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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on MSNBC w/Hugh

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The audio:


The transcript:

HH: Secretary Pompeo, thank you for having us.

MP: Hugh, it’s great to be with you. Welcome to the State Department.

HH: Let me start…great to be here. Let me be practical. You’ve got some empty offices at the Department of State. Is the Senate working with you to fill them so you can have the leadership in place with the best diplomatic corps in the world?

MP: So the answer is we need to move faster here. Everyone in the process needs to. We’ve got to get our diplomats out to every corner of the world, do that as expeditiously as possible. It is the case when I took over there were some big gaps in important places. And we’ll soon have our ambassador in place in South Korea, and some of the places that are absolutely most essential. But we need everyone helping, and I’m confident that Senators Menendez and Corker will help me achieve that.

HH: How about the Leader? Have you talked to Leader McConnell about this as well?

MP: Yeah, he’s fully on board. He’s moving our folks through as quickly as he can. We may get a couple of extra weeks in August where we’ll have some opportunity to get some additional people out there doing what the President wants, right, leaning to deliver his foreign policy in every corner of the world.

HH: You’re a former Congressman. You can’t envy your Senate colleagues staying here in August, do you?

MP: It’ll be warm, but I’ll be here right alongside them.

HH: All right.

MP: So will our diplomats.

HH: Let’s go geopolitical. 40 years ago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn this month talked about a world split apart – the Soviet Union. 71 years ago, another Army guy, George Marshall, gave the Marshall Plan. Both of them were talking about the Soviet Union. Is it time to reorient to our near peer or peer competitor being Russia or then the Soviet Union to the PRC now? Are they number one in our competitive environment?

MP: I think they do pose the most serious threat, and frankly, an opportunity for America if we can get it right. If you compare and contrast the two as between not the Soviet Union, but Russia and China, we’ve got one that has wealth and resources, and the other that is a power that is struggling mightily. We need to make sure we understand what China’s doing. The President’s been very clear about the risk to America associated with their willingness to steal our property, our intellectual property and otherwise. Eyes wide open with respect to Russia’s efforts in the South China Sea and around the world to build out a much bigger, stronger, tougher country. There’s things we clearly need to do alongside them and where we have shared interests, but where we don’t, we need to make sure America’s properly positioned to speak to them about each of our two country’s respective roles within the world.

HH: When you sat down with President Xi not long ago, was the cordial? Was it friendly? He gets along so well with President Trump. You’re the diplomat, maybe the bad cop to President Trump’s good cop. How did it go?

MP: It went great. It was very kind of him to visit with me. It was late one evening. I was returning to the United States, but wanted to make sure and stop in. China will have an important role to play as we work our way through the challenging issue of denuclearizing North Korea. And I wanted to make sure and explain to them the conversations that the President had had with Chairman Kim to make sure they understood what it was we needed from them, which at this point is to continue to make sure that the economic sanctions that are in place remain in place. And then we had a handful of other issues that I wanted to speak with President Xi about. And it was a good, warm, cordial meeting. I think we both expressed our views, and I appreciated him taking time to meet with the Secretary of State from the United States.

HH: When you think of him, he’s now president for as long as we can see. You think Mao and Deng. Are we talking about 20-25 years with President Xi? And do the American people fully grasp what a significant player he is now, not just for this year, but for the next decade or two?

MP: Yeah, it’s undoubtedly the case. He has consolidated power in the way that his immediate predecessors had not, in a way that’s truly historic. And the United States and other countries in the region as well need to recognize that. I think some are waking up to it in ways that they may not have two or five years ago. We all need to acknowledge what China presents in terms of both opportunity and challenge.

HH: In 1972, President Nixon sort of flipped the script on the Soviet Union by going to see Mao…

MP: Sure.

HH: …even though Mao had been the greater murderer in the 20th Century. Is it possible that you and the President are working to flip the script again and perhaps make nice with Russia, because China represents to the United States a bigger competitor?

MP: The President’s been unambiguous since he took office that there are places where Russia is working against the United States, but many places where we work together. I had a chance to do that in my previous role as CIA director, where we worked with the Russians on counterterrorism issues where the two nations had shared interests. And so we are having conversations with our Russian counterparts, trying to find places where we have overlapping interests, but protecting American interests we do not.

HH: Are you going to go to Moscow this summer?

MP: You know, I don’t know if I’ll be heading to Moscow. I’ll meet with my Russian counterpart somewhere I’m sure. I’ve spoken to Sergei Lavrov a couple of times already as the Secretary of State, good conversations, each of us expressing our displeasure with each other for various things, all the while making sure that the things that matter most in America, right, you can’t mess around in American elections. Some of the behaviors that they’re undertaking in places like Syria and Ukraine are just, they’re not helpful. They’re not constructive towards the value set that Americans hold dear. And those places, we’ll continue to work to make sure they know our interests and our concerns, and then where there’s places we can’t find common ground, we’ll certainly try and do that.

HH: Should we be surprised if President Trump is in Moscow this summer?

