Interview With Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. I know your time is very short going into these UN meetings, so thanks for seeing us today.
SECRETARY POMPEO: You’re most welcome. It’s good to be with you, Andrea.
QUESTION: And I wanted to ask you about North Korea first of all. President Moon is bringing a message from Kim Jong-un that he wants – South Korea wants – the U.S. to help in declaring peace, ending the conflict, the war, that has gone back all of these decades. Why should the U.S. reward Kim Jong-un when he has still not met any of your three demands: to declare his stockpile of weapons, to set a specific timetable for giving up these weapons, to verify it, to make it irreversible?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, you have to remember where we entered the picture in this administration. We were watching their program continue to expand, watching missile tests and nuclear tests take place.
QUESTION: But isn’t that the point? He’s fooled three previous American presidents. How do we know he’s not playing us?
SECRETARY POMPEO: This is fundamentally different. The approach that this administration has taken is fundamentally different than in each of the previous negotiations between both Democratic and Republican presidents. The economic sanctions, the issue that drove Chairman Kim to ultimately meet with President Trump and have the historic summit, remain in place, jot and tittle. These aren’t American sanctions, these are global sanctions put in place --
QUESTION: In fact, there are reports, sir, of --
SECRETARY POMPEO: -- by the entire world, the UN Security Council resolution. So we’ve known this was going to take time. We knew that it wouldn’t happen instantaneously. But each step, including the visit from President Moon where they made an incremental progress – for the first time the North and South spoke about denuclearization in a material way. These are important steps. There’s much work remains to be done, and we have the patience and determination – and we believe the world does too – to achieve this goal.
QUESTION: But China and Russia are taking the signal, certainly, from the summit meeting and from the President’s declaration of progress that the nuclear threat is over. The smuggling is spiking, oil smuggling, since the summit. The signal to the rest of the world is – excuse me – to ease off of sanctions.
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s not the signal I’m hearing from the rest of the world – the European countries, countries from the Middle East, indeed China and Russia both have stated their continued commitment to enforce the UN Security Council resolutions. There’s always a gap. We’re working diligently on enforcement of those Security Council resolutions and that – those economic sanctions will remain in place until we get to the end, till we get to that final denuclearization which Chairman Kim promised to President Trump he would undertake.
QUESTION: There are a lot of reports that – ours as well as others – not only of increased smuggling but also that he is actually expanding his arsenal, not limiting his arsenal. He’s making a lot of promises now. Are they enough to justify another summit, a second summit, with the President?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Ultimately, that’ll be a decision for the President.
QUESTION: Would you --
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m hopeful that I’ll get a chance to travel again to Pyongyang to continue these negotiations before too long, and that before too long – and then in relatively short order I hope the two leaders get together again to continue to make progress on this incredible, important issue for the entire world.
QUESTION: The President is going to be hosting a Security Council meeting on nonproliferation, but he’s tweeting today it’s really about Iran. Are you signaling in a lot of your policies that you really want a soft regime change, or a real regime change? Do you see Rouhani from Iran – President Rouhani – meeting with the President of the United States?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve made very clear that regime change is not President Trump’s policy. We’ve laid out what it is we want from the Islamic Republic of Iran. It’s pretty straightforward, Andrea. How about this: For starters, stop launching missiles into Riyadh, arming Hizballah, and threatening Israel. How about ceasing to be the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. These are simple demands that we make of every country in the world, and that’s what we’re looking for from Iran as well. When the Islamic regime makes that change, we’ll be happy to have a conversation with them. President Trump’s made that very clear. But there’s no signs that they’re backing off continuing their terror threats around the world.
QUESTION: On Yemen, you have indicated continued backing of the war in Yemen even after the killing of 40 schoolchildren by a Saudi airstrike, a school bus. A lot of people in this State Department believe that we should not be continuing this support, and the argument is that you and the administration are doing it because of the $2 billion in arms sales, to avoid jeopardizing those arms sales to the Saudis and to the others in the region.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I find that suggestion offensive. The reason we’re continuing to work in Yemen is to try and resolve that situation through the UN-directed peace operation. We support that effort. We’ve continued to support that effort. The killing of the children is tragic. The Saudis have taken responsibility for that. Secretary Mattis and myself have both worked closely with the entire Saudi-led coalition to reduce the risk of civilian casualties and collateral damage. We’re all imperfect, but we’re working hard towards that end. Peace in Yemen is important, and if Iran would cease arming the Houthis and firing missiles out of Yemen into the Gulf states, we’d be a lot closer to that peace.
QUESTION: I know time is short. Before you go – and you’re going on in a few hours to the Value Voters Summit – and speaking about American values, the President today has tweeted that if the attack against the accuser of Judge Kavanaugh were as serious as she says it is, that she should have reported it back 36 years ago when she was 15 years old. Is that the American value that we should be teaching our women?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m going to be talking today about religious freedom, the fundamental values that are enshrined in our Constitution. With respect to the confirmation process for Judge Kavanaugh, I regret that this arose at the end. This was unfortunately sat on by a United States senator for weeks, as best I understand that, when there were confirmation hearings, a chance for Judge Kavanaugh to explain himself to them in private settings and in public settings, and instead a United States senator chose not to undertake that. I regret that. I think it’s unfortunate. I think the President has said pretty clearly we hope the process will move forward fairly and efficiently, and I’m pretty focused on making sure that American foreign policy is executed in a way that keeps Americans safe.
QUESTION: Well, thank you, sir, and we look forward to next week at the UN.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Andrea. Good to see you.
QUESTION: You too.