On March 13, President Donald Trump announced that he was replacing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo. Pompeo has been outspoken on Iran both as a Republican congressman from Kansas (2011-2017) and as CIA director. The Senate confirmed Pompeo on April 27, 2018. The following is a collection of his key remarks on Iran.
Since the United States declared our intention to bring all Iranian oil purchases to zero in April, the ayatollah has gone all in on a campaign of extortion diplomacy. Here’s just a short list of what the regime has done since July: On July 1st, Iran surpassed its 300-kilogram limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpile in defiance of its nuclear commitments. On July 2nd, the Iran-backed Houthis attacked Abha Airport in Saudi Arabia, and they’ve continued to do so since that time. On July 8th, Iran reached levels of enrichment of about four and a half percent, breaching its nuclear commitments, which cap enrichment at 3.67 percent.
Iran continues to threaten further expansions of its nuclear program in defiance of its international commitments. On July 10th, the IRGC navy unsuccessfully attempted to seize a UK tanker as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz. On July 14th, the IRGC navy seized a Panamanian flagged, UAE-owned tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. On July 19th, the IRGC navy seized a British tanker, the Stena Impero, in the Strait of Hormuz. And Iran continues to detain that ship and its crew. On July 19th, the IRGC navy also seized the Liberian flagged, British-owned tanker Mesdar. On July 25th, Iran test-fired a ballistic missile in defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 2231.
And on another Iran-related note, we are already tracking very closely the JCPOA provisions expiring in October of 2020, namely the UN arms embargo and the travel restrictions on Qasem Soleimani. The whole world is able to track them, too. We now have a countdown clock on the State Department’s Iran webpage. Time is drawing short to continue this activity of restricting Iran’s capacity to foment its terror regime. The international community will have plenty of time to see how long it has until Iran is unshackled to create new turmoil, and figure out what it must do to prevent this from happening.
— August 20, 2019, in a speech at a U.N. Security Council Session
QUESTION: Let’s go to the Strait of Hormuz because top Iranian officials, as you know, are getting tough with us, saying the United States to act with wisdom. Another Iranian official said there would be grave consequences if the U.S. acts there. What’s the situation in the Strait of Hormuz right now? Because the people are concerned, Mr. Secretary, that we’re about to stumble into a war.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So the good news is we are acting with wisdom. It’s wisdom to have withdrawn from the JCPOA, which was going to put Iran on the path to a nuclear weapon, and President Trump is determined not to let that happen. And so we have conducted our Middle East strategy and our work with Iran to say, nope, you can’t conduct assassination campaigns in Europe, you can’t conduct terror efforts from all across the Middle East, you’re not going to build out a nuclear weapons program. And we’ve put in place a set of sanctions that have denied the Iranian regime wealth, and we can see that that is working. Hizballah has less money. Some of the proxy forces have fewer resources. The Iranian leadership is having to make difficult choices about how to spend its now limited money. The previous administration wrote them a big check, sent across a pile of cash, and then opened up the Iranian economy so they could continue to grow their terror campaign all across the world. We’ll never let that happen.
QUESTION: We withdrew the deal, but we don’t have a new deal in place, and people are saying that the sanctions are actually hurting the Iranian people. What do you say to that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The Iranian people know that the terror campaign, the revolutionary campaign that their leaders are undertaking, isn’t in their best interest, and I hope that the Iranian people work to change the behavior of the Iranian regime. Ultimately, they’ll have to make that decision, and we’re very hopeful that they will see a pathway clear such that this behavior where Iran acts outside the normal course of what ordinary countries do, and that they’ll get their leadership to conform to what’s best for the Iranian people.
QUESTION: I know you can’t give details, but can you say if there are back-channel talks going on right now to get the parties to the table?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I just don’t want to talk about it.
— August 20, 2019, in an interview with Gayle King of CBS This Morning
QUESTION: The other intersection of State and Commerce and Treasury is Iran, I think, because of oil prices and we’ve – the R-word’s being thrown around now. The last thing we need is an oil shock or something right now, but Iran – you probably wake up in the morning and they hand you those papers and you’re like “I don’t know if I want to really look at that today, but I’m ready for something from Iran every – once a week.” They’re stirring things up, are they not? When does it affect oil prices, do you think?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I’m at a UN Security Council meeting. It’s why I came to New York today, talking about this threat from Iran. I remember back, Joe, when we withdrew from the JCPOA, when the President made that decision, the right decision. Folks said crude oil would go to a hundred bucks a barrel, 110; you can go read some of the major financial institutions writing this down. When I woke up this morning, Brent Crude, 58 bucks; WTI, a little less than that, 55, 56. We have managed to take almost 2.7 million barrels of crude oil off of the markets by denying Iran the wealth to create their terror campaign around the world and we have managed to keep the oil markets fully supplied. I’m confident we can continue to do that.
— August 20, 2019, in an interview with CNBC
I want to thank Britain, on behalf of President Trump and our Administration, for your decision to assist in the protection of the Strait of Hormuz and the freedom of navigation.
You’ve got centuries of maritime expertise under your belt, so you understand the importance of protecting international shipping from unprovoked attacks. This is a victory for meaningful, effective multilateralism.
We too want to thank the United Kingdom for your continued support of the Defeat ISIS campaign, and your diplomatic support for UN Security Council Resolution 2254, and your contributions to alleviate Iranian-caused suffering in Yemen. All of these activities help bring stability to war zones that Iran has been able to exploit. We hope that the United Kingdom will keep taking new steps to hold the Islamic Republic of Iran responsible for its rash of destructive behavior.
— August 7, 2019, in a press conference with U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab
The Trump administration has implemented an unprecedented pressure campaign on Iran’s leaders with two objectives: First, to deprive the Iranian regime of the money it needs to support its destabilizing activities. Second, to force the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the negotiating table to conclude a comprehensive and enduring deal.
The comprehensive deal we seek with the Iranian regime should address four key areas: its nuclear program, its ballistic missile development and proliferation, its support for terrorist groups and proxies, and its treatment and illegal detention of U.S. citizens.
Before we reimposed sanctions and accelerated our pressure campaign, Iran was increasing its malign activity, even under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. These actions included expansive missile testing and proliferation, continuing to unjustly detain American citizens, and deepening its involvement in regional conflicts.
In Yemen, Iran has provided funding, weapons and training to the Houthis, only prolonging the conflict and suffering of the Yemeni people. In Syria, Iran supports a regime that has killed hundreds of thousands, has displaced millions of its own citizens, and continues to spread violence throughout the country. In Lebanon, Iran uses Hezbollah to provoke conflict with Lebanon’s neighbors, imperil the Lebanese people and generate instability.
U.S. pressure is reversing these trends. The regime and its proxies are weaker than when our pressure began. Iranian-backed militias have stated that Iran no longer has enough money to pay them as much as in the past and has enacted austerity plans. Iran’s proposed military budget for 2019 included a 28% cut to its defense budget and a 17% cut to its terror branch, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
As we raise the cost of Iran’s expansionism and the status quo, we seek a comprehensive deal and a far more peaceful, stable relationship. We look forward to the day we can help bring the Iranian people and their neighbors the peace and prosperity they deserve.
— August 6, 2019, in a USA Today Op-Ed
"I am very confident that we will have a global coalition that does what Secretary Esper spoke to, which reduces the risk of conflict in the region and enables the freedom of navigation. Just as we spoke about the freedom of navigation in the straits in this region that the United States participates in, it’s very important that every country that has an interest in that region and has goods and services that flow, energy that flows into places like Japan and Korea, that they participate in a way that protects the interests of their own economies."
— July 25, 2019, at a press conference in Australia
MR RUBENSTEIN: Let’s go to an easier part of the world, the Middle East. Okay? (Laughter.) So the Straits of Hormuz – are we committed to keeping open the Straits of Hormuz at any cost militarily?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re going to keep them open. We’re going to build out a maritime security plan. Countries from all across the world who have a vested interest in keeping those waterways open will participate. It will take more time than we wish it would take, but I’m very confident that the world understands its importance, that America is prepared to be a significant part of that, but we need countries from all across the world to assist us in protecting commercial transit. We’ll be successful.
MR RUBENSTEIN: But our position, I presume, is that if a U.S. ship were taken by the Iranians, we would presumably do something militarily – I guess, I don’t know. But what about if a ship is taken that’s a British ship or some other nationality? Are we not committed to recovering that ship or doing something to defend those ships?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, we’ve seen it. We have seen them take a British ship.
MR RUBENSTEIN: Right.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So this isn’t a hypothetical. And we are working – I was working with – I guess I’m now working with my third British foreign minister since I’ve been a secretary of state. But working with the British to find the solution to both (a) right that injustice, and second, prevent it from happening again. So to establish deterrence. That’s the mission set.
MR RUBENSTEIN: Now, recently you gave a visa for the foreign minister of Iran to come to the United States for a UN event. You’re familiar with that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I did. That’s true. Yes.
MR RUBENSTEIN: So when he was in the United States, were there any indirect or direct talks with him and the State Department about anything that you can talk about?
SECRETARY POMPEO: No talks.
MR RUBENSTEIN: No talks. And – okay. And he —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Although he spoke. The American media decided to give him a megaphone to talk about things that are untrue going on in the Islamic Republic of Iran and gave him a chance to lie vociferously to the American people. I look forward to the chance to speak to the Iranian people in that same way, but truthfully.
MR RUBENSTEIN: All right.
SECRETARY POMPEO: And tell them honestly about what’s going on inside of their own country. So far, they have not taken me up on that offer.
MR RUBENSTEIN: Now, President Trump has imposed tough sanctions on Iran. Do you think they are going to have the effect of bringing Iran to the negotiating table, or not?
SECRETARY POMPEO: You have to step back a little bit. Remember the objective. The objective is the National Security Strategy that was laid out now two and a half years ago with respect to the Middle East. So it’s broader. We tend to focus on the tactical; you have to step back and think about what we’re doing more broadly in the Middle East.
With respect to Iran, it’s the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. It has the capacity to continue to work towards developing a nuclear weapon system, which would cause proliferation risks all throughout the Middle East. And so we are very concerned about that as well. Our chosen strategy was to take a 180-degree turn from what the previous administration has done. They created opportunity for enormous wealth for the kleptocrats in Iran and for them to underwrite Hizballah, militias in Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen that are even as we speak preparing to continue their attacks on Saudi Arabia. We have decided to go the other way. We are trying to reduce their resources to conduct terror campaigns all around the world, build out their missile systems and their nuclear program, and we’ve been incredibly effective at that.
I remember, David – I’m sure no one in this room, but many here in Washington said that American sanctions alone won’t work. Well, they’ve worked. We have taken over 95 percent of the crude oil that was being shipped by Iran all around the world, and we have taken it off the market. And we’ve done so with – I checked when I came in, Brent Crude is at 63.34; 17, 18 percent lower than when we withdrew from the JCPOA. So we have managed both to protect the economic growth that world needs while doing our best to deny resources to the Islamic Republic of Iran regime.
MR RUBENSTEIN: The prospect of another Iranian agreement, one that’s more favorable to your point of view and the President’s point of view, is that likely to happen this year, next year, or you just can’t predict?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t do time. Timelines are a fool’s errand in my business. They were a fool’s errand in my business when I ran a small company in Kansas, too.
MR RUBENSTEIN: But the Iranians are now enriching uranium at a greater level than they were before. Do you worry that somebody – Israel – might attack the Iranian facilities, or are you not worried about that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, they’re enriching more than they were under the agreement. Their temporary reduction in enriched uranium has now ended; they are moving back in the wrong direction. We’re urging them to think about it. But for us, it’s not about these levels set in the JCPOA.
MR RUBENSTEIN: All right.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s about the capacity to build out a nuclear weapons system in a timeframe that matters to you and your kids and your grandkids. The previous agreement didn’t remotely touch that.
— July 29, 2019, in an interview With David Rubenstein
QUESTION: Secretary, thanks for the time.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, it’s great to be with you again.
QUESTION: I want to start with Iran. With its recent behavior, is Iran emboldened, or is it desperate?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, we’ve been talking about Iran, you and I, for four years now, five years since I was back in Congress. I think what you’re seeing a continuity of the indecision on their part. They continue to engage in malign activity. They continue to develop their missile program. They continue to work on their nuclear systems. And yet they want to tell the world that, no, they’re just defensive, and they’re just being a normal nation, and we all see it differently.
So what you’ve seen over these past few weeks is, in our judgment, is a disconnect between their actions and their words. And President Trump’s been very clear: We’re watching their actions. It’s not what they tell us, it’s what they do that will drive our policy.
QUESTION: There’s a JCPOA meeting this Sunday in Vienna. So what is your message to those countries? Is it time to punish Iran for violations of that deal? We’re no longer in it; they are.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. Look, the Iranians have also chosen now to violate the deal. I’ll leave that to them; they’re still in the deal. They can make their decisions about what to do on the deal itself. But Iran’s increasing its capacity to have enriched uranium and is creating more risk for them. Our goal is to make sure everybody understands the threat in the same way that we do, and that we should act in concert to push back against that threat.
QUESTION: But what’s the overall strategy? What do you need Iran to do, and what can the U.S. give Iran to get to the table?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, well, what we’ve done is really straightforward. Our strategy is simple and elegant. The strategy goes like this. It says: step one, do not create wealth for the ayatollah who is wreaking havoc around the world, who is the largest destabilizing influence in the Middle East, and the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. So our economic pressure campaign has been designed to cut off their capacity to inflict malign activity, and we’ve been very successful at that.
The second piece is to convince the Iranian leadership – that’s not Zarif, who everybody meets with when he comes to New York and he wears nice suits; this is the ayatollah. This is Qasem Soleimani. Those are the individuals that have to decide that the cost is too high, the cost to the Iranian people is simply too high and they can’t continue to engage in this behavior, and so they will sit down and negotiate – negotiate to terms that just make Iran look like a normal nation. They’re – we’re fine with them having defensive weapon systems. Every country can do that. But they can’t conduct assassination campaigns. They can’t arm Hizballah. They can’t help the Houthis in Yemen. Those are things that are terror campaigns, and they just aren’t tolerable.
QUESTION: Obviously, things they’ve done for years. But what could the U.S. give Iran to get that result?
SECRETARY POMPEO: When they rejoin the community of nations, the wealth that will be created for the Iranian people will be enormous. Commercial activity, all the things that normal nations get to do. People want to conduct business with the United States of America; we’re prepared to do that. But this simply can’t happen with the Iranian leadership behaving the way it is today.
QUESTION: Will the U.S. escort American vessels through the Strait of Hormuz?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We are at the beginning stages of developing our maritime security initiative. We’ll be a part of that, but so will nations from all across the world.
QUESTION: The Brits?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve asked the Brits, the French, the Germans, the Norwegians, the Japanese, the South Koreans, the Australians – I’m sure I missed a few. Every country that has an interest in ensuring that those waterways are open and crude oil and other products can flow through the Straits of Hormuz needs to participate to protect not only their own interests, but the fundamental understanding of free and open waterways.
QUESTION: If Iran tried to seize a U.S.-flagged vessel in the Strait, how should or would U.S. forces in the region respond?
SECRETARY POMPEO: You never want to get out in front of what we’ll do in any particular situation.
QUESTION: But it would be a bad thing.
SECRETARY POMPEO: But President Trump’s made unambiguously clear: When American lives are at risk, the United States will defend itself wherever that risk takes place.
— July 25, 2019, in an interview with Bret Baier of FOX News
QUESTION: Welcome back. This is the Ben Shapiro Show. Well, the situation in Iran continues to simmer. It has not boiled over as of yet. Last week, obviously, the Iranian navy went after a UK-flagged ship. We’ve seen the Iranians getting more and more militant in the Persian Gulf, in the Gulf of Oman, in the Straits of Hormuz. Joining us on the line to discuss is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Secretary of State, thanks so much for joining the show. Really appreciate it.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Ben. It’s great for having me – great to have me on again. Thank you.
QUESTION: So Secretary, why don’t we start with this: Where do things lie at current? So, the latest that I’ve seen is that the Royal Navy says it will now accompany British-flagged oil tankers through the Strait of Hormuz. So it seems that there is sort of an international consensus, at least among Western countries, that they’re going to make sure that their own ships are protected. Is there any sort of international force that’s being created for this, or is it that every country is supposed to protect its own shipping?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Ben, I am confident that we will all form a collective defense. The United States is calling it our maritime security initiative, and we have asked countries from all across the world to participate in that to assist in the defense of the waterways through the Gulf and through the Straits of Hormuz.
And so we’re still at just the very beginning of this, but I already have commitments from a number of nations that said they will provide resources – both naval resources and resources that are aviation resources – that can help us do two things: first, to keep these waterways open so that commercial traffic can continue to flow there; but second, to reduce the risk that the leadership in Iran thinks that they can take a ship from the sea or do harm to any of our vessels, an American vessel or otherwise. The presence – kind of like a neighborhood watch party. The presence there of multinational forces all working towards the same end reduces risks, it de-escalates, and puts Iran on its back foot.
QUESTION: So let’s talk for a second about whether this sort of deterrence you think will be sufficient to push back against the Iranians. The Iranians obviously becoming more and more militant. They shot down a U.S. drone. They’ve been going after shipping from a variety of nations. This is designed as a deterrent force in the aftermath of the President deciding not to strike back against Iran directly in the aftermath of the drone attack. How successful do you think this deterrent strategy is going to be?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It will work. It won’t be perfect. My guess is that the Iranians will continue to try and impose costs on us, but I don’t think anyone should ever mistake the United States for having an absence of resolve under President Trump. We are effectively and continuing to put increased pressure on Qasem Soleimani and the IRGC, his forces, as well as on the ayatollah.
You’ve seen it. We’ve taken almost 95 percent of their crude oil revenue, and it has evaporated. It’s gone. That revenue is not available for Iran to conduct naval exercises, terror campaigns, assassination efforts around the world. We are denying them wealth and resources.
We’re still – it seems like a long time, Ben, but we are still only truly a handful of months into a full-on ban on crude oil shipments. This will begin to force the Iranian leadership to make very difficult decisions about how to spend the now limited money that they have in their hands. This is the opposite of what happened in the previous administration.
QUESTION: We’re speaking with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Secretary, the commentary from a lot of opponents of the Trump administration has been that the Trump administration is pushing too hard here, that the Europeans will be pushed by the Iranians and that they eventually will – they’ll eventually seek to push the Trump administration to get back into a different version of the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear agreement, that what the Iranians are really doing here is getting more and more violent, more and more erratic, simply in order to drive the Europeans to say, well, it was better when we were in the Iran nuclear deal, let’s push back into the Iran nuclear deal.
Is there any movement inside the administration to move back toward some sort of negotiation with Iran? What would that negotiation look like? And is it true that relations between the United States and Europe are strained on this point with regard to Iran?
SECRETARY POMPEO: A few facts are important. While we were in the horrific Iranian deal, Iran continued to build out their missile program. They continued to enrich uranium. They continued to arm Hizballah, the Houthis, the Iraqi Shia militias that are under Iranian control. All of those things happened while we were in the deal, and the Europeans know that too. They chose a different path. The Europeans have chosen today to stay inside of the deal. That’s their sovereign decision.
America has a strategy which we are convinced will work. We will deny Iran the wealth to foment terror around the world and build out their nuclear program. I am convinced that the Europeans are now seeing that this effort to sort of try and go along with the Iranians is not going to lead to the outcome – it was a British ship that was seized. There was – we shouldn’t forget that there were other ships, that there were explosives placed on them, a Norwegian ship included, so another European vessel damaged by the Iranians.
The Iranians will continue to act out. Our mission set is very clear: to deny the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, who’s now conducted an act of piracy on the open seas against a British vessel in Omani waters – to convince them that this piracy, this terrorism, is unacceptable and the regime must change its ways.
QUESTION: What is the end game here? So again, there’s been talk about opening negotiations with the Iranian Government. Has there been any movement from their end on the possibility of negotiations, cutting back on terrorism, reentering some sort of nuclear deal but including within that deal all the provisions that the Obama administration deliberately and wrongly ignored, including backing of terrorism and development of the ballistic missile system? Has there been any movement on the negotiation strategy or is this basically just contain them and cut off their supply to the world economy until they come back to the table?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So there’s no negotiation underway. Our mission set is clear. We don’t want war but Iran has got to make the decision. It won’t be about words; it will be about actions. That is – it is what we laid out, I laid out directly in May of last year’s set of 12 simple things they need to do to act like a normal nation. And when they do that, frankly, an agreement is great, but if they do that, there’s no need for an agreement. If they start to take the actions that put them in the place where they’re not trying to assassinate ambassadors here in the United States – these are the kind of things that Iran has engaged in over the last decades and it’s unacceptable. And President Trump had made clear we’re going to get that behavioral change and we’re going to use every tool in our arsenal to do that.
QUESTION: And it’s pretty clear that the Iranian Government is obviously getting more and more militant as these sanctions are beginning to bite, and they’re biting incredibly hard. They’re experiencing all sorts of simmering discontent inside Iran that the media have not been covering sufficiently. Again, where do you think that this goes? Because it seems that at a certain point, the mullahs will be forced into a harsh decision. Either they will be forced to come to the table and try and do something, or they will be forced to capitulate, or they will get so extraordinarily militant that they try to unify their people around them by attacking America, our allies, in more and more militant ways.
Which direction do you think this is going?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We could see any of those three or we could see multiples of those three. Some of them aren’t even mutually exclusive. Our hope is that Iran will just see that the cost is too high, that the Iranian people will tell their leadership that they have to change their behavior, and that the Iranian leadership will see that the risk to what they care about most, which is staying in power, is real, and they will come to the table. They will have a serious conversation about their behavioral changes.
