Former Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Felice Friedson of The Media Line

Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Felice Friedson of The Media Line

SEPTEMBER 21, 2020

QUESTION:  Good morning, Mr. Secretary, and thank you for joining us at The Media Line.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Great to be with you, Felice.  Thanks for having me on today.

QUESTION:  Pleasure.  It’s telling that virtually all of the stories we are reporting relative to the security and safety of the people of the Middle East share a common antagonist: Iran.  But it’s far from business as usual.  The U.S. administration has shelved the foreign policy chestnuts and is rewriting Middle East history.  You recently told an audience that the Abraham Accord is “the classic overnight success that took forever.”  The Trump plan had been to create bilateral agreements with Israel, leaving the Palestinians to join or be left behind.  What made it work?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So Felice, my point was that we’ve been working at this now for, goodness, almost four years, where President Trump has laid down a very different understanding of how to create security for the Middle East, and frankly, for the entire world.

We did two things that I think changed the course and gave this opportunity for Arab leaders to make good decisions.  The first was we flipped the script and recognized that the central challenge in the Middle East wasn’t the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, but rather the challenge that is presented by the Islamic Republic of Iran and their anti-Semitic terrorist campaign all around the world.  The second thing that enabled this was that President Trump has also shown that when we build out a coalition and have partners, whether that’s the Emiratis or the Bahrainis or our longtime allies, the Israelis, the United States will actually act, will take action.

We will – we won’t just talk about it, but we will deliver in support of our friends, whether that was taking down Qasem Soleimani or the decision to move the embassy to its rightful place in – the U.S. embassy to its rightful place in Jerusalem.  President Trump has demonstrated real resolve behind the words of the commitment, and I think that gave confidence to the Arab states that this was the right thing to do.  We’re really happy with what’s taken place so far and we’re optimistic that good things will continue to happen.

QUESTION:  What many believe stymied the Oslo Accords was that the agreement details would be filled in only after the White House ceremony.  We’ve had the Abraham ceremony.  What still needs to be established?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Well, there’s still work to do to develop the relationship to make sure that these two countries, and in fact, importantly, the people between these two countries execute on the commitment.  And we’ve seen really great signs so far.  I had someone tell me the other day that within hours of the signing of the accords that LinkedIn messages between the United Arab Emirates and Israel literally just about broke the system.  This is a good sign.  These are – this pent-up demand for peoples who, whether they are Jewish or Muslim or Christian, understand that the world is a better place when Israel and its – the countries in the Middle East can work together on economic matters, on security matters, all of the things that make the world and the region a better place.

QUESTION:  Declaring Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem; each act was supposed to cause the region to melt down, but it didn’t, not even in the days following the announcement.  Why is it?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  This has been a longtime foreign policy establishment – frankly, not just in Washington, but around the world – understanding, which was that if you moved a piece of the puzzle there, that you would have serious violence and there would be enormous repercussions throughout the region.  President Trump came to understand that rather than being the problem, that moving the embassy and establishing the Golan Heights and the State Department’s decision to recognize that not every settlement was unlawful – came to see that those were the solutions.  It took away excuses, if you will, from those who said, boy, we want to hide behind this idea of the Palestinians and the Israelis getting together before we do anything.  We took away that condition, and I think what it has enabled is everyone to recognize that Israel can be a good partner, economic and security.

QUESTION:  In August, you notified the United Nations Security Council of Tehran’s breaches of its commitment to JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear agreement, and over the weekend, as the statutory notification period lapsed, you announced the implementation of the snapback provisions, re-establishing previous sanctions.  But the U.S. appears to be alone in its reliance on that provision or even its legitimacy.  How will you enforce it when America’s closest allies are siding with Iran?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Well, Felice, it’s very unfortunate that the French and the Germans and the United Kingdom have all chosen not to stand with us for what’s right, which is to make sure that Iran never has the capacity to buy and sell weapon systems and create wealth and foment terror.  We’re deeply disappointed.  It’s been their longstanding policy with respect to this dangerous nuclear deal that they want to stand by it.  We think this now creates even more risk.

But I don’t think we’re actually alone.  I think there’s a whole lot of countries that understand this risk.  They’re happy that the United States has done what we have done.  They may not be able to admit it publicly, but even those European countries know that the world is safer, and that in fact their people are safer, without Iran being able to buy and sell weapons.

And so at the UN, we’ll have a number of countries who are with us.  The GCC issued a statement in support of what we’ve done at the United Nations.  And the United States will always do the right thing.  We know this is the right thing.  These – we had the authority to execute the snapback.  We’ve now done so.  And we’ll use every tool in America’s diplomatic arsenal to ensure that those new UN Security Council resolutions that have now snapped back will be enforced.  I’m confident, frankly, that companies all around the world will understand the risk of violating those UN Security Council resolutions, and they will comply with them.

