Interview With Jake Tapper of CNN State of the Union

Interview
Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
February 24, 2019


QUESTION: And joining me right now is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Secretary Pompeo, thanks so much for being here.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Jake, it’s great to be with you. Thanks for having me on the show this morning.

QUESTION: So – and I want to start with the situation in Venezuela because it’s really dire right now. Yesterday you said, quote, “The U.S. will take action against those who oppose the peaceful restoration of democracy in Venezuela.” Exactly what action are you prepared to take?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So yesterday was a tragic day, multiple deaths, but mostly a tyrant who denied food to hungry people and medicine to those who were sick. There’s talk about four or five deaths yesterday, but the truth is there have been hundreds and hundreds starved to death by Maduro. America’s policy has been very clear. We’ve supported the Venezuelan people. We will continue to do that. There’ll be a meeting of the Lima Group on Monday, where further action will be contemplated. There’s more sanctions to be had. There’s more humanitarian assistance I think that we can provide. I think we’ll find other ways to make sure that food gets to the people who need it. And we will. We will ultimately, I believe, and the Venezuelan people will ultimately, I believe, hold accountable those who have done so much harm to the fundamental, basic rights of the people of Venezuela.

QUESTION: I want to give you this opportunity to respond to some of the criticism that U.S. foreign policy in Venezuela is facing. There are many in the international community, including your former ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, who are calling for calm, for calling to tensions to be defused. Jacobson is now publicly questioning in an interview in The Washington Post whether the Trump administration is actually trying to calm things. And you know that there are some humanitarian groups who suggest that the U.S. is using humanitarian aid as a way to force regime change, as a political tool. What’s your response?

SECRETARY POMPEO: This aid went in, Jake, at the request of the legitimate president of Venezuela. He said please bring food to my people, please bring medicine to the sick who are here. That’s what we have been working on these past few weeks. The American taxpayers provided several hundred metric tons of food supply, medical kits, hygiene kits that we delivered to Brazil and to Curacao and to Colombia trying to get it to the place that it is so desperately needed. That was our objective yesterday. It’s our objective today. It’ll be our objective tomorrow as well.

QUESTION: What do you say to the skeptics who say look, in the past the United States – not the Trump administration but the United States – has tried to smuggle arms into countries through the guise of humanitarian aid, and in fact, the Trump administration’s envoy to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, was involved in a scheme like that during the time of Nicaragua and the Contras. And they’re skeptical. They say: How do we know this is just humanitarian aid?

SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s just humanitarian aid.

QUESTION: So I want to ask you --

SECRETARY POMPEO: Check the pictures, look at the videos. It was USAID-marked. By the way, there were other countries. European countries assisted. We’re very appreciative. Canada. The Colombians were fantastic. They took real risk yesterday. This is a serious effort to address a very, very serious need.

QUESTION: Another item of skepticism in the region: Maduro said yesterday that Guaido is a puppet of the White House, and he said in the past that the United States wants to exploit Venezuela’s oil. And skeptics point to the statement from National Security Advisor John Bolton last month when he said, quote, “It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.” How much does Venezuela’s oil reserves, oil capabilities, factor into what the United States is doing in Venezuela?

SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re aimed at a singular mission, ensuring that the Venezuelan people get the democracy that they so richly deserve and that the Cubans and the Russians, who have been driving this country into the ground for years and years and years, no longer hold sway. We’ve asked the military – we saw what happened yesterday. These were mostly colectivos, random groups, gangs if you will, that conducted these activities yesterday at the border crossings. We’ve asked the military take back – take back the role that you’ve had in protecting your citizens. It’s what the acting – the acting leader, Maduro, doesn’t understand. It’s what Mr. Guaido does understand. These basic rights for the Venezuelan people are important. We hope that the Venezuelan military will take that role back of protecting their citizens from these tragedies. And if that happens, I think good things will happen, including the restoration of the wealth that was created by those oil fields that you spoke of.

QUESTION: But it seems as though Maduro’s not going anywhere near this plan, that he’s holding onto power, and the military seems to be staying with him, at least the military leaders.

SECRETARY POMPEO: It always seems that way until the day it doesn’t. I remember when I was a young soldier patrolling the then-East German border. No one predicted it on that day in 1989 that that wall would come crumbling down. Predictions are difficult. Picking exact days are difficult. I am confident that the Venezuelan people will ensure that Maduro’s days are numbered.

