Interview With Hugh Hewitt of MSNBC
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, thank you for having us.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hugh, it’s great to be with you. Welcome to the State Department.
QUESTION: Let me start practical. Great to be here. Let me be practical: You’ve got some empty offices at the Department of State. Is the Senate working with you to fill them so you can have the leadership in place for the best diplomatic corps in the world?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So the answer is we need to move faster here. Everyone in the process needs to. We’ve got to get our diplomats out to every corner of the world and do that as expeditiously as possible. It is the case when I took over there were some big gaps in important places. We’ll soon have our ambassador in place in South Korea and some of the places that are absolutely most essential. But we need everyone helping, and I am confident that Senators Menendez and Corker will help me achieve that.
QUESTION: How about the leader? You talk to Leader McConnell about this as well?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. He’s fully on board. He’s moving our folks through as quickly as he can. We may get a couple extra weeks in August where we’ll have some opportunity to get some additional people out there doing what the President wants, right? – leading to deliver his foreign policy in every corner of the world.
QUESTION: You’re a former congressman. You can’t envy your Senate colleagues staying here in August, do you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’ll be warm, but I’ll be here right alongside them.
QUESTION: All right.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So will our diplomats.
QUESTION: Let’s go geopolitical. Forty years ago, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn this month talked about a world split apart and the Soviet Union. Seventy-one years ago, another Army guy, George Marshall, gave the Marshall Plan. Both of them were talking about the Soviet Union. Is it time to reorient to our near-peer or peer-competitor being Russia – or then the Soviet Union – to the PRC now? Are they number one in our competitive environment?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think they do pose the most serious threat and, frankly, an opportunity for America if we can get it right. If you compare and contrast the two as between not the Soviet Union, but Russia, and China, we’ve got one that has wealth and resources, and the other that is a power that is struggling mightily.
We need to make sure we understand what China is doing. The President has been very clear about the risk to America associated with their willingness to steal our property, our intellectual property and otherwise. Eyes wide open with respect to Russia’s efforts in the South China Sea and around the world to build out a much bigger, stronger, tougher country. There’s things we clearly need to do alongside them and where we have shared interests, but where we don’t, we need to make sure America is properly positioned to speak to them about each of our two countries’ respective roles within the world.
QUESTION: When you sat down with President Xi not long ago, was that cordial? Was it friendly? He gets along so well with President Trump. You’re the diplomat, maybe the bad cop to President Trump’s good cop. How did it go?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It went great. It was very kind of him to visit with me. It was late one evening. I was returning to the United States but wanted to make sure and stop in. China will have an important role to play as we work our way through the challenging issue of denuclearizing North Korea, and I wanted to make sure and explain to them the conversations that the President had had with Chairman Kim, to make sure they understood what it was we needed from them, which at this point is to continue to make sure that the economic sanctions that are in place remain in place. And then we had a handful of other issues that I wanted to speak with President Xi about. It was a good, warm, cordial meeting. I think we both expressed our views, and I appreciated him taking time to meet with the Secretary of State from the United States.
QUESTION: When you think of him, he’s now president for as long as we can see – you think Mao and Deng. Are we talking about 20, 25 years with President Xi, and do the American people full grasp what a significant player he is now, not just for this year but for the next decade or two?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, it’s undoubtedly the case. He has consolidated power in a way that his immediate predecessors had not, in a way that’s truly historic. And the United States and the other countries in the region as well need to recognize that. I think some are waking up to it in ways that they may not have two or five years ago. We all need to acknowledge what China presents in terms of both opportunity and challenge.
QUESTION: In 1972 President Nixon sort of flipped the script on the Soviet Union by going to see Mao, even though Mao had been the greater murderer in the 20th century. Is it possible that you and the President are working to flip the script again and perhaps make nice with Russia because China represents to the United States a bigger competitor?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The President’s been unambiguous since he took office that there are places where Russia is working against the United States but many places where we work together. I had a chance to do that in my previous role as CIA director, where we worked with the Russians on counterterrorism issues, where the two nations had shared interests. And so we are having conversations with our Russian counterparts trying to find places where we have overlapping interests but protecting American interests where we do not.
QUESTION: Are you going to go to Moscow this summer?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t know if I’ll be heading to Moscow. I’ll meet with my Russian counterpart somewhere, I’m sure. I’ve spoken to Sergey Lavrov a couple of times already as the Secretary of State. Good conversations, each of us expressing our displeasure with each other for various things, all the while making sure that the things that matter most to America, right – you can’t mess around in American elections. Some of the behaviors that they’re undertaking in places like Syria and Ukraine are just – they’re not helpful, they’re not constructive towards the values that the Americans hold dear. And those places we’ll continue to work to make sure they know our interests and our concerns. And then where there’s places we can find common ground, we’ll certainly try --
QUESTION: Should we be surprised if President Trump is in Moscow this summer?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t know what the President’s schedule is going to be. I know Ambassador Bolton’s planning to travel to Moscow on Sunday or Monday. He’ll be meeting with his counterpart, and I think it’s likely that President Trump will be meeting with his counterpart in the not-too-distant future following that meeting.