QUESTION:  The strength of the United States is formidable.  The threat of American sanctions applied to anyone violating the restrictions is powerful.  Do you see a realistic possibility that U.S. allies will reverse their stance and support the American position on snapback?  And if not, what’s Plan B?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So, look, I think your first point is right.  I do think that the capacity for the United States to be part of a coalition that enforces these UN Security Council resolutions is real and that we’ll be successful in that.  As for what their governments will choose, I hope the people in these countries will all come to see that their governments got this wrong.  Standing by the Iranians, trying to stay in this deal that the Iranians are clearly in gross violation of today, a nation, a regime that has now got 40 years of terror and has conducted terror campaigns throughout the world – I’ll give you another example.  President Macron is working hard to achieve a good outcome in Lebanon.  We support him on that.

But at the same time, France is now going to allow Iran to become wealthier and to have weapons that will fall into the hands of Hizballah, creating real risk for the Lebanese people.  You – it is very difficult to hold both of these thoughts in your head at the same time.  And we do hope – we do hope that these – the leaders in these countries will come to see that Iran presents a risk that is worthy of continuing to enforce these Security Council resolutions against.

QUESTION:  We’re speaking with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.  Many pundits believe Iran and even U.S. allies are playing a waiting game until after the American election.  If Joe Biden wins, how much of the Trump achievements vis-a-vis the Islamic Republic are in jeopardy?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  The good news on this front, Felice, is that there is enormous bipartisan support for what it is the Trump administration has done.  In fact, it’s been maybe five or six weeks now I received a letter from hundreds of members of Congress across every part of the American political spectrum, all of whom demanded that the United States act in a way that would not allow Iran to have the capacity to buy and sell weapons.  We’ve now done that.  And so I think there’s enormous support in both parties.  I hope that if the President – if President Trump is not re-elected, that the team that comes in under Vice President Biden would come to understand the threat the same way that we do and would continue to make sure that America and Israel were safe.

QUESTION:  You spoke about the overhaul on LinkedIn.  And wouldn’t the people-to-people actions continue even if President Trump didn’t make it in?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Oh, yes, I believe this is now on a trajectory that is likely to sustain itself regardless of political leadership in any one country.  I think people in each of these nations have come to understand that Israel doesn’t present a threat to these Arab states, and these Arab states understand that it is an important relationship and that Israel is here to stay, and have now rightfully recognized it.  And so I do think you’ll see a building in commerce and trade and security relationships built out, which will make a sustainable model and one that we hope other countries will join.  We hope these Abraham Accords provide a foundation – a legal, diplomatic, moral foundation for other leaders to do the right thing, to recognize Israel and begin to develop diplomatic and economic relationships with it.

QUESTION:  Honduras just announced opening its embassy in Jerusalem —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, it’s great news.

QUESTION:  — and vice versa.  Do you see others following suit?  And possibly, can you name any in mind?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  We do.  We think there are many others.  I don’t want to get out in front of leaders who are working inside their own country to make decisions, but we – it’s been pretty transparent that we’ve been working with countries in Africa, countries throughout Central America, countries in all parts of the world to build out what we think has been a long time coming and is the right time for these leaders now to make the right decision.

QUESTION:  Some have facetiously represented the accord as an arms deal.  Others say those nations making peace with the Jewish state concluded that they would like to have Israel share their foxhole in an impending war against Iran.  How would you respond?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  In the conversations I’ve had with the leaders of each of the countries, and even the countries that are thinking their way through this at this point in time, they’ve all come to the conclusion that this is the morally right thing to do, that this is the right thing for their country’s security, this is the right thing for their country’s economy.  So it’s not about a particular weapons system.  It’s not about any particular event.  It’s that the time has come to recognize that the Jewish homeland in Israel is an important place and we want to – they want to be partners with them.

It is also the case that they have come to understand that partnering with Israel will be important as Iran continues to build out its capabilities in the region.  That security alliance, that multilateral capacity that we have now begun to build out under President Trump, I think, will serve the region well in the years and decades ahead.

QUESTION:  Critics of the President insist the ongoing drawdown of troops in the Middle East caused a loss of confidence in American reliability.  What has your experience been?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I continue to hear that America is withdrawing, that we’re disengaging, that we’re losing influence, and yet you see the Abraham Accords, which I think belies that myth.  It’s not, in the end, about the just actual numbers.  We still have significant facilities.  We still have a commitment to keeping the Straits of Hormuz open.  The United States continues to stand with our Arab partners; we’ll do that.  We’ll make force adjustments along the way.  We’ve done that over many, many years.  We’ll make sure we have the configuration right.  The objective isn’t to be present.  The objective is to make sure that we provide the security assurances in a way that delivers the outcomes that the people in that region need.  And the efforts we’re making to deny Iran money and wealth are at the center of ensuring that that stability is ever increasing.

QUESTION:  Middle East countries and entities have played a significant role in U.S. foreign policy, from Lebanon to Egypt, Gaza, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iraq.  The list goes on.  Why is it that the Middle East should be important to Americans?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  We have a good and important ally and partner in Israel.  These are people who we have long had a relationship with that benefit not only them by American security support, but we benefit from support from these nations as well.  There are so many reasons that this region matters to the world.  As today, you can see China continuing to try and exert its influence in the region.  The United States and its security presence there are important to the American people.

QUESTION:  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, thank you so much for joining us.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Felice, bless you.  Have a great day.

QUESTION:  Thank you.