QUESTION: Let’s turn to the summit on Wednesday with North Korea. Vice President Pence just said a few weeks ago, quote, “We still await concrete steps by North Korea to dismantle the nuclear weapons.” Researchers at Stanford University, as you know, estimate that North Korea added about seven nuclear weapons last year. What does North Korea need to do at the summit? What do they need to pledge to do for you to consider it a success?

SECRETARY POMPEO: You have to go back to where we entered this in the Trump administration to think about the path forward. We’ve always known this would take time and it would be a step forward and slower than the world has demanded, right. This is a UN Security Council resolution that we’re attempting to achieve by getting North Korea fully denuclearized. We started when the Obama administration had a policy which was essentially test, pray, and cower, right. Let ‘em test missiles, let ‘em test nuclear weapons, pray they stop, and cower when the North Koreans made a threat.

QUESTION: Well, they did sanction also.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Not remotely what this administration has done. And they didn’t build out a coalition, an enormous global coalition we built out through the United Nations, to put that pressure in place to allow us to begin to have what have been real negotiations over the past now six or seven months. I am hopeful that when President Trump and Chairman Kim get together they’ll make a big step towards realizing what Chairman Kim promised. He promised he’d denuclearize. We hope he’ll make a big step towards that in the week ahead.

QUESTION: So what would a big step be? What’s the kind of pledge that they need to do? I mean, last summit it was nice and the remains of U.S. service members were brought back to the United States, but there wasn’t any concrete step in terms of denuclearization.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, we’ve got work to do on the denuclearization pillar. We got remains back. We’ve had testing stop. Those are all good things. Tension along the border is reduced. If you ask the military leaders, frankly on both sides from South Korea and North Korea, tensions are reduced. There are many things he could do to demonstrate his commitment to denuclearization. Our negotiating team was on the ground the last three days, and they’ll be on the ground again today. I’ll be there tomorrow to continue those discussions. There are – I don’t want to get into the details of what’s being proposed, what the offers and counter offers may be, but a real step, a demonstratable, verifiable step, is something that I know President Trump is very focused on achieving.

QUESTION: So tensions in the peninsula have alleviated, but your successor as CIA director Gina Haspel told Congress last month that North Korea is, quote, “committed to developing a long-range nuclear-armed missile that would pose a direct threat to the United States.” Now, President Trump after the last summit said, he tweeted, quote, “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.” Does he still believe there’s no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea even through Gina Haspel, the CIA director, says North Korea is committed to creating this missile to hit the United States?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, having been the CIA director not too terribly long ago, I’m very familiar with the fact pattern. We do know the history. We know the history of the North Koreans making promises, making commitments, lying, taking American money when President Clinton said we’ve got this resolved back in 1994. This administration is not going to do that. We have charted a different path. Frankly, we’ve been criticized for taking that path, where we work, we negotiate, and then the two people who can actually effectuate the denuclearization of North Korea and a brighter future for the North Korean people will gather for a second time. We have economic sanctions in place. We know the standard for relieving those sanctions. And I am very hopeful that we’ll make a substantial step towards achieving the full denuclearization in a verifiable way in North Korea. The South Koreans, the Japanese have been great partners in this, and we’re very hopeful we can get a good outcome in the days ahead.

QUESTION: Do you think North Korea remains a nuclear threat?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes.

QUESTION: But the President said he doesn’t.

SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s not what he said. I mean, I know precisely what he said --

QUESTION: He tweeted, “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”

SECRETARY POMPEO: Right. What he said is that the – what he said was that the efforts that had been made at Singapore, this commitment that Chairman Kim made, have substantially taken down the risk to the American people. It’s the mission of the Secretary of State and the President of the United States to keep American people secure. We’re aiming to achieve that.

QUESTION: Okay. I mean, that’s just a direct quote, but I want to move on. Just a few days ago, you said sanctions against North Korea won’t be lifted until, quote, “we’re confident that we’ve substantially reduced that risk,” the risk of a nuclear attack. But that standard, a substantial reduction of risk, it seems different from what you said just last June. Take a listen: “We’re going to get complete denuclearization. Only then will there be relief from the sanctions.”

So I guess the question is: Has the Trump administration changed the conditions for sanction relief from complete denuclearization, as you said in that clip, to substantial reduction of risk?

SECRETARY POMPEO: No, Jake, there’s no change. Remember these sanctions cover a broad array of activities. The core economic sanctions, the sanctions that prevent countries from conducting trade, creating wealth for North Korea, those sanctions are definitely going to remain in place. There are other things we could do – exchanges of people, lots of other ways that North Korea is sanctioned today that if we get a substantial step and move forward we could certainly provide an outlet which would demonstrate our commitment to the process as well.