I couldn’t tell you, Ben, when that is. But to your point, I remember talking to the media saying – when they told us, oh, American sanctions won’t work. Well, we’ve taken more than 95 percent of their crude oil off the market. The inflation inside the Islamic Republic of today is literally off the charts. You can see this as the Iranians begin to act out. We saw their inability to respond effectively to floods that devastated significant parts of Iran. We can see the internal discontent, and we hope that soon the Islamic Republic of Iran’s leadership – and here I’m not talking about their foreign minister, here I’m talking about their decision makers, the ayatollah and Qasem Soleimani – will see the error in their ways and have a fundamental strategic course correction.
QUESTION: It must be sufficiently incredible and annoying to members of the administration to watch as the media tries to portray the Iranian administration as this battle between moderates and hardliners, the same sort of false narrative that was put out by the Obama administration routinely and then was admitted to by Ben Rhodes.
Question, Secretary: Are our resources in the Middle East sufficiently protected? So one of the concerns that I have heard from folks on the right is that while the United States is taking a hard line and as Iran becomes more erratic and militant, as we talked about – more violent – that our resources in the Middle East are in serious danger, that Iran could do us serious damage if they decided to actually up the ante, go to war with us. Are we sufficiently protected in that way?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The entire plan for deterrence is aimed at addressing that very risk that you talked about, Ben. Look, there’s – any time we deploy our State Department officials in another country or our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines into places like the Middle East, there’s always risk. You’ve seen President Trump take very prudent actions to increase our force posture in the region. We are prepared for potential responses from Iran, and I don’t think there should be any doubt – the American people should certainly not doubt nor should the Iranian leadership – that President Trump will, to protect American interests, respond in ways that continue to deter that behavior. We will protect the American people, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines all around the world. And if Iran should make a decision that would be a bad one for them, President Trump will respond in a way that imposes enormous cost on the leadership inside of Iran.
QUESTION: The final question for you, Secretary Pompeo. I know you’ve got a busy day. President Trump obviously did not end up launching any sort of retaliatory strike in return for the Iranians shooting down a U.S. drone, and he suggested at the time that his real red line was the killing of an American citizen, the death of an American service member. Are there red lines for this administration at which military action must be taken? I’m not talking about full-scale war, I’m talking about contained military action, attacks on Iranian navy vessels in the Gulf of Oman. What are those red lines?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Ben, I would never tell our adversaries precisely what our red lines are. That’s how President Obama rolled. I can say this – I can say this for sure: We’ve worked through a lot of options. The President will have at his disposal all the tools he needs up and down the scale. He did respond when the drones were shot down. He didn’t – we ended up not taking a kinetic action, but you’ll recall there were other actions that were taken that day. I don’t want to talk too much about it, but we – nothing was not – I’ve heard people say the President did nothing. That’s not true. The President will take the appropriate responses to each of these threats, and I must say, I think the Iranians know this too. You’ve watched as they have taken actions; to date they are doing their best to make sure that they don’t take an action which will cause President Trump to make the decision that we need to come back at them in a way that will have an enormous cost on the Iranian leadership.
— July 25, 2019, in an interview on the Ben Shapiro Show
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, one of the main focuses you have is Iran. The sanctions have forced them to take extreme actions, including going after civilian tankers, and now we saw with – and they televised this, they put out the video of them coming from a chopper, going down ropes, fast ropes, into a tanker and taking a British ship, seized a British tanker. What is America’s role in getting that back?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So the responsibility in the first instance falls to the United Kingdom to take care of their ships. But Brian, you know this story. This isn’t because of American sanctions. This is because of the theocracy, the leadership in Iran, their revolutionary zeal to conduct terror around the world for now four decades continues. This is a bad regime; it’s not honoring the people of Iran. They’ve now conducted what amounts to national piracy – right – a nation-state taking over a ship that’s traveling in international waters.
This is the kind of behavior we’ve seen out of Iran for 40 years. The United States has a responsibility to do our part, but the world’s got a big role in this too to keep these sea lanes open.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m convinced we’ll do that. And I’m ultimately convinced that the Iranian people will get the leadership behavior that they so richly deserve.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you think our lack of action two weeks ago has emboldened the Iranians? They think they can get away with anything because they got away with taking out a $200 million drone and saw very little repercussion?
SECRETARY POMPEO: No, I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think the leadership in Iran understands that America has the capacity to respond in ways that will protect American interests around the world. The President made the decision that he wanted to respond in a way that was restrained and prudent.
I don’t think Iran took this as a green light. I think I’ve seen intelligence that would indicate that. They understand that America is powerful. You’ve seen us move a few increased resources into the region. You’ve seen us respond in ways that are restrained. We don’t want war with Iran. We want them to behave like a normal nation. I think they understand that, and I think the whole world is waking up to the fact that this threat is real. It’s not just a threat against America. It’s not just a threat against Israel. It’s a threat against all of us.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, as the world wakes up today on this Monday, there’s a story out that Iran’s intel ministry says that they uncovered a U.S. CIA spy ring. They’ve arrested 17 suspects and sentenced some to die. I know it’s a breaking story. I don’t know that Fox News has confirmed it yet. But what can you tell us about that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I can’t add much to it specifically. Having had the chance to lead that great organization, the Central Intelligence Agency, I would urge everyone who is reading that story waking up to understand that the Iranian regime has a long history of lying. They lied about where they shot down the American UAV. They’ve now lied in the last few days about where they took down this tanker. It’s part of the nature of the ayatollah to lie to the world. I would take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian assertion about actions that they’ve taken.
QUESTION: So you don’t believe that they have arrested these individuals, that these are Americans? We want to bring them home. We don’t want them put to death, obviously.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Ainsley, there are many Americans that have been held, detained, inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. It goes as far back as Bob Levinson. So there’s a long list of Americans that we are working to get home from the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is a nation, as I talked about before, for 40 years who has behaved in ways that normal nations don’t. You don’t take other countries’ citizens and hold them hostages for political gain. I think this is just further evidence of the outlaw nature of the Iranian regime.
— July 22, 2019, in an interview on FOX and Friends
QUESTION: And speaking of war, obviously tensions are escalating with Iran. Do you see us going to war with them? What line would Iran need to cross if the U.S. engages?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well we’ve got now 40 years of bad behavior from the Islamic Republic of Iran, and I must say, there are no indications they’re slowing down. They seized a British tanker; they lied about it. They shot down an American unarmed vehicle; the lied about its location. They are a force for bad things all across the world. But our military is strong. It’s why I’m here today to talk to these veterans. We’re prepared. President Trump has said plainly we don’t want to go to war. We don’t seek conflict with them. We simply want them to stop terror attacks. We want them to stop building out their nuclear weapons program. All of the things that people here in Florida get. We want them to behave like a normal nation. That’s the ask. That’s what we’re seeking them to do, and we’re hopeful that this can be resolved diplomatically. That’s the mission of the State Department. That’s why I’m here with these great veterans in Florida today.
QUESTION: Is there a line that would need to be crossed for the U.S. to engage? What line is that do you think?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So the President’s always been clear we’re not going to forecast or tell the enemy what we’re going to do or what we’re not going to do. That’s not in our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines’ best interest. We’re watching this closely. We’re communicating; we’re deterring. We’re putting forces in place so that our soldiers and sailors will be safe. But I think the world should know and I think the people of Florida should know that we’re prepared to make sure that the sea lanes there are open. We’ll build out a big coalition of countries all across the world to do that. We’ll ultimately be successful.
QUESTION: Have they been receptive to talks with you or are they kind of pushing you off?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s mixed; it’s very mixed. I think they’re struggling to figure out what to do. Their economy is struggling badly. The regime is losing the support of the people inside of Iran, so there’s turmoil there. We’re confident that – the British are speaking to them today about the ships that they seized. The United Nations is beginning to see that Iran is truly a bad actor. The world is coming together to help everybody. The things that people in Florida understand so intrinsically, so basically, that Iran here is the challenge. They’re the threat, they’re the problem of what’s taking place, and that America is a force for good in the region.
QUESTION: So one more thing. Pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal was – fast-forward to now – a good idea in your eyes?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, it was a necessary thing. I remember when I was the CIA director, the JCPOA was still in effect for a good part of that time, and even before that, even before this administration came in, they’d increased their missile activity. They continued to work on their nuclear program. All of the things that the JCPOA was aimed at resolving, it didn’t work. The deal was a bad deal. America was stuck with a deal that wasn’t going to deliver on behalf of the American people. The veterans that will be with me here today, I think they get that. They want America to be strong. They want us to enter into agreements that make sense for America. This one didn’t.
—July 22, 2019, in an interview with Justin Warmoth of CBS
In the end, the Iranians have to – the Iranian regime has to make a decision that it wants to behave like a normal nation, and if they do that we’re prepared to negotiate across a broad spectrum of issues with no preconditions. And I hope that they will do that. We’ve done everything we can to create the space for this, to continue to take actions that are deterrents and de-escalation so we can have this opportunity. But to date we have seen no indications that the Iranians are prepared to fundamentally change the direction of their nation, to do the things we’ve asked them to do on their nuclear program, their missile program, their malign behavior around the world. I mean, you can just watch their actions. These are actions that threaten. We saw the statements of Foreign Minister Hunt. I spoke to him yesterday. We saw their actions. These are not the actions of a country that looks like it’s headed in the right direction, but we hope, as President Trump has said, that they will sit down and discuss each of these items with us.
—July 20, 2019, at a press conference in Ecuador
I saw Foreign Minister Zarif’s comments in New York yesterday. I would welcome the chance to get access to the Iranian media in the same way he gets access to the American media. I think that’d be fantastic. I’m looking forward to it, indeed. Zarif – Foreign Minister Zarif has met with American members of Congress for many years, and during those many years, they’ve continued to build out their missile program, conduct terror around the world, and continued to advance their capacity to build out a nuclear weapons program that threatens the world.
So Foreign Minister Zarif can talk to members of Congress. That’s fantastic. In the end, President Trump will make the decision about how to proceed. He’s made clear we’re prepared to conduct negotiations with no preconditions. The Iranians continue to say, well, they’ll talk, but only – if and only if the United States does something. We need them to come to the table. It’s the right way to resolve these challenges.
—July 19, 2019, at a press conference at the Counterterrorism Ministerial Plenary
I want to pay special attention today to another terrorist organization, the Iran-backed Hizballah, the perpetrator of the AMIA attack. In the quarter century since that horrible day, Hizballah has been active throughout the Western Hemisphere in terrorism, drug trafficking, and money laundering. That is why I would like to commend Argentina for designating Hizballah as a terrorist organization yesterday. This action will block its access to your country’s financial system and greatly diminish its capacity to fundraise throughout the region. We hope others here today will follow Argentina’s lead and its example, for I think everyone in this room know that Hizballah continues to remain a threat.
In May of this year, a Hizballah member was convicted in United States court of surveilling United States targets. Another remains in custody for gathering intelligence inside of the United States and in Panama. Last year Argentina froze the assets of 14 people suspected of financing Hizballah. They operated in the tri-border area shared between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, an area where Hizballah and other illicit actors have long been active. Today Peru is currently prosecuting an alleged Hizballah member on terrorism charges, and a key Hizballah financier is currently sitting in jail in Brazil awaiting extradition to Paraguay.
We must not shrink in the face of these challenges and of these threats. We can never become complacent. I said at this morning’s memorial that the U.S. was recommitting to the cause of justice for those killed in the AMIA bombing, and I mean it. Today I’m announcing two actions against a top Hizballah operative for his role in the attack. Salman Rauf Salman served as the on-the-ground coordinator for the AMIA bombing and remains a wanted man who continues plotting terrorism on behalf of Hizballah. The State Department’s Rewards for Justice program is offering up to $7 million for information leading to his identification or his arrest. And the United States Department of Treasury is also designating Salman as a specially designated global terrorist, which denies him access to the United States financial system.
More broadly, the Trump administration has intensified U.S. actions against Iran and its terrorism proxies worldwide. In April, I designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including its Qods Force, as a foreign terrorist organization. This was the first time we’ve ever designated part of a foreign government as an FTO. And also in April, the State Department offered up to $10 million for information leading to the disruption of Hizballah financing.
This is all part of our broader effort to hit Hizballah in the wallet. The U.S. government has designated more than 150 entities and individuals tied to that terrorist group, including more than 50 just since 2018. We’ve imposed historic sanctions aimed at squeezing it out of the international financial system. We call on all nations to take similar actions. In the face of a global threat like Hizballah, it is every sovereign nation’s obligation and responsibility to comply with sanctions designed to keep all of us safe.
Further, we also want to see more countries put in place the necessary tools to cut off the flow of money to terrorist groups, including through their own designations and targeted sanctions. We commend Argentina for adopting such a regime this week, and we are dedicating additional resources to assisting our partners in developing and implementing these programs. Solidarity is the antidote to the terror threat. That’s why being here today, part of this ministerial, is so important. Our shared safety depends on it, and our security measures come from strength of us working together. I’m very encouraged that we’ve already found opportunities to cooperate in a variety of fora, including the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, the Caribbean and Latin American Financial Action Task Forces, and the OAS Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism.
In a very recent example of hemispheric cooperation, just last month, Paraguay extradited Nader Farhat, another Hizballah supporter, to the United States to face federal money laundering charges in Florida. Let’s keep that cooperation going. Each of your delegations has traveled here because you recognize, as America does, that global terrorist threats are evolving every day. Our governments have vital experiences and information to share with one another, and the only way to counter the serious threat that remains is in fact by working together.
The United States is prepared to lead on this front, and part of that means continuing to learn from each of you. Terrorist groups and individuals they radicalize are constantly learning and adapting, seeking new ways to exploit our weaknesses. A single weak point can let the enemy inside of our gates. That’s why protecting our own individual countries requires protecting the entire region. It requires dedicated teamwork. The United States is proud to be with you all here today. We’re here to stay. We look forward to the progress that I know lies ahead. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
—July 19, 2019, at the Counterterrorism Ministerial Plenary
The Iranian regime has taken new steps to advance its nuclear ambitions. The world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism continues to use its nuclear program to extort the international community and threaten regional security.
No nuclear deal should ever allow the Iranian regime to enrich uranium at any level. Starting in 2006, the United Nations Security Council passed six resolutions requiring the regime to suspend all enrichment and reprocessing activity. It was the right standard then; it is the right standard now. The Trump Administration calls on the international community to restore the longstanding nonproliferation standard of no enrichment for Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has the uncontested ability to pursue peaceful nuclear energy without domestic enrichment.
The Iranian regime, armed with nuclear weapons, would pose an even greater danger to the region and to the world. The United States is committed to negotiating a new and comprehensive deal with the Iranian regime to resolve its threats to international peace and security. As long as Iran continues to reject diplomacy and expand its nuclear program, the economic pressure and diplomatic isolation will intensify.
—July 1, 2019, in a statement
Today, the White House issued an Executive Order sanctioning the Supreme Leader’s Office and authorizing further sanctions on those associated with it. This action was taken as part of the Administration’s maximum pressure campaign against the Iranian regime, which has engaged in 40 years of terror and aggression against the United States and our allies. Most recently, it targeted a U.S. unmanned aircraft and executed attacks on international shipping.
The Supreme Leader’s Office has enriched itself at the expense of the Iranian people. It sits atop a vast network of tyranny and corruption that deprives the Iranian people of the freedom and opportunity they deserve. Today’s action denies Iran’s leadership the financial resources to spread terror and oppress the Iranian people.
The only path forward is for Iran to negotiate a comprehensive deal that addresses the full range of its destabilizing behaviors. Until it does, our campaign of diplomatic isolation and maximum economic pressure will continue. When the Iranian regime decides to forgo violence and meet our diplomacy with diplomacy, it knows how to reach us.
—June 24, 2019, in an official statement by the State Department
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hi. Well, good afternoon, everyone. I wanted to say a couple things as we head off on this extended trip. First, I think it’s really important for everyone to understand that the Iranians are out sowing disinformation in lots of places. First of all, you’ve seen the childlike map that Foreign Minister Zarif put out. The contrast with the excellence and professionalism of America’s military and our intelligence services should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind about where that unarmed vehicle was. It was flying in international airspace, and we shouldn’t let the Iranians have one moment where any reporter would write that there was even a credible response to the data set that the Americans have put forward.
Second, the Iranians are out telling a story about a message that traveled through Omani channels. That’s just false. It’s pure and blatant disinformation. They passed another message that said that the United States was removing forces from Balad Air Force Base. You can go see them. They’re there.
I mention all of these things because it’s very important as the days proceed and as our efforts, our diplomatic efforts to change the nature of what the Iranian regime is doing go on, it is very likely that Iran will continue to present things that are fanciful, that are fraudulent, that are false. And we need to make sure that every news outlet, everyone who is observing this, understands what’s true and what the Iranian regime wants you to believe. That’s truly important.
I’m heading out today. Our first stops will be in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two great allies in the challenge that Iran presents, and we’ll be talking with them about how to make sure that we are all strategically aligned and how we can build out a global coalition, a coalition not only throughout the Gulf states but in Asia and in Europe that understands this challenge and that is prepared to push back against the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.
You’ll see too that our campaign that began when President Trump took office will continue. On Monday there’ll be a significant set of new sanctions, and the world should know that we will continue to make sure it’s understood that this effort that we’ve engaged in to deny Iran the resources to foment terror, to build out their nuclear weapons system, to build out their missile program, we are going to deny them the resources they need to do that thereby keeping American interests and American people safe all around the world.
Two other thoughts as I head out. One, nearly the same time that I’m commencing my trip there are many people headed for Bahrain, where the administration will roll out the economic component of its Middle East peace plan. It was released yesterday. I hope everyone will take a good look at it. It presents a brighter future for Palestinian people anywhere they are in the world.
And then last night there was reporting about a letter that was sent from President Trump to Chairman Kim. I can confirm that that letter was, in fact, sent. And I am hopeful that this will provide a good foundation for us to begin to continue the important discussions with the North Koreans to denuclearize the peninsula.
With that, I’m happy to take a couple of questions.
QUESTION: Yeah, Secretary?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: Something similar you are looking for from Iran to show that they are willing to de-escalate? And why don’t you just pick up the phone and call them (inaudible)?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh goodness, look, the President said this this morning. I think the Vice President reiterated this. We’re prepared to negotiate with no preconditions. They know precisely how to find us. And I am confident that at the very moment they’re ready to truly engage with us, we’ll be able to begin these conversations. I’m looking forward to that day. The President has said repeatedly we want a brighter future for the people of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Those negotiations are the gateway. That’s how we’ll ultimately achieve this.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can you talk a little bit more about the sanctions that the government plans to unveil, what sectors of the Iranian economy specifically are ripe for further pressure? And also on North Korea, do you anticipate working-level talks re-commencing at some point in the near future?
SECRETARY POMPEO: With respect to your second question, I hope so. We have been working to lay the foundations for that since Hanoi. We think we’re in a better place, and I think the remarks you saw out of North Korea this morning suggest that that may well be a very real possibility. We’re ready to go. We’re literally prepared to begin at a moment’s notice if the North Koreans indicate that they are prepared for those discussions.
As for the sanctions, so today some 80-plus percent of the North Korean economy is sanctioned. I think it’s important for everyone to remember. I think this is – of the Iranian economy. Yes, of the Iranian economy is sanctioned. This will be – I don’t want to get out in front of what we’ll announce tomorrow, but this will be a further effort to ensure that their capacity not only to grow their economy but to evade sanctions becomes more and more difficult, and it will be an important addition to our capacity to enforce sanctions against Iran to ultimately achieve the objective that we’ve laid out.
QUESTION: And you have a (inaudible) at another drone, what happens?
QUESTION: We’re back to this?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, the President will make a decision as to – I’m not going to address hypotheticals. I hope that the Iranians will understand that the world won’t tolerate this. It’s not just the United States. The world understands who the aggressor is here. They understand that it’s the Islamic Republic of Iran that now has for four decades conducted assassination campaigns in Europe, conducted terrorist activity, has attempted to influence now more than four capitals throughout the Middle East. The Iranian nation has been a series of bad actors. Their leadership has taken them in a direction that their people surely do not want. So how we will respond to any particular act that the Islamic Republic of Iran takes, the President will decide when we get there.
Thank you all very much. I look forward to traveling with you all.
—June 23, 2019, in a press conference at Joint Base Andrews
Iran’s leaders know the truth is a dangerous thing. It is important to correct the record.
First, President Trump did not pass a message through Oman calling for talks with Iran. We have made our position abundantly clear. We are willing to engage when the time is right. It’s telling that the Iranian regime rejected the recent, historic diplomacy of Japanese Prime Minister Abe, attacked a Japanese tanker in the Gulf of Oman, and shot down a U.S. aircraft operating in international airspace.
When the Iranian regime decides to forgo violence and meet our diplomacy with diplomacy, it knows how to reach us. Until then, our diplomatic isolation and economic pressure campaign against the regime will intensify.
Second, the United States has shown beyond any doubt that Iran shot down a U.S. unmanned aircraft in international airspace. Foreign Minister Zarif’s hand-drawn map disputing this fact is not credible. This attack marks the second time Iran targeted an American unmanned aircraft in recent weeks.
Third, the United States is not evacuating personnel from Balad Air Base in Iraq. Under President Trump’s leadership, the United States is more committed than ever to supporting our allies and partners in the region.
The United States stands for peace and stability in the Middle East. The decisions we have taken in response to Iran’s reckless attacks have been to deter the Islamic Republic of Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and delivery systems for those weapons, and to prevent the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism from threatening Americans and American interests worldwide. Iran’s leaders know this is the truth, which is why they resort to violence and disinformation. We will continue to set the record straight.