QUESTION: Interesting. Let me ask about President Xi. What is his role vis-a-vis Chairman Un and the deal? Does he have a veto over what North Korea is doing with you in your conversations?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The conversations between the United States and North Korea have been bilateral talks, just the two of us. We are working to strike a deal, a deal that Chairman Kim has signed up for, where there will be a bargain where he will fully denuclearize, he will permit us to verify that complete denuclearization, and in exchange for that we’ll provide security assurances.
You know the story well. For decades the North Korean leadership – Chairman Kim, his father and grandfather alike – believed the nuclear program was their security out; it provided them with regime stability and security. And we’ve now flipped that narrative. I believe we have convinced him that that nuclear program, in fact, presents a threat to him and that giving up that program is the path towards a brighter future for the North Korean people.
QUESTION: What is he like, Mr. Secretary, when the cameras aren’t on and the door is closed? When you first went to Pyongyang, what was – what – does he have a sense of humor? Did he joke with you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, he does have a sense of humor. He’s conversant in things Western, so he’s paying close attention to what takes place. I’m confident he’ll be watching this show. He’s watching things that Americans are saying. He’s looking to determine if, in fact, America is serious about this.
If he does this, if he takes this step and reorients, sets a new strategic direction for North Korea where they focus on the economy and their people as opposed to their war-making machine – if you make it that strategic change, does he have a reliable partner in America who will behave the way that President Trump committed that we would when they met in Singapore?
So he’s bright. He knows the file. He knows the topic very, very well. He’s not turning to others for guidance. It is Chairman Kim who was clearly articulating what you heard him say when he was in Singapore, that he is prepared to fully denuclearize.
QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, when you sit down with someone like Chairman Kim or President Xi, you’re sitting down with people who have human rights records which are awful. But FDR sat down with Stalin, and Nixon with Mao, and President Reagan with Gorbachev. What’s in your mind when you’re going through with someone who you know the body count is high but with whom we have to deal?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, we know the histories. This administration has been very clear about defending human rights. Everywhere we go we talk about it, when we meet with countries that aren’t complying with human rights in the way we would want, that aren’t consistent with our value sets. We’ve done that with Chairman Kim. I know the President has spoken about that with Xi as well.
But you have to remember those human rights challenges existed long before this administration came in, when our policies with respect to those countries were very different; that is, previous efforts to improve on those human rights conditions had failed. We are confident that the biggest threat to the United States, Chairman Kim’s nuclear program, is the place we need to begin. And if we are successful, if we can get the outcome we hope to have, we think we create a greater probability that human rights conditions not only in North Korea but around the world may well improve.
QUESTION: Are there signed protocols to the Singapore summit communique that we don’t know about?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I just don’t want to get into the details of the negotiations that took place before, in Singapore, and have continued since then. I think it is fair to say that there are a number of things, a number of principles that have been agreed to, that I think both parties understand, red lines, things that we – neither country is prepared to go past that give us an opportunity to believe that we really might, for the first time – this is not the first rodeo negotiating with North Korea – that perhaps this time is different.
We know, too, we could be wrong, and the President has said this very clearly. If this isn’t – if it’s the case that Chairman Kim either is unable to or unprepared to denuclearize, sanctions will remain in place, the enforcement of those sanctions will continue, and we’ll be back hard at it if the negotiations prove to be either not in good faith or unproductive.
QUESTION: Back to President Xi for one or two more questions. We always worry about our friends in Taiwan. Do you believe President Xi, who gave this two-and-a-half-hour, three-hour speech when he became President for life in China, do you think he’s ruled out force vis-a-vis Taiwan, and is the United States standing by its historic agreements with Taiwan vis-a-vis their defense?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We are. President Trump’s had no change in his policy with respect to China. The “one China” policy, the three communiques which followed that, will remain in place. Know the President has spoken with Xi about this on numerous occasions. We have told him that that’s the path forward, a nonviolent path is the right path forward, and I think each of our two countries understand each other’s positions very clearly there.
QUESTION: Speaking about the use of force, let’s turn to Iran, probably the greatest exporter of violence in the world on a daily basis (inaudible). Do you foresee having to use force if they continue on a nuclear path?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Boy, I sure hope not. I hope the ayatollah and Soleimani, the prime drivers of Iranian threat posture, I hope they recognize that whatever decision other countries make about staying in the JCPOA or however they proceed, I hope he – they understand that if they begin to ramp up their nuclear program, the wrath of the entire world will fall upon them. And so it is not in their practical best interest to begin that.
Whatever happens to the JCPOA, I think the Iranians understand that. It would be – wholly separate from whether they spin a couple of extra centrifuges, if they began to move towards a weapons program, this would be something the entire world would find unacceptable, and we’d end up down a path that I don’t think this is the best interest of Iran, other actors in the Middle East, or indeed the world.
