QUESTION: Joining me now with reaction to that and also his trip over the weekend to the Taliban-Afghan peace talks is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just back from Qatar.
How real is that threat to Lana Marks and what is the State Department doing to protect her?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So Martha, I can’t comment on the intelligence, but I’ll say this: The Islamic Republic of Iran has engaged in assassination efforts all across the world. They have assassinated people in Europe and in other parts of the world. We take these kind of allegations seriously. We’ll do everything that’s within our means to protect any one of our State Department officials the same we do for our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. And we make very clear to the Islamic Republic of Iran that this kind of activity – attacking any American any place at any time, whether it’s an American diplomat, an ambassador, or one of our service members – is completely unacceptable.
QUESTION: Everyone has horrific memories of what happened in Benghazi. Is there any reason to think that are other ambassadors on their list?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Martha, I’m always on guard with respect to the team that works for me. One of my first things I do every morning is get a security update from all across the world. It’s a dangerous world out there. We do an enormous amount of work to protect our people. And we know that the Islamic Republic of Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror and they’ve conducted this kind of assassination before. We’re doing everything we can to keep everyone safe.
QUESTION: Let me ask you this because we also learned that Ambassador Terry Branstad is going to be leaving his post in China: What more can you tell us about why that is? That was a bit of a surprise.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, goodness. Terry has served the President and me and the State Department team in an unbelievable way for these past years. He’s done yeoman’s work helping us deliver on something that’s a complete change from what any administration has done with respect to the Chinese Communist Party. So I sent a note last night. I was thanking Terry. It’s something he’s been thinking about for a while. He wants to come home, go back to Iowa, and do the kinds of things he was doing back there before. I thank Terry for his service. I know his team will pick up the march in his absence.
QUESTION: So nothing more to it than that? Because I know there was an op-ed that he wanted to run in the Chinese newspaper, which they refused to run. Any indication that any of those things are a part of his reasoning?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. No, I don’t think that had anything to do with it, although I will say the fact that the Chinese Communist Party denied Terry the chance to put a simple op-ed explaining U.S. policy to the people of China, I think it’s very telling about that society.
QUESTION: So obviously we are in the middle of campaign season and Joe Biden has come out to talk about the Trump-Pompeo policy towards China. He says that there’s a smarter way to be – I’m sorry, with regard to Iran I should say. He says, “There’s smarter way to be tough on Iran…Five years ago Iran was a bad regional actor requiring active deterrence and pushback. Since Trump took office, Iran or its proxies have killed two American service members…a U.S. contractor…[has] severely injured more than 100 U.S. troops, damaged Saudi oil facilities and disabled commercial ships transiting the Gulf.” Your response to him, sir?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, he’s only right about one thing there. He’s right that five years ago Iran was a bad actor. They’ve been a bad actor for 40 years. The sad state is that the previous administration chose appeasement as the model to respond to them. They wrote them big checks. They took plane loads of cash. They gave them the capacity to continue to grow their terror campaign. President Trump took a completely different direction. He said you’re not going to get a nuclear weapon and you’re not going to get American taxpayer money, and you’re not going to conduct commerce around the world to build out your capacity to threaten via Hizballah or Shia militias in Iraq.
We’ve taken a serious bite out of the Islamic Republic regime – of Iran’s regime and their power. We’ll continue to do that.
QUESTION: Just a quick item with regard to the assassination or the killing – execution killing, I should say, over the weekend of the wrestler Navid Afkari, which the President had requested clemency for him. Could the administration have done anything differently there, (a), and (b) what is the administration doing to get Europe to be tougher on these human rights abuses along with us?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Martha, I don’t think there’s much more we could do. The President spoke to the Iranian leadership publicly. We communicated to them privately asking them not to execute someone who had engaged in simple protests of Iranian policy in the way that we would expect every human being to have the right to do any place in the world. We urge the Europeans to take these same kinds of threats to human rights seriously. In just now 30 days, 32 days, the Iranians will be able to buy and sell weapons. We had urged the Europeans to join us in the effort to make sure that the arms embargo, the one that Vice President Biden and his team negotiated that expires in just a – now a month – Iran will be able to buy and sell weapons. That’s what the Iran nuclear deal had put in place. That’s the policy of the Obama-Biden administration. We’re not going to do that and we hope the Europeans will join us in that. I think everyone understands that Iran with more weapons is a bad thing for the world.
QUESTION: Yeah. But are you getting anywhere with the Europeans?
SECRETARY POMPEO: They agree with us that it’s a bad idea, they are just so wedded to the nuclear deal that they can’t find a way to help us make sure that those weapons don’t flow to Iran in just 30 days. I’m confident, though, that the United States will be successful in a week, the snapback will have taken effect, and Iran will once again be prohibited from trafficking in arms.
