QUESTION:  Right now, let’s bring in the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who’s at a very important event tonight.   He’ll be a keynote speaker, but the Secretary joins us first.  First, Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.  The importance of addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars tonight – what’s going to be your emphasis, because I know there’s a weaving-in of today’s challenges along with their service?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Brian, it’s a great day.  I’m down here in Orlando, Florida.  I’m going to meet with veterans from all across the country.  I’m going to get to meet with some great veterans from my home state of Kansas.  We’re going to talk about their service, the duty that they exhibited, the service they gave to our nation, the risks that they took, to talk about the Trump administration and supporting them, defending them, making sure we keep America safe, how we’re committed to making sure the bad guys don’t win.  This is fundamentally different than the previous administration; we’re going to talk about that.  And we want to do honor to their service.  It’ll be a great day.  I’ll talk a little bit about my time a long time ago in the United States Army.  I’m really looking forward to today.

QUESTION:  Oh, God bless you, thank you for serving and for meeting with them.  You also met with the Mexican foreign secretary.  What came out of that meeting?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  We had a number of things to talk about yesterday, Ainsley.  Most importantly, immigration, the work that we’re doing together to secure America’s southern border, to keep America safe so that we know who’s coming in and out of our country.  These are things your viewers understand is the most basic duty of every nation.

And we’ve made real progress.  We signed an important historic agreement back in the beginning of June, and we’ve seen – we’ve seen real progress since then.  The numbers are down significantly.  There’s a long way to go.  We have to make sure we maintain it.  But the Mexican Government has put thousands of soldiers on their southern border.  They’ve worked hard with our Department of Homeland Security, our great men and women of ICE and CBP, to assist in making sure that those who come to America come here legally and don’t come here illegally. There is lots of work to do, but I saw a real commitment from the Mexican Government and look forward to continuing to take those numbers down and securing America’s southern border.

QUESTION:  Well, that sounds – that sounds promising.  But when you say there’s still more work to do, in the last month of reporting I think the number of people who entered our country illegally and were apprehended is still north of 100,000 in one month.  I mean, you add that up, Mr. Secretary, that’s over a million in a year.  How low does a number have to go before the United States wants to talk seriously with Mexico about you’ve got to do more?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, look, my message yesterday was, in fact, just that.  It was there’s been progress – I think when you see the numbers for our current month, for the month of July, you’ll see them down, but they’re still way too high.  We need to get them down to where they were 20, 25 years ago.  We need to take that – we need to take that and secure that southern border.  Frankly, our objective is very clear.  We want to make sure we know every single person that’s coming across that border.

We may not get to perfection, but there is an awful lot of work left to do.  The good news is, is that this administration down in Mexico, President Obrador’s administration, has devoted real resources to it.  They have demonstrated their commitment.  They’ve done things that the Mexican Government has just simply refused to do for an awfully long time, and President Trump put America in a position where we’ve convinced their government that this was in their best interest and in ours.  I am confident that their commitment will remain and we’ll continue to make progress.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  And if not, we’ll make sure we get it right.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, what is the target number that you’re looking at?  You said you’d like to get to the number that we were years ago.  What’s that number?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah.  Look, zero is the number, right?  That’s the number.  That’s what you always shoot for.  That’s your goal.  I’m America’s most senior diplomat.  We always have high expectations.  We’re shooting for making sure we have a grip on what’s going on our southern border.  This is an important national security and American diplomatic objective, so that’s the objective.  Whether we ever get there or not, it’s a long, complicated border.

But all the things we need – we need Congress to change the laws so that we don’t have to release people here into the United States.  This is crazy stuff.  No country does that.  I travel all across the world.  No country has a set of laws – and Congress needs to – that are like the ones here in the United States, and Congress needs to change them.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  Come with a kid and you get to stay, and next thing you know, instead of 39,000 coming in a year, you’ve got 239,000 from Guatemala alone.

You met with El Salvador’s government, and you believe they’re expressing a commitment to reduce the number of illegals coming here.  But at the same, we’re hearing about ads on television in El Salvador that entice people to come to America.  What tangible progress can you tell the American people from that country?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So I met with their new leader.  He’s been in office for seven weeks.  I think yesterday was his 50th or 51st day.  This is a big shift from where that government was before.  It was a Chavista government.  It was a government that didn’t take care of its own people, let alone have the capacity to work to reduce migration.  The reason the people were leaving, because you had a completely dysfunctional government.

