QUESTION: Earlier this week, my colleague, Bret Baier, had an exclusive interview with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Here’s the second part of that conversation.
QUESTION: Joining us now, the Secretary of State of the United States, Mike Pompeo.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Great to be back with you, Bret. Thank you.
QUESTION: The last time we talked, you had just come off saying that the Trump administration would be into its second term, essentially. You have come to the conclusion that this transition process is happening even as the legal challenges continue? Will you be right-seat/left-seating with the incoming team?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I remember when I was the incoming guy at the Central Intelligence Agency. The United States has one secretary of state at a time, but we know right-seat/left-seat. We’ll have one secretary of state and one president for the duration. But those things that are required that the President has directed us to do in compliance with the decision that the GSA made yesterday, we’ll do all of those things. It’s a legal requirement, and we’ll always honor that promise.
QUESTION: When it comes to Afghanistan, where are you on zero troops in Afghanistan?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, it’s the mission set.
QUESTION: But I mean before January 20th?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, the President will obviously make the decision on that. The President to date has said that we’re going to go from where we are today, something just over 4,000, to around 2,500. But Bret, don’t fall in the trap of thinking about America’s security related to the number of soldiers on the ground in any one place. The threat from terrorism around the world – from Islamic extremism, Islamic terrorism – is real. It doesn’t just emanate from Afghanistan.
We have the force posture right today. We’re going to keep it right. We’ll get our troops home when we can, and we’ll do the things we need to do. If Qasem Soleimani is a problem, we’ll go crush them. If Hamza bin Ladin presents a risk, we’ll take him out. President Trump has been very clear we’re going to protect and secure the homeland, but we’re not going to have our young men and women in harm’s way when it doesn’t deliver real security benefits for the United States and for our allies.
QUESTION: I guess some people look at it when you stood for that photo with the Taliban in February and the signed accord and the negotiations were still ongoing, the deal was down to 4,500, not 2,500. Was that somehow changed by the troop numbers that the President put out, and did it hurt the negotiations with the Taliban?
SECRETARY POMPEO: No, Bret, the agreement we signed in February talked about getting down to zero by May based on a set of conditions on the ground. That was what we’d agreed to. We have made some progress. We’ve had significant prisoner releases. We have violence levels that have reduced risks to Americans significantly over this time period since February of last year.
Afghanistan’s violence levels are still higher than they need to be. I was with the Afghan Government negotiators and with the Taliban negotiators just this past weekend in Dota, Qatar. I talked to each of them about the need to continue to conduct the negotiations which will lead to a unified, independent Afghanistan that protects all the gains that have been made over these past years, and the fact that they need to take violence levels down even further, and that the Taliban need to honor the commitment they made to make sure that there’s not a terror attack that takes place from Afghan soil.
Those are the parts of the negotiation that continue. There is still work to do, but we’re headed in the right direction. We are safer here in the United States today as a result of the things the Trump administration has done not only in Afghanistan but throughout that region.
QUESTION: What is your most memorable moment as Secretary of State?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, that’s a great question. I haven’t had a chance to reflect on it. I guess if I were to give you my quick response, it was really something to come back from Pyongyang with three Americans and travel home with them from Asia and return them to their families. Those folks had been held in harm’s way. They were at real risk, and we got a chance to bring three Americans home that morning back at the very beginning of my time as Secretary of State. It was pretty special to do that.
QUESTION: What’s next for you? Elected office, private sector? What is it?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s hard to know, Bret. We’ll keep doing this until we’re tapped on the shoulder and told it’s no longer time to be the Secretary of State, and then Susan and I will figure that out.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you.