Interview With Michelle Caruso-Cabrera of CNBC
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Thanks so much for doing this.
SECRETARY POMPEO: You bet.
QUESTION: We’re going to talk about the initiatives for the Indo-Pacific region for sure, but first can I start with: The President, during his news conference with the prime minister of Italy, said he would meet with the president of Iran with no preconditions. Are you on board with that? Is that a good idea?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I am indeed. We’ve said this before. We – the President wants to meet with folks to solve problems. If the Iranians demonstrate a commitment to make fundamental changes in how they treat their own people, reduce their malign behavior, can agree that it’s worthwhile to enter into a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation, then the President has said he is prepared to sit down and have the conversation with him.
QUESTION: There were reports last week that they have rebuffed numerous requests from the President. Is that true?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m not going to speak about private conversations that may have been had or may not have been had.
QUESTION: The Iranian currency is getting pummeled, and this is even ahead of the snapback sanctions that go into place next week. Are you happy about that? Is that a good thing? Is that going to help bring them to the table?
SECRETARY POMPEO: What we’re looking for isn’t the rial to collapse or anything else for that matter. What we are demanding in a change in the behavior of the regime. You can’t launch missiles into Riyadh. You can’t arm people in Iraq and Syria and Lebanese Hizballah. You can’t fight with Iraqi militias. That’s not behavior that is acceptable from Iran. Those are the changes that we’re looking for, and we’re hopeful that the Iranian regime will see it that way as well and change their behavior.
QUESTION: You announced several new initiatives today related to the Indo-Pacific region. That’s basically the Pacific and India. You described it as a new era. Why? Why are you doing this?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s an important region. It’s been an important region for a while, but the Trump administration is taking this incredibly seriously and we’re doing it in a way that’s very consistent with this administration. We want private industry with the assistance of the United States Government, understanding that we’re going to support this effort, we’re going to have private industry go in and develop relationships. When American businesses come to these countries, they’ll thrive. We’ll have contracts that are open and transparent. We’ll form real partnerships with these countries, and we will benefit America for sure, but we’ll benefit each of the nations in the Indo-Pacific by engaging in this way.
QUESTION: When you read the descriptions, if you read the Chinese headlines today, they say this is a counter to One Belt, One Road – this is the massive infrastructure spending plan that China is doing in numerous countries throughout Asia and even into Europe. Is this an answer to One Belt, One Road – what you announced today?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re convinced that American engagement in the Indo-Pacific benefits all the nations in that region. We want it to be free, we want it to be open. We’re not looking for dominance. We’re looking for partnerships. Others choose to behave differently. We want these to be commercially available projects led by the American private sector in a way that benefits the entire region and the world.
QUESTION: There’s a reason why some of these countries, though, like to get involved with One Belt, One Road, right? Those contracts are not transparent. They are state-directed. We’ve discovered now since a lot of them got into place that there’s a lot of corruption. Autocratic countries actually like that; they don’t want transparency, they don’t want companies that don’t want to pay bribes. I mean, how do you convince those countries that this is a better option, that the way the United States does things is a better option?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, I think some of the countries who have engaged in that find themselves in a place that they are not happy about, and I think the others are beginning to see that as well.
The way you convince them is that you demonstrate that over the course of history, over the even near term and medium term, that developing relationships with the United States, that having transparency, actually turns out to be better for the leadership and for the people in each of these countries. I’m convinced that history supports that theory, and I’m also convinced that the vast majority of the countries in the Indo-Pacific will agree with that.
QUESTION: The Trans-Pacific Partnership probably wouldn’t have happened regardless of who won; the left and the right seemed to hate it, right. Everybody’s against free trade these days, it seems. But my colleagues in CNBC Asia – and this interview is going to air there in just a couple of hours when they wake up – they were keenly interested in this. And they said, if you really want to have economic influence in Asia, the Trans-Pacific Partnership would be the way to do it. What do you say to them?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, the right mechanism is to be determined, but President Trump wants free trade. Make no mistake about it. You suggested that there’s no free traders left; President Trump is an ardent free trader. Zero tariffs, zero subsidies, zero barriers. He’s looking to rebalance these relationships. And as I said, perhaps it’s a multilateral arrangement, but more likely it will be a series of bilateral arrangements. They tend to prove more effective, better for the American people, and they’ll get the outcome that President Trump is demanding. He’s simply looking for fair, and open, and reciprocal trade. And when we get that, we’ll have free trade relationships with these countries that will benefit not only the United States but their countries as well.
QUESTION: Is his methodology making your job harder as a diplomat? The trade war?
SECRETARY POMPEO: His methodology is leading to increased economic opportunity here in the United States of America. That’s always a benefit for any diplomat or any soldier.
QUESTION: One of the countries that’s really gorged on One Belt, One Road is Pakistan – so much so they’ve taken on all kinds of debt. They might actually have to go to the IMF, the International Monetary Fund, for a bailout because they’ve taken on so much Chinese debt. The IMF is funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars – many other countries as well, but if they go to the IMF for a bailout, there’s a chance that U.S. taxpayer dollars are going to go towards Chinese-directed companies as part of that bailout. Are you concerned about that? Are you monitoring that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So two thoughts. First, there’s new leadership in Pakistan, and we welcome engagement with them in a way that we think will benefit each of our two countries. Second, make no mistake: We will be watching what the IMF does. There’s no rationale for IMF tax dollars – and associated with that, American dollars that are part of the IMF funding – for those to go to bail out Chinese bondholders or China itself.
QUESTION: North Korea is part of the Indo-Pacific region. Numerous times during the whole – all the events around Helsinki – I mean, excuse me, around Singapore – both you, the President, other world leaders refer to the opening of the North Korean economy. Has Kim Jong-un ever actually expressed a desire to have more market forces in his economy? It’s been Stalinist long past Stalin’s death. Is he interested in changing that economy in a way that is fundamental?
SECRETARY POMPEO: He has, and we’ve spoken to him about a brighter future for North Korea. We’ve spoken to him about the importance of allowing private dollars to come in – not just dollars from the United States, although I am confident there will be Americans who would want to invest in an open and rules-based North Korea, but Japanese, South Korean, Chinese too will all want to be part of the economic opportunity that there is in North Korea.
We’ve told Chairman Kim, if we can denuclearize your country, there is a brighter future for the North Korean people. We’re convinced that he, too, shares that understanding that there has to be – indeed he has directed – better economic times for his own people.
QUESTION: But does he have any belief in market forces at all?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve talked to him about how it is that you grow an economy, that you grow an economy with a private rules-based system and foreign direct investment is the quickest way to fuel economic improvement for your own people.
QUESTION: Anything I should have asked or you expected me to ask you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think you covered just about the waterfront, ma’am. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you for your time.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Wonderful to see you.
QUESTION: Appreciate it.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Have a good day.
QUESTION: You too.