Interview with Hugh Hewitt of the Hugh Hewitt Show

May 21, 2019

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, welcome back to The Hugh Hewitt Show.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Great to be on with you this morning, Hugh.

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:  Our mutual friend Ric Grenell, the ambassador to Germany, is leading that effort that you’re behind to decriminalize sexual orientation around the world.  Is the POTUS fully – is President Trump fully supportive of that?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I mean, it’s been President Trump’s priority since the beginning of his administration.  I was asked about this during my confirmation hearing.  We made very clear:  Every human being all around the world needs to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve just because of their God-given rights as a human being.  We are staunchly working to protect those rights everywhere we act.

QUESTION:  Well, this is a diversion from Iran, but I’ll come back.  I had Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend on my show Friday.  He assesses your friend and mine, Vice President Pence, as a, quote, “homophobe” on the basis of his – he said actions.  He ignores the fact that the Vice President swore in Grenell while the ambassador’s partner held the Bible.  He said judge by your actions, and Ambassador Grenell is leading this decriminalization effort of LGBTQ.  Is the Vice President fully on board with that program?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Oh goodness, I’ve known Mike Pence – Vice President Pence – for an awfully long time now.  This is a fundamentally decent man who, just as I described, shares the administration’s view with respect to how every human being should be treated.  To say anything different from that is both false and, frankly, slanderous.

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.

QUESTION:  Secretary Pompeo, always a pleasure to talk to you.  Good luck on the Hill today.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thank you, sir.