Interview With Tony Katz of Tony Katz Today
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, Tony Katz. Great to be with you, sir.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hey, Tony. How are you?
QUESTION: I am doing well. I imagine my day is not as busy as yours. What I want to kind of get into: America is focused on midterm elections. You’re focused on probably in many ways some equally or if not a bigger subject. And I want to start in a conversation of Iran, because with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the contributor there at The Washington Post, Iran has become a front-and-center subject again. Saudi Arabia, of course, and the murder there of Khashoggi there in the embassy in Turkey, but it’s been a conversation about the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and how that works in dealing with what I believe we still think of as public enemy number one, which is Iran. Is Iran the top threat to the United States, and how does the relationship with Saudi Arabia play into it?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Let me begin with the relationship between Iran and America national security, the safety of American people. This country – Tony, you’ll know this – is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. Just these past weeks, we’ve seen them try to assassinate people, conduct assassinations in Europe. These are the hallmarks of a regime that has inflicted enormous instability in the Middle East, and it is the primary reason that President Trump thought the JCPOA was such an awful deal and has chosen to withdraw, and why on Monday of the week ahead we will reimpose the harshest sanctions ever having been in place on the Islamic Republic of Iran.
And the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been a great partner with us in pushing back on the Iranian regime in an effort to change its behavior by assisting and ensuring that there is sufficient crude oil in the marketplace, for all the crude oil that the Iranian regime will no longer be able to sell in order to fund its terror campaign across the world.
QUESTION: I think that’s the part people have a hard time squaring the circle on. Saudi Arabia, our partner – when Saudi Arabia engaged this murder in a way that could only be described as amateurish, and that’s me being kind, and Saudi Arabia regarding September 11th – how do we still qualify it as a friendship and a worthwhile relationship?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So we’ve made very clear – President Trump has made very clear – that the murder of Jamal Khashoggi is completely unacceptable. It’s out of bounds; it’s not the way nations behave. The Saudi leadership has said the same thing. We and they are engaged in a fact-finding campaign. We will do our own work to make sure we understand precisely what happened, and we have made a commitment to holding accountable those responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
But in addition to that, we also recognize a long-time, deep set of strategic relationships with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They are the custodian for the two holy sites. They are partners in commerce. They provide enormous opportunities for Americans to grow their businesses and for wealth creation here in the United States, and they have been a solid partner for the Trump administration is countering terrorism all across the world. Those are important American national security interests, and we can’t lose sight of that.
QUESTION: Talking to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The other part of that equation is Turkey. You’re talking about between the Turks and Iran a desire for hegemony in the area. Turkey has been continually, under President Erdogan, Eastern-looking, as opposed to being Western-looking as a NATO nation. Does there come a moment where Turkey’s future as a NATO nation and as an ally comes into question?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I hope not. It would be unfortunate for NATO; it’d be unfortunate for the United States, and I think even more unfortunate for the people of Turkey if that were to become the case. It’s been a challenging relationship during the Trump administration’s first year and a half, to be sure, but there have also been places where we’ve had real important successes. We are working together in parts of Syria today to deny terrorists safe haven, terrorists who have, in fact, plotted to attack U.S. civil aviation. These are important American interests.
We are hopeful that Turkey and President Erdogan will come to understand the U.S. is a better partner than Iran, and the direction that President Erdogan ought to go is to support deeper relationships with the United States and with Europe and with NATO. And if we can do that, Turkey can be a bulwark to prevent America from becoming threatened by terrorists in the region.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about – move it to where I would believe – and you’ll correct me if I’m wrong, sir – our two largest potential, if not actual, geopolitical foes: Russia and China. And part of what I believe we’re seeing is a little bit of a return to more of a Henry Kissinger type theory that you don’t get anywhere by not having a relationship with people; try to have relationships with people, specifically these two nations, so the other nation is more inclined to have a relationship with you.
In Russia, you still have a question about what’s happening in the Ukraine. You have conversations about how they’re trying to move into some of those Estonian nations. With China, it’s the Spratly Islands, and trying to maintain control of the South China Sea, the Yellow Sea, and therefore build military dominance China is looking for. Who’s the bigger threat? Where should Americans be paying more of their attention, I should say?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, it’s a really good question. I try to avoid ranking and prioritizing but rather just talking about the differences and the threats between those two countries. Russia is a much smaller economy, but still maintains an enormously large nuclear arsenal, which threatens not only the United States but the world. President Trump has been really tough. We have done things to put pressure on Vladimir Putin and Russia in a way that no previous administration has.
But to you point, we have also tried to find places where we can find common interests with Russia and with Vladimir Putin. I did it when I was CIA director on counterterrorism. We’re trying to do this in different places so that we can have a relationship so that we hopefully can turn the nature of Russia, where they will cease these kinds of activities that are so troubling: interference in our elections or efforts to do so, the efforts that they’re making in Ukraine. We’re trying to push back against those and demonstrate to Russia that the benefit to those activities is not outweighed by the enormous cost that will be imposed if they continue them.
On China, conversely, this is a long-term challenge. This challenge is across every front. President Trump began taking on the challenge of unfair trade. We have very, very unfair trade with China and have had for many administrations, and he said enough. Fair and reciprocal trade is going to be demanded, and President Trump is determined to achieve that.
And then we have other sets of challenges, China’s continued efforts in the South China Sea. Just this week, ten Chinese were indicted for stealing intellectual property, aviation-related intellectual property. These are not the types of actions that countries that truly want to be part of the global community engage in, and we’re pushing back against China across every one of those fronts to try and achieve that on behalf of the American people.
QUESTION: You brought up the trade war, sir. Tech stocks here in the U.S. – their worst month since 2008. NASDAQ dropping 9.2 percent in October. And in the Dow, there’s a conversation about jitters regarding a possible trade war with China. Does that play into your figuring and factoring in dealing with China? The people of my state of Indiana paying very close attention to those tariffs and to this trade war.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. President Trump’s been very clear. We understand that there are risks to the American people. We’re going to make sure that those don’t take place. And I’m convinced that the policies that we’re engaging will benefit the people of Indiana. I’m – Tony, I’m from Kansas – some of the same sets of interests from the state from which I hail as well.
We are very confident that the policies that we develop with China, the trading relationship that we develop with China, will be better for not only tech companies but for agricultural interests, for industrial interests, for producers of real goods in the United States, in the heartland of America, in places like Indiana and like Kansas. They’ll have real access to an enormously big and growing market in China in a way that we’ve never had for them before. Our determination is to make sure that our producers here in America have the opportunity to compete with Chinese companies on a fair and level playing field, and we’re very confident that the citizens of Indiana and businesses of Indiana will be successful when we achieve that.
QUESTION: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Sir, a pleasure. Hope to have you back.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you very much, sir. Have a good day.