And so we’ve asked very clear things from President Bukele.  We want him to control those who are leaving his country.  He owned up yesterday in our press conference.  He said look, migration is because of the things we’ve not done, the things that the government has failed to do for its own people.  That’s a sea change.

QUESTION:  No kidding.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  And so – and by the way, he took responsibility.  He said this is El Salvador’s responsibility.  Now, that’s a good first step.  It shows their deep political will to work alongside the United States.

To your point, Brian, words aren’t enough.  It doesn’t – these commitments are important, they’re necessary, but they’re not sufficient.  We need to see real, tangible progress, and I got a good commitment from them yesterday.  They said that they would work with us to achieve what he views as his mutual goal.  He wants his own people to stay in his own country.  He gets it in ways the previous government down there didn’t, and I’m hopeful we can work together to achieve America’s goal along our southern border.

QUESTION:  What did he say about the amount of money that – I know we’ve been giving them money, and then the President has said he doesn’t want to give them money anymore because they’re letting their folks leave their country and come into ours and he doesn’t want to fund it anymore.  Did that come up in conversation?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  It’s remarkable.  You should go look at the press conference that we held together.  He said, “I didn’t ask the Secretary of State for a penny.  That’s America’s money.”  Indeed, I think he said it would be tacky to ask us for money.  He understands whose responsibility this is.  This is really different and important and I think demonstrates President Bukele and his team, and frankly, the people of El Salvador’s understanding that they want to grow and take care of their own country.

QUESTION:  Right.  Mr. Secretary, on Friday the Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer, went down to our southern border.  Our Vice President, Mike Pence, went down I think a week earlier.  Now Mr. Schumer has come back and said that the Senate must pass the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children bill.  The President tweeted out that he wants to meet with Mr. Schumer ASAP.

Both sides now say it’s a crisis and it’s really bad down there.   But realistically, politically, is there a chance anything will get changed?  Those laws you were talking about a little while ago – any chance between now and November 2020 will there be a change in the law?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, Steve, I hope so.  I can understand why the American people would find it way too optimistic to believe there’ll be any change, but I have often found when the American people demand things, when there is a real crisis – I think both parties can see that there is this real crisis along our southern border – we have to keep it secure.

I was in El Salvador where MS-13 is headquartered, if you will.  It’s the central locus of MS-13, and we talked about the risk that that creates in their country and the enormous risk we know too well in the United States of America.  We watch drug trafficking.  We watch young girls being trafficked across the border.  I think Democrats now have come to understand this is a real crisis, and I hope – I hope people from all across the political spectrum will join to resolve this problem.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, one of the main focuses you have is Iran.  The sanctions have forced them to take extreme actions, including going after civilian tankers, and now we saw with – and they televised this, they put out the video of them coming from a chopper, going down ropes, fast ropes, into a tanker and taking a British ship, seized a British tanker.  What is America’s role in getting that back?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So the responsibility in the first instance falls to the United Kingdom to take care of their ships.  But Brian, you know this story.  This isn’t because of American sanctions.  This is because of the theocracy, the leadership in Iran, their revolutionary zeal to conduct terror around the world for now four decades continues.  This is a bad regime; it’s not honoring the people of Iran.  They’ve now conducted what amounts to national piracy – right – a nation-state taking over a ship that’s traveling in international waters.

This is the kind of behavior we’ve seen out of Iran for 40 years.  The United States has a responsibility to do our part, but the world’s got a big role in this too to keep these sea lanes open.

QUESTION:  Sure.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I’m convinced we’ll do that.  And I’m ultimately convinced that the Iranian people will get the leadership behavior that they so richly deserve.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, do you think our lack of action two weeks ago has emboldened the Iranians?  They think they can get away with anything because they got away with taking out a $200 million drone and saw very little repercussion?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  No, I don’t think that’s the case at all.  I think the leadership in Iran understands that America has the capacity to respond in ways that will protect American interests around the world.  The President made the decision that he wanted to respond in a way that was restrained and prudent.