—June 22, 2019, in an official statement by the State Department
Today, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) responded to Iran’s willful failure to address its systemic money laundering and terrorist financing deficiencies by requiring increased supervision of Iran-based financial institutions. The Islamic Republic of Iran regularly seeks to use deception and subterfuge to fund its illicit activities, threatening the integrity and security of the international financial system.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps continues to engage in large-scale illicit financing schemes to fund its malign activities. This includes its support for U.S.-designated terrorist groups like Hizbollah and Hamas. The IRGC’s illicit financing schemes are facilitated at the highest levels of Iran’s government. The international community has made clear that Iran must live up to its commitments to behave like a normal nation.
The FATF also reaffirmed its concern with terrorist financing risk emanating from Iran and the threat it poses to the international financial system. Three years after Iran committed to an action plan with the FATF, the majority of its necessary work remains incomplete. As I have stated before, Iran must ratify the Palermo and Terrorist Financing Conventions in line with the FATF standards or face additional measures.
—June 21, 2019, in an official statement by the State Department
QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, thanks for your time.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Ben, it’s great to be with you. And you’re right, it’s not a huge surprise.
QUESTION: Yeah, Secretary Pompeo, I want to talk about that for a minute here. So you came out several days ago, you suggested pretty quickly after the attack that Iran was behind the attack. It seemed obvious to anyone with a shred a knowledge about what happens in the Gulf of Oman that it was Iran. There were literally no other forces that could possibly be responsible for this, and yet, the media proclaims that you, the administration, the Intelligence Community, they lacked the credibility to speak on this particular issue. What did you make of that response?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, importantly, Ben, we had, at that point, certainly among government leaders, provided them with ample intelligence, to be very clear. I think there was ample public intelligence as well to see very clearly who this was. I mean, the pattern, the practice – we had been talking about this. Indeed, the Iranians had claimed this was exactly what they were going to do and then went and did it. So frankly, I think it’s people playing political games, trying to attack President Trump and his foreign policy. I think they, therefore, were doubting him because what’s their profession is, but unfortunately it has a real impact. It has a – when you see those stories written, when you see someone like Ben Rhodes go out and doubt it, when he in fact has to know but is protecting a policy of a bygone time – when Ben Rhodes does that, he puts American soldiers, sailors, Marine airmen at risk because it shows that America is not united and doesn’t stand behind its professionals who made this determination.
QUESTION: Yeah, for those who missed it, Ben Rhodes, who was a national security political advisor to President Obama, he suggested that the United States was quote, “isolated in trying to pin the blame on the Iranians.” It is somewhat rich to me that Ben Rhodes, who admitted openly to lying to the American people repeatedly about the Iran nuclear deal – claiming falsely that the Iranian regime was on the verge of moderation if only we signed a terrible Iranian nuclear deal, and then he went ahead and just admitted that that was all false and had been made up – that that guy is out there now claiming that this administration lacks credibility on Iran. It’s pretty astonishing.
SECRETARY POMPEO: And it’s unfortunate because it enhances risk. Ben, look, we knew early on. We’d seen plenty of information in the run up to this. We knew early on that not only the two ships that occurred on that day, but the four ships that had been attacked in a similar method while they were at harbor, we had high confidence that these were Iranian attacks and the pattern continued. And so now the task for us is to shape our policy moving forward, to regain deterrence to prevent Iran from denying freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf, raising the price of crude oil, which is exactly their mission set.
QUESTION: Yes, I want to talk about that mission set in just a second. I do have to ask you one more question about the media coverage of this, because it truly has been one of the more egregious displays that I’ve seen particularly following foreign policy in recent history, not surprising given who the President is and who the media are. But the media have been hammering on this notion that President Trump is somehow responsible or the Trump administration is responsible for escalation regarding Iran. So The New York Times ran a piece in which they suggested that it’s very odd that the escalation seems to occur right around the time – not because of but right around the time that Iran was threatening ships in the Gulf of Oman, but it was really President Trump being so militant about the sanctions – that has led to all of this. How do you respond to accusations that it’s the United States that’s turned up the temperature in the Middle East?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, it’s just false. These are actions that Iran took. I’ve seen some of the “blame America first” crowd talking about this in that way. This has frankly been – for those who haven’t been around that long, this is 40 years of Iranian activity, this pattern and practice. And for too long there weren’t responses, America didn’t respond. We have allowed Iran to believe that they could take actions like this and there wouldn’t be a response, not only from America, but from all those who have a vested interest in denying Iran its capacity to threaten these shipping lanes. And so it’s – I regret it’s the case that some are blaming the administration for the escalation when we have spent all of our energy over these past weeks working to create a situation where deterrence was sufficient so the – this would not escalate and we wouldn’t end up in a war or with kinetic action between our two countries.
QUESTION: I’m speaking with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. So, Secretary Pompeo, what exactly do you think the Iranian regime is attempting to achieve here? Because they have to know that if they go too far, they will no longer be there, right, and it is not in the interests of the Iranian regime to go to full-scale war with the United States. It’s not in anybody’s interests to go to full-scale war with the United States. What are they hoping to achieve with these sort of pinprick attacks on international shipping?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So President Trump has made clear that the deal that was struck by the previous administration, the nuclear deal, didn’t make sense because it provided a clear pathway for a nuclear weapon system in Iran. And so we’ve set forward a set of policies to try and prevent that. It was part – part of that was the economic pressure campaign that’s putting an enormous pressure on the Iranian leadership. They have fewer dollars to underwrite and pay for Hizballah, to threaten Israel. They have fewer dollars to threaten American soldiers throughout the region. All of those things – real pressure on the Iranian leadership. And so what I think they’re doing is they’re attempting to use these actions to convince the world that America should release that pressure, should allow Iran to have more money, more wealth, and so that they can get back to the kind of behavior that they’ve engaged in for 40 years and did so even while they were underneath this agreement with the United States of America.
QUESTION: It’s pretty obvious that the Iranian regime is obviously feeling the brunt of those sanctions. We’ve seen leaders of Hamas claim that they are running out of money. The Iranian regime itself is obviously under severe economic pressure. Its own people are deeply unhappy with the Iranian regime. It makes sense they’re trying to affect the international price of oil. At what point, Secretary Pompeo – what sort of options are on the table at this point to dissuade the Iranians from doing this? Obviously there’s the increased troop numbers in the region. At what point do we have to do something beyond that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, look, we never get out in front of a decision the President may make about how to respond. Our task is to ensure that we’re clear about our objectives, what it is we’re asking Iran to do, the behavioral change we’re asking from Iran, so they can choose to do it – that is, they can make a commitment to do that and we could have a conversation with them about how to achieve that. But beyond that, we’re prepared to do the things to make sure we protect all American interests and to work to build out a coalition around the world who identifies Iran as what it is, the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, and demands that they change their behavior.
I hope the Iranian leadership will see that that’s the best course of action for them, and frankly, I hope the Iranian people will express this to their leaders too, that they’ll tell their leaders: “This isn’t what we want. We don’t want war with the United States. Frankly, we don’t want to be the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. We want to take care of our families, to grow our businesses, to make Iran a great country that’s part of the community of nations.” I hope the Iranian people understand that they need to communicate that to their leaders so that the leadership will change its ways.
QUESTION: Well, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate you providing some insight on the situation in Iran. Suffice it to say all of the exaggerated talk about this being a wag the dog scenario is a bunch of garbage, and I really appreciate you being out there dispelling some of the myths.
Thank you, Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Ben, thank you so much, sir. So long.
—June 19, 2019, in an interview on the Ben Shapiro Show
QUESTION: Are there any conversations, either directly or through third parties, with Iran to try and deconflict the situation in the Persian Gulf?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Almost certainly. President Trump had sent President Abe to take a message of his to the leadership in Iran. And you have to remember, these are messages for the leadership. I think the Iranian people are being woefully mis-served by that leadership. But yes, we’re engaged in – we have been engaged in many messages. Even this moment right here, communicating to Iran that we are there to deter aggression. President Trump does not want war, and we will continue to communicate that message, while doing the things that are necessary to protect American interests in the region.
The United States is prepared to do its part, but every nation that has a deep interest in protecting that shipping lane so that energy can move around the world and support their economies needs to make sure they understand the real threat – the real threat to their interests in the region, and the real threat to their countries’ economies if we’re not successful in doing that.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you’ve said many times that the U.S. is not seeking war with Iran. But President Trump said this week that he would consider going to war over Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. Is that something that was discussed here today at CENTCOM? And can you give us any more details as to the different kinds – when we saw you on Sunday, you said military options were, of course, something that was being considered. Can you give us any more details about those discussions?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, one of the purposes of my visit today was to make sure that we were coordinated. The responsibility for diplomacy achieving the strategic outcomes that President Trump has sent forth falls on all of us, but the State Department has the first oar in the water on that. But we can’t do that without making sure that we have the capability to respond if Iran makes a bad decision, if it makes a decision to go after an American or an American interest or to continue to proliferate its nuclear weapons program.
And so we talked about a broad range of issues here today across all of that spectrum. I know that the soldiers, sailors, and airmen and Marines inside of CENTCOM are ready to respond to any threat that the Islamic of Iran should present to the United States. And we talked about each of those and how to make sure that we were in sync and how we would prepare those options for the President of the United States.
—June 18, 2019, in remarks to the press
MARGARET BRENNAN: We begin today with the increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Good morning, Mister Secretary and happy Father's Day. We've had a series of events in past days, the attacks on the tankers and these reports of a missile being fired at a U.S. drone. How is the U.S. going to respond?
MIKE POMPEO: Margaret, I think you have to put it in the context of forty years of behavior inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is-- this is consistent with how they have behaved previously. They did it when they were in the JCPOA. They built their missile program. We relieved sanctions. They took American sailors hostage. This is a regime that has caused much trouble around the world. The last forty days we've seen a number of activities, not just these past two, but four other commercial ships which challenged the international norms of freedom of navigation. The United States is considering a full range of options. We have briefed the President a couple of times. We'll continue to keep him updated. We are confident that we can take a set of actions that can restore deterrence which is our mission set.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You say a full range of options. Does that include a military response?
MIKE POMPEO: Of course. Of course. The President will consider everything we need to do to make sure, right? But what's the President said? We don't want Iran to get a nuclear weapon. The previous administration put them on a pathway that virtually guaranteed that they could get there. So we withdrew from the ridiculous JCPOA and are moving ourselves towards a set of policies which will convince Iran to behave simply like a normal nation. And so you've seen them attacking international waterways trying to frankly drive up the price of crude oil around the world so that the world will cry, "uncle" and allow Iran to--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Why would they do that if they're so cash-strapped and they need these customers? Why would they attack them?
MIKE POMPEO: Because Iran can't sell its crude oil. We have stopped them from doing that. We have put sanctions in place that have taken them from roughly 2.7 ma-- barrels per day, million barrels per day with American sanctions.
MARGARET BRENNAN: CENTCOM released this video of purporting to show an IRGC Revolutionary Guard patrol boat pulling up alongside these vessels and removing a mine from the hull of the ship. How certain are you that this is the IRGC and will you take that evidence and present it to our allies and the United Nations?
MIKE POMPEO: Of course, we will.
MARGARET BRENNAN: When?
MIKE POMPEO: And-- and we don't just purport, that's what that video is. This was-- this was taken from an American camera. This is the stuff-- this is the real data. Yes, we've shared it with allies already. You've had the chance to see it. I made a bunch of phone calls yesterday. I'll make a whole bunch more calls today. The world needs to unite against this threat from Islamic Republic of Iran.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And is the IRGC, definitely, the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
MIKE POMPEO: It-- it-- it is. And-- and, Margaret, I'll remind you, too. China gets over eighty percent of its crude oil transiting through the Strait of Hormuz. South Korea, Japan, these nations are incredibly dependent on these resources. We're prepared to do our part. We always defend freedom of navigation. We are going to work to build out a set of countries that have deep vested interest in keeping that strait open to help us do that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So when you talk about military response, you're talking about that keeping the waterways open? You are not at this point talking about a strike on Iran?
MIKE POMPEO: Oh, goodness. President Trump has said very clearly, he doesn't want to go to war. At the same time, we've made very clear that--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you have the legal authorization for a strike on Iran?
MIKE POMPEO: We-- we always have the au-- authorization to defend American interests. Remember, they now have attacked U.S. aircraft. They-- on June sixth there was a missile fired from Yemen with-- that we assessed had Iranian assistance that took down an MQ-9 aircraft. These are attacks on fundamental, international norms, and now on American interests, and we always have the right to defend our country.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But I ask you because there are questions about whether the existing Authorization for Use of Military Force, the AUMF, would actually include a strike on Iran.
MIKE POMPEO: Sure.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you confident that you could go, and not have to ask Congress for permission to take action?
MIKE POMPEO: Margaret, I-- I don't want to get into hypotheticals. But the American people should be very confident. The actions that the United States takes under President Trump will always be lawful, always consistent with our Constitution, and we will always do the hard task it takes to protect American interests, wherever they are.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But do you need Congress's permission?
MIKE POMPEO: To-- to do what, Margaret? I mean depend-- you-- I-- I don't know how to answer the question in the abstract. Permission--
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you said a range of options are being looked at.
MIKE POMPEO: Yes. Every-- every option we look at will be fully lawful.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I want to ask you that because when you were trying to lay out this case, as you know, some allies have said that video released was not enough to convince them. With the exception of the U.K. and Saudi Arabia, some allies are saying we need to see more and hear more from the United States. President Trump, as you said, he campaigned against Middle East wars. But there is also this perception that the administration is spoiling for this fight. You were a vocal critic when you were in Congress----of the nuclear deal you called the JCPOA earlier. The national security adviser right now is one of the architects of the 2003 war in Iraq. According to the latest Economist poll, fifty-one percent of Americans say the President is not honest versus thirty-three who say he is. If you've a credibility gap that is going to be hard for you to sell something to the American public, how do you resolve that?
MIKE POMPEO: Margaret, we're not selling anything. These-- these are simple facts. I've had many conversations over the past, frankly, weeks talking about Iran's activity. No one doubts the dataset. I haven't-- I haven't heard a single person say they think--
MARGARET BRENNAN: The German foreign minister said the video was not enough.
MIKE POMPEO: The German foreign minister has seen a great deal more than just that video. He will continue to see more. I will concede there are countries that just wish this would go away and they want to act in a way that is counterfactual. No one disputes that this is the Islamic Republic of Iran taking these actions to deny this international right away-- waterway and the freedom of navigation that is a fundamental right of every country to travel through that. No-- I've seen no one deny it, and I'm confident that as we continue to develop the fact pattern, countries around the world will not only accept the basic facts, which I think are indisputable, but will come to understand that this is an important mission for the world.
MARGARET BRENNAN: One of the things when you're at the podium at the State Department earlier this week you presented as a fact was an attack that was carried out in Kabul in May.
MIKE POMPEO: Mm-Hm.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The Taliban said they carried it out, but you blamed Iran for it. What evidence do you have that Iran was behind that attack?
MIKE POMPEO: Margaret, in that same statement the Taliban said they killed ten people. I would suggest to you that the credibility of the Taliban is not something you ought to bring onto your show. We-- I-- I-- I--
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you believe Iran was behind it?
MIKE POMPEO: I-- I-- we have confidence that Iran instigated this attack. I-- I can't share any more of the intelligence. But I wouldn't have said it if the intelligence community hadn't become convinced that this was the case.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So there's more that you can't share with us to back that up?
MIKE POMPEO: Yes-- yes, Ma'am. That's correct.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Iran state media says that they are going to start looking at ramping up their production of nuclear fuel. What does the U.S. do to stop this if you've already withdrawn from the nuclear accord?
MIKE POMPEO: Think about that. Iran is now announcing that in a matter of days, they can begin to spin up their nuclear program. This tells you how flawed the deal was, right? It tells you that the deal had no capacity to actually stop them--
MARGARET BRENNAN: But what do you do now? Do you just keep putting more sanctions on? Desperation doesn't always lead to the best decision making.
MIKE POMPEO: Our-- our intention is this. We-- we know that their nuclear program accelerates if they have more money and wealth. If they have more capacity, more resources, they have access to metals and to materials and to fissile material. If we relieve sanctions, their nuclear program presents an even greater risk to the United States. And so our mission has been very clear: deny them the wealth and resources and their capacity to build out a nuclear program, and be prepared to do all that it takes to prevent that from happening.
—June 16, 2019, on CBS "Face the Nation"
On April 22nd, Iran promised the world that it would interrupt the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. It is now working to execute on that promise. In early May, the Revolutionary Guard Corps attempted the covert deployment of modified dhows capable of launching missiles.
On May 12th, Iran attacked four commercial ships near the Strait of Hormuz.
On May 14th, Iran-backed surrogates attacked by armed drones -- struck two strategically important oil pipelines into Saudi Arabia.
On May 19th, a rocket landed near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
On May 31st, a car bomb in Afghanistan wounded four U.S. service members, killed four Afghan civilians, and wounded bystanders.
Yesterday, Iranian surrogates fired a missile into Saudi Arabia, striking the arrivals terminal of an international airport, injuring 26 people.
Taken as a whole, these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation, and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran.
Prime Minister Abe made a trip, a historic trip to Iran, to ask the regime to de-escalate and enter into talks. Iran’s supreme leader rejected Prime Minister Abe’s diplomacy today by saying he has no response to President Trump and will not answer. The supreme leader’s government then insulted Japan by attacking a Japanese oil tanker just outside of Iranian waters, threatening the lives of the entire crew, creating a maritime emergency.
Iran’s foreign minister today responded to these attacks. He said sardonically, quote, “Suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning,” end of quote. Foreign Minister Zarif may think this is funny, but no one else in the world does. Iran is lashing out because the regime wants our successful maximum pressure campaign lifted. No economic sanctions entitle the Islamic Republic to attack innocent civilians, disrupt global oil markets, and engage in nuclear blackmail. The international community condemns Iran’s assault on the freedom of navigation and the targeting of innocent civilians.
Today, I have instructed our UN Ambassador Jonathan Cohen to raise Iran’s attacks in the UN Security Council meeting later this afternoon. Our policy remains an economic and diplomatic effort to bring Iran back to the negotiating table at the right time, to encourage a comprehensive deal that addresses the broad range of threats – threats today apparent for all the world to see – to peace and security.
Iran should meet diplomacy with diplomacy, not with terror, bloodshed, and extortion. The United States will defend its forces, interests, and stand with our partners and allies to safeguard global commerce and regional stability. And we call upon all nations threatened by Iran’s provocative acts to join us in that endeavor. Thank you.
—June 13, 2019, in a statement to the press
QUESTION: So Mr. Secretary, we understand it’s going to be an intense day today. Word is out that the Pentagon is asking for 5,000 troops to go into the region. It’s revolving around the threat that you know about coming from Iran. What could you tell us here today?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So the threat is real. It’s been credible. Without getting into specifics, you can be sure that President Trump will ensure that we have all the resources necessary to respond in the event that the Islamic Republic of Iran should decide to attack Americans or American interests or some of our great soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, who are serving in that region, or the diplomats serving in Iraq or elsewhere. The exact force posture, the President is looking at every day. We’re evaluating the risks, making sure that we have it right.
This is an important mission. We have 40 years of terror coming out of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and President Trump is determined to change the course of that regime.
QUESTION: There are stories that in the country of Iran the sanctions have taken such a toll that people are desperate. I mean, there’s a lot going on. There’s a lot of unrest in the country. So ultimately, the sanctions are working. The question is: What do they do next?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, the sanctions have certainly had their intended effect. They have put constraints on the leadership in Iran’s ability to foment terror, right. There are Hizballah soldiers who are no longer being paid or are being paid a fraction of what they were being paid before. Their ability to expand their terror network with Iran has been reduced.
The previous administration took a different path. They underwrote that government, giving them hundreds of billions of dollars and the ability to put the terror team in place that we’re seeing today, the very terror threat that we are facing.
President Trump has taken a very different course of action. We’re determined to stop not only their nuclear program and from them ever getting a nuclear weapon, but to prevent them from building out their missile program and conducting terror campaigns.
QUESTION: So the sanctions are working, and they’re retaliating as a result?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I think that’s true. It’s a little more complicated than that in the sense of you have to remember the history. They killed 600 American soldiers long before our pressure --
QUESTION: Just the ones that are unclassified that we know of.
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s right. Just before the pressure campaign. They blew up an embassy. There is a long history of Iranian terror that long predates our sanctions efforts. So this isn’t just about our sanctions. This is about the nature of this theocratic regime, these kleptocrats in Tehran, and we are determined to push back against it.
—May 23, 2019, on Fox & Friends
QUESTION: A year ago, you laid out steps for Iran to undertake to escape sanctions in a Heritage Foundation speech. I linked it in my Washington Post piece on Sunday. You told me about all those steps in an MSNBC interview in June. Have the Iranians undertaken any of those steps?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hugh, unfortunately, we laid down 12 changes we’d like to see in the behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran senior leadership, its regime, and the answer is no, none of the 12 things, all of which are simple, reasonable things – like stop launching nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, release all foreign citizens detained, end support of terror groups – none of those things have happened to date.
QUESTION: Have you seen any indication of a willingness on their part to release the half dozen Americans held prisoner there? The President and you have been relentless in trying to get our Americans home. Have the shown any sign of that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: At some point, there was just a hint that maybe they were moving in that direction, but while I can’t comment on specific details, we continue to work diligently to bring every American detained, not only those in Iran – folks like Bob Levinson, who has been held there for an awfully long time now – but every American detained anywhere in the world.
QUESTION: Would the release of American prisoners de-escalate the situation right now, which is conflict-leaning?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I always think that anything one can do to have a – even a small confidence-building measure is a good thing, so it’s absolutely the case that were they to release these Americans who are wrongfully held, it would be a good thing. It would be a step in the right direction for sure.
