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Transcript: NPR’s Full Interview With Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department press briefing room in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.
Image credit: Andrew Harrer

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In an interview on Friday with All Things Considered co-host Mary Louise Kelly, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took questions about U.S. policy in Iran and about the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

Mary Louise Kelly: Secretary of State, good to see you.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: Good to be with you. Thanks for having me on the show.

Let’s start with Iran. What is the plan? And on diplomacy, specifically, is there any serious initiative to reopen diplomacy with Iran?

So we’ve been engaged in deep diplomatic efforts since the first day of the Trump administration. We’ve built out a coalition that is working together — Gulf states, Israel, many European countries — to deliver on the three central outcomes that we’re looking for.

But in terms of U.S. engagement with Iran, is there any talks underway, any plan for talks?

You know, we never talk about private conversations that are taking place, but the diplomatic effort on this front has been vigorous, robust and enormously successful. We built out a significant coalition that has put pressure on the Iranian regime to do what we’ve asked: to cease its processing of uranium, reprocessing of plutonium, to stop its missile program and the development of its missile program. President Trump made clear they’re not going to have a nuclear program that is capable of delivering these weapons around the world. And then finally, working to convince them that their model, this proxy model that they’ve used to conduct terror campaigns, assassinations in Europe, assassination attempt right here in Washington, D.C., is not tolerable.

You use the word pressure. This is the maximum pressure campaign that President Trump put into place a year and a half ago when he pulled out of the nuclear deal. But in that year and a half, Iran has behaved more provocatively, not less. So is maximum pressure working?

Absolutely working. To put it in context, this is 40 years. When you say worse, they held American hostages in our embassy in Tehran. They had our sailors kneeling. The previous administration gave them billions and billions of dollars to underwrite the very actions that they’re taking today. When we came into office, it took a lot of work to fundamentally reshape the diplomatic, military and economic landscape. So it didn’t happen instantaneously, but we made an enormous amount of progress in delivering —

But in the last year, they have targeted tankers in the Gulf. They have shot down a U.S. drone, and they have attacked Saudi oil facilities. Is that the desired outcome?

No, of course not. Of course, we don’t want them to do those things. And we’ve raised the cost for doing this. The response in the previous administration when they undertook those actions was to reward them — to reward them, to give them billions of billions of dollars to allow countries to trade with them, to allow them to do all the things that you’re seeing today, the ramifications, the tail, the end result of what the previous administration is the activity that we’re seeing today. The money that underwrote Hezbollah, that underwrites Hamas, that underwrites Shia militias in Iraq is a direct result of the resources that were provided to them for the eight years prior to us coming into office. We are turning this around. We have reduced resources. We’ve seen it. They have fewer dollars available. This is beginning to place real choices in front of the Iranian regime. And you can see it, too. You can see in the protests inside of Iran. You can see the Iranian people not happy with their own government when they have to raise the fuel cost. All the things that are undermining this regime’s ability to inflict risk on the American people are coming to fruition as a direct result of President Trump’s strategy.

President Trump’s strategy has included pulling out of the nuclear deal. Since the president came to office, Iran has moved closer to a nuclear weapons capability. They are closer today than they were when he took office. They are spinning more centrifuges. They are stockpiling more enriched uranium. If the plan is to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, how do you do that when they’re not abiding by the limits of the old deal and there’s no new deal in sight?

You’re picking the wrong moment to start your analysis. This is the fundamental flaw of the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] itself.

I’m picking the moment [crosstalk] when the president pulled out of the nuclear deal, and since then, they are closer to having a nuclear weapon.

This is a regime that has been working to develop its nuclear program for years and years and years. And the nuclear deal guaranteed them a pathway to having a nuclear program.

It was a certainty. It might have been delayed for a month or a year or five or 10 years, but it guaranteed them that pathway. This administration has pulled the Band-Aid off. It’s been realistic. We accept the facts on the ground as they are. This is a regime that lied to get into that nuclear deal. You can see that now. And what’s going on at the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] in Turquzabad where we now know that they lied about the scope of their program. These are important, Mary Louise. These are important items. You can’t talk about the Iranian nuclear program without acknowledging the facts of what this regime has been up to. They stored documents. They kept technology in place. They dispersed it as a result of the JCPOA. They didn’t have it in a central research agency, but they continued to develop their program and this administration is determined to prevent them from getting that weapon. Not now, not a year from now and not 10 years from now.