QUESTION: When you say “the wrath of the entire world,” I think of the new entente – and I am talking then for the benefit of the audience – not just of Israel, but of Bahrain, of Egypt, of Jordan and Iraq or Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates are great friends in the Middle East. Would they support that wrath descending on Iran in the form of American military action if they move this way?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, when I say “wrath,” don’t confuse that for military action. Those are – when I say “wrath,” I mean the moral opprobrium and economic power that fell upon them. That’s what I’m speaking to. I’m not talking to military action here. Just I truly hope that’s never the case. It’s not in anyone’s best interest for that. But make no mistake, President Trump has been very clear: Iran will not get a nuclear weapon nor start its weapons program on this President’s watch.
And I’ve heard some say that we’ve separated from our allies on this issue of Iran. I don’t think that’s the case. When I talk to my Arab friends, the Israelis, all of those in the region, they are right alongside us. And even when I speak to the Europeans, with whom we have a difference about the JCPOA, they too understand the threat that Iran presents, whether it’s malign activity with Hizballah or in Yemen or in Syria or in Iraq, or its missile program that is launching missiles into airports that Westerners travel through. There is a unified understanding of Iran’s malevolent behavior, and it will be an incredibly united world should Iran choose to head down a nuclear weapons path.
QUESTION: You mentioned General Soleimani. They only understand force sometimes. They are trying to move into Syria where they have put the Revolutionary Guard and the Qods Force again, but you’re saying – I want to just understand – if necessary, the United States is prepared to do whatever it has to do to stop them from having a nuclear weapon.
SECRETARY POMPEO: President Trump’s been unambiguous about – in his statements that says that Iran will not be able to obtain a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Now --
SECRETARY POMPEO: Remember too, Hugh, it’s important to remind your viewers the previous agreement permitted them to continue to enrich uranium, all right? We cut a tougher deal on our allies, the Emiratis, than we did on the Iranians with respect to nuclear power. I laid down a dozen items that we’re asking Iran to do. If your viewers go look at them, they’re all simple things.
They are simply saying become a member of the community of nations, right? Stop launching missiles into non-hostile nations, cease support of terrorism around the world, don’t go down the path of a nuclear weapons system. The asks from the United States in order for Iran to return to the community of nations are all we ask of other countries around the world to be part of the international system.
QUESTION: Anyone who follows your Twitter feed – and I do follow it, Secretary Pompeo – knows that in the last two weeks you’ve done more democracy support in Iran than happened during the Green Revolution under the previous administration. Is that going to be a mark of the Secretary Pompeo years at State, that you’re just going to support the democratic movement in Iran?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think it’s a mark of President Trump and our administration. We are very hopeful that there will be an increase in the democratic values, and the capacity for Iranians to speak their mind inside the Islamic Republic of Iran.
QUESTION: Let me switch, finally, to the question of how diplomacy has changed. You used to be able to count armies or missiles or an airplane; now, the weapons are not visible. You used to see them at Langley in your time as director of CIA. How do we know who’s got the weapons in the world of cyber, and how are you working with Secretary Mattis to assess and use diplomacy vis-a-vis those weapons?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So that’s a great question, Hugh. The range of instrumentalities of the – the scope of the battlefield has changed with the advent of cyber activity. The good news is as the United States is unrivaled in our capacity to identify bad behaviors – doesn’t mean we pick them all up, doesn’t mean we can’t be misled – but we have incredibly capable cyber teams spread throughout the United States Government, both in the Department of Defense and elsewhere who are watching. They’re watching what folks are doing around the world in cyber space. We have the capacity to respond.
As a diplomat, one of the fundamental things that Secretary Mattis both agree on is that a cyber attack does not necessarily need to be responded through – only through a cyber means. That is if they engage in something that approaches or becomes a true act of war, then the response is that the United States need to take – aren’t limited just to a cyber response. There will be times when the United States Government decides that’s the most appropriate place, because you can in fact do it quietly. You can respond in the cyber world by sending a message that the entire world doesn’t necessarily see, but your adversary may well see. But there are also times when responses in cyber space will call for diplomatic response or other types of responses from our government.
QUESTION: A couple of last questions: Does the public need to know when we’ve been attacked? We just found out this week in hearings that we were told to stand down during the Russian interference in the election – our forces. Does the public need to know that we’re doing things when we do them in order to calibrate how to judge the President and your responses and Secretary Mattis’s responses?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s a difficult challenge to figure out precisely – in the same way the Intelligence Community has things that we don’t share because they work against American interests when we do, or the Department of Defense conducts activities that they want to do in a way that’s quiet, that maybe our adversaries only know and we can protect American interest by protecting American secrets. It’s a complicated calculation to make in each and every instance about how much to disclose and the timing of those disclosures.
However, when it comes to U.S. domestic issues as it was in that case, I do think there is a thumb on the scale for disclosure. That is – I was speaking more about things that happened internationally around the security realm. When it comes to our elections and U.S. democracy, I definitely think there’s a thumb on the scale with respect to sharing with the American people the threats that are around them.
QUESTION: Secretary Mike Pompeo, thanks for having us for today’s program.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you very much. It’s wonderful to be with you.