QUESTION: Does Iran maintain, Mr. Secretary, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard presence in Syria? Are they still shipping long-range missiles to Hizballah?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So here’s what can be said: It’s the case that the core challenge that Iran presents in the region as opposed to inside Iran – the core challenge is its underwriting of these proxy forces. And our strategy has been aimed at diminishing their capacity to support those proxy forces, whether, as you describe, it’s missiles headed to Hizballah, whether that’s inside of Lebanon or in Syria itself, all the things they do to underwrite the Shia militias in Iraq, which fundamentally undermines the Iraqi Government’s capacity to stand up as an independent government. We’ve seen launches of Iranian missiles out of Yemen by the Houthi proxy forces. These are the kinds of activity that are incredibly destabilizing in the Middle East and they are among the primary aims of or counter-Iran policy.
QUESTION: Do you believe that they are behind the recent attacks on Gulf shipping and on the Saudi pipelines?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We haven’t formed a definitive conclusion that we can speak about publicly, but given all the regional conflicts that we have seen over the past decade and the shape of these attacks, it seems like it’s quite possible that Iran was behind these, and we’ll continue to develop the situation. And most importantly, we will continue to take acts that protect American interests and that work to deter Iran from misbehavior in the region, which has the real risk of escalating the situation such that crude oil prices rise, there’s chaos in the crude oil markets, something that Iran would see as advantageous to them as they attempt to continue to conduct the terror campaign that they have conducted all around the world for, frankly, the last 40 years.
QUESTION: Forty years. They have always made a practice of very publicly executing gay people. Are they continuing to do that, Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Their human rights record broadly, whether that’s their record on how they treat gays, including the murder of gay people, whether their record on religious freedom, their prosecution of enormous numbers of political prisoners inside of Iran, it’s among the most egregious human rights violators in the world.
QUESTION: Right. Let’s go back to Iran now. Do private citizens in America who are dealing with Iran hurt your ability to deal with Iran, hurt our ability to get our prisoners home?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I remember Hugh when we were working our way through the JCPOA, and there were a number of us that were staunchly opposed to this, and a group of senators weighed in, and I remember the administration just being furious at a letter that was sent. Today you have former secretary of state meeting with Iranian leadership at the Munich Security Conference. You have senior leaders who were in the previous administration signaling to our counterparts that they ought to just wait out this administration. You have senior leaders in our government today meeting with foreign ministers – the foreign minister of Iran. That’s all fine, that kind of thing happens, but when you’re trying to undermine U.S. policy, when you’re acting in a way that’s inconsistent with U.S. policy, that’s not only wrong but it runs the risk of running afoul of U.S. law as well.
QUESTION: Now, are you worried that the Democrats campaigning for president who are promising a return to the JCPOA – is that what you referred to when you say the Iranians are being told to wait it out?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Absolutely, and just as importantly, Hugh, this – there is real risk today. There are threats that are credible and real. I’m going to be on Capitol Hill today. I’m going to be sharing as much as we can of that information with members of the United States House of Representatives and the Senate. If America is attacked, the – America needs to be united in responding to protect American interests. You saw that we made the decision to withdraw some of our diplomats from Iraq. That wasn’t without reason. And these are people who have parents and families and they work for the United States of America. My expectation is that every member of Congress will join in our effort not only to deter Iran from taking action against American interests in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, but be very supportive of this administration when we take acts that are consistent with protecting Americans wherever they’re serving.
QUESTION: Last question, Mr. Secretary: A lot of the national security community says there’s a split between you and Ambassador Bolton, there’s a split between your key guy on Iran, Brian Hook, who wants more waivers for oil and the National Security Council. What is the real situation? Is it a unified administration or is it splintered on Iran policy?
SECRETARY POMPEO: There is no difference between and amongst us. Those make great stories. They’re wonderful for coffee klatches and social parties in Washington, D.C. I get the parlor game, but make no mistake about – these are complicated issues that we’re all trying to work through, and we’re trying to get to the right answer so that we can deliver the President of the United States – frankly, the only person whose views truly matter – so that we can deliver him a range of options and a good factual database upon which to make decisions on how to protect American interests throughout the Middle East and take down the risk of instability there.
QUESTION: A quick corollary: The President has said Iran – it’ll be the end of Iran if they threaten us again and they go to war. Do you fully concur with him?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes. We’ve made clear that we will not allow Iran to hide behind its proxy forces, but that if American interests are attacked, whether by Iran directly or through its proxy forces, we will respond in an appropriate way against Iran.
—May 21, 2019, on the Hugh Hewitt Show
The Islamic Republic of Iran has engaged in an escalating series of threatening actions and statements in recent weeks. The response of the United States and our partners and allies has been clear: We do not seek war. But Iran’s forty years of killing American soldiers, attacking American facilities, and taking American hostages is a constant reminder that we must defend ourselves.
The regime in Tehran should understand that any attacks by them or their proxies of any identity against U.S. interests or citizens will be answered with a swift and decisive U.S. response. Our restraint to this point should not be mistaken by Iran for a lack of resolve. To date the regime’s default option has been violence, and we appeal to those in Tehran who see a path to a prosperous future through de-escalation to modify the regime’s behavior. As President Trump stated yesterday, he “looks forward to someday meeting with leaders of Iran in order to work out an agreement and, very importantly, taking steps to give Iran the future it deserves.”
—May 9, 2019, in a statement
Interview with Michael Morell on Intelligence Matters Podcast
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, let’s pivot to Iran, which is obviously a big focus of the President, big focus of yours. Why is it so important?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So Iran is important in its – it turns out to be central to our Middle East policy, our desire to reduce violence and create stability in the broader Middle East context. So when you look at President Trump’s strategy in the Middle East, it is: how do you reduce terror risk? Who are the folks with the resources and money? And it turns out as you peel back – you peel back the challenge today in Lebanon from Hizballah, you peel back the challenge in Yemen from the Houthis, you look at the risk that Iraq won’t be able to stand up and have an independent, sovereign nation – those often emanate from the Islamic Republic of Iran. So that’s how we arrive at Iran as a central pillar of our Middle East efforts.
There are lots of pieces to the effort, and they are – some of them are Iran-specific, some of them are broader. But make no mistake about it, we do see the Islamic Republic of Iran as central to the instability we see in the Middle East today.
QUESTION: So your strategy is to force them back to the negotiating table to get a better --
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- nuclear deal and to get them to stop messing around in the region, right?
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s right. Not – that’s right. Not just a nuclear deal, but to get them to behave like a normal nation is the best way to characterize it.
QUESTION: Right, and you’re increasing the pressure. You’re increasing the pressure by doing away with the handful of oil waivers that were out there. You’re increasing the pressure by designating the IRGC. Just one question on that. So when I was at the agency, it was the Qods Force, right, part of the IRGC, that was the organization that committed terrorism. What was the logic of designating the whole group?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So it’s still true. It is the Qods Force that is their expeditionary force truly driving – truly driving the terror element of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s campaign around the world, underwriting Hizballah, working with the Houthis in Yemen. It is the Qods Force that is most central to that. They work at the direction of the IRGC leadership. And then the second piece of this is the IRGC is also – it’s a mafia family. They also are – own roughly 20 percent of the Iranian economy, so there’s an – the IRGC has penetrated the construction industry, the – big pieces of the Iranian economy. So this designation permits us to go after those places where there’s real wealth creation opportunity that ultimately gets to the Qods Force, and our mission set is very clear: if we can reduce the capacity of the Qods Force to spend – pick a number – 700 million to a billion dollars a year on Hizballah, if we can take down that capacity, they won’t be able to pay salaries and it will be more difficult for them to generate external terror.
QUESTION: The designation gives you real leverage?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It does.
QUESTION: So the Iranian strategy, to me, at least – maybe the analysts at CIA have a different view – but the Iranian strategy to me seems to be wait you out. Right, hope that 2020 gives them a different president who’s going to rejoin the nuclear deal. Is that your sense? And if that’s what they’re doing, how can we – how do we put even more pressure on them?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So my sense of the Iranian strategy is to develop a resistance economy. I think it’s probably the case they wish these policies were different and they probably are looking for the moment when there’ll be new leadership in the United States, and perhaps the United States policies will change. I actually think that’s a fool’s errand. My view across a broad political spectrum inside the United States is there is a consistent view of the risk from the Islamic Republic of Iran. There’s lots of debate about the JCPOA, but more broadly speaking, I think – I think everyone gets the terror risk. So I think that’s a bad strategy for them, but I suspect it’s theirs, and I’m sure there are people whispering in their ears, “Just hang on until there’s an election in November of 2020 in the United States and perhaps your fortunes will shift.” Our effort in this administration is to make sure that we lay down the right policy for our time on duty, our watch, and I’m convinced we’re truly getting there. You can see it in the things that are happening inside the Islamic Republic of Iran, not only the economic distress, which has – is mixed – we want good success for the Iranian people – but make no mistake about it: Their capacity to distribute terror around the world is reduced from where it was even just 12 months ago.
QUESTION: So you know these guys, right, and so at the end of the day, do you think they’re capable of changing, this regime?
SECRETARY POMPEO: No, the individuals in this government aren’t, and I know I hear lots of talk about moderates there. I just don’t see it.
QUESTION: Moderates – moderates in an Iranian context, right?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s moderates who believe in the Islamic element of the republic. And so once you’ve given up on the capacity for democratic governance and have turned this into an Islamic revolutionary state, I no longer put you in the moderate bucket.
Yeah, I think what can change is the people can change the government. I don’t – I don’t see Rouhani changing, Zarif changing. I don’t see Qasem Soleimani changing or the new leader of the IRGC. They are who they are; it’s deeply imprinted. I was with some of the individuals who were held in 1979 in the American embassy just a week before last, and they reminded me that many of the Iranian leaders today are the individuals who beat them. It’s the same cast of characters.
What we’re trying to do is create space for the Iranian people. This is a country – you know this, Mike – this is a country with education, real diversity in their economy. It has a deep cultural history. There’s real opportunity in this place.
QUESTION: They could have a real future.
SECRETARY POMPEO: They truly could, and the vast majority of the Iranian people, we are convinced, would prefer that, and we’re trying to help them get in that right place.
—May 3, 2019
Remarks on the Designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning. I’m here to make an important foreign policy announcement concerning the Islamic Republic of Iran. Today the United States is continuing to build its maximum pressure campaign against the Iranian regime. I am announcing our intent to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including its Qods Force, as a foreign terrorist organization in accordance with Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This designation will take effect one week from today.
This is the first time that the United States has designated a part of another government as an FTO. We’re doing because the Iranian regime’s use of terrorism as a tool of statecraft makes it fundamentally different from any other government. This historic step will deprive the world’s leading state sponsor of terror the financial means to spread misery and death around the world.
Businesses and banks around the world now have a clear duty to ensure that companies with which they conduct financial transactions are not connected to the IRGC in any material way. It also gives the U.S. Government additional tools to counter Iranian-backed terrorism.
This designation is a direct response to an outlaw regime and surprise no one, and it builds on the more than 970 Iranian individuals and entities that the Trump administration has already sanctioned.
For 40 years, the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guard Corps has actively engaged in terrorism and created, supported, and directed other terrorist groups. The IRGC masquerades as a legitimate military organization, but none of us should be fooled. It regularly violates the laws of armed conflict; it plans, organizes, and executes terror campaigns all around the world. From the moment it was founded, the IRGC’s mandate was to defend and export the regime’s revolution by whatever means possible. The IRGC institutionalized terrorism shortly after its inception, directing horrific attacks against the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and the U.S. embassy annex in 1984 alongside the terror group it midwifed, Lebanese Hizballah. Its operatives have worked to destabilize the Middle East from Iraq to Lebanon to Syria and to Yemen.
With this designation, the Trump administration is simply recognizing a basic reality. The IRGC will take its rightful place on the same list as terror groups its supports: Lebanese Hizballah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Kata’ib Hizballah, among others, all of which are already designated as foreign terrorist organizations.
The long list of IRGC backed terrorist incidences is ample justification for today’s decision. I want to just give you a handful of examples.
Last September a federal court in the United States found Iran and the IRGC responsible for the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing which killed 19 American service members. In 2011 the United States foiled an IRGC Qods Force plot right here in Washington, D.C. to bomb a restaurant. The attempt was to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States of America.
Outside of the United States, the IRGC’s terror campaign is just as active. In 2012 four Qods Force operatives were apprehended after plotting to attack Israeli targets in Turkey. In that same year, two other Qods Force operatives were arrested in Kenya for planning a bomb attack while the Qods Force also directed a bomb attack that targeted Israeli diplomats. And as recently as January 2018, German authorities uncovered 10 suspected Qods Force operatives active in their country. The IRGC supports Palestinian terror groups that target innocent civilians, and it helped create U.S. designated terror groups both in Lebanon and in Iran. And the IRGC also backs the murderous Assad regime which gasses and slaughters its own people.
Our designation makes clear to the world that Iranian regime not only supports terrorist groups, but engages in terrorism itself. This designation also brings unprecedented pressure on figures who lead the regime’s terror campaign, individuals like Qasem Soleimani. He is the commander of the Qods Force and oversees Iran’s forces deployed to advance the Islamic Revolution through terrorism and other forms of violence. He doles out the regime’s profits to terrorist groups across the region and around the world.
The blood of the 603 American soldiers the Iranian regime has found to have killed in Iraq is on his hands and on the hands of the IRGC more broadly. Inexplicably the regime has faced no accountability from the international community for those deaths. Far from being an arbitrary attack on Iran, our pressure campaign imposes just and long overdue consequences for the regime’s malign activity.
We should not also forget the IRGC’s central role in the nationwide con artistry and corruption of the regime’s leaders which they perpetrate against the regime’s own people. Other governments and the private sector will now see more clearly how deeply the IRGC has enmeshed itself in the Iranian economy through both licit and illicit means.
In just this past July, the city council of Tehran announced that the IRGC Cooperative Foundation, which manages the IRGC’s investments, has embezzled more than $1 billion from the city of Tehran. The next month, a former councilmember accused the long-time mayor of Tehran of steering contracts to the IRGC. It’s no coincidence that the mayor also formerly served as an IRGC commander and the chief of Iran’s police state. Back in 2017, Tehran arrested several IRGC commanders involved with the Cooperative Fund for corruption, including the IRGC’s financial architect, Masoud Mehrdadi.
Then there’s Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s old college pal, Sadeq Mahsouli. They call him “the billionaire general.” He went from being a low-level IRGC officer to one of Iran’s richest men, all thanks to scoring construction and oil contracts from companies linked to the IRGC.
The leaders of Iran are racketeers, not revolutionaries. The Iranian people deserve better than to be governed by this cadre of hypocritical and corrupt officials. They are opportunists.
And on a final note, the IRGC is also responsible for wrongly detaining U.S. persons, several of whom remain in captivity in Iran. The American people should know that we are working diligently to bring each of those individuals home.
With this designation, we are sending a clear signal, a clear message to Iran’s leaders, including Qasem Soleimani and his band of thugs, that the United States is bringing all pressure to bear to stop the regime’s outlaw behavior. We ask that our allies and partners around the world do the same. Thank you.
QUESTION: Javad Zarif has said today that there will be consequences for U.S. forces in the region after the designation, and he addressed President Trump, saying that he should know better than to be thrown into another U.S. disaster. What’s your answer? And secondly, news reports say that the U.S. is considering sanctions on the Lebanese, the head of the parliament of the Lebanese speaker, Nabih Berri, because of his ties with Hizballah and Iran. Can you confirm that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So to your second question, on my most recent trip to Beirut, made clear to the Lebanese leadership, including in conversations with Speaker Berri, that America was not going to tolerate the continued rise of Hizballah inside of the country, that it wasn’t in the best interest of the Lebanese people to have a armed terror group underwritten by the very Iran that we’re speaking about today, continue to have significant sway inside of that nation by use of force. This isn’t about political parties; this is about armed forces inside the country of Lebanon. We made very clear that we were going to continue to evaluate sanctions for all those that were connected to the risk that was created to the Lebanese people.
As for the first question, I’ve seen Foreign Minister Zarif make many statements before. We have made clear both publicly and privately that an attack on the United States of America is something that they ought to think more than twice about.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I asked you this question two weeks ago and you didn’t seem to be sure about it. Now that you have list them, I’m wondering what was changed. Now you have list them as a terrorist organization. Will you treat them like ISIS and al-Qaida? In other words, will you target Qasem Soleimani like you target Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? And on a separate note, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that he wants to annex part of the West Bank today. What’s your reaction to that? Will that undermine the peace plan?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I don’t have comments on either one of – a response to either one of those questions. I’ll leave – when you say “target,” you’re usually talking about things that the Department of Defense does. I’ll allow them to respond to that question.
QUESTION: How will this affect EU trade, oil waivers, since the IRGC’s involved in most parts of the Iranian economy – so the question – including banking and everything else? So how does this affect those relations?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah.
QUESTION: And number two: How – if you’re – you said often that you want bring Iran back to the – this is aimed at forcing Iran back to the negotiating table. Do you believe that this would help bring them back, or is that no longer your aim here?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I think what we’ve said before is we want Iran to behave like a normal nation. We hit on 12 things that they needed to do back in what would have been almost a year ago, May of last year. That’s the mission; that’s the mission of this designation as well. So that’s our purpose. If you said “what’s the intent,” it’s to achieve the outcomes that we laid out back in May of last year to get the Islamic Republic of Iran to do the simple thing like not launch missiles into Saudi Arabia, risking American lives each and every day.
What was your – remind me of your first question.
QUESTION: And then the first one is: How does this affect things on EU trade --
SECRETARY POMPEO: So, yeah. So here’s the simple answer to that. If you’re the general counsel for a European financial institution today, there is more risk. It is absolutely the case that the IRGC amounts to a significant piece of the Iranian economy through pure kleptocracy. And it is also the case that it is sometimes difficult to know whether the IRGC is involved. That is, the diligence effort is an enormous undertaking. I think this – I think this will require more diligence be done by every business that is considering doing things that are even now second and third orders removed from what you might think of as a traditional connection to the Iranian economy. This extends – to your point about trade – oh, you asked about oil waivers. We’ll make that decision in due course as we move towards May 2nd, but it – this absolutely extends the – and creates clarity around those transactions that create risk for companies not just in Europe, but frankly all over the world.
—April 8, 2019, to the press
Press Availability at NATO Foreign Ministerial 2019
I have articulated the threat that we believe the Islamic Republic of Iran presents to our country. They are many. We’ve asked the Islamic Republic of Iran to simply behave like a normal nation, but give me – let me give you a concrete example.
Today there continues to be a concerted assassination effort, campaign, inside of Europe. We’ve seen it. You’ve seen European countries respond to this threat. This is real. This is – this isn’t something that was made up. This is an effort by the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran – the president, Rouhani, who’s the president of Iran, is permitting to take place, where they’re going to Europe and killing people on European soil. This is unacceptable in Western Europe. To allow something like this to happen is just unacceptable. We are working with our partners all around Europe to make sure we all have the right information placed in the right place at the right time to reduce this risk and reduce this threat.
But a second component of this is the deterrence effort, which is the undertaking that the United States is engaged in to reduce the capacity of the Islamic Republic of Iran to undertake precisely this kind of activity by sanctioning them in a way that forces them to have fewer resources so that they can create these risks around the world.
I’ll give you a second one we spent time on today. There are European foreign terrorist fighters sitting today in Iraq and in Syria that we now have to figure out a way to make sure do not return to the jihadi battlefield. The efforts that Iran is engaged in in Syria fundamentally make that problem set more difficult, as do Iranian Shia militias that are not under the control of the Iraqi Security Forces in Iraq. That malign activity by Iran makes Europe, NATO countries, less secure. We talked about those, we talked about how we would collectively seek to approach them to reduce the risk to NATO members.
—April 4, 2019, to the press
U.S. Support for the Iranian People in Response to Floods
On behalf of the American people, we offer our condolences to the victims of the recent floods in Iran. These floods once again show the level of Iranian regime mismanagement in urban planning and in emergency preparedness. The regime blames outside entities when, in fact, it is their mismanagement that has led to this disaster. They even jail environmentalists for attempting to help Iran prepare for these very issues. The United States stands ready to assist and contribute to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which would then direct the money through the Iranian Red Crescent for relief.
—April 2, 2019, in a statement
On behalf of the American people, I extend my warmest wishes to everyone celebrating #Nowruz in the U.S., Iran, and around the world. May the new year be filled with rebirth, health, and prosperity. Nowruz Mobarak! نوروز مبارک pic.twitter.com/hTYPsqEzV6— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) March 21, 2019
I would like to wish a Happy Nowruz to the people of Iran, and to everyone who celebrates this ancient tradition that marks the arrival of spring and a New Year, including people in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, Georgia, India, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, the Kurdish people, and their communities in the United States.
For millennia, Nowruz has endured as a cornerstone of culture and heritage for many peoples and societies. Nowruz brings family and friends together to reflect on the past while celebrating the future, and is a time for connecting with loved ones both near and far. As Iranians celebrate Nowruz this year, they should be able to have unrestricted access to social media sites to share photos of their holiday gatherings and to send New Year's greetings to loved ones living in other cities or even abroad. The proud Iranian people deserve to enjoy the best of life without fear of repression.
May this Nowruz bring new beginnings and a brighter future for everyone! Happy Nowruz!
—March 25, 2019, in a statement
QUESTION: What do you say to those like Brett McGurk, who I mentioned before, who say that no one’s happier than Russia and Iran when they hear the news that the United States is pulling out of Syria, and likely in the near-term future out of Afghanistan as well?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s a great question. Let’s talk about happiness in Iran and Russia. What is Russia seeing from the Trump administration? Hundreds of sanctions, an enormous military buildup by the United States of America, a missile posture – a missile defense review that makes sure that America will be capable of defending itself not only next year but 20 years from now. I assure you that none of these things sat well with Vladimir Putin.