MP: You know, I don’t know what the President’s schedule’s going to be. I know Ambassador Bolton’s planning to travel to Moscow on Sunday or Monday. He’ll be meeting with his counterpart. And I think it’s likely that President Trump will be meeting with his counterpart in the not too distant future following that meeting.

HH: Interesting. Let me ask you about President Xi. What is his role, vis-à-vis Chairman Kim Jong Un and the deal? Does he have a veto over what North Korea is doing with you and in your conversations?

MP: The conversations between the United States and North Korea have been bilateral talks, just the two of us. We are working to strike a deal, a deal that Chairman Kim has signed up for, where there will be a bargain where he will fully denuclearize. He will permit us to verify that complete denuclearization. And in exchange for that, we’ll provide security assurances. Hugh, you know the story well. For decades, North Korean leadership, Chairman Kim, his father and grandfather alike believe the nuclear program was their security out and provided them with regime stability and security. And we have now flipped that narrative, right? I believe we have convinced him that that nuclear program in fact presents a threat to him, and that giving up that program is the path towards a brighter future for the North Korean people.

HH: What is he like, Mr. Secretary, when the cameras aren’t on and the door is closed? When you first went to Pyongyang, what was, does he have a sense of humor? Does he joke with you?

MP: Yeah, he does have a sense of humor. He is conversant in things Western, so he is playing close attention to what takes place. I’m confident he’ll be watching this show. He is watching things that Americans are saying. He’s looking to determine if in fact America is serious about this. If he does this, if he takes this step and reorients, sets a new strategic direction for North Korea where they focus on the economy and their people as opposed to their war making machine, if he makes that strategic change, does he have a reliable partner in America who will behave the way President Trump committed that we would when they met in Singapore? So he’s bright. He knows the file. He knows the topic very, very well. He’s not turning to others for guidance. It is Chairman Kim who is clearly articulating what you heard him say when he was in Singapore, that he is prepared to fully denuclearize.

HH: Now Secretary Pompeo, when you sit down with someone like Chairman Kim or President Xi, you’re sitting down with people who have human rights records which are awful. But FDR sat down with Stalin, and Nixon with Mao, and President Reagan with Gorbachev. What’s in your mind when you’re going through with someone who you know the body count is high, but with whom we have to deal?

MP: Yeah, we know the histories. This administration’s been very clear about defending human rights. Everywhere we go, we talk about it when we meet with countries that aren’t complying with human rights in the way we would want, that aren’t consistent with our value sets. We’ve done that with Chairman Kim. I know the President has spoken about that with Xi as well. But you have to remember, those human rights challenges existed long before this administration came in, when our policies with respect to those countries were very different, that is previous efforts to improve on those human rights conditions had failed. We are confident that the biggest threat to the United States, Chairman Kim’s nuclear program, is the place we need to begin. And if we are successful, if we can get the outcome we hope to have, we think we create a great probability that human rights conditions not only in North Korea but around the world may well improve.

HH: Are there signed protocols to the Singapore Summit communique that we don’t know about?

MP: I just don’t want to get into the details of the negotiations that took place before in Singapore and have continued since then. I think it is fair to say that there are a number of things, a number of principles that have been agreed to that I think both parties understand – red lines, things that we, neither country is prepared to go past that give us an opportunity to believe that we really might, for the first time, this is not the first rodeo negotiating with North Korea, that perhaps this time is different. We know, too, that we could be wrong. The President has said this very clearly. If this isn’t different, if it’s the case that Chairman Kim either is unable to or unprepared to denuclearize, sanctions will remain in place, the enforcement of those sanctions will continue, and we’ll be back hard at it if the negotiations prove to be either not in good faith or unproductive.

HH: Back to President Xi for one or two more questions. We always worry about our friends in Taiwan. Do you believe President Xi, who gave this two and a half hour, three hour speech when he became president for life…

MP: Yes.

HH: …in China, do you think he’s ruled out force vis-à-vis Taiwan? And is the United States standing by its historic agreements with Taiwan vis-à-vis their defense?

MP: We are. President Trump’s had no change in his policy with respect to China, the one Chian policy. The three communiques which followed that remain in place. I know the President has spoken with Xi about this on numerous occasions. We’ve told him that that’s the path forward, a non-violent path is the right path forward. And I think each of our two countries understand each other’s positions very clearly there.

HH: Speaking about the use of force, let’s turn to Iran, probably the greatest exporter of violence in the world in a daily basis that we can see. Do you foresee having to use force if they continue on a nuclear path?

MP: Boy, I sure hope not. I hope the Ayatollah and Soleimani, the prime drivers of Iranian threat posture, I hope they recognize that whatever decision other countries make about staying in the JCPOA or however they proceed, I hope they understand that if they begin to ramp up their nuclear program, the wrath of the entire world will fall upon them. And so it is not in their practical best interest to begin that. Whatever happens to the JCPOA, I think the Iranians understand that. It would be wholly separate from whether they spin a couple of extra centrifuges. If they began to move towards a weapons program, this would be something the entire world would find unacceptable, and we’d end up down a path that I don’t think is in the best interest of Iran and other actors in the Middle East, or indeed the world.

