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.
QUESTION: There are those who say that the U.S. not responding to Iran, and maybe not North Korea, is empowering both these countries to threaten allies. Is this kind of the new normal, that we’re trying to get them to the table so we just have to put up with some stuff?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think about it completely differently. I think – I think that captures this completely 180 degrees out. I think the actions that the United States has taken with respect to North Korea are unmistakable. We built out a coalition that’s enormous. The UN Security Council resolutions are the strongest. We’ve enforced in ways that they’ve never been enforced before. I don’t think anybody in Iran believes for a second that the United States isn’t serious about changing the leadership’s behavior there in Iran.
No, I don’t think these actions show weakness. I think America has demonstrated its resolve to change fundamentally the situation and the security risk to the United States of America.
QUESTION: Nancy Pelosi put out a statement. She said, “It’s stunning the President has chosen [not to] only turn a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s horrific abuses, including the atrocity of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, but to go further and allow the sale of more arms that will be used to perpetuate more human rights abuses around the world.” Any response to the Speaker?
SECRETARY POMPEO: President Trump is very clear. The Islamic Republic of Iran is a real threat, and the Saudis are partners in pushing back against them. We’re going to continue to do all we can to partner with them.
But as for Jamal Khashoggi, this administration has taken action. We’ve responded with a dozen-plus sanctions, visa restrictions. We’ve taken serious action. We’ve promised that as the investigation continues, we’ll take action wherever we find those that were responsible.