Let’s talk about Iran. Do you think they’re happy that the largest set of sanctions ever emplaced on an economy – that is likely to fall into recession by the spring of this year – makes the Iranians happy? To see the global coalition against Iran that has been put in place – not only Arab countries, but countries from Asia and Africa will join us in February in Warsaw for a ministerial that will address Middle East stability and Iran.
I don’t think for one moment those two countries believe they’re in a better place today with the Trump administration than they were with Barack Obama and John Kerry in charge of this country.
I don’t think for one moment those two countries believe they’re in a better place today with the Trump administration than they were with Barack Obama and John Kerry in charge of this country.
—Jan. 23, 2019, in an interview with Martha MacCallum of Fox News
MR BRENDE: You just came back from a very comprehensive visit to the Middle East. I think you visited most of the countries, and you also made a very impactful speech in Cairo. But looking now at all the challenges unfolding in the Middle East, being ISIS but also being the situation between Israel-Palestine, between the GCC countries – we also have Yemen and we have the situation with Iran – where do you see the Middle East moving and what is really the U.S. policy moving forward? How will the U.S. be a partner securing a more peaceful Middle East moving forward?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, Borge, that’s a great question. I just did get back from a trip. What I communicated every place I stopped and with each leader that I met with was that America is committed to helping the Middle East be secure and stable, that in fact we’ll be there and that we are a force for good in the region and we have been for an awfully long time.
You just kind of canvassed the set of threats. In every one of those cases that you mentioned, there are two common themes. One is there are lots of countries that have a stake in those interests or in those challenges. We won’t do this alone. We will need coalitions built out to ensure that there’s Middle East stability. Our effort to develop our MESA program, where we have countries in the region determined to protect themselves together with America as their partner in that fight, is an important component of how America will approach this set of problems.
But also with respect to many of the problems that you identified there, Borge, the threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran is very real. You mentioned Yemen. You mentioned Syria. I think you talked about the challenges of Lebanese Hizballah in Lebanon. It’s still the case that Iran is striving to reduce Iraqi freedom, sovereignty, and independence. Those are places where Iran is truly the malign actor, and it’s why we’re so happy that the coalition that we’ve built out – and we’ll have a ministerial in Warsaw in the middle of next month to talk about this and other issues in the Middle East – is so central to creating the stability that the people of the Middle East so richly deserve. There are diplomatic and political solutions to most of these problems, and we need all of our diplomats from all across the region working to solve them.
—Jan. 22, 2019, in remarks to the World Economic Forum
QUESTION: Regarding Iran, you’ve talked about their “five-capital strategy,” about the spread of their forces across the region backing terror, and you’ve said that people should, quote, “take control of their capital.” Does there have to be regime change in Tehran?
SECRETARY POMPEO: No. What there needs to be is behavior that is like a normal country. The religious revolution there is out actively engaged in suicide campaigns in – assassination campaigns, rather, in Europe. They are conducting terror campaigns throughout the region, whether they’re supporting the Shia militias in Iraq, or the Houthi forces in Yemen, or Hizballah in Lebanon and Syria. These are real threats, and what we’re demanding from the Islamic Republic of Iran is very simple: Don’t build nuclear weapons, don’t continue your nuclear program, cease the terror campaigns, stop assassination efforts, behave like a normal country, and then you can live in your country in the way that the people of Iran, the people of Iran who are smart and capable and want something different from this, will get us all to the right place.
—Jan. 20, 2019, in an interview with Scott Thuman of Sinclair Broadcast Group
Iranian President Rouhani has once again called for the destruction of Israel. He referred to it as a “cancerous tumor” and a “fake regime.” Such statements inflame tensions in the region by seemingly calling for war. At an international conference on Islamic unity, Rouhani also encouraged Muslims worldwide to unite against the United States. This is a dangerous and irresponsible step that will further deepen Iran’s isolation.
The Iranian regime is no friend of America or Israel when they repeatedly call for the death of millions, including Muslims. The Iranian people know better and do not agree with their government, which has badly represented them to the world for 39 years. The people have suffered under this tyranny for far too long.
—Nov. 26, 2018, in a statement
QUESTION: Can you explain to the audience how Iranian missiles get fired – I think it’s happened 34 times; it might be higher now – from Yemen into Saudi Arabia? And we’re not talking about firecrackers here. We’re talking about ballistic missiles have been launched from Yemen. How do Iranian missiles get there?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hugh, first the number of ballistic missiles that have left Yemen headed for Saudi Arabia and the Emirates is dozens of times higher than the 36 that you identified.
Second, those missiles are coming from and the hardware and software that supports them are coming from the Islamic Republic of Iran. We see it in the hardware, we can tell by the telemetry, and we know by the fact that we have had interdictions at sea which make very clear the source of this. So what you have is a proxy war being engaged in by Iran against Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. It’s something that we’ve made clear what we are going to do our level best to prevent, and we are supporting the Emirates and Saudi Arabia in their efforts to take down these missiles.
Think, Hugh, if one of these manages to hit – actually hit an aircraft at the Riyadh airport, this will be an enormous economic impact to the United States of America, and could, in fact, kill Americans flying through that international airport. These Iranian efforts are so troubling. We’ve urged our European partners to assist us in pushing back against this activity, and the whole world should understand that Iran is putting commercial, civil aviation at risk by the actions that they have taken.
QUESTION: Now, the export of extraterritorial violence, always condemned by us, and as it should be, as when the Russian GRU agents attacked with the nerve agent in Great Britain, Saudi agents in Turkey. But am I right that the world’s largest exporter of terrorist violence is, in fact, Iran by a magnitude of order above everyone else?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s not even close nor is it disputable. Every agency, every UN entity that reports on terrorism identifies Iran as the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. And so a week from now or a little more than a week from now, the most stringent sanctions ever in place against Iran by the United States of America will come back into effect on the morning of the 5th of November.
QUESTION: Well, I see the ongoing wake for the JCPOA everywhere. Ben Rhodes – I like to call him the Metternich of the network I work for, MSNBC, the Metternich of MSNBC – is always quick to blast you and the President for alienating the world and walking away from the JCPOA and pointing to the fact China and Russia haven’t. It’s like an Alice in Wonderland foreign policy, Mr. Secretary. How much time do you have to defend – do you have to spend defending doing obviously necessary steps against the fantasy-land foreign policy, fantasy foreign policy league that they’ve got going over there?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t spend much time thinking about Ben Rhodes. I spend a lot of time thinking about making sure that America is secure and our interests are protected. These very missile launches that you described, the terror that you spoke to, the export of malign influence around the world all took place during the JCPOA and, indeed, in nearly every instance that I just referred to, increased during the time of the JCPOA. It was bad for the United States. The right decision was made by the President to withdraw, and our ask of Iran is just to simply become a normal country. Stop exporting terror, stop using proxy forces to create chaos around the world, and then we will welcome them back into the league of nations. And we’re just – we’re waiting on them to do that.
—Oct. 26, 2018, in an interview with Hugh Hewitt of the Hugh Hewitt Show
The end of the Cold War forced new thinking among policymakers and analysts about the greatest challenges to U.S. national security. The emergence of al Qaeda, cybercriminals, and other dangerous entities affirmed the threat of nonstate actors. But equally daunting has been the resurgence of outlaw regimes—rogue states that defy international norms, fail to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, and act against the security of the American people, U.S. allies and partners, and the rest of the world.
Chief among these outlaw regimes are North Korea and Iran. Their transgressions against international peace are many, but both nations are most notorious for having spent decades pursuing nuclear weapons programs in violation of international prohibitions.
—Oct. 16, 2018, in Foreign Affairs
SECRETARY POMPEO: For the previous eight years, we had an administration that showed more respect to the leaders of Iran than to the people of Israel.
President Obama thought he – thought if he made dangerous concessions, removed economic sanctions, and flew a plane full of cash to Tehran, he could somehow hug Iran’s leaders into behaving well and rejoining the community of nations.
But those leaders aren’t from a Disney movie. They’re real. They’re not tragically misunderstood. They are murderers and funders of terrorism who lead chants – today, still – of “Death to America.” Their goals include profiting off the misery of their own people and wiping Israel off the face of the Earth.
By and large, I think the American people understand the threat that Iran poses. It’s why they opposed the deal that the previous administration made by a margin of two to one, and it’s why they sent to our country a very different kind of president in 2016.
Today, after just under two years, there’s a long list. Tom talked about some of them. But it’s worthy of just grinding through real fast because the magnitude of the change is extraordinary.
Tom mentioned the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Common sense, I think.
He pulled out of the JCPOA and imposed some of the harshest sanctions in history on the regime in Iran to change its behavior, and more are to follow.
He supported the commitment of the largest-ever security support of $3.8 billion annually.
And he took a stand against anti-Semitism on the world stage by withdrawing from the U.N. Human Rights Council.
We have also exposed Hamas for what it really is, and we are making a truly historic push for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The bottom line? I think – I actually had the privilege to speak with Prime Minister Netanyahu today on a couple of issues of the moment, and we were talking about things a little more broadly, and it reminds me that the bottom line is that the U.S.-Israel relationship is stronger today than it has been ever. And that’s good. And that’s good for – it’s good for both countries. And I want to talk for just a minute, and then I’m going to take a few questions. I want to talk about the challenges that Iran is presenting to Israel, to America, and, indeed, to the world.
Iran has seen this instability in Syria as a golden opportunity to tip the scales. Its goals have included expanding the reach of its Revolutionary Guard, gaining an entrenched position near the Golan Heights, and, ultimately, establishing a second front from which proxies like Hizballah can terrorize the Israeli people.
Today the Syrian conflict is reaching a new juncture. Assad has tightened his grip thanks to Russia, Iran, and other regional actors.
ISIS, though not completely snuffed out, has been beaten into a shadow of its former self. And these changing circumstances have required the reassessment of America’s mission in Syria. Defeating ISIS, which was once our primary focus, continues to be a top priority, but it will now be joined by two other mutually reinforcing objectives. These include a peaceful and political resolution to the Syrian conflict and the removal of all Iranian and Iranian-backed forces from Syria. (Applause.)
Under President Trump’s leadership, the Department of State has been now engaged in a months-long diplomatic process aimed at making headway on each of these three strategic objectives.
Last month at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, I expressed our full support for U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254, which sets a political process for ending this conflict in Syria. And we’re urging every nation to support it.
At the UN we were also encouraged to find increasing international consensus that Iran and its proxies must not be allowed to maintain a foothold in Syria. The onus for expelling Iran from the country falls on the Syrian Government, which bears responsibility for its presence there.
We’ve been clear: if Syria doesn’t ensure the total withdrawal of Iranian-backed troops, it will not seek – not receive one single dollar from the United States for reconstruction.
Our efforts at the U.N. were just a small public window into our efforts. I’ve named a team. Spearheading our effort is Special Representative Jim Jeffrey. Many of you would know him. Nobody understands the web of regional interests and the political complexities better than he does. His resume includes ambassadorships in Albania, in Turkey, and Iraq, among much other parts of his storied career in diplomacy.
Meanwhile, to coordinate our efforts on Iran, I’ve asked Brian Hook to lead our Iran Action Group. We are leading a historic international campaign to apply diplomatic and economic pressure against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Our goal is simple, is to cut off the revenues the regime uses to spread terror and chaos, to fund its nuclear programs, and line its own pockets with money that should be given to the Iranian people.
The State Department’s diplomacy itself is just one part of our interagency effort all across this administration.
Underlying this approach is President Trump’s unwavering belief that Israel – like all nations – has the right to defend its own sovereignty. (Applause.) That means we’ll continue to stand up for its right to target Iranian-backed militias within Syria for as long as that threat remains.
Now, I want to leave plenty of time for discussion, so let me close with just one last thought.
Israel is everything we want the entire Middle East to look like going forward.
It is democratic and prosperous. It desires peace. And it is a home to a free press and a thriving free market economy.
Compare that to Iran, whose corrupt leaders assault the human rights of their own people, finance terrorism, and undermine U.S. interests in every corner of the Middle East.
Rarely in world affairs is the contrast between two sides so stark.
Under President Trump’s leadership, the United States is standing where it should firmly be: on the side of Israel. …
DR MAKOVSKY: I want to ask the first question about Iran. You mentioned you – the administration, to their credit, is – you’re imposing the toughest sanctions, re-imposing the sanctions, but imposing them in a very tough way, commendably.
Let me ask you that – at JINSA, we propose a range of ways of broadening the policy or a range of other policies. I just wanted to raise it with you, and I wanted to get your thoughts about that or other policies that you might be thinking about in ways that pressure the Iranians. …
SECRETARY POMPEO: So the sanctions get a lot of the headlines. The policy that President Trump has put in place is much broader than that. I can’t go into all the details on each of those. We don’t have time for all of that. But there’s a lot of work being done on interdiction. You don’t see it all, it’s not very noisy; I did some of it in my former job. It’s a full range of things to do the simple task of convincing the Iranian leaders to behave like a normal nation.
I listed 12 things that the Iranians have to do for us to get back in a relationship with them, and when you read through them they’re nothing more than what we ask Belgium to do, right? Like stop launching rockets into major international airports, for starters. It’s really – it seemed daunting, but at the end of the day, just be it. Just be a normal country. But it’s not just sanctions.
So five capitals, right? Beirut, Damascus, Sanaa, Tehran itself, and Baghdad. Those are the pressure points. That’s the dream of the Islamic Republic for hegemony and we are pushing back in each of those capitals, in each of those places, with every tool available to the United States Government to achieve that goal: to get the Iranian regime to behave like a normal nation.
DR MAKOVSKY: Yeah, okay, sure. The other suggestion was – it was about how – ways we can help Israel further and also what our policy is about the Syrian Kurds who have been our allies with the – against ISIS and so on.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So look, we’ve worked closely with the Syrian Kurds now for my entire time in service in this administration. They have been great partners. We are now driving to make sure that they have a seat at the table. The political process that I referred, the hardest part, the reason it hasn’t made progress is because we’ve demanded that every element in Syria gets an opportunity to be part of that future government, and in the absence of that and in the absence of their representation, we won’t participate in what will be a big check that someone’s going to have to write to fix the situation in Syria, and the Syrian Kurds will surely be part of that.
DR MAKOVSKY: And how would you define the administration’s overall objective? I used the term “rollback” which doesn’t – “containment” was maybe the policy perhaps – perhaps at times of the previous administration, but how would you define, if you had to think of a couple words to define the objectives we have towards Iran?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know how else to say it. We won’t be settled until we have solved each of the files adequately, right? A permanent solution to ensure that Iran never has the capacity to have a nuclear weapon for all time, in any form. And second – second – to push back against this terror regime which is not only taking place in Iraq and in Syria and in Lebanon, but in European capitals, around the world. It’s remarkable and we – I hope we can get more support from our European partners of this effort. I’m convinced that we will over time.
And then, finally, I’ll put the other bucket, the broader set of Iranian malign activity – there’s much of it – and that’s the mission statement. I don’t know how to put it into three or four words, but it’s to take each of those three spaces and ensure that Iran ceases its current activity which is so fundamentally detrimental to the world and, frankly, very detrimental to Iran’s own people.
—Oct. 10, 2018, in remarks at the 36th Annual Jewish Institute for National Security of America Awards Dinner
While the Iranian people struggle, #Iran’s outlaw regime has wasted over $16 billion since 2012 propping up Assad and supporting its other partners and proxies in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. pic.twitter.com/e99jCQ2vJQ— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) October 9, 2018
#Iran’s regime violates the basic human rights of its own people. Today, there are over 800 prisoners of conscience. The regime targets journalists and restricts freedom of expression. Watch this video on the injustice of life under Iran’s outlaw regime. pic.twitter.com/D2hLiWLzgf— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) September 28, 2018
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s an appropriate but sad irony that we’re talking about Iran during the 73rd UN General Assembly. So many times over the years, the UN – during the UN, Iranian regime leaders and diplomats have used this occasion to turn on their charm offensive with foreign governments, obscure what they’re really up to at home and abroad. Iranian President Rouhani – who has been tweeting the last hour – Foreign Minister Zarif, and other Iranian figures take this opportunity to present themselves as moderates – as moderate statesmen, indeed. But the world knows the truth, that their polished diplomatic waltz is a transparent trick to take responsible nations and try and make them think that maybe they aren’t so bad.
In actuality, these are two of the highest-ranking officials of a regime which brazenly defies the vision of the United Nations, the requirements of international and the principles of national sovereignty. The Iranian regime’s track record over the past 40 years has revealed it as among the worst violators of the UN Charter and UN Security Council resolutions – perhaps, indeed, the worst violator. It is truly an outlaw regime.
Let’s look at the UN Charter. It calls for our nations to “live together in peace with one another as good neighbors.” And where there is a threat to peace, it requires UN member-states to carry out decisions made by the Security Council as to what must be done to address that threat.
Has Iran lived together with other nations in peace? Has it been a good neighbor? Has it contributed to the maintenance of international peace and security by fully abiding by the decisions of the Security Council? Let’s take a little walk around the world, and you’ll see the answer is a deafening “no.”
Let’s start with Europe.
Just a few months ago, authorities across Europe arrested several Iranian operatives – including an Iranian official based in Austria – as part of a plot to plant a bomb at a political rally in France. They grabbed this guy. It happened just as the regime has been putting a full-court press on European countries to stay in the nuclear deal.
As a just response to this support for terrorism, a few weeks ago our ally France indefinitely postponed all non-essential diplomatic travel to Iran. It’s a good first step, and I thank France for that, and we hope to see more actions like this from other European nations. We must put pressure on the regime to rein in its destruction and demand that Iran act like a normal country.
Unfortunately, just last night I was disturbed and, indeed, deeply disappointed to hear the remaining parties in the deal announce they’re setting up a special payment system to bypass U.S. sanctions. This is one of the most counterproductive measures imaginable for regional and global peace and security. By sustaining revenues to the regime, you are solidifying Iran’s ranking as the number one state sponsor of terror, enabling Iran’s violent export of revolution, and making the regime even richer while the Iranian people scrape by. I imagine the corrupt ayatollahs and the IRGC were laughing this morning.
This decision is all more – all the more unacceptable, given the litany of Iranian-backed terrorist activity inside of Europe.
In 2012, four Qods Force operatives entered Turkey to attack Israeli targets, but the attack was thankfully disrupted by Turkish authorities. That same year, Lebanese Hizballah – one of the regime’s most loyal proxies – bombed a bus in Bulgaria carrying six Israeli tourists. Six were killed, including a driver, and at least 32 were wounded. In 1992, Iran provided logistical support to Lebanese Hizballah operatives who assassinated four Iranian Kurdish dissidents at a cafe in Berlin.
But Iran’s state-supported, lawless terror is not confined to Europe. It’s all over. Our journey continues to Africa. In 2013, three Iranian operatives were arrested in Nigeria for planning attacks against USAID offices, an Israeli business, a Jewish cultural center, and hotels frequented by Israelis and Americans. In 2012, two Qods Force operatives were arrested in Nairobi, Kenya for planning bomb attacks against Western interests; 33 pounds of explosive materials were found.
How about South America? In Uruguay in 2015, a senior Iranian diplomat was expelled for planning an attack near the Israeli embassy. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, Iran provided logistical support for two suicide vehicle attacks – one in 1992 and then again in 1994. These attacks killed a total of 114 people and wounded nearly 500, with the 1994 bombing being the deadliest terror attack in the history of Argentina.
The next stop on the tour is Asia. In Kathmandu in 2013, an Iranian traveling on a fake Israeli passport was arrested for conducting surveillance of the Israeli embassy. In New Delhi in 2012, the Qods Force directed a bomb attack targeted at an Israeli diplomat. In Karachi in 2011, Iranian operatives assassinated a Saudi diplomat. Since 2006, Iran has provided the Taliban with a broad range of arms, including rocket-propelled grenades, mortar rounds, rockets, and plastic explosives.
Iran has tried to pull the same stunts right here on our continent. In 2011, the Qods Force supported a plan to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in the United States. This past August, the United States arrested two alleged agents of Iran for conducting covert surveillance and intelligence collection activities against Israeli and American targets here in the United States.
In cyberspace, Iran has exploited the internet to inflame the fault lines of public opinion and to turn Americans against one another. Last month, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube collectively removed thousands of accounts originating from Iran for coordinating disinformation.
In Australia, hackers linked to the IRGC have tried to steal sensitive research from universities.
And of course, the Iranian regime has directed an array of violent and destructive activities to its neighbors in the Middle East.
It provides Lebanese Hizballah, a terrorist organization, with $700 million each year. Hizballah is responsible for some of the most lethal terrorist attacks against Americans abroad in the Middle East. We all remember 1983. With the approval and financing of the Iranian regime, Lebanese Hizballah bombed the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 63, including 17 Americans.
And then again, in 1996, Hizballah bombed the Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. Air Force personnel.
This regime – this regime led by Rouhani and Zarif – provides over $100 million each year to terrorist groups like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The most hypocritical part about this is that the ayatollah claims he cares about Palestinians. But from 2008 to 2017, Iran gave a total of $20,000 to the UN’s relief agency for Palestinian refugees. Meanwhile, the United States nearly – gave nearly $3 billion over the same period, 150,000 [times] more money to support the Palestinians than the terror regime in Iran.
The regime also recruits impoverished youth in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. It peddles a seductive vision of martyrdom to them and then ships them off to Syria to fight at the direction of Qasem Soleimani and his Qods Force. The regime has enticed Afghan children as young as 14 to take on the fight in Syria.
Today, Iranian vessels harass ships in international waterways based on maritime claims made in defiance of international law. No, if the Iranian regime thinks the Strait of Hormuz belongs solely to them, you can bet your last rial that the United States will never stand for that. (Applause.) And at about 170,000 rials to the dollar, you can be sure we are focused on making sure that international waterways continue to remain open for trade.