HH: When you say the wrath of the entire world, I think of the new entente. And I am talking, then, for the benefit of the audience not just of Israel, but of Bahrain, of Egypt, of Jordan, of Iraq, of Saudi Arabia, of the United Arab Emirates, our great friends in the Middle East. Would they support that wrath descending on Iran in the form of American military action if they moved this way?

MP: Yeah, when I say wrath, don’t confuse that for military action. Those are, when I say wrath, I mean the moral opprobrium and economic power that fell upon them. that’s what I’m speaking to. I’m not talking to military action here. I just truly hope that’s never the case. It’s not in anyone’s best interests for that. But make no mistake. President Trump’s been very clear. Iran will not get a nuclear weapon, nor start its weapons program on this president’s watch. And I’ve heard some say that we’ve, you know, we’ve separated from our allies on this issue of Iran. I don’t think that’s the case. When I talk to my Arab friends, the Israelis, all of those in the region, they are right alongside us. And even when I speak to the Europeans, with whom we have a difference about the JCPOA, they, too, understand the threat that Iran presents, whether it’s malign activity with Hezbollah, or in Yemen, or in Syria, or in Iraq, or its missile program that is launching missiles into airports that Westerners travel through. There is a unified understanding of Iran’s malevolent behavior, and it will be an incredibly united world should Iran choose to head down a nuclear weapons path.

HH: You mentioned General Soleimani. They only understand force sometimes. They are trying to move into Syria where they have put the Revolutionary Guard and the Quds Force again. But you’re saying, I just want to understand, if necessary, the United States is prepared to do whatever it has to do to stop them from having a nuclear weapon?

MP: President Trump’s been unambiguous about, in his statements, that says that Iran will not be able to obtain a nuclear weapon. Now remember, too, Hugh, it’s important to remind your viewers. The previous agreement permitted them to continue to enrich uranium, right? We cut a tougher deal on our allies, the Emirates, than we did on the Iranians with respect to nuclear power. I laid down a dozen items that we’re asking Iran to do. If your viewers go look at them, they’re all simple things. They are simply saying become a member of the community of nations, right? Stop launching missiles into non-hostile nations. Cease support of terrorism around the world. Don’t go down the path of a nuclear weapons system. The asks from the United States in order for Iran to return to the community of nations are all we ask of other countries around the world to be part of the international system.

HH: Anyone who follows your Twitter feed, and I do follow Secretary Pompeo, knows that in the last two weeks, you’ve done more democracy support in Iran than happened during the Green Revolution under the previous administration. Is that going to be a mark of the Secretary Pompeo years at State, that you’re just going to support the democratic movement in Iran?

MP: I think it’s a mark of President Trump and our administration. We are very hopeful that there’ll be an increase in the democratic values and the capacity for Iranians to speak their mind inside the Islamic Republic of Iran.

HH: Let me switch finally to the question of how diplomacy has changed. You used to be able to count armies or missiles or airplanes. Now, the weapons are not visible. You used to see them at Langley in your time as director of CIA. How do we know who’s got the weapons in the world of cyber? And how are you working with Secretary Mattis to assess and use diplomacy vis-a-via those weapons?

MP: So it’s a great question, Hugh. The range of instrumentalities of the scope of the battlefield has changed with the advent of cyber activity. The good news is, is the United States is unrivaled in our capacity to identify bad behaviors. It doesn’t mean we pick them all up. It doesn’t mean we can’t be misled. But we have incredibly capable cyber teams spread throughout the United States government both in the Department of Defense and elsewhere who are watching. They’re watching what folks are doing around the world in cyberspace. We have the capacity to respond. As a diplomat, one of the fundamental things that Secretary Mattis and I both agree on is that a cyberattack does not necessarily need to be responded to only through a cyber means. That is if they engage in something that approaches or becomes a true act of war, then the responses that the United States need to take aren’t limited just to a cyber response. There’ll be times when the United States government decides that’s the most appropriate place, because you can in fact do it quietly. You can respond in the cyber world by sending a message that the entire world doesn’t necessarily see, but your adversary may well see. But there are also times when responses in cyberspace will call for diplomatic response or other types of responses from our government.

HH: A couple of last questions. Does the public need to know when we’ve been attacked? We just found out this week in hearings that we were told to stand down during the Russian interference in the election, our forces. Does the public need to know that we’re doing things and we do them in order to calibrate how to judge the President and your responses, and Secretary Mattis’ response?

MP: It’s a difficult challenge to figure out precisely in the same way the intelligence community has things that we don’t share because they work against American interest when we do, or the Department of Defense conducts activities that they want to do in a way that’s quiet, that maybe our adversaries only know and we can protect American interests by protecting American secrets, it’s a complicated calculation to make in each and every instance about how much to disclose and the timing of those disclosures. However, when it comes to U.S. domestic issues, as it was in that case, I do think there is a thumb on the scale for disclosure. That is I was speaking more about things that happen internationally or in the security world. When it comes to our elections and U.S. democracy, I definitely think there’s a thumb on the scale with respect to sharing with the American people the threats that are around them.

HH: Secretary Mike Pompeo, thanks for having us to the State Department.

MP: Hugh, thank you very much. It was wonderful to be with you.

End of interview.


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