QUESTION: President Trump says flatly that Iran was responsible for the attack on those two tankers, and the Pentagon has released this video, which appears to show a Revolutionary Guard crew removing an unexploded mine from the hull of one of the boats. But as Rich reported, Germany’s foreign minister says the video is not enough, and the Japanese owner of one of the ships says that he believes from the crew that it was hit by a flying object, not a mine.
Two questions: How certain are you that Iran was responsible for these attacks, and do you have more evidence that you can share with us?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Chris, it’s unmistakable what happened here. These were attacks by the Islamic Republic of Iran on commercial shipping, on the freedom of navigation, with the clear intent to deny transit through the strait. This was on the Gulf of Oman side of the Strait of Hormuz. There is no doubt. The Intelligence Community has lots of data, lots of evidence. The world will come to see much of it, but the American people should rest assured we have high confidence with respect to who conducted these attacks as well as half a dozen other attacks throughout the world over the past 40 days.
QUESTION: Well, I want to talk to you about that, because last month after the first attack on four commercial ships, President Trump took a very hard line. Here he is:
PRESIDENT TRUMP: “We’ll see what happens with Iran. If they do anything, it would be a very bad mistake, if they do anything. I’m hearing little stories about Iran. If they do anything, they will suffer greatly. We’ll see what happens with Iran.”
But Iran and its surrogates, as you noted, have responded to the President’s maximum pressure campaign with more aggression not less, attacking tankers, firing missiles in Iraq and into Saudi Arabia, and targeting U.S. drones in Yemen and the Persian Gulf. The question, Mr. Secretary: What’s the administration gonna do about it?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, remember, Chris, where we took over. We took over with an administration that had allowed Iran to create enormous wealth, build their missile program, a clear pathway to a nuclear weapon system. This is where the Trump administration came in. So we wisely withdrew from the JCPOA and put in place an economic pressure campaign, one that continues. We added a ban on a number of petrochemical companies just this past week.
President Trump has done everything he can to avoid war. We don’t want war. We’ve done what we can to deter this. The Iranians should understand very clearly that we will continue to take actions that deter Iran from engaging in this kind of behavior. I made a number of calls to my colleagues around the world yesterday. I am confident we will have partners that understand this threat.
You have to remember, Chris, too, very little of our crude oil comes through the Gulf these days. China is reliant for over 80 percent of its crude oil. Japan, South Korea, Indonesia – these countries are very dependent on freedom of navigation throughout these straits, and I am confident that when they see the risk, the risk to their own economies and their own people, and the outrageous behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran, they’ll join us in this.
QUESTION: I want to pursue this question of – you say perhaps more action and perhaps more international action. The Pentagon is reportedly considering sending as many as 6,000 more troops to the area along with warships, war planes, submarines. There’s also been talk about an international coalition to escort commercial ships through the Strait of Hormuz. Are those on the table? And I guess basically, how far is President Trump prepared to go?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Chris, President Trump has been unambiguous. Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. That’s the goal. That’s the objective of our entire campaign with respect to Iran, and to create stability throughout the Middle East as part of that effort.
I don’t want to talk about options that are out there, options that are not there. The President has made it very clear we’re going to achieve this objective. We continuously update options. That’s for the President. We’ve taken a handful of those actions to increase the opportunity to convince Iran that these actions aren’t in their best interest, and it appears to be Iran that wants to continue to escalate this conflict.
QUESTION: But should we assume that the U.S. is going to respond? Because clearly, as I said, despite the maximum pressure, Iran seems to be getting more aggressive not less.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Chris, what you should assume is that we’re going to guarantee freedom of navigation throughout the straits. This is an international challenge. This is important to the entire globe. The United States is going to make sure that we do – take all the actions necessary, diplomatic and otherwise, that achieve that outcome.
QUESTION: Meanwhile, Congress – and we’re talking now both about Republicans and Democrats – appears ready to block an emergency U.S. arms sale to Saudi Arabia, which, of course, is one of the major enemies of Iran. If they go ahead and do that, block the U.S. arms sale that the Trump administration wants, what message will that send to the mullahs in Tehran?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, it’d be most unfortunate. And I think the decision we made to move forward with these arms sales was the right decision. It was an important decision. I think the events of this past week are another piece of that evidence. I think we have 40 years of history. But even these past 40 days demonstrate the malign activity that puts Saudis at risk.
You’ll remember, Chris, just this past week it was an Iranian-backed Houthi effort that flew a missile into an airport in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has the right to defend itself. The United States wants to support our important defense partner in the region, and I think moving forward these arms sales made enormous sense, and we’re going to continue to push forward with them.