Interview With Hadi Nili of BBC Persian
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for sitting down with BBC Persian.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hadi, it’s great to be with you today.
QUESTION: You say that you have put maximum pressure on Iran, most severe sanctions, but do you see any sign that the Iranian leaders are coming to the table to have negotiations?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We haven’t seen any indication of that yet, but we’re very hopeful that they will do that. We think it’s what the Iranian people would want them to do. Remember the purpose. The purpose is to stop Iran’s destabilizing influence in the region, assassination campaigns in Europe, work to support Lebanese Hizballah that’s threatened Americans and Israelis, and using Iranian people’s wealth to foment this terror around the world is not what the Iranian people want. And so our effort – not just the sanctions, but the American effort – is aimed at getting the Iranian leadership to understand this isn’t in the best interests of their country or their people and to change their behavior.
QUESTION: And what if they don’t come to the table? What’s your next move? What could be your next move?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We don’t talk about what next moves are, right? We’re hopeful that they will conclude it’s in their best interest to change this behavior. It’s not even just about coming to the table, right? It’s not about negotiations. It’s about a change in behavior. They’re arming people in Yemen, the Houthis, who are launching missiles into Riyadh and into other parts of the Middle East that threaten Americans, threaten, frankly, other Iranians who are traveling through these airports too. This is deeply destabilizing. It’s not what the Iranian people want.
And so our efforts – our efforts aren’t aimed to punish the Iranian people and, indeed, exactly the opposite. Our aim here is to get the regime to decide it is not in its own country’s best interest to engage in this behavior and to change their ways.
QUESTION: You say you are not punishing the people. You say that the sanctions are not targeting the people. But what if --
SECRETARY POMPEO: No, they’re not.
QUESTION: But what if the sanctions hurt the Iranian people, the ordinary lives of them?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The folks who are hurting the Iranian people are the ayatollah and Qasem Soleimani and the Iranian leadership. That’s who is bringing the difficulties to Iran today. And you see this. You see this when you read of the protests. You see this when Iranian people have a chance to speak, although we know the human rights there don’t permit the Iranian people to speak freely. It’s the regime that is inflicting harm on the Iranian people, not the world and not the United States.
QUESTION: But as you – but you say that this is not a democratic regime. You say that the regime doesn’t care for Iranian people. But you say you do care for Iranian people.
SECRETARY POMPEO: We do.
QUESTION: So if the sanctions – if you see the facts that these sanctions are actually hurting Iranian people, if you see the facts that there are hardship in importing medicine for Iranian people, would that make any difference to you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hadi, I’m glad you mentioned medicine. None of the sanctions that have been imposed prevent humanitarian assistance and, indeed, there are big exemptions for medicine for sure, pharmaceuticals, but also more broadly than that for agricultural imports too so that the Iranian people have foodstuffs as well. We have provided, we have accommodated the Iranian people with our sanctions, and it’s now the Iranian Government’s responsibility to make sure that they do the right thing with the wealth, the enormous wealth, the incredible place and the incredible people in Iran. It’s their job to do the right thing for their people.
QUESTION: You said that there are waivers for – there are exemptions for medicine and for agricultural imports, but the issue is with the banking transfers. BBC sees the facts – we investigated about this – that these sanctions that are already in place are affecting that part of imports for medicine and agricultural and also food. And do you mind – I mean, do you mind mentioning more details about your efforts to make sure that medicine and food could be exempted from all the sanctions?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Of course. Not only are the transactions themselves exempted – that is, the transactions in medicine, for example – but the financial transactions connected to that activity also are authorized. There’s nothing that prevents this from happening in the sanctions that have been reimposed, and so we are confident that this process will work properly.
QUESTION: But then practically, when the process goes ahead, and if you see facts --
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, we’re going to work to do two things: that things that are sanctioned don’t happen, and things that are permitted to happen are permissible, and can in fact happen.
Well, remember, just so you remember, the leadership has to make a decision that they want their people to eat. They have to make a decision that they want to use their wealth to import medicine, and not use their wealth to fund Qasem Soleimani’s travels around the Middle East with – causing death and destruction. That’s the Iranian Government’s choice on how to use Iranian wealth. If they choose to squander, if the Iranian leadership chooses to spoil it, if they choose to use it in a way that doesn’t benefit the Iranian people, I’m very confident the Iranian people will take a response that tries to fix that themselves as well.
QUESTION: This also happened under previous administration, Obama administration, under those sanctions, that medicine and food were – I mean, there were difficulties in putting them – I mean --
SECRETARY POMPEO: I hope that doesn’t happen here. It’s not our intention.
QUESTION: And your critics say that Iran has outmaneuvered U.S. by staying in the deal while only – your only major allies that are supporting your policy are Israel and Saudi Arabia. On the other side, your European allies, China, Russia, even India – they want to keep business with Iran. Javad Zarif, your Iranian counterpart, just released a video yesterday saying that the U.S. is isolated here. Do you feel isolated here?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I’ll tell you who’s isolated. It’s the man who just went out and said he wasn’t isolated: Mr. Zarif. We have an enormous coalition supporting our effort. The crude oil exports from nearly every country in the world have stopped already, even before the sanctions were re-imposed.
There are European countries that support us, there are countries throughout the Middle East that support us, there are countries all around the world who understand that Iran’s malign activity is inappropriate. Even the E3, although they have tried to stay within the JCPOA, they understand too that Iran’s malign activity – there was an assassination attempt by Iran in Denmark, in the heart of Europe – they understand this risk, and they too are beginning to push back against the Iranian leadership and say enough is enough, behave like a normal nation, and when you do, we’ll welcome you back into the community of nations.
QUESTION: And Democrats were so much anger – angry about Saudi Arabia’s behavior in Yemen, also about Khashoggi’s death. Now that they hold the House, do you think they could make some obstacles for your foreign policy regarding the regional policy – for example, stopping arms sales, maybe, to Saudi Arabia? And how does that affect your regional policy about Iran?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, so two thoughts. First, the challenge in Yemen is in large part the responsibility of the Iranian leadership. It’s the Iranian leadership that continues to fuel the Houthis in a way that has engendered this civil war that has wreaked so much death and destruction inside of Yemen, so much – you see the pictures, they are heartbreaking. The Saudis have provided millions and millions of dollars of humanitarian relief. Hadi, do you know how much money Iran has provided for humanitarian relief in Yemen?
QUESTION: You tell me, please.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, almost nothing. Almost nothing.
QUESTION: But how --
SECRETARY POMPEO: This is a fundamental difference in --
QUESTION: Civilian casualties are --
SECRETARY POMPEO: This is a fundamental difference in the humanitarian nature of these two nations. Iran causes death and destruction inside of Yemen and does nothing to prevent the starvation, and the Saudis provide millions and millions of dollars – as do the Emiratis – to mitigate this risk and this harm. And so it’s a complicated problem; I made a statement last week. I’m very hopeful that every side will lay down their weapons in Yemen, and that Martin Griffiths, the UN special representative tasked with finding a political solution in Yemen – but that can’t happen unless the Iranians decide that the Houthis will no longer engage in violence there. If they do, we can find a peaceful path forward in Yemen, and I am very hopeful that that will happen. It’s the right outcome for everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Great. Hadi, thank you very much, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you.