QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we are in the middle of this shutdown, and I know a number of State Department employees are not getting paid, including a quarter of U.S. employees in foreign countries. You’ve been going to U.S. embassies. What are you telling staff about when they can expect a paycheck?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, it’s unfortunate that we’re in this shutdown. I wish we weren’t too. I hope that it’s resolved quickly, and I’ve certainly told our teams that. But you have to know these great Americans who are working in our embassies around the world, they understand the mission and they understand its importance. They understand that whether the government is open or closed they have a task to do, and they are hard at it.
QUESTION: I want to ask you here though, because you know as a diplomat the threat of credible use of military force is what gives you power at the negotiating table. How does taking out U.S. troops from Syria get you any closer to expelling Iran?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Margaret, the United States of America can project military power from lots of places in the world. The absence of a couple thousand soldiers on the ground in Syria in no way materially diminishes the capacity of the United States of America and our amazing Armed Forces to deliver American power to accomplish our objectives anywhere in the world. That certainly includes in Syria. It certainly includes into Iran, if need be. We still have those tools. American diplomats still have that leverage and that power standing behind them. I am very confident in our military capabilities here in the Middle East.
QUESTION: So by that, are you saying that having U.S. troops in nearby Iraq will fill any kind of vacuum left by pulling out of Syria?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Margaret, we have lots of tools in the arsenal. I was out visiting some amazing warriors out at NAVCENT yesterday in Bahrain. We have an enormous amount of American military capacity. Our ability to achieve what we need to do militarily is there. My task as America’s Secretary of State is to make sure that we don’t have to use that tool, that we get the diplomatic outcomes to secure the Middle East and keep it stable and protect the American people as well.
QUESTION: When it comes to Iran, the Trump administration has taken some confrontational tactics here – pulling out of the nuclear accord, saying that Iranian threats would be matched here. But we saw this week another American, a Navy vet, Michael White, has been behind Iranian bars since July. So the Trump administration is not stopping Iran from taking Americans hostage. What is happening with this American?
SECRETARY POMPEO: This administration is proud of the work that we’ve done to get Americans released all across the world. With respect to the Michael White case in particular, I can’t say much. It’s an ongoing consular matter. But the American people should know we take the security of every American, wherever they are traveling in the world, as one of our foremost priorities. We will continue to work to get each of them back.
And your point, your point about the Islamic Republic of Iran, is spot on. It’s why the JCPOA was such a horrible idea. Many Americans are being held there today that were taken by the Iranian regime. These are a group of people who are among the worst terrorists in the world and who have the least respect for human rights in the world, and it’s why this administration has taken the very hard line you just described against Iran.
QUESTION: Is the Trump administration open to a prisoner swap with Iran?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m not going to talk about something like that.
QUESTION: Well, I ask you because Michael White’s mother spoke to CBS, and she said she would like the administration to negotiate for her son. She said, “What is a human life worth? I would like the U.S. to negotiate. I want him home.” What can you tell her you’re doing to bring her son home?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I have great sympathy for the families of those Americans who are wrongfully detained all across the world, and we do everything we can every day to get their return. We use our diplomatic tools in every corner of the world to reach out to these places, to get these young men and women home. We are intent to do that in Iran. We are intent to do that all across the world. We take this obligation as a solemn one, and this administration has had quite a few successes. I hope we have more.