Michael R. Pompeo
The American University in Cairo
January 10, 2019
Thank you, Frank. Thank you to Frank Ricciardone. Thank you for your service to America as well, in addition to the duties that you perform here.
I’ve had the good fortune to be a frequent visitor here to Egypt and the Middle East as Secretary of State. In my prior role as CIA director, I was here with some frequency, and I came here too as a member of Congress. Every time I come, I get to see something new, something wonderful.
This trip is especially meaningful for me as an evangelical Christian, coming so soon after the Coptic Church’s Christmas celebrations. This is an important time. We’re all children of Abraham: Christians, Muslims, Jews. In my office, I keep a Bible open on my desk to remind me of God and His Word, and The Truth.
And it’s the truth, lower-case “t,” that I’m here to talk about today. It is a truth that isn’t often spoken in this part of the world, but because I’m a military man by training, I’ll be very blunt and direct today: America is a force for good in the Middle East.
America’s reluctance, our reluctance, to wield our influence kept us silent as the people of Iran rose up against the mullahs in Tehran in the Green Revolution. The ayatollahs and their henchmen murdered, jailed, and intimidated freedom-loving Iranians, and they wrongly blamed America for this unrest when it was their own tyranny that had fueled it. Emboldened, the regime spread its cancerous influence to Yemen, to Iraq, to Syria, and still further into Lebanon.
Our penchant, America’s penchant, for wishful thinking led us to look the other way as Hizballah, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Iranian regime, accumulated a massive arsenal of approximately 130,000 rockets and missiles. They stored and positioned these weapons in Lebanese towns and villages in flagrant violation of international law. That arsenal is aimed squarely at our ally Israel.
When Bashar Assad unleashed terror upon ordinary Syrians and barrel-bombed civilians with sarin gas, a true echo of Saddam Hussein’s gassing of the Kurdish people, we condemned his actions. But in our hesitation to wield power, we did nothing.
Our eagerness to address only Muslims and not nations ignored the rich diversity of the Middle East and frayed old bonds. It undermined the concept of the nation-state, the building block of international stability. And our desire for peace at any cost led us to strike a deal with Iran, our common enemy.
Let’s turn to Iran.
President Trump has reversed our willful blindness to the danger of the regime and withdrew from the failed nuclear deal, with its false promises. The U.S. re-imposed sanctions that should never have been lifted. We embarked on a new pressure campaign to cut off the revenues the regime uses to spread terror and destruction throughout the world. We joined the Iranian people in calling for freedom and accountability.
And importantly, we fostered a common understanding with our allies of the need to counteract the Iran regime’s revolutionary agenda. Countries increasingly understand that we must confront the ayatollahs, not coddle them. Nations are rallying to our side to confront the regime like never before. Egypt, Oman, Kuwait, and Jordan have all been instrumental in thwarting Iran’s efforts to evade sanctions.
The UAE has canceled its imports of Iranian condensate following the re-imposition of American sanctions. Bahrain has exposed the Revolutionary Guard proxies that are active in its country, and which – and working – is working to stop Iran’s illicit maritime activities in its region. Saudi Arabia, too, has worked with us to counter Iranian expansion and regional influence. We, the United States, commend each of these efforts, and we seek for all nations to continue the work to constrain the full array of the regime’s malign activity.
The work to curb the regime’s deadly ambitions isn’t confined to the Middle East. America’s friends and partners from South Korea to Poland have joined our effort to stop Iran’s wave of regional destruction and global campaigns of terror.
Countries across the globe have cut Iranian oil imports to zero and are working towards that goal. Private companies in France, Germany, Britain and elsewhere have all calculated that enriching themselves through work with the regime is bad for business and bad for the people of their own countries.
In Yemen, we’ve assisted our coalition partners as they take the lead in preventing an Iranian expansion that would be disastrous for world trade and regional security. As is always the case with America, our engagement has also been coupled with robust humanitarian aid. We’ve supported the UN talks to put Yemen on the path to peace.
In Lebanon, Hizballah remains a major presence, but we won’t accept this status quo. Our aggressive sanctions campaign against Iran is also directed at the terror group and its leaders, including the son of Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hizballah.
It is important to know also that we will not ease our campaign to stop Iran’s malevolent influence and actions against this region and the world. The nations of the Middle East will never enjoy security, achieve economic stability, or advance the dreams of their people if Iran’s revolutionary regime persists on its current course.
February 11th will mark 40 years since the oppressive regime came to power in Tehran. America’s economic sanctions against the regime are the strongest in history, and will keep getting tougher until Iran starts behaving like a normal country. The 12 demands that we stated in May remain in force, because the regime’s threat to the region endures.
In Syria, the United States will use diplomacy and work with our partners to expel every last Iranian boot, and work through the UN-led process to bring peace and stability to the long-suffering Syrian people. There will be no U.S. reconstruction assistance for areas of Syria held by Assad until Iran and its proxy forces withdraw and until we see irreversible progress towards a political resolution.
In Lebanon, the United States will work to reduce the threat of Hizballah’s missile arsenal, which is aimed at Israel and can reach all points inside of that country. Many of these rockets are equipped with advance guidance systems, courtesy of Iran, and that’s unacceptable. Iran may think it owns Lebanon. Iran is wrong.
In Iraq, the United States will help our partners build a nation free of Iranian influence. This past May, Iraqis rejected sectarianism in a national election, and we will support that wholeheartedly. The people there refused to be cowered by Iranian-backed thugs and armed groups. Iraqis have strengthened ties with Arab neighbors, peacefully resumed cooperation between the Kurdish Region and Baghdad, and have renewed their focus on fighting corruption.
And in Yemen, we will continue to work for a lasting peace.
And I think this is clear, but it is worth reiterating: The United States fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself against the Iranian regime’s aggressive adventurism. We will continue to ensure that Israel has the military capacity to do so decisively.