QUESTION: So with regard to the Taliban peace talks which you just returned from over the weekend, a lot of people look at that situation and look at the Taliban trying to come to the table with the Afghanistan Government and they say why would they give up their safe harbor for terrorists, why would they agree to peace with the Afghan Government, and once we’ve announced that our troops will eventually leave there, what impetus is there for them to abide by any of this agreement, Secretary?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So Martha, it was a really momentous day. Three administrations have tried to create that moment where the Afghans sat across from each other at the table and began to have serious conversation about what the Afghan government ought to look like, what reconciliation ought to look like. They’ve been fighting themselves for 40 years. We’ve been there for 19. It’s time for peace. I think every Afghan recognizes that whether they’re in the north or in the south, if they’re part of the Afghan coalition, or part of the Taliban. They recognize that the military to solution to this isn’t at hand. It’s been near stalemate for years now. And so we’re hopeful – we’re hopeful that there can be an accommodation, a reconciliation that brings Afghanistan the opportunity to once again build out their economy, build out opportunity, and protect the human rights of every Afghan citizen.
It was a great day. It was truly historic to be there and watch these two parties that really had refused to sit in the same room together for two decades join in a conversation. It’ll be a rocky road, it’ll be contentious for all the reasons, Martha, that you highlighted, but I’m confident that you have to take that first step towards peace so that we can ultimately get our forces out.
QUESTION: Let me just ask you – because back in 2014 as a member of the House Select Intelligence Committee, you argued against the drawdown of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. You said it had been a huge mistake in Iraq and criticized President Obama for wanting to do it in Afghanistan. So why is it not a huge mistake now? Because we will not have access to the kind of intelligence on the ground that we have always needed there.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Martha, I’m confident that President Trump’s twin missions – one, to get our folks back home; second, to make sure that we can continue to fight terror in Afghanistan, make sure it doesn’t come to the homeland – we’ll accomplish those. President Trump wants to do that. There are fewer than 200 al-Qaida left inside of Afghanistan. Times are different than they were six years ago or 10 years ago. It’s time. We can accomplish the mission of protecting the homeland with a much smaller footprint inside of Afghanistan, and you see the same thing – we took down the caliphate in Syria and in Iraq. It’s time we can reduce our physical presence on the ground there and still perform the counterterrorism mission that keeps Americans safe.
QUESTION: So Nancy Pelosi said this about the deals that have been made between Bahrain and Israel for recognition and the UAE and Israel for the same recognition. Listen to this:
“We’ve been waiting for a very long time for the President’s proposal for an Israeli- Palestinian peace agreement that honored the two-state solution. It still hasn’t come. Good for him for having a distraction on the day when the numbers of people who are affected and the numbers of people who are dying from this virus only increases.”
She calls – she says good for him for having a “distraction,” is what she refers to that deal as.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So cynical. It’s a remarkable accomplishment. The administration of President Trump has set the conditions for peace in the Middle East. There’s real progress. Tomorrow we’ll have the Israelis, the Bahrainis, the Emiratis all in Washington to sign agreements normalizing relationships amongst the countries. It’s a great day.
I remember Secretary Kerry saying that if the nuclear was abandoned, that Israel would become more isolated, when in fact just the opposite has now happened. They’ve joined hands and now they have many more partners across the region. Each of those countries, those Gulf states recognize that the shared threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran is very, very real, and now they are working together, building out security and economic relationships and real ties between these countries. It’ll be truly stabilizing for the Middle East to see what happens tomorrow in Washington, DC. I’m proud of what President Trump and his team have accomplished.
QUESTION: When will Saudi Arabia be on board in those deals, do you think? How close is Saudi Arabia to being on board?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I am confident that there are many other countries that will follow what we see tomorrow. The timing is indeterminate. We’ll see. I hope it’s soon.
QUESTION: All right, last question before I let you go. I want to give you an opportunity to respond to this personal blowback at you and Mrs. Pompeo over the resumption of the dinners that you hold at the State Department during COVID, and also these emails about asking State Department employees to help with personal Christmas cards. Why – is that okay and why is that okay on both counts?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, everything we’ve done was for the betterment of the State Department. It was lawful and appropriate. We’ll continue to do that. We’re going to continue hosting guests here at the State Department to have people have serious conversations about American foreign policy benefiting the people of the United States of America. I’m proud of what we’ve done. The fact that they’re picking on my wife, who has done yeoman’s work as a volunteer to try and make life better for every officer at the State Department, I find pathetic and sad. But we’ll keep doing the right thing, we’ll keep obeying the law, we’ll keep doing everything that’s proper, and we’ll leave the State Department a better place than we found it when our time here is done.
QUESTION: Some of the pushback on the dinners is that nobody’s wearing a mask there. President Trump gets the same kind of pushback for the rallies. Just a quick thought on that before we go.
SECRETARY POMPEO: We will comply with every instruction from the State Department medical team. We’ll be safe and we’ll have a great set of meetings and conversations.
QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, thank you very much. Good to see you, sir.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Martha. Have a good evening, ma’am.
QUESTION: You too. Thank you very much.