Just a few weeks ago, Iranian-supported militias in Iraq launched life-threatening rocket attacks against the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad and at the U.S. consulate in Basra. Iran did not stop these attacks, which were carried out by proxies it has supported and funded and trained, and with which – and militias with which it has provided weapons.
The United States will hold the regime in Tehran accountable for any attack that results in injury to our personnel or damage to our facilities. America will respond swiftly and decisively in [defense of] American lives, and we will respond against the source of the attack on American interests.
You know we are here for big meetings at the UN. Each one of these defies the spirt of the UN Charter. But what about the letter of the UN Security Council Resolutions? A tally confirms that Iran is truly an outlaw regime. The list is long.
Resolution 1373 requires all member-states to refrain from providing any form of support to entities involved in terrorist acts.
Resolution 1701 requires all UN member-states to prevent the direct or indirect supply by its nationals from its territory of weapons to Lebanon, with just a handful of exceptions. But neither of these exceptions has stopped Iran from arming Lebanese Hizballah.
Exports of arms from Iran are prohibited by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, and yet arms for the Houthis move in violation of that command from the United Nations.
From 2006 to 2010, the UN Security Council passed six different resolutions governing Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. But from 20 to 2015, the IAEA Board of Governors issued less than – no less than 33 reports outlining Iran’s noncompliance with each of those resolutions.
UN Security Council Resolution 1929 stated that, “Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” But Iran conducted multiple ballistic missile launches between 2010 and 2015, every one of them in flagrant violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
And even when, in connection with the JCPOA sanctions relief, the Security Council superseded this provision in UN Security Council Resolution 2231 with a call upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to such missiles, Iran’s pace of missile activity, missile launches, and tests did not diminish. Iran has conducted multiple ballistic missile launches since January 2016, when the deal was first implemented. Today Iran has the largest ballistic missile force in the Middle East, each of those ballistic missiles costing more than a million dollars.
And that leads me to wonder how the struggling people of Iran feel about a missile program that drains their public treasury and causes economic sanctions that constrict their prosperity.
Recently, the UN Working Group on the Arbitrary Detention – on Arbitrary Detention has concluded that the Government of Iran has no legal basis for the arrest and detention of the American graduate student Wang Xiyue.
Last year, the UN working group called for the immediate release of another American, Siamak Namazi, who was arbitrarily arrested in 2015 while visiting his parents in Iran. In 2016, the working group also concluded that Bob Levinson, who has been missing in Iran for more than 11 years now, was arrested without legal grounds and should be immediately released.
We continue to press Iran to uphold its commitment to assist the United States in locating Bob so he can return to his family. All these Americans and the others wrongly detained must come home.
I talked about Mr. Rouhani’s tweets. They’re wasting a lot of time these days trying to discredit the United States over our lawful and justified decision to leave the JCPOA. But Iran’s own track record of violating international law is among the worst in the world. It has no regard for international law, borders, or lives.
I don’t think I need to offer much more evidence than I have laid out here today. These are destructive activities undertaken by Iran in a global scope. It is therefore incumbent on every country to join our efforts to change the regime’s lawless behavior. The ongoing, multi-national, multi-continental nature of Iranian malign activity leaves no room for indecision.
The United States will continue to coalesce international efforts to change Iranian behavior through pressure, deterrence, and support for the Iranian people. We want every single country on board. This is among the President’s top diplomatic priorities.
The consensus – the consensus that already exists – on Iran nonnuclear activities is reflected in Security Council resolutions, the ones I just mentioned.
But enforcement of those resolutions should be the bare minimum we ask of every nation.
In the wake of President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the nuclear deal, countries are now facing a choice on whether to keep doing business in Iran. Reimposing sanctions and discouraging international business with Iran is not something we’re doing out of spite. This is a necessary security measure. The regime must no longer be allowed to get its hands on billions of dollars that it’s already proven it will spread around the world to its client states, rebel groups, and terrorists. Doing business in Iran only pours money into a regime that hoards it for itself and misuses it for violent ends. This all happened, of course, during the JCPOA.
For decades, the world has sought to achieve the elusive goal of a stable Middle East. What better way – what better way to proceed toward it than denying the resources toward the regime most responsible for instability in the region? We must do whatever we can to stop the funding of the IRGC and the ministry of intelligence so that their agents cannot sustain terrorism and subversion on every continent. Make no mistake: These sanctions and our economic pressure are directed at the regime and its malign proxies, not at the Iranian people.
That is why we have humanitarian exemptions to all of our statutory sanctions that are being reimposed and have a range of authorizations in place to allow for certain activities that actually benefit the Iranian people.
If the world wants to see for itself the full extent of the Iranian regime’s malign activity, the United States has just released a booklet chronicling the destructive activities that the outlaw regime has perpetrated over the years.
Please go online, take a look. It has a great and detailed list. It is a great resource too for anyone who wants to see what revolutionary priorities are like, what the regime really is all about.
I’ve talked a lot today about the regime’s broken promises to UN member-states. It’s important, as we meet here, to talk about the relationship between Iran and its commitments to the United Nations. But the other constituency can put no – that can put no faith in the words of Iran’s leader are of course the Iranian people themselves.
In 1978, before he returned from exile, the Ayatollah Khomeini gave an interview touting the glorious things to come for the Iranian people under the tenets of the Islamic Republic. Among other things, he promised the eradication of poverty, the improvement of condition of the life of the majority of the people who’d been oppressed in various manners, and all kinds of other good things that would come to the country.
How’s that working out? There are psychic hotlines with more accurate predictions.
The president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani himself, has said many people have lost their faith in the future of the Islamic Republic and are in doubt about its power. This attitude, of course, is understandable with one-third of Iranian youth unemployed, while government parking garages are filled with Range Rovers and BMWs.
Thanks to the regime’s failed policies, the Iranian people are battling drastic water shortages and environmental crises throughout their nation.
Last year, Iran’s own energy minister said that 295 cities are facing droughts and water shortages. Meanwhile, the regime has spent untold billions of dollars on a nuclear program that has extended now over years. The Iranian regime is more concerned with heavy water than drinking water.
In terms of improving the condition of those who have been oppressed, Iran still throws its citizens in prison. They bring up charges like “anti-revolutionary behavior,” “corruption on earth,” “siding with global arrogance,” and “crimes against Islam.” Regime vans cruise around the streets of major cities to round up women not obeying the restrictive hijab laws. As part of a larger persecution of the Sunni minority, last year one court sentenced four Sunnis to five years of imprisonment for the crime of jogging.
The law prohibits Muslim citizens from changing or renouncing their religious beliefs, even the teaching of music. Music is discouraged in the schools.
If nations are not moved by this evidence to change their policies towards Iran, that’s their choice. That is their prerogative. But how can any nation that claims to sympathize with the people of Iran keep sustaining trade relationships with lawless and oppressive Ayatollahs?
The United States says this to the people of Iran: Our pledges of support do not end with our words. The United States hears you; the United States supports you. The United States is with you. We support your rights to live as a free people under a government that exercises accountability and treats you with respect.
You deserve better than the fruitless revolution, a revolution that has been imposed on you by corrupt leaders.
And our message is consistent. It’s consistent with what the protesters on the streets of Iran themselves are crying out for and what millions of Iranians in the world of – the worldwide diaspora have said for nearly 40 years. The United States seeks a better way forward with the Middle East.
As President Trump and I have said many times, a new agreement is possible. Indeed, he said it even today. But change must come in the 12 areas I outlined in May, as well in – as with Iran’s human rights record.
This week, our new special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, will meet the members of the Iranian diaspora here in New York. They will share their personal stories about what they and their family and friends have experienced and endured. Be sure, all Iranians who long for a normal government in Iran should be heard. We will continue these conversations to let the Iranian regime know unambiguously whose side we are on.
I want to close with a quote from a great American who often crossed party lines to stand up for the truth, much like our good friend Senator Lieberman did. His name is Daniel Patrick Moynihan, also from this great state. Served 24 years as a senator from New York. He was also the United States ambassador to the United Nations under President Ford.
He once said that, “The United Nations Charter imposes two obligations on members. The first, which is well-known, is to be law-abiding in their relations with other nations: not to attack them, not to subvert them, and so on. But there is a second obligation, which” is – “very simply is to be law-abiding in the treatment of one’s own citizens” as well.
Iran has failed on both obligations.
Ambassador Moynihan also once said “everyone is entitled to his opinions but not to his own facts.”
The fact is that Iran’s charm offensive behind closed doors cannot cover up its string of broken promises in the Security Council chamber.
The fact is that the Iranian regime robs its own people to pay for death and destruction abroad.
The fact is that the outlaw Iranian regime has sabotaged the ability of the people on every continent to live in peace and dignity, including its own country.
The United States asks every nation to come to term with these facts and hold Iran accountable in ways that it has not been held accountable to date.
Only then – only then – can we take new and true steps towards greater security for our own peace-loving people and greater liberty for those inside of Iran.
—Sept. 25, 2018, in a speech at the United Against Nuclear Iran Summit
QUESTION: Let’s talk about Iran. I know there was some talk that perhaps a meeting would happen between President Trump and Iran President Rouhani. Rouhani yesterday, before the UN, said that President Trump has tendencies resembling a Nazi disposition and that America’s First strategy is a symptom of weakness of intellect. How do you sit down with someone like that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, there’s not going to be a meeting. President Trump has said when the Iranians are prepared to talk about fundamentally changing their behavior, then he is of course prepared to talk to them. Those statements yesterday indicate that they’re not in that place, and it is outrageous for him to say such a thing. For a Holocaust-denying country that is threatening Israel to compare the United States or its leader to Nazis is among the most outrageous things I have heard – and I will tell you, in diplomacy you hear a lot of them – the most outrageous things I have ever heard.
QUESTION: And yet you are ramping up sanctions on Iran and then the news that Europe, China and Russia are all going to create this backchannel so that they can keep economic relationships with Iran despite these U.S. sanctions. I mean, what does that say about our relationship with those countries and the fact that they’ve created this backchannel?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, I hosted a dinner with them last night. There are lots of places we’re working with our transatlantic partners in fundamentally important ways, on chemical weapons – lots of places where we have great overlap. They’ve taken a different path with respect to the JCPOA. That’s been clear for some time.
Here’s what I’d say about their decision yesterday: To continue to create mechanisms to fund the world’s largest state sponsor of terror is disastrous policy and I hope they will reconsider it. But most importantly, European businesses are voting with their checkbooks. They are leaving Iran in droves. These sanctions will be effective, they are effective, and come November 4th, they’ll be even more effective.
QUESTION: Isn’t it a lot more effective, though, when the world enforces the sanctions than just U.S. sanctions?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re going to be incredibly effective. You can see it. Today, the rial trades at over 150,000 rial to the dollar. The economy is collapsing. There are two reasons for that. One is certainly the pressure that’s put in place, but most importantly, it’s the total chaos created by the Islamic Republic, Iran’s government. They treat their people horribly, they spend billions of dollars committing terror acts around the world, and they don’t take care of their people. And you see the protests, you see the anger on the streets of Tehran and in the rural areas. That’s a result of terrible government and the Iranian people aren’t going to stand for it, and the American people are going to stand with the Iranian people.
—Sept. 26, 2018, to Norah O’Donnell of CBS News
SECRETARY POMPEO: We have real risk to outside agents trying to do harm to America. There is no mistake about that. There are many countries seeking to meddle in our elections: the Chinese, the Iranians, the North Koreans. And certainly, what the Russians did in 2016 are all clear indications that there are those who want to undermine American democracy. And we have an obligation, both the intelligence community, our military, our diplomats, all of the U.S. Government, to prevent that from ever happening.
QUESTION: Finally, there was an attack on a military parade in Iran this weekend in which at least 24 people were killed, and your Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Zarif, blames it on the U.S. Did the U.S. play any role in that attack? And do you have any plans, or does the President have any plans, to meet with Iranian officials this next week at the UN General Assembly?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Let me take your second question first. I don’t know that there are any plans to date. The President has been pretty clear: If there are constructive conversations to be had with the Iranians, the President is happy to have them. He’d be willing to do so.
QUESTION: Even with President Rouhani this week?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, the leader of the country is Ayatollah Khamenei. That’s who is running the show in Iran. I think that would be an important and interesting conversation. With respect to --
QUESTION: Wait, I mean, are you just – is that talk, or are you just saying you would like, the President would like, to meet with the Ayatollah?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The President has said he’ll talk with anyone if we can a constructive conversation. We want Iran to stop being the largest – the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. But make no mistake about it; there is no indication that they have any intent of doing this. Just this past couple weeks, they’ve come after American interests inside of Iraq, in Basra and in Baghdad.
And with respect to the attacks overnight, I saw the comments of Zarif. When you have a security incident at home, blaming others is an enormous mistake. And the loss of innocent life is tragic, and I wish Zarif would focus on keeping his own people secure rather than causing insecurity all around the world.
—Sept. 23, 2018, in an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News
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.
—Sept. 21, 2018, in an interview with Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC
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.
—Sept. 21, 2018, in an interview with Elise Labott of CNN
QUESTION: On Iran, Germany’s foreign minister has suggested that Europe should work around the U.S. dollar. Russian companies are trying to do the same. Is there a risk to the dominance of the U.S. dollar as these countries try to evade U.S. sanctions?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The Islamic Republic of Iran continues to be the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. We are determined to stop that behavior and to change the way the Iranian regime inflicts horrors all around the world. A good piece of that was the President’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA, which to him and to me made no sense whatsoever, to begin to reimpose costs on Iran so that they don’t have the wealth, the contacts around the world, and the capacity to inflict harm on the American people and others around the world. We’re looking for our European partners to join us, but we have a big coalition that understands that these sanctions make sense and will continue to assist us in enforcing them.
QUESTION: Are the European countermeasures effective, though? Are they blunting U.S. policy?
SECRETARY POMPEO: If you just watch the traffic, it’s one-way. Folks are leaving Iran, including European businesses. And so I am very confident that we will ultimately be effective in enforcing the sanctions that President Trump has asked us to reimpose.
—Sept. 21, 2018, in an interview with Rich Edson of Fox News
QUESTION: You may have been told, Mr. Secretary, that I want to mostly focus on North Korea, but just a quick question about the latest news: We understand that the Security Council meeting next week is about nonproliferation. The President had just tweeted that he’s going to chair a meeting on Iran. So what’s the meeting about?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So Iran will certainly be a topic. The meeting is on a broader set of nonproliferation issues, but the world should know Iran leads the charge when it comes to the risk of proliferation. They continue to be the world’s largest state sponsor of terror and they continue the programs that have threatened the world for so long. The President’s determined to push back against them, and the meeting that he will chair next week will be centered on ensuring that nonproliferation is at the top of the world’s agenda.
—Sept. 21, 2018, in an interview with Barbara Plett Usher of BBC
Religious freedom is also an essential building block for all free societies, and our founders knew this. It’s a freedom that I care personally about, and I know you do as well. It’s the one that drew me to serve my country in the United States Armed Forces. But sadly, today more than 80 percent of the global population lives in countries that place significant limitations on religious freedom. And I know it brings many of us heavy hearts to watch the ongoing persecution of Christians and other minorities in countries like the Islamic Republic of Iran. We are fighting for human dignity of the Iranian people by speaking the truth about the oppressive and corrupt regime that controls those people. Religious minorities in Iran are routinely imprisoned, stripped of their rights, kicked out of their jobs, and subject to many other abuses.
Earlier this year there was a moving news segment on 20 Iranian Christians who made a dangerous journey outside of Iran to an undisclosed location. After years of gathering in secret, all they wanted was to spend a few days in a place, in a place where they could conduct a baptism ceremony without fear of reprisal. And so 20 of them secretly flew to a foreign country and rented a hotel swimming pool for some baptisms. One man said he had waited 10 years since his conversion for this very moment. This is the level of secrecy needed to be a Christian inside of Iran.
I could give you many more examples, examples of how Iranian people have been mistreated by a repressive, corrupt, and hypocritical regime for 40 years. As part of a larger persecution of the Sunni minority last year, one court sentenced four Sunnis to five years imprisonment for the crime of jogging, of all things. A Sufi Muslim man was hanged in June after a sham judicial process.
After President Trump withdrew from the flawed deal, he implemented a new strategy to force a change in the Iranian regime’s behavior. And part of this strategy is to make sure that the voices inside Iran crying out for accountability, justice, and religious freedom know that the United States stands with them. We stand with the Christians, the Jews, the Sufis, the Muslims, the Zoroastrians, the Baha’i, and all other faith groups in Iran who have had their human dignity violated by this regime. We know the importance of God-given right of all people to worship according to their conscience.
—Sept. 21, 2018, at the 13th Annual Values Voter Summit
QUESTION: Iran in the news. Brian Hook, your special envoy, saying: We want to deal with Iran, but a treaty with Iran. Iranian leaders: No go. They’re like: We don’t want any dealings with the United States at this point. What’s going on?
SECRETARY POMPEO: President Trump’s been very clear since the time he was running for office that the arrangement that the previous administration put in place was bad for America, frankly, bad for the world. And so I and Brian are working to get Iran to behave like a normal nation, right, stop being the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, stop launching missiles through proxies, stop attacking our embassies and consulates. When we get those basic things in place, President Trump’s made very clear we’d love Iran to rejoin the community of nations, but their revolutionary zeal causes them to be a bad actor and they need to shape up. And if they do, we’ll get it right.
QUESTION: You and John Kerry have gone back and forth on this – former Secretary of State, Barack Obama – has met four times with Iranian leadership, and you guys criticized, saying that’s not appropriate given you can’t have two-track foreign policy. But he responded by saying “There’s nothing unusual, let alone unseemly or inappropriate, about former diplomats meeting with foreign counterparts.” Secretary of State Kissinger’s done it for decades with Russia and China. “What is unseemly and unprecedented… for the podium of the State Department to be hijacked for political theatrics.”
SECRETARY POMPEO: Secretary Kerry can’t seem to get off the stage, and you have to. When I’m the former Secretary, I’ll get off. Every previous former secretary’s done that too. It’s one thing to meet with your counterpart; it’s another thing to do what Secretary Kerry, Wendy Sherman, Ernest Moniz, frankly the whole gang has done, which is to actively seek to undermine what President Trump is trying to achieve. It’s okay to talk with them, but you have to be working for America, working for American foreign policy, and they’re not. They’re working for the foreign policy that is theirs, not the one that belongs to the United States.
QUESTION: Our own Dana Perino last week had Kerry on, and he did not deny that he wanted to basically tell the Iranians to wait it out for the next administration. And he said everybody around the world is trying to wait this out. At what point does the administration pursue some type of legal action against former Secretary Kerry and others from the former administration?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll leave the legal action to others. I’m trying to execute America’s foreign policy, and they are not only unhelpful, but they are acting in ways that are harmful to achieving what’s best for the American people, and that’s my criticism. Stop it. Let it go. You had your day. We think you fundamentally got it wrong with Iran, and we’re trying to make it right for America.
—Sept. 19, 2018, in an interview with Laura Ingraham of Fox News
QUESTION: President Trump tweeted about one of your predecessors, Secretary Kerry, saying that he was having, quote/unquote, “illegal meetings” with Iran’s foreign minister in what others have said is an attempt to undermine or subvert or coach the Iranians on how to get around or avoid the new – your new harder, tougher policy on Iran. I’m wondering if you share the President’s view that these meetings are illegal. And whether you do or not, if you have noticed in your attempts to get the Europeans and others, to get them on board with the new U.S. policy, and that efforts by Secretary Kerry, or any other former official for that matter, is interfering in or undermining your efforts.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I’ll leave the legal determinations to others. But what Secretary Kerry has done is unseemly and unprecedented. This is a former secretary of state engaged with the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, and according to him – right? You don’t have to take my word for it. He – these are his answers. He was talking to them. He was telling them to wait out this administration.
You can’t find precedent for this in U.S. history, and the secretary ought not – Secretary Kerry ought not to engage in that kind of behavior. It’s inconsistent with what foreign policy of the United States is, as directed by this President, and it is beyond inappropriate for him to be engaged in this. I remember, I saw him. I saw him in Munich at the Security Conference. He was there with – if I have my facts right, because I think I saw them all with my own eyes – Secretary Moniz and Wendy Sherman, the troika. And I am confident that they met with their troika counterparts, although one can perhaps ask Secretary Kerry if my recollection with respect to that is accurate.
I wasn’t in the meeting, but I am reasonably confident that he was not there in support of U.S. policy with respect to the Islamic Republic of Iran, who this week fired Katyusha rockets toward the United States embassy in Baghdad and took action against our consulate in Basra.
—Sept. 14, 2018, in remarks to the press
.@khamenei_ir fancies himself the leader of the Islamic world, but his regime has been totally silent as China—the top buyer of #Iran’s oil—has persecuted and detained hundreds of thousands of its Muslim citizens. رژیم_ریاکار#— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) September 14, 2018
Today, the regime in #Iran is at odds with world peace. We urge our allies and partners to join the U.S. and deny Iran’s leadership the funds to oppress the Iranian people and to foment terrorism around the world.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) August 8, 2018
The rial is plummeting. A third of #Iran's youth are unemployed. A third of Iranians live below the poverty line. But if you’re a politically-connected member of the regime's elite, the Iranian economy is going great. pic.twitter.com/NCfyv3rCn1— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) July 23, 2018
SECRETARY POMPEO: Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. As I’ll spell out more in a moment, the 40 years of fruit from the revolution has been bitter. Forty years of kleptocracy. Forty years of the people’s wealth squandered on supporting terrorism. Forty years of ordinary Iranians thrown in jail for peaceful expression of their rights. Why has the regime conducted itself in such an abhorrent way over the past 40 years and subjected its people to these conditions? It’s an important question.
The answer is at root in the revolutionary nature of the regime itself.
