet. It was really special and it reminded me of how important America is to the world and how ensuring that all the things that we do need to deliver security for the American people.
QUESTION: And how did military service change how you serve now as a diplomat?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I know – I know what it is our task is. Our task is to, every day, deliver outcomes on the American people in a way that doesn’t require the use of force, right. If we get it right at the State Department, if we deliver a good diplomatic outcome, then we don’t have to put young men and women, American young men and women’s lives at risk. We need the military, because that force, that power, that capacity enables me to have conversations that the other side knows that’s it worth considering whether they ought not to act in a way that’s consistent with what America’s trying to get. So they’re symbiotic; they work together. But it places a great burden on the State Department to get it right and an incredible, incredible privilege to be part of a team that so often does.
QUESTION: So I want to talk a little bit about Iraq and Afghanistan. We have now been at war in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years. What is your vision for a future for Afghanistan and for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan? Do we maintain a troop presence? Do you foresee a full withdrawal? How do you envision the future?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. So the President’s been pretty clear that he thinks that the continued investment we’re making is not commensurate with what we’re doing, where we’re at today after 18 years. At the same time, he understands that we were attacked from that place, that we have to preserve and protect our capacity to ensure that soil in Afghanistan is never again used to take down a tower or to kill Americans. And so with those twin goals, we’ve been directed by the President to work on creating the conditions for reduced violence, for peace, and for stability in Afghanistan – no small order, but to do so in a way that reduces the number of times that we have to call upon our young American men and women to travel to that faraway place.
We accomplished a lot there. We crushed al-Qaida. It was the mission set we went there for. So many people here today at the American Legion convention know that story well. We want to make sure that we get it right on both reducing the risk, but making sure we aren’t attacked. I think we can do both.
QUESTION: And shifting from South Asia to the Middle East, it’s impossible to talk about the Middle East without bringing up Iran. What is the U.S. doing to counter Iran in the region? It seems like forces are escalating and tensions are rising. We’ve had a few near misses, especially in the Strait of Hormuz. Do you see a – I’m going to call it a kinetic interaction as inevitable between us and Iran? And how do you feel every time these events pop up? What is going through your mind?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I don’t see it as inevitable. Our mission set, the President’s mission set from the very beginning of the administration, was to recognize that the previous administration had the policy wrong on Iran; that the agreement, the nuke agreement, the JCPOA that was entered into, created a pathway for a nuclear weapon in the hands of a Islamic revolutionary regime. This was not good for America.
And so we set about a series of actions – the withdrawal from the agreement, the economic sanctions we put in place, getting our force posture right, all with the singular aim of convincing the Iranian people that they needed to change the direction of their leadership. The revolutionary regime needed to stop being the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, they needed to stop their missile program, and they could never, ever have the capacity to deliver nuclear weapons.
With those three goals, we’ve set about a strategic vision, and we’ve enlisted partners – Gulf state partners, our Israeli partners, even partners in Europe who share our concern about Iran. And we believe we are on the right course to ultimately reduce risk to the American people that emanates from the Islamic Republic of Iran.
QUESTION: Thank you. And you mentioned remarks the other day that ISIS is sort of regaining strength. How are we working to combat that and making sure that they don’t make a full comeback and start to rebuild their caliphate?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So the more accurate way to describe this is that the risk of radical Islamic terrorism remains. And there’s places we’ve had enormous success. We defeated the caliphate in Syria; we’ve taken down a lot of ISIS risk in other parts of the world. But it’s not just ISIS. There’s still al-Qaida pockets. There are other radical Islamist terrorist groups as well. President Trump’s mission statement has said we got to go fight it. We got to go take it on, but we need to do so in a way that reflects American risk. And we need to make sure our partners around the world, whether it’s our partners in the Middle East, our European partners, or our partners in places that these terrorist groups exist in the Philippines or in Asia – we need to make sure our partners are doing, alongside of us, all that they can to take down the terror threat.
And so you’ve seen big changes in how we’ve approached this. We think we’ve been incredibly effective. We know the threat remains, and we’ll be dogged in protecting America from it.
QUESTION: And you and the State Department have worked tirelessly at trying to ensure the return of remains from North Korea. How is the process going? Is this in any way tied to nuclear negotiations with North Korea? Is Kim Jong-un using the return of remains as a bargaining chip?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I would hope not. It wasn’t when we first had our success. It was the case that Chairman Kim made a good and proper decision to do this. We hope we’ll continue to be able to work on that. There are still far too many families who’ve not had the remains of their loved ones returned from Korea. We work on this just a little bit every day. I hope that we have good news in the not-too-distant future. It’s the right thing for Korea, both South and North. It’s the right thing for the United States, and indeed, it’s the right thing for the world.
QUESTION: China. I cannot avoid a China question. What is going on with these freedom protests for Hong Kong?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So it’s – you captured it perfectly. These are people who simply want what they believe the Chinese government promised them: a system which says this is different than mainland China; it’s one country, two systems, where they had autonomy and freedom. That’s what they’re asking for. It’s not much more than that.
And I hope that this can be resolved in a way that doesn’t end up in significant violence. I hope that the Chinese leadership will honor its commitment. We’ve seen that they often don’t. They haven’t honored their commitment on trade deals; they’ve stolen intellectual property. President Xi said he wouldn’t militarize the South China Sea; he broke that promise.
I hope that in Hong Kong, they’ll honor the commitment that they made to grant this special set of conditions for the people of Hong Kong.
QUESTION: Thank you. I want to ask about Marine Corps veteran Austin Tice. He’s a Marine veteran turned journalist. He’s been held captive in Syria for about seven years now. Is the U.S. still working on his safe return?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, yes. So I know the Austin Tice story well. I’ve had a chance to meet lots of family members of many of the Americans who are detained. We’ve had good success so far. We’ve had more hostages returned at this point in our administration than any previous administration. We’ve done so without paying ransom. We think that’s important. Both when I was the CIA director and now as the Secretary of State, the guidance from the very top, from the President, is very clear: This is a priority and we will continue to work on it. We’re working on it very directly with respect to the case of Austin. I pray and hope that we can get Austin safely returned to his family just as quickly as we can deliver that.
QUESTION: And my final question for you, Mr. Secretary: What can the American Legion do to better support the mission of the State Department?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The American Legion does great work. I get notes from my friends back at Post 4 in Wichita, just little notes of encouragement. So I hope they’ll keep that up.
But more broadly, the Legion and its members have to keep telling our story. I spoke about this in my speech. It’s incredibly important. There are so many families today that don’t have a veteran in them and don’t know the service that you described from your time as a Marine, my time as a soldier. They just don’t know it. I’d urge them all to go out and talk about their story.
Sometimes veterans are a little reticent to talk about their history. I want them to do that. I think it’s important that people see not only the value of service to the individual, what it gives back to each of us having served, but what it does on behalf of America. And I hope they’ll tell that story. If they do that, and if the American Legion keeps up its amazing work all across this country, I know that the Americanism I spoke about this morning will thrive right here.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for talking to me today. I appreciate it so much. And thank you for coming and addressing our national convention.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It was fantastic. I enjoyed it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. It was a real privilege.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It was wonderful to meet you.
QUESTION: Thank you. It was wonderful to meet you, too.