Interview With Elise Labott of CNN
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Elise, it’s great to be with you.
QUESTION: Let’s start with North Korea. You said yesterday you’re going to begin negotiations with the North Koreans, and you’ll be meeting with your foreign minister colleague up in New York. But how much do you think ultimately a deal with North Korea is going to end on the relationship between President Trump and Kim Jong-un?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So that relationship is certainly very important, as is the relationship between Chairman Kim and President Moon. They had their inter-Korean summit this past week where they made incremental progress, good stuff. President Trump has always known that we needed first to stop their testing of their nuclear weapon systems as well as their missiles – we’ve accomplished that – and then the process of full denuclearization can begin to take place. So we’re working on that. There have been lots of conversations, lots of work, lots of negotiation at multiple levels. But your point, that the two leaders will ultimately have to finish this thing off, close this deal, is certainly the case.
QUESTION: Is the President allowing Kim Jong-un to set the pace and scope, knowing that he made these commitments, and trust that he’ll make that decision ultimately?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We knew the pace would be uneven, but that progress each and every day was important. We think we’re getting that. Remember, the sanctions remain in place – the world’s sanctions, not America’s sanctions. The UN Security Council resolutions demand that Chairman Kim make this decision to denuclearize, and those sanctions and the enforcement of those sanctions will continue until such time as that occurs. That’s the important element that is different from what previous negotiators have done. We’ve always, in America, handed him a pile of money, or his father a pile of money, and said, “We hope you’ll denuclearize.” Our approach is different. It is to continue to enforce the sanctions until such time as we get to the end of the process.
QUESTION: Okay, let’s move to Iran, and particularly Iraq and Syria. You’ve had two attacks by Iranian-backed militias in U.S. diplomatic facilities in Iraq. The U.S. has said that it’s going to make sure all Iranian troops are going to leave Syria and is willing to stay the course. Are we headed towards a confrontation with Iran?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Iran has been confronting the world as the world’s largest state sponsor of terror for quite some time.
QUESTION: It seems there was an escalation, though.
SECRETARY POMPEO: They have armed militias – the Lebanese Hizballah, Kata'ib Hizballah, and militias in Iraq. They’re arming the Houthis in Yemen, launching missiles into the Gulf states. The United States has begun to apply economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran to prevent them from doing this. That’s our mission. And it is true, Elise, we have told the Islamic Republic of Iran that using a proxy force to attack an American interest will not prevent us from responding against the prime actor. That is, we will not let Iran get away with using a proxy force to attack an American interest. Iran will be held accountable for those incidents.
QUESTION: Even militarily?
SECRETARY POMPEO: They’re going to be held accountable. If they’re responsible for the arming and training of these militias, we’re going to go to the source.
QUESTION: And you criticized Secretary of State John Kerry, former Secretary Kerry, for his meetings with Iran, saying he needs to get off the stage. But can you tell me, how is this jeopardizing your efforts right now?
SECRETARY POMPEO: No American – and in particular no former Secretary of State – should be actively seeking to undermine the foreign policy of the United States of America. You know, frankly, this was Secretary Kerry’s problem. He always refused to treat our enemies like enemies. And here he is today as the former Secretary of State telling our adversaries – the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, people who are conducting assassination attempts in Europe – just wait out this administration, giving foreign policy advice directly contrary to what President Trump is trying to achieve on behalf of America.
QUESTION: Is it working, though? Is it working?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Every American – especially former secretary of states – should be advocating for America’s foreign policy. It’s that straightforward.
QUESTION: The President said last night, Mr. Secretary, that – and again this morning that key allies are worried about the declassification of these – some of these Russia documents. Why are they concerned? Who’s concerned? And didn’t you, when you were CIA director, anticipate this might happen?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I’ll leave to the Intelligence Community and the FBI and Justice Department to make the decisions about particular documents. I’m frankly not familiar with the contents of them, but I’ll say this: I am very confident that this administration won’t do a single thing which will put at risk a source, a method, our partners around the world. We haven’t done so to date, and I am very confident that President Trump and our team won’t do so in the future.
QUESTION: Do you think this is all a witch hunt, this Mueller probe, as the President has said?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I have been clear since I was first in front of the Senate for my confirmation hearing as the CIA director that we understand that there are many countries attempting to undermine American democracy and Western values, and that in 2016 – and frankly, in elections before that – the Russians attempted to interfere in our election. I would add to that list in 2018, and perhaps in 2020 as well, China, Iran, North Korea, nonstate actors, each of whom has an interest in trying to undermine Western democracy, especially here in the United States. We are working our tails off to prevent them from having any impact on any election anywhere in the United States.
QUESTION: Bob Woodward in his book suggested that the President felt that this Russia probe is weakening him and U.S. diplomacy. Have you found that in your meetings?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I have found that moving away from leading from behind has been welcomed by the world. The partners I met when the CIA director, and just this week I met with another half a dozen, they understand that America is back, we are engaged, we are leading from a core set of principles that they all can rally around and begin to help us build coalitions to solve some of the most difficult problems facing this world that were left with us – left to us by the previous administration.
QUESTION: The Woodward book describes a President who doesn’t understand national security, a cabinet that is moving things around to save the country from the President’s national security. Have you seen that, and do you do that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I find that absolutely ludicrous. There is – I mean, I’ll be careful. There aren’t many members of the President’s cabinet who have spent as much time with him as I have. I briefed him almost every day as CIA director. I see him and talk to him every day now. This is a President who is fully informed, well briefed, listens, asks hard questions, and is leading his foreign policy team towards solving so many of the problems that plague this world. I wish the previous administration had acted with such diligence and power, but it was left to us. We’ll get it right.