But again, you say you’re determined to prevent them. How do you stop them? I was in Tehran two weeks ago. I sat down with your counterpart there, Javad Zarif, and he told me, quote, “All limits on our centrifuge program are now suspended.”

Yeah. He’s blustering. Look, the truth of the matter is this is a regime that’s never —

Do you have evidence that he’s blustering?

This is a regime that has never been in the position that it’s in today. One has to confront so many elements that challenge the central thesis of the theocracy and the revolutionary nature of this regime. And you can see it in protests, not just in Tehran. And you should know when you traveled there, I’m guessing you weren’t permitted to travel freely. I’m guessing that you didn’t get a chance to go out into these places where the life of the Iranian people, these are people who are suffering. Qassem Soleimani, who we removed from the battlefield, killed hundreds of Iranians, and the Iranian people know that. And it’s been our strategy that has delivered this message of freedom for the Iranian people.

But my question again, how do you stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?

We’ll stop them.

How? Sanctions?

We’ll stop them.

The president made very clear. The opening sentence in his remarks said that we will never permit Iran to have a nuclear weapon. The coalition that we’ve built out, the economic, military and diplomatic deterrence that we have put in place will deliver that outcome. It’s important [crosstalk] because this will protect the American people.

Is there any new deal being developed? A new nuclear deal, something that would rein in Iran, something that they would agree to.

The Iranian leadership will have to make the decision about what its behavior is going to be.

Change of subject. Ukraine. Do you owe Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch an apology?

You know, I agreed to come on your show today to talk about Iran. That’s what I intend to do. I know what our Ukraine policy has been now for the three years of this administration. I’m proud of the work we’ve done. This administration delivered the capability for the Ukrainians to defend themselves. President Obama showed up with MREs (meals ready to eat.) We showed up with Javelin missiles. The previous administration did nothing to take down corruption in Ukraine. We’re working hard on that. We’re going to continue to do it.

I confirmed with your staff [crosstalk] last night that I would talk about Iran and Ukraine.

I just don’t have anything else to say about that this morning.

I just want to give you another opportunity to answer this, because as you know, people who work for you in your department, people who have resigned from this department under your leadership, saying you should stand up for the diplomats who work here. [crosstalk]

I don’t know who these unnamed sources are you’re referring to. I can tell you this, when I talked to my team here —

These are not unnamed sources. [crosstalk] This is your senior adviser Michael McKinley, a career foreign service officer with four decades experience, who testified under oath that he resigned in part due to the failure of the State Department to offer support to Foreign Service employees caught up in the impeachment inquiry on Ukraine.

I’m not going to comment on things that Mr. McKinley may have said. I’ll say only this. I have defended every State Department official. We’ve built a great team. The team that works here is doing amazing work around the world.

Sir, respectfully [crosstalk] where have you defended Marie Yovanovitch?

I’ve defended every single person on this team. I’ve done what’s right for every single person on this team. [crosstalk]

Can you point me toward your remarks where you have defended Marie Yovanovitch?

I’ve said all I’m going to say today. Thank you. Thanks for the repeated opportunity to do so. I appreciate that.

One further question on this.

I’m not going to — I appreciate that. I appreciate that you want to continue to talk about this. I agreed to come on your show today to talk about Iran.

And you appreciate [crosstalk] that the American public wants to know as a shadow foreign policy, as a back channel policy on Ukraine was being developed, did you try to block it?

The Ukraine policy has been run from the Department of State for the entire time that I have been here, and our policy was very clear.

Marie Yovanovitch [crosstalk] testified under oath that Ukraine policy was hijacked.

I’ve been clear about that. I know exactly what we were doing. I know precisely what the direction that the State Department gave to our officials around the world about how to manage our Ukraine policy.

[Katie Martin, deputy assistant secretary, bureau of global public affairs at the State Department: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.]

Secretary, thank you. Thank you.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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