I don’t think Iran took this as a green light.  I think I’ve seen intelligence that would indicate that.  They understand that America is powerful.  You’ve seen us move a few increased resources into the region.  You’ve seen us respond in ways that are restrained.  We don’t want war with Iran.  We want them to behave like a normal nation.  I think they understand that, and I think the whole world is waking up to the fact that this threat is real.  It’s not just a threat against America.  It’s not just a threat against Israel.  It’s a threat against all of us.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, as the world wakes up today on this Monday, there’s a story out that Iran’s intel ministry says that they uncovered a U.S. CIA spy ring.  They’ve arrested 17 suspects and sentenced some to die.  I know it’s a breaking story.  I don’t know that Fox News has confirmed it yet.  But what can you tell us about that?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I can’t add much to it specifically.  Having had the chance to lead that great organization, the Central Intelligence Agency, I would urge everyone who is reading that story waking up to understand that the Iranian regime has a long history of lying.  They lied about where they shot down the American UAV.  They’ve now lied in the last few days about where they took down this tanker.  It’s part of the nature of the ayatollah to lie to the world.  I would take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian assertion about actions that they’ve taken.

QUESTION:  So you don’t believe that they have arrested these individuals, that these are Americans?  We want to bring them home.  We don’t want them put to death, obviously.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Well, Ainsley, there are many Americans that have been held, detained, inside the Islamic Republic of Iran.  It goes as far back as Bob Levinson.  So there’s a long list of Americans that we are working to get home from the Islamic Republic of Iran.  This is a nation, as I talked about before, for 40 years who has behaved in ways that normal nations don’t.  You don’t take other countries’ citizens and hold them hostages for political gain.  I think this is just further evidence of the outlaw nature of the Iranian regime.

QUESTION:  And Mr. Secretary, there’s a report today there’s about a thousand ISIS fighters back in Iraq wreaking havoc, setting up snipers.  What is our role in making sure ISIS doesn’t take Iraq and force us to go back in there in greater numbers?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Look, we’ve been very successful over the last – now I guess it’s two and a half years to build out a global coalition to defeat ISIS.  We’ve had 60 countries working this.  We were successful at taking down the real estate they own, the caliphate that they had in Syria and in western Iraq.

Look, President Trump has been very clear:  Where we find the threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran, where we’re finding the threat from Iran to America, we’ll respond.  We know that terror continues to exist around the world, and America can do this.  We could end these endless wars while still making sure that we fight the fight against terror every place that we find it.  We’ll do it with American power, and we’ll do it, importantly, using our partners and friends around the world who have a shared interest in defeating this terrorism.

QUESTION:  So you can confirm that ISIS is back in Iraq?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Well, look, we’ve said there have been ISIS fighters moving around Iraq, and there’s still a handful of them left in Syria as well.  They’re not completely gone.  They’re not – they’ve shown no evidence that they’re prepared to give up, Brian.  And we’ve shown no evidence that we’re prepared to let them get away with terror either.  President Trump has made very clear we’re going to continue to beat back terror where we find it.

QUESTION:  A real quick exit question.  A couple of weeks ago we saw the President shake hands with Kim Jong-un.  Anything going on since then behind the scenes we need to know about?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So the State Department has had a number of conversations with the North Koreans.  Chairman Kim committed to getting our teams back to the negotiating table.  I hope that we will.  I hope when they show up they take a position that’s different.  This is a simple task in the sense of Chairman Kim made a commitment.  He put it in writing in Singapore.  He said he was prepared to denuclearize.  We’ve had a number of conversations (inaudible).  It’s time, it’s time to begin to deliver on that so that the North Korean people can, in fact, have that brighter future that President Trump has talked about now for a year and a half.

QUESTION:  So nothing yet.  All right, Mr. Secretary, have a great speech today, and give our best to the veterans who have done so much for this country.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I’ll do that.  You all take good care of the vets too, and we appreciate that.  And I know they’ll have a great day here today in Florida.  Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

Welcome to the new State.gov

Our new design makes it easier to find and learn about the State Department’s programs and services—from passports and visas to learning how U.S. diplomacy benefits the American people.