Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo on May 16, 2019 (Excerpts)

May 16, 2019


QUESTION:  No doubt, no doubt.  So as we were landing at Andrews Air Force Base yesterday morning, the news was breaking that the State Department was ordering all nonessential personnel out of U.S. diplomatic missions in Iraq.  Also a long planned diplomatic security summit had been postponed.  All of that was related to intensifying threats from Iran, so it became clear to me there why you chose to divert the beginning of our trip to Brussels, where you met with your E3 counterparts on that issue.

Can you tell us a bit more about how and why the administration reached the decision to take those actions?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Guy, I can’t say much about the intelligence proper, but all should know that there is real data that underlies the risks that we’ve identified that caused us to make these decisions.  As for the process, at the State Department we have a detailed process we talk about in terms of how we make sure to keep American diplomats safe, what risks we’re prepared to take, how we defend ourselves.  And we concluded, given the escalating risk in the region, that it made sense for us to get those nonessential personnel out of Iraq.

QUESTION:  There’s something of a media narrative that seems to be congealing that this is part of the Trump administration’s sort of effort to goad Iran into war.  And I think that’s cynical, I think that’s unfair.  I also understand that a lot of Americans have a sensitivity to these issues that sort of relate to intelligence gathering and potential armed conflict.

I know that you can’t get into too much of the intelligence, as you just said, but are there any additional details about the nature of the threat metrics – matrix that you’ve been seeing from Iran in the last few days?  And can you comment at all on the New York Times report this morning that it may have been related to – or some of this may have been related to new images of sea-based missiles from Iran?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  It’s important for everyone to understand that this is 40 years of aggression by the Islamic Republic of Iran.  So to put it into just three days or five days or seven days takes out of context the threat and the desires of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  And so all of this is part and parcel of the challenge of a revolutionary regime that wants the “Great Satan” and Israel to go away.  And so you have to take the data set along with – right, it’s always about capability and will – demonstrated will, ill will – against the United States of America.

And so the things that you see – and I can’t comment on the New York Times story other than to say the things that you’ve seen us do to attempt to achieve deterrence against the Islamic Republic of Iran from their malign activity is a direct response to eight years of an administration that allowed the terror regime to expand, right.  During the JCPOA, we had increased missile capabilities coming out of Iran.  We had their capacity to deliver harm from Houthi rebels in Yemen.  All of these things Iran did happened because the previous administration appeased the Islamic Republic of Iran.

So we are pushing back.  And when you push back, tension does increase.  Our mission set is very clear.  We know what we’re asking the Iranian leadership to do, and we are very focused on achieving that, and we’re trying to do so in a way that makes sure that we keep every American diplomat and every American soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine safe as well.