QUESTION: So it’s kind of a sliding scale: a substantial reduction, some sanctions are relieved but not all, and then complete denuclearization, more sanctions are relieved? Is that right?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Jake, remember the core sanctions, the core UN Security Council resolution sanctions, we’ve said consistently full, verified denuclearization – that’s the standard for relieving those sanctions. That policy has not changed since – I think since the day President Trump took office.

QUESTION: Take a listen to what the President’s director of national intelligence said just last month about the threat from North Korea: “We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.”

How do you convince Kim to give up something that he thinks is critical to his regime’s survival? What is the United States offering that’s better than that?

SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve made it very plain to Chairman Kim the alternative to giving up his nuclear weapons is remaining a pariah state, remaining a nation that is unable to trade, unable to grow, unable to take care of its own people. We’ve made the argument that it would be far better, far better for Chairman Kim himself, his senior leadership, all of the people for North Korea. We’ve also shared with him that we are happy to make sure that North Korea’s security assurances – they’re worried about China – that the security assurances that they need can be provided in a way that is reasonable. And we have also told them there’ll be real opportunities, that countries from around the world will come, make his economy one that looks more like South Korea’s economy than the one that exists in North Korea today. Those are the kinds of things. I’ve had these conversations. I’ve been with Chairman Kim I think more hours now than anybody, including Dennis Rodman. We’ve had these conversations now over an extended period. And what Senator Coats, what Director Coats said is the history, and we’re hoping to move forward and change that history fundamentally.

QUESTION: North Korea wants the United States to end the declaration of war of the Korean War. Is that on the table for the summit?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Talked about a lot of things, Jake. I’d just prefer not to get into where the negotiations may stand today.

QUESTION: I want to ask you about Russia because earlier this month the United States announced it was pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. In the wake of that treaty’s cancelation, Vladimir Putin this week threatened to respond to any new U.S. missiles in Europe with missiles of its own pointed at the United States. I didn’t – I haven’t heard any response from the United States Government about that, but that seemed like a fairly threat – a dire threat.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Lots of bluster out of Moscow for sure. I think that bluster is aimed at covering up the core challenge, right. He was talking about America’s decision to withdraw form the INF treaty, which covers mid-range, intermediate-range missile systems. The Russians violated that treaty. There were only really two parties to the treaty. The Russians violated. It made no sense for the American people to suffer under the constraints of that treaty given that the Russians have decided they weren’t going to continue to adhere to its constraints. And now it’s time to figure out how to move forward, to come up with a solution that the Russians will actually live by. Vladimir Putin chose not to do that. His bluster is aimed at trying to convince the world, to drive a wedge between the United States and Europe, when everyone’s fully onboard. The Europeans were fully supportive of our decision, and we will move forward together in ensuring the security of the United States people.

QUESTION: One last question for you, sir. And I know that Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, is a close ally of President Trump, a close ally of yours. You just met with him. Several major Jewish American groups, ones very supportive of Israel, this week condemned Netanyahu for outreach he’s conducted to an extreme right-wing – an extremist group, really, a Jewish group, as he is seeking his fifth term in office. The group is called Otzma Yehudit. It has its roots in the racist, radical Kach Party that was banned in Israel. It was just called racist and despicable – this party – by AIPAC. Does the Trump administration have any concerns about Netanyahu extending outreach to this racist political party?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Jake, the United States relationship with Israel, we’re not about to get involved in an election, to interfere in an election of a democracy. Election campaigns are tough. We’ll allow the Israeli people to sort this out, and I am confident that when the election’s over the United States will continue to have a strong, important, very, very deep relationship with Israel that protects the American people and benefits Israel as well.

QUESTION: Is it not the responsibility of an ally of Israel to reach out and say when you think the prime minister is doing something wrong, doing something that violates the values of that relationship and the values of the Jewish state?

SECRETARY POMPEO: This administration has been very vocal when we see human rights violations wherever we find them – friends, foes, adversaries, allies. We’ve been very consistent. We do it in different ways. We do it at different times. We will certainly continue to do that. It’s a deep, important tradition of the United States of America, and the Trump administration will continue to do that as well, Jake.

QUESTION: That’s all the time we have. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, please come back. It was a – it was great having you here.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you very much, Jake. I appreciate it.