The ideologues who forcibly came to power in 1979 and remain in power today are driven by a desire to conform all of Iranian society to the tenets of the Islamic Revolution. The regime is also committed to spreading the revolution to other countries, by force if necessary. The total fulfillment of the revolution at home and abroad is the regime’s ultimate goal. It drives their behavior. Thus, the regime has spent four decades mobilizing all elements of the Iranian economy, foreign policy, and political life in service of that objective. To the regime, prosperity, security, and freedom for the Iranian people are acceptable casualties in the march to fulfill the revolution.
Economically, we see how the regime’s decision to prioritize an ideological agenda over the welfare of the Iranian people has put Iran into a long-term economic tailspin. During the time of the nuclear deal, Iran’s increased oil revenues could have gone to improving the lives of the Iranian people. Instead they went to terrorists, dictators, and proxy militias. Today, thanks to regime subsidies, the average Hizballah combatant makes two to three times what an Iranian firefighter makes on the streets of Iran. Regime mismanagement has led to the rial plummeting in value. A third of Iranian youth are unemployed, and a third of Iranians now live below the poverty line.
The bitter irony of the economic situation in Iran is that the regime uses this same time to line its own pockets while its people cry out for jobs and reform and for opportunity. The Iranian economy is going great – but only if you’re a politically-connected member of the elite. Two years ago, Iranians rightfully erupted in anger when leaked paystubs showed massive amounts of money inexplicably flowing into the bank accounts of senior government officials. ...
This list goes on, but we’ve got places to go tonight. The level of corruption and wealth among Iranian leaders shows that Iran is run by something that resembles the mafia more than a government.
On foreign policy, the regime’s mission of exporting the revolution has produced a decades-long campaign of ideologically-motivated violence and destabilization abroad. Assad, Lebanese Hizballah, Hamas, Shia militant groups in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen feed on billions of regime cash while the Iranian people shout slogans like “Leave Syria, think about us.”
Our partners in the Middle East are plagued by Iranian cyberattacks and threatening behavior in the waters of the Persian Gulf. The regime and its allies in terror have left a trail of dissident blood across Europe and the Middle East.
Indeed, our European allies are not immune to the threat of regime-backed terrorism.
Just earlier this month, an Iranian “diplomat” based in Vienna was arrested and charged with supplying explosives for a terrorist bomb scheduled to bomb a political rally in France. This tells you everything you need to know about the regime: At the same time they’re trying to convince Europe to stay in the nuclear deal, they’re covertly plotting terrorist attacks in the heart of Europe.
And because fighting the United States and destroying Israel is at the core of the regime’s ideology, it has committed and supported many acts of violence and terrorism against both countries and our citizens. As just one example, well over a thousand American service members have been killed and wounded in Iraq from Iranian-made IEDs.
Today, multiple Americans are detained and missing inside of Iran. Baquer Namazi, Siamak Namazi, Xiyue Wang are unjustly held by the regime to this day, and Bob Levinson has been missing in Iran for over 11 years. There are others, too. And we in the Trump administration are working diligently to bring each of those Americans home from having been wrongfully detained for far too long. …
You know, despite the regime’s clear record of aggression, America and other countries have spent years straining to identify a political moderate. It’s like an Iranian unicorn. The regime’s revolutionary goals and willingness to commit violent acts haven’t produced anyone to lead Iran that can be remotely called a moderate or a statesman. ...
In response to myriad government failures, corruption, and disrespect of rights, since December Iranians have been taking to the streets in the most enduring and forceful protests since 1979. Some shout the slogan, “The people are paupers while the mullahs live like gods.” Others choose to shut down the Grand Bazaar in Tehran. The specific grievances do differ, but all those voicing dissatisfaction share one thing: They have been ill-treated by a revolutionary regime. Iranians want to be governed with dignity, accountability, and respect.
The regime – this is important. The regime’s brutal response to these peaceful protests reflects the intolerance that its revolutionary worldview has produced. Last January, the regime welcomed in the new year with the arrests of up to 5,000 of its own people. They were peacefully calling for a better life. Hundreds reportedly remain behind bars, and several are dead at the hands of their own government. The leaders cynically call it suicide. ...
In light of these protests and 40 years of regime tyranny, I have a message for the people of Iran: The United States hears you; the United States supports you; the United States is with you.
When the United States sees the shoots of liberty pushing up through rocky soil we pledge our solidarity, because we too took a hard first step towards becoming a free country a few years back.
Right now, the United States is undertaking a diplomatic and financial pressure campaign to cut off the funds that the regime uses to enrich itself and support death and destruction. We have an obligation to put maximum pressure on the regime’s ability to generate and move money, and we will do so. ...
While it is ultimately up to the Iranian people to determine the direction of their country, the United States, in the spirit of our own freedoms, will support the long-ignored voice of the Iranian people. Our hope is that ultimately the regime will make meaningful changes in its behavior both inside of Iran and globally. As President Trump has said, we’re willing to talk with the regime in Iran, but relief from American pressure will come only when we see tangible, demonstrated, and sustained shifts in Tehran’s policies.
—July 22, 2018, in a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
"Two weeks ago, President Trump terminated the United States participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal.
President Trump withdrew from the deal for a simple reason: it failed to guarantee the safety of the American people from the risk created by the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
No more. No more wealth creation for Iranian kleptocrats. No more acceptance of missiles landing in Riyadh and in the Golan Heights. No more cost-free expansions of Iranian power. No more.
The JCPOA put the world at risk because of its fatal flaws.
And they’re worth recounting at some length today, if only for the purpose of ensuring that subsequent arrangements do not repeat them."
"Lebanon is an even more comfortable home for Hizballah today than it was when we embarked on the JCPOA. Hizballah is now armed to the teeth by Iran and has its sights set on Israel.
Thanks to Iran, Hizballah provides the ground forces for the military expedition in Syria. The IRGC, too, has continued to pump thousands of fighters into Syria to prop up the murderous Assad regime and help make that country 71,000 square miles of kill zone.
Iran perpetuates a conflict that has displaced more than 6 million Syrians inside the – 6 million Syrians and caused over 5 million to seek refuge outside of its borders.
These refugees include foreign fighters who have crossed into Europe and threatened terrorist attacks in those countries.
In Iraq, Iran sponsored Shia militia groups and terrorists to infiltrate and undermine the Iraqi Security Forces and jeopardize Iraq’s sovereignty – all of this during the JCPOA.
In Yemen, Iran’s support for the Houthi militia fuels a conflict that continues to starve the Yemeni people and hold them under the threat of terror.
The IRGC has also given Houthi missiles to attack civilian targets in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates and to threaten international shipping in the Red Sea.
And in Afghanistan, Iran’s support to the Taliban in the form of weapons and funding leads to further violence and hinders peace and stability for the Afghan people.
Today, the Iranian Qods Force conducts covert assassination operations in the heart of Europe."
"Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Republic – Revolution in Iran. At this milestone, we have to ask: What has the Iranian Revolution given to the Iranian people? The regime reaps a harvest of suffering and death in the Middle East at the expense of its own citizens. Iran’s economy is stagnant and without direction and about to get worse. Its young people are withering under the weight of frustrated ambitions. They are longing to pursue the freedoms and opportunities of the 21st century.
Iran’s leaders can change all of this if they choose to do so. Ali Khamenei has been supreme leader since 1989. He will not live forever, nor will the Iranian people abide the rigid rules of tyrants forever. For two generations, the Iranian regime has exacted a heavy toll on its own people and the world. The hard grip of repression is all that millions of Iranians have ever known.
Now is the time for the supreme leader and the Iranian regime to summon the courage to do something historically beneficial for its own people, for this ancient and proud nation.
As for the United States, our eyes are clear as to the nature of this regime, but our ears are open to what may be possible. Unlike the previous administration, we are looking for outcomes that benefit the Iranian people, not just the regime."
—May 21, 2018, in a speech at The Heritage Foundation
“President Trump has said that 'Iran is not the same country it was five months ago.' That’s because our campaign of financial pressure, our withdrawal from the nuclear deal, and our full-throated support for the Iranian people, which I articulated in a speech this past Sunday, are having an impact.”
“There is enormous economic challenge inside of Iran today, it’s an economic structure that simply doesn’t work. When you’re a country of that scale that foments terror, through Lebanese Hezbollah, through Shia militias in Iraq, into Yemen, conducts assassination attempts in European countries, provides enormous support for Hafez Assad, outside of Lebanese Hezbollah in Syria. That’s expensive, and I think the Iranian people are beginning to see that that’s not the model that they want. That the Iranian expansionism that the supreme leader and Qassem Soleimani so favor is not what they’re looking for. And I think you’re beginning to see the economic impact combined with understandings inside of Iran of the kleptocracy that it is, leading to fundamental decisions that the Iranian people will ultimately have to make.”
“The question that President Trump faced was was the JCPOA good enough, and he concluded that it wasn’t remotely good enough. I think he said it was one of the worst deals in history – I don’t want to get the language wrong – so he concluded that we would find ourselves in a better place with an opportunity to revisit all of these issues, the broad spectrum of issues, not just the nuclear portfolio but the military program, their malign activity around the world, all of them in a package. It did accept the understanding that there would be those that wouldn’t come alongside of us, but you should know there is a coalition – it’s not America and America alone – we have others who believe that this was the right decision too: the Israelis, the Saudis, the Emirates, the Bahrainis, other smaller European governments – not the E3 themselves, but there are a number of folks who are beginning to coalesce around an understanding of how we can appropriately respond to Iran to take down the nuclear risk to the United States, as well as the risk from these other malign activities.”
—July 25, 2018, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Hmm… Can this be explained? pic.twitter.com/wXXC8urswV— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) June 20, 2018
Interview With Mina Al-Oraibi of The National
QUESTION: Thank you. I want to ask you about Iran, basically, because of course, here in the region, we have a lot of concerns about Iran’s expansionist policies, and you recently said that Ayatollah Khamenei has to be held to account for destabilizing the Gulf’s security. How can he be held to account?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So there are lots of ways. First, a united opposition is very important, and it’s one of the reasons I’m here. We have great partners here in the United Arab Emirates, we have great partners with the Saudis and the Bahrainis, many countries pushing back, demonstrating that what we’re asking is pretty simple: Iran to become a more normal country.
The tools we’ll use will be varied. They’ll often be diplomatic. You see the U.S.-led efforts on sanctions, so economic tools. And then it’s also the case that we will be prepared to make sure that when Iran does things like launch missiles that come here or go to Riyadh, that we’re prepared to defend the region as well militarily.
QUESTION: The recent threat of closing the Strait of Hormuz is one that, of course, the whole world cares about. Is that a realistic threat?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The United States has made very clear we’re going to make sure that the sea lanes remain open. It’s been a longstanding U.S. policy and we’re prepared to make sure that that happens.
QUESTION: Now, if we look at Yemen, we see an uptick of activity from Hizballah and from Iran’s support for the Houthis. What can the international community do to stop that and how can we see an end to the war in Yemen?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I do hope that there ultimately is a political resolution there. The UN, through Mr. Griffiths, is working hard to achieve that political resolution. But at the end of the day, it’s going to require a global effort to convince the Iranians that this kind of meddling, this kind of interference, this kind of promotion of violence directed at Arab countries outside of Yemen doesn’t make sense for them. And so all the same tools that I described previously are the ones that will ultimately lead to the Houthis and others in Yemen realizing that the war is not worth continuing, that a political resolution is the one that’s best for the people of Yemen.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) sorts of actions that can be taken in addition to, of course, the sanctions to convince the Iranians to change their behavior? Because what we’ve seen in the last few years is whatever pressure has not wielded the results you’re hoping for so far.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, remember the last few years, the sanctions were lifted. And so much of this malign activity, this increase in resources provided to Hizballah, the increase in resources provided to the Shia militias fighting in Iraq and in Syria, the support for the Houthis in Yemen, the efforts in Bahrain, those all took place against the backdrop of a relief from sanctions as a result of agreements that were entered into in the JCPOA. America has now withdrawn from those. These sanctions are returning. And I am convinced that the combined effort of the Gulf states and the United States and the Europeans will ultimately achieve a good outcome and convince the Iranian people that this is not the kind of activity their government ought to be involved with.
QUESTION: Are you working on an alternative deal when it comes to the nuclear activities of Iran? Do we expect another deal, a different type of deal?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, if there’s another deal, it’ll be completely different. It will be of permanent duration and not temporary. It will have a verification regime that is sufficient to ensure that nuclear weapons aren’t being hidden or developed in a clandestine way. And equally importantly, it won’t just be about the nuclear program. It’ll be about their space program, which is really a proxy for their missile efforts. It’ll be about their missile program, it’ll be about the malign activity, it will be a comprehensive effort to convince Iran to behave in a way that we ask every other country in the world to behave.
QUESTION: Iran’s presence in Syria is one that causes concern for Syrians and the region. Are you in talks with the Russians to work together to push out Iran and Hizballah’s influence in Syria?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So we have spoken with many parties in Syria, including the Russians, and made very clear, as have the Israelis, that the Iranian presence in Syria is not appropriate and won’t be tolerated. So we’re working diligently to develop a political solution that not only achieves America’s goal of defeating ISIS that’s still there, still a challenge for us in Syria, but leads Iran to the place where they conclude it’s not worth the candle for them to be in Syria. There’s no reason for them to reach out to that country. There’s no reason to have military forces on the ground there. And we’re going to undertake, along with our partners, a comprehensive program to diminish that activity.
QUESTION: We’ve seen some Iraqi militia forces in Syria under the leadership of Iranian military commanders or the IRCG commanders. What do you say to the Iraqi Government on that role that they’re playing?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So yes, Qasem Soleimani is causing trouble throughout Iraq and Syria, and we need to raise the cost for him, for he and his organization and for him personally. With respect to the Iraqi Government, we’re working closely with the Iraqis to make sure that as they move through their government formation process – as the election is now over, as they move through the government formation process, what America wants is an Iraqi – Iraq for Iraqis, not influenced by Iran but rather comprised of the various groups: the Kurds, the Sunnis, the Shias. We want everyone to have a voice in an Iraqi national government that leads to an Iraq that is strong and independent and robust and economically successful as well.
QUESTION: If we go back to Syria, is the U.S.’s position still that Assad must go?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Our first step is to take down the violence. The first thing that America’s working on politically is to reduce the level of violence. We have six million-plus displaced persons. We’ve got to restore the opportunity for the Syrian people to begin to engage politically and develop a stable, non-violent Syria. At that point, the political decisions, the constitution of Syria will be sorted out by the Syrian people.
QUESTION: And I want to ask you finally, on the issue of Qatar, as the Qatar crisis has developed, they’ve gotten closer and closer to Iran. So as this coalition is put together to face off on Iran’s activities in the region, what is your message to the Qataris on that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: My message and the President’s message to the entire Gulf (inaudible) is that we hope that they will begin to have discussions and resolve this dispute. We understand there are differences of views. This happens among countries with great frequency. But we do also recognize that these disputes lead to a strengthening of Iran, it allows Iran to create a wedge between Gulf states that have a shared threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran. And so we are hopeful and we are prepared to try and help facilitate to the extent we can a resolution of this set of disputes.
—July 10, 2018, in an interview with The National
Interview With Mohannad Al Khatib of Sky News Arabia
QUESTION: Thank you. The United States is reinforcing various sanctions on Iran. We’ve heard statements over the last few days coming from Tehran that basically amount to threats, (inaudible) in the region, that – some went as far as threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz. How would the United States respond (inaudible) such threat?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, it all starts with Iranian bad behavior, the kinds of things that threaten the people here in the Emirates – missiles being launched from Yemen that strike real risk to the people of all of the Gulf states. And so American policy is aimed to deter that.
I’ve seen these remarks about their threats. The world should know that America is committed to keeping sea lanes open, to keep transit of oil available for the entire world. That’s the commitment we’ve had for decades. We continue to honor that commitment.
QUESTION: Aside from the nuclear issue with Iran, Iran is involved (inaudible) in many destabilizing activities in several countries in the hemisphere: Yemen (inaudible), Syria. What will the United States do in order to limit these activities?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, one of the great things is we have wonderful partners like the Emirates, the Saudis, many countries, the Bahrainis are all working alongside of us to push back against Iranian malign behavior, whether it’s their activity underwriting the Houthis in Yemen, Hizballah in Syria and in Lebanon, in Iraq and Syria Shia militias that are inflicting real harm on ordinary citizens.
So we intend to do a number of things, though one that we are most focused on today is ensuring that we deny Iran the financial capacity to continue this bad behavior. So it’s a broad range, a series of sanctions aimed not at the Iranian people, but rather aimed at the singular mission of convincing the Iranian regime that its malign behavior is unacceptable and has a real high cost for them.
QUESTION: Iran has said several times that they intend to stay in Syria for the long term. How does the United States view this?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Iran needs to get out of Syria. They have no business there. There’s no reason for them to be there. There’s been Iranian influence there for a long time. Iranian forces, Iranian militias must leave the country.
QUESTION: Also on the issue of the Syrian (inaudible), there is a big (inaudible) going on south of Syria today. The armed groups that were supported at one time by the United States are losing ground. How are you looking at this?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s a very difficult situation. From the United States perspective, we need to achieve a political solution in Syria, one that reflects the diversity of the Syrian nation. We are aiming to set the conditions for a political resolution. We’re prepared to continue the conversations often led by the UN in a way that takes down the violence, de-escalates the threats to the people of Syria, allows the some six million displaced persons from Syria to begin to return and to rebuild, and that ultimately achieves a constitution and a political resolution that’s consistent with what the Syrian people truly want and deserve.
QUESTION: Are you in agreement with the Russians on what’s going on in the south of Syria today
SECRETARY POMPEO: No, we had an agreement with the Russians that they would not move in the south. There was a de-escalation zone that the Russians had agreed to. They now have clearly violated that and we are working with all parties concerned to get each party – the Russians, the Syrians, the Iranians, everyone to honor the commitments that they’ve made in the various political processes that have been undertaken with respect to Syria.
QUESTION: You had a tweet a few days ago saying that Iran’s activities in Yemen, the – (inaudible) the prolonged suffering of the Yemeni people will not be tolerated. What will Washington do in order to (inaudible)?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, we’ve done a lot of things. We’ve done work to push back against the threat of al-Qaida in Yemen. We’ve worked with the Saudis and with the Emiratis to reduce the risk from the Iranian threat there in Yemen through identifying transit of weapons that are moving in and around the region so that the Houthis don’t have the material to conduct these threats. We think it’s important that every place Iran attempts to use its force we raise the cost for them such that the Iranian people will ultimately reject that use of force.
QUESTION: The U.S. allies in Europe that were part of the 5+1 agreement with Iran are in talks with Iran right now in order to salvage what’s left of this agreement. How are you hoping talking to the Europeans about this and how are they responding?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, it’s a great question. I’ll actually leave here and headed for Brussels. I’ll meet with my European counterparts to talk about exactly this set of issues. Frankly, we agree in large part. The Europeans understand the threat that Iran poses. Indeed, just this past week, there were Iranians arrested in Europe who were preparing to conduct a terror plot in Paris, France. We’ve seen this malign behavior in Europe. The Europeans understand the threat. We are working through a difference. The American people concluded that the JCPOA made no sense, that it was truly a pathway for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. So we are attempting to stop that. We’re working now with the Europeans to develop a plan and a path forward to continue to stop Iran from its nuclear program, but also to push back against its missile system and its terrorist behavior.
QUESTION: Some countries in Europe and in other parts of the world intend to keep on getting oil from Iran even after the sanctions are imposed. How would you look at this?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, that will violate the sanctions that we put in place. Come November 4th, there will be a U.S. sanction that prevents crude oil from passing from Iran to other countries. It will be sanctionable activity. We will enforce those sanctions. There will be a handful of countries that come to the United States and ask for relief from that. We’ll consider it. But make no mistake about it, we are determined to convince the Iranian leadership that this malign behavior won’t be rewarded and that the economic situation in their country will not be permitted to be rectified until such time as they become a more normal nation.
—July 10, 2018, in an interview with Sky News Arabia
HUGH HEWITT (MSNBC): Speaking about the use of force, let’s turn to Iran, probably the greatest exporter of violence in the world on a daily basis (inaudible). Do you foresee having to use force if they continue on a nuclear path?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Boy, I sure hope not. I hope the ayatollah and Soleimani, the prime drivers of Iranian threat posture, I hope they recognize that whatever decision other countries make about staying in the JCPOA or however they proceed, I hope he – they understand that if they begin to ramp up their nuclear program, the wrath of the entire world will fall upon them. And so it is not in their practical best interest to begin that.
Whatever happens to the JCPOA, I think the Iranians understand that. It would be – wholly separate from whether they spin a couple of extra centrifuges, if they began to move towards a weapons program, this would be something the entire world would find unacceptable, and we’d end up down a path that I don’t think this is the best interest of Iran, other actors in the Middle East, or indeed the world.
HEWITT: When you say “the wrath of the entire world,” I think of the new entente – and I am talking then for the benefit of the audience – not just of Israel, but of Bahrain, of Egypt, of Jordan and Iraq or Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates are great friends in the Middle East. Would they support that wrath descending on Iran in the form of American military action if they move this way?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, when I say “wrath,” don’t confuse that for military action. Those are – when I say “wrath,” I mean the moral opprobrium and economic power that fell upon them. That’s what I’m speaking to. I’m not talking to military action here. Just I truly hope that’s never the case. It’s not in anyone’s best interest for that. But make no mistake, President Trump has been very clear: Iran will not get a nuclear weapon nor start its weapons program on this President’s watch.
And I’ve heard some say that we’ve separated from our allies on this issue of Iran. I don’t think that’s the case. When I talk to my Arab friends, the Israelis, all of those in the region, they are right alongside us. And even when I speak to the Europeans, with whom we have a difference about the JCPOA, they too understand the threat that Iran presents, whether it’s malign activity with Hizballah or in Yemen or in Syria or in Iraq, or its missile program that is launching missiles into airports that Westerners travel through. There is a unified understanding of Iran’s malevolent behavior, and it will be an incredibly united world should Iran choose to head down a nuclear weapons path.
HEWITT: You mentioned General Soleimani. They only understand force sometimes. They are trying to move into Syria where they have put the Revolutionary Guard and the Qods Force again, but you’re saying – I want to just understand – if necessary, the United States is prepared to do whatever it has to do to stop them from having a nuclear weapon.
SECRETARY POMPEO: President Trump’s been unambiguous about – in his statements that says that Iran will not be able to obtain a nuclear weapon. Remember too, Hugh, it’s important to remind your viewers the previous agreement permitted them to continue to enrich uranium, all right? We cut a tougher deal on our allies, the Emiratis, than we did on the Iranians with respect to nuclear power. I laid down a dozen items that we’re asking Iran to do. If your viewers go look at them, they’re all simple things.
They are simply saying become a member of the community of nations, right? Stop launching missiles into non-hostile nations, cease support of terrorism around the world, don’t go down the path of a nuclear weapons system. The asks from the United States in order for Iran to return to the community of nations are all we ask of other countries around the world to be part of the international system.
HEWITT: Anyone who follows your Twitter feed – and I do follow it, Secretary Pompeo – knows that in the last two weeks you’ve done more democracy support in Iran than happened during the Green Revolution under the previous administration. Is that going to be a mark of the Secretary Pompeo years at State, that you’re just going to support the democratic movement in Iran?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think it’s a mark of President Trump and our administration. We are very hopeful that there will be an increase in the democratic values, and the capacity for Iranians to speak their mind inside the Islamic Republic of Iran.
—June 22, 2018, in an interview with MSNBC’s Hugh Hewitt
"We are going to put together a coalition that pushes back against not only Iran’s nuclear program – which, by the way, Margaret, they still deny. No Iranian leader has admitted they had a weapons program, and the facts are now public that they did. They ought to at least be honest about that. But it’s not going to just be the nuclear file. It will be their missile program. It will be their effort to build Hizballah. It’ll be their threats against Israel. It’ll be the work that they’re doing in Yemen to launch missiles into Saudi Arabia, for goodness sakes.
This is the activity that the Iranian regime has undertaken during the JCPOA. We’re going to make a shift. We’re going to deny them the benefit of the economic wealth that has been created and put real pressure, so that they’ll stop the full scale of the sponsorship of terrorism with which they’ve been engaged in these past years."
—May 13, 2018, on CBS Face the Nation
“With respect to the JCPOA, we talked about it some today. I’m confident that that’ll be a topic on my trip throughout the Middle East as well, not only talking about the concerns that President Trump has expressed consistently, but talking about ways to potentially address those shortcomings, finding a potential solution to the very flaws that President Trump has identified for a long time now.
“You asked if we talked about the decision. There’s been no decision made. So the team is working, and I’m sure we’ll have lots of conversations to deliver what the President has made clear. Absent a substantial fix, absent overcoming the shortcomings, the flaws of the deal, he is unlikely to stay in that deal past this May.”
—April 27, 2018, at a press availability in Brussels, Belgium
“Iran, meanwhile, has been on the march and has paid too low a price for its dangerous behavior. Our administration has developed a strategy to counter Iran that will raise that cost. The issues surrounding Iran’s proliferation threat are real and we, along with our allies, must deal with the long-term risk that its capability presents. But we cannot let the nuclear file prevent us from acting against Iran’s cyber efforts or its attempts to provide missiles to the Houthis to attack Saudi Arabia and Americans who travel there. Iran’s activities in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon threaten the very existence of Israel, and the global reach of Hezbollah threatens us right here in the homeland. Iran freed American hostages for the sake of a deal and then turned immediately to holding still more. I will work for their freedom every day.
“President Trump is prepared to work with our partners to revise the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to fix its most egregious flaws. If confirmed, it will be an immediate personal priority to work with those partners to see if such a fix is achievable. The stakes are high for everyone, but especially Tehran. If confirmed in time, I look forward to engaging key Allies on this crucial and time-sensitive topic at the G7 Ministerial Meeting on April 22nd and the NATO Ministerial Meeting later that week.”
“Iran wasn't racing to a weapon before the deal. There is no indication that I'm aware of that if that deal no longer existed that they would immediately turn to racing to create a nuclear weapon today.”
—April 12, 2018, in remarks during his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Today marks one year since Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif agreed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On this date, we ought to take the opportunity not to re-litigate that “political commitment,” but evaluate whether it has helped protect the United States, our people, and our interests. Unfortunately for our country’s future, the answer to that inquiry is a resounding no. As a result, Congress must act to change Iranian behavior, and, ultimately, the Iranian regime.
The JCPOA can perhaps delay Iran’s nuclear weapons program for a few years. Conversely, it has virtually guaranteed that Iran will have the freedom to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons at the end of the commitment. Further, in the past year, the Islamic Republic of Iran has launched multiple ballistic missiles – testing increasingly complex and longer range missiles. It has grown its support of terrorist groups, and it continues to take hostages. The deal has, in fact, made our country less safe.
—July 14, 2016, in an op-ed published by Fox News
“You'll have to leave that to the State Department. I think -- I think the last I saw Secretary Tillerson made very, very clear that Assad is not a stabilizing influence in Syria, that is difficult to imagine, and from an intelligence perspective not a policy perspective, I would add, it is difficult to imagine a stable Syria that still has Assad in power. He is a puppet of the Iranians and therefore it seems an unlikely situation where Assad will be sitting on the throne and America's interests will be well served.”
“So Hezbollah is but one example of the Iranians using proxy forces to achieve their outcomes, which is an expansionist capacity to control and be the kingpin in the Middle East, certainly Hezbollah; many of the Shia militias, although not all; their efforts in Yemen, their proxies in Iraq now firmly gaining power inside of Iraq, each of those present threats to the Gulf States, to Israel, and to America's interests. And this administration is going to have the task of unwinding what we found when we came in.”
“We are working diligently to get to the right place there. I will tell you that some of the actions that we have taken have let folks know that we are at least back working this problem in a way that wasn't the case six months ago.”
“So I'll leave that discussion to State Department, who recertified but I'll talk to you -- I want talk to you about the -- about Iran, because you can't talk about the JCPOA the reason that I opposed it when I was a member of Congress wasn't that there might not be some marginal benefit in delaying Iran's nuclear program, it is potentially the case that you could achieve that, you could get increased monitoring, you could stop a few centrifuges from spinning, there might well be marginal benefits on Iran's nuclear that could be achieved by the agreement. In fact, you could go back and look, I said that when I was a member of Congress as well.”
“The challenge of the agreement is that it is short term. It doesn't avail of us -- avail us the capacity to really truly identify all the things that Iran might be up to, and then covers only such a narrow piece of the Iranian risk profile. And so that's what -- that's what the administration is focused on, we're working diligently to figure out how to push back against Iran not only in the nuclear arena but in all the other spaces as well.”
“And I can't get into the details of our intelligence as it relates to what those distinguished scholars have written but I kind of think of Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal like a bad tenant. How many of you have had a bad tenant? You know they don't pay the rent, you call them and then they send a check, and it doesn't clear and they send another one. And then the next day there's this old tired sofa in the front yard and you tell them to take it away, and you know they drag it to the back. This is Iranian compliance today. Grudging, minimalist, temporary with no intention of really what the agreement was designed to do, it was designed to foster stability and have Iran become a reentrant to the Western world, and the agreement simply hasn't achieved that.”
“You know it's a good answer – a good question rather. I would answer it this way, I'd answer it this way, I don't know. I don't know what will push them back, but I can tell you what won't. What won't is continuing -- continued appeasement, continued failure to acknowledge when they do things wrong, and forcing them into compliance, and sometimes yes that will require Americans taking risk. I'm confident this administration will ultimately be willing to do so. When we get our strategy in place I am confident you will see a fundamental shift. We've begun, right, that one of the first things the President did is to go build a coalition of the Gulf States and Israel to help find a platform which could uniformly push back against Iranian expansionism.”
“So here's how -- from an intelligence perspective, here's how I think about that. It is the case that our European partners, for example France just did a deal with China and the National Iranian oil company a $5 billion dollars deal with an entity that remains sanctioned by the United States of America, fascinating.
“So that's a diplomatic challenge. From an intelligence perspective, it is true that 70 percent of the people, in an interesting election, voted for this fellow, Rouhani. But the folks with all the power aren't being voted on. The folks who are causing the mischief, Qassem Suleimani and his gang weren't elected. Those are the folks that we're deadly focused on making sure don't continue to maintain capacity and power. Yes it does, it answers your question in full. Yes, ma'am. That's all I got.”
—July 31, 2017, speaking at the Aspen Security Forum
JUAN ZARATE: Mr. Director, first talking about Iran, the president gave his speech on October 13th reshaping U.S. policy on Iran. I think the first question on this is why was that speech and that shift necessary? And is Iran in violation of the JCPOA? Or what's the animating principle behind this shift?
POMPEO: We often focus a lot on the JCPOA, and I'm happy to share the intelligence elements that are buried there, but the president has come to view the threat from Iran as at the center of so much of the turmoil that bogs us down in lots of places in the Middle East—right? Whether it's Lebanese Hezbollah, the threat that it presents to both Lebanon and to Israel; whether it's the Shia militias—you can see the impact that they're having today, even in northern Iraq; the threat that they pose to U.S. forces— we had an incident last week.
The list of Iranian transgressions—the missile program, their cyber efforts. The list of Iranian transgressions is long. And from an intelligence perspective, we shared that with the president. I think he concluded that we needed to reconfigure our relationships, not only with Iran but with the Gulf states and with Israel, to ensure that we are addressing what he views as the real threat to the United States in a comprehensive way.
ZARATE: The president seems to be shifting that in the policy, and I think that the administration seems to be pushing, not just on the deal, but around the deal. So how do you explain to people your view of the JCPOA itself and the role it plays in the policy?
POMPEO: Look, the mission set that the president laid out with respect to the deal was to ensure that there were no pathways for the Iranians to achieve a nuclear capability, to not put a president in the future in the same place this administration is with respect to North Korea, to close down all the various avenues.
And so, there are many pieces to that. From an intelligence perspective, we need even more intrusive inspection. The deal put us in a marginally better place with respect to inspection, but the Iranians have on multiple occasions been capable of presenting a continued threat through covert efforts to develop their nuclear program along multiple dimensions, right? The missile dimension, the weaponization effort, the nuclear component itself.
So we need to make sure from an intelligence perspective that we're enabled to do that. And the president has given us the resources to go achieve that and all the various tools that we have, the various legal authorities.
And so, when the president stared at the deal and asked us what this meant from a proliferation perspective inside of Iran, two years, three years, the difference of a breakout time across a handful of months, it didn't seem satisfactory to him. That's no surprise; he's tweeted about it.
It didn't seem satisfactory to him. So he asked us all to go evaluate how we might present a more comprehensive effort to push back against the Quds Force, the IRGC more broadly, and the Iranian regime itself. The effort—the notion—and I'll stay on the analytic side, the notion that the entry into the JCPOA would curtail Iranian adventurism or their terror threat or their malignant behavior has now, what, two years on, proven to be fundamentally false. So...
ZARATE: Has the opposite happened? Have they gotten more aggressive than you would anticipate, or....
POMPEO: So it depends on which dimension. Look, they've been developing their missile system pretty consistently for an extended period of time now.
In terms of testing, about the same as where they were pre-JCPOA. But their desire to put guided rocketry in the hands of Hezbollah, the efforts with the Houthis in Yemen, launching missiles into the—or attempting to launch missiles to the Emirates and into Saudi. These are new and aggressive, and show no signs of having been curtailed by even the increased commerce that they've achieved through having Europeans back in the game in Iran.
ZARATE: I mean, they seem to be pushing on all of the pressure points and what does that mean for us to be able to confront and push back?
POMPEO: All the tools available of U.S. power, so I'll begin with a handful. I could—we could talk about this for a long time, but I'll begin with a handful. It has been far too inexpensive for the Iranians to conduct this adventurism. We should raise the cost of that. The Agency has an incredibly important role there, providing the intelligence basis for us to help, not only the United States, but our partners in the region, which is the second piece of this.
We need all of our partners. Sometimes I hear folks talk about the JCPOA and our partners, and nary a mention of the Saudis, the Emirates, the Israelis, but lots of talk about Germans, and Brits and French, and that's great. They're important partners, too. We need them all working against the continued expansion of the Iranians.
Treasury, too, has an important role. Juan, you lived this in your roles at Treasury. Secretary Mnuchin is keenly aware of the tools that are in his arsenal as well. I mean, think about this today imagine you're a—the Iranians have complained a great deal that they haven't seen the benefits, the economic benefits they had expected. But imagine you're a European CEO, or board of directors or a lender; the intelligence community struggles mightily to figure out which companies are controlled by the IRGC or the Quds Force. It is a difficult, complex intelligence undertaking to sort out which entities are controlled by the Quds Force, which ones have shareholders. It is intentionally opaque, but as much as 20 percent of the Iranian economy is controlled by them.
Imagine that you're a businessperson deciding whether it was appropriate to take that risk or not, whether the return was there for your company. I think we can make it even more difficult, and I think in order to push back against all these non-nuclear activities—put aside the nuclear issues in the deal, to push back against these non-nuclear activities I think is something the president's intent on doing.
ZARATE: The Treasury Department has designated actors who've been—Al Qaeda actors—who've been in Iran and supported—the 9/11 Commission raised the question, frankly, that was unanswered with respect to Iran's potential role in 9/11. And the president actually raised it quite openly, which I found to be really startling and interesting. Can you talk about that, the Iranian-Al Qaeda links that the president mentioned?
POMPEO: I can't say a whole lot more than he said, but I think it's an open secret, and not classified information, that there have been relationships, there are connections. There have been times the Iranians have worked alongside Al Qaeda.
We actually, the CIA is going to release, here, in the next handful of days, a series of documents related to the Abbottabad raids that may prove interesting to those who are looking to take at this issue—take a look at this issue a little bit further.
But there have been connections where, at the very least, they have cuts deals so as not to come after each other. That is, they view the West as a greater threat than the fight is between them two along their ideological lines. And we, the intelligence community, has reported on this for an awfully long time. It is something we are very mindful of.
And, with the defeat of the real estate proposition in Syria and Iraq for ISIS, we watch what's going on in Idlib. You've got ISIS folks, Al-Nusra Front, Al Qaeda folks up in the north. We're watching to see if there aren't places where they work together for a common threat against the United States.
ZARATE: What are your concerns about the links between Iran and North Korea, and the issue of proliferation writ large?
POMPEO: There's a long history there—deep, there are deep conventional weapons, ties as between the two countries. These are two national states that don't have deep export control provisions within their countries.
And so it is a Wild, Wild West exercise and we do have an obligation to ensure that we account for that, as an intelligence community and then do our best efforts to ensure that we don't have capabilities transition between the two.
It could be the case, I can't say much, but you can imagine that each of these countries would have relative expertise in certain technologies, certain capacities and there won't even be dollars exchanged, but rather, there will be expertise or technology exchanged, as well, for the betterment of each of their weaponization programs, there missile programs and then their capacity to do explosive testing on nuclear devices, as well.
—Oct. 19, 2017, at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ National Security Summit
"Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are the cudgels of a despotic theocracy, with the IRGC accountable only to a Supreme Leader."
"They're the vanguard of a pernicious empire that is expanding its power and influence across the Middle East."
"In recent years, the IRGC has become more reckless and provocative, seeking to exploit the vacuum left by instability in the Middle East to aggressively expand its influence."
"It openly vows to annihilate Israel. And when you look at the death and destruction inflicted in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq by Tehran and its proxies, the threat is clear: Iran is mounting a ruthless drive to be the hegemonic power in the region."
"For unlike ISIS and its mirage of a caliphate, Iran is a powerful nation-state that remains the world's largest state-sponsor of terrorism. The Islamic Republic is Iran's version of what the caliphate ought to look like under the control of an Ayatollah and his praetorian guard, the IRGC."
A soldier from Texas was killed “in an area controlled by a Shia militia aligned with Iran.”
"We do not have evidence of a direct link to Iran, but we are closely examining this tragic incident."
—Oct. 12, 2017, speaking at the University of Texas on the eve of President Trump’s announcement that he would not recertify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal
MARGARET BRENNAN: In terms of the goal here, when you were in Congress you were harshly critical of the nuclear deal with Iran that the Obama administration negotiated and there are obviously flaws that even they recognized there. But the Iranians did give up the vast majority of their nuclear fuel and their production facilities aren't functioning. Have you set a higher benchmark for these talks since North Korea is farther along with its nuclear program.
CIA DIRECTOR MIKE POMPEO: Yes, Margaret, I think that's the case. Most importantly the conditions are very different. The previous administration was negotiating from a position of weakness. This administration will be negotiating from a position of enormous strength with sanctions that are unrivaled against the North Korean regime. That conversation will proceed very differently. My critique of the Obama administration's JCPOA commitment was that they left the Iranians with a breakout capacity. They had a short time frame that these would these restrictions would remain in place. And North Korea's human capital and enrichment capacity continues to remain in place. Those are...those are all things that present risk to the world and President Obama's, excuse me President Trump is determined to prevent that from happening in North Korea.
MARGARET BRENNAN: In Syria there are now reports of napalm being used in addition to chlorine gas attacks just outside Damascus and East Ghouta. Why doesn't the president's red line on chemical weapons apply in these cases?
CIA DIRECTOR MIKE POMPEO: Margaret, the president's made very clear that he won't tolerate chemical weapons usage and he has demonstrated his willingness to respond. In this case, the intelligence community is working diligently to verify what happened to there. I've seen the pictures. You've seen the pictures as well. We have a higher standard to make sure we understand precisely what took place, precisely who did it so that our response can meet the threat. And we're working to develop that. We've seen those reports and the president asked me nearly every day what it is the intelligence community knows about the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons and who else, the Russians or the Iranians who might be responsible for them.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The Israelis including their prime minister was here this week warning that Iran is unchecked within Syria. Should the U.S. mission change to be able to counter Iran and its proxies like Hezbollah?
CIA DIRECTOR MIKE POMPEO: So I'll leave policy to others. What I can say about what's taking place inside of Syria that the Iranians had a free pass in the previous, previous administration. In fact the JCPOA and the negotiations prevented a United States response. That is they didn't want the previous administration, Ben Rhodes and Obama's team, didn't want to upset the apple cart. This administration has taken a much stronger approach, a much more aggressive posture with respect to countering Iran.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But that's not part of the mission now.
CIA DIRECTOR MIKE POMPEO: But we're working closely and we're working closely with the Israelis to develop a full intelligence picture of what's taking place there so that the president has options to counter that threat.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So what I hear you saying is that the mission is not solely to counter ISIS. You are also looking at Iran and its proxies.
CIA DIRECTOR MIKE POMPEO: President's made very clear we're working diligently to find the right approach to counter the incredible spread of Iranian hegemony throughout the Middle East.
—March 11, 2018, on CBS Face The Nation
“Sophisticated adversaries like China and Russia, as well as with less sophisticated adversaries like Iran and North Korea, terrorist groups, criminal organizations, and hackers are all taking advantage of this new borderless environment.”
“With respect to Iran, we must be rigorously objective in assessing the progress made under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. While I oppose the Iran Deal, as a member of Congress, if confirmed, my role will change. I’ll lead the agency to aggressively pursue collection operations and ensure analysts will have the time, political space, and resources to make objective and sound judgments.”
“First, you have my commitment that we, if I’m confirmed at the Agency, will continue to evaluate their compliance with the Agreement in the way that you just described the Agency has been doing to date. I concur with you that that work has been good and robust. And that intelligence I think important to policymakers as they make decisions. I think my comments were referring to the post-January 6 2016 rampage of Iranian increased activity. And that’s, I know you share my concern about that as well. And so when I was speaking to the risks that Iran presents, it was certainly from those activities. Whether it's the fact that they’ve now had --- we’ve now had missiles that we’ve had to fire back at in Yemen, the Iranian supported Houthis, the list is long. They’re still holding Americans in Iran. Those are the concerns that I was addressing that day. You have my commitment as the Director of the CIA when I’m confirmed that we will continue to provide you the intelligence to understand both what’s taking place in the nuclear arena with respect to the JCPOA and its compliance, as well as to the set of activities that are outside of that.”
“Senator, the Iranians are professionals at cheating. And so while I think that we have a very sound inspection regime, I have to tell you I worry about the fact of the thing that we do not know, we do not know. And so you have my commitment that I will continue to improve and enhance our capacity to understand that and do everything I can to diminish the risk that in fact we are missing something.”
—Jan. 12, 2017, speaking at his Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing
“In an unclassified setting, it is under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity. This is not an insurmountable task for the coalition forces.”
—Dec. 3, 2014, during a roundtable with reporters
"The deal reached today between the Obama administration and Iranian leaders is an unconscionable arrangement that increases the risk to Kansans and all Americans. The Iranian regime is intent on the destruction of our country. Why the President does not understand is unfathomable.
"Instead of taking advantage of crushing economic sanctions to end Iran's nuclear program, the administration negotiated a deal against the will of the American people that does nothing but give Iran leverage and enable this totalitarian regime to continue growing its terrorist practices.
"This deal allows Iran to continue its nuclear program -- that's not foreign policy; it's surrender.
"This deal will have dramatic and negative consequences on our national security for generations to come. It is wholly unacceptable that the President has chosen to place the safety of the American people at such high risk with today's agreement."
—July 14, 2015, in a statement