HH: Welcoming back now the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. Mr. Secretary, good morning to you.
MP: Morning, Hugh. How are you today?
HH: I am terrific. I’m over the Pittsburgh plague of laryngitis, so I’m so glad that that got done in time. Mr. Secretary, in the past two weeks, I’ve had on Vice President Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton, and now you. They both indicated a clear turning in our strategic posture vis-à-vis the People’s Republic of China. And I wanted to ask, am I correct in recognizing our public tone is different? And was there a moment where the President said “Look, I’m going to be the good cop with President Xi and you three, and Secretary Mattis, you, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, Vice President, you’re going to be the bad cop?” Did that happen at like an NSC meeting?
MP: No, Hugh, the truth of the matter is this has been consistent with the strategy that we’ve had since the beginning of this administration to recognize the competitive nature of the relationship between our two countries, and as China has taken actions that have provided risk to the American people, whether that’s a risk through the stealing of intellectual property, or trade rules that are unfair, or activity in the South China Sea, or their continued expansion in space and their efforts to develop their military. Each of those actions has been met with a strong and vigorous response from the United States of America, and will continue to do so. And there wasn’t a moment, but rather an administration that has recognized the difference in China’s behavior and the requirement for an American response to that changed behavior.
HH: You know, Secretary Pompeo, you’re a West Point man. Early this hour, I had West Point General Stanley McChrystal, retired, on. He talked about the treasure fleet of Zheng He and how President Xi is now using that as a rhetorical device about Chinese expansionism across the globe. Do you think he’s got any limit in mind? Or is this a basically “the 21st Century belongs to China” strategy by President Xi?
MP: I think if you go look at President Xi’s stated intentions, you can clearly see that China has a plan that is different from the one that they had five years ago, or even two or three years ago. You see this in their ability to use their money around the world. And I’ve spoken to this. I spoke to it when I was in Panama, and I travel the world. I remind countries we welcome commercial competition with China on a fair and reciprocal basis. But when China shows up with bribes to senior leaders in countries in exchange for infrastructure projects that will harm the people of that nation, then this idea of a treasury-run empire build is something that I think would be bad for each of those countries, and certainly presents risks to American interests. And we intend to oppose them at every turn.
HH: Two more specific questions about China. You are a Secretary of State known for an emphasis on religious liberty around the world, not just at home. The United Nations panel estimates that the PRC currently have imprisoned as many as one million Uighurs. But a Hong Kong-based human rights group puts the number between two million and three million. The Chinese vehemently deny this. What is the Department of State’s position on what these camps are all about?
MP: These camps are clearly a Chinese effort to reduce the capacity for Chinese people to exercise their religious freedom. We’ve seen it in many different forms. We’ve seen it being more difficult for churches to put crosses on the rooves of their buildings. We’ve seen religious freedom practices be denied in ways that they had not been in years previously. These are real threats to religious freedom, something that President Trump has directed this administration to take seriously. And we’re not only talking about this where countries are denying religious freedom around the world, but beginning to use American efforts and global efforts to push back against these denials of the most basic human rights. Indeed, an international religious freedom day is upon us, and it’s something the State Department will be talking about a great deal.
HH: Now the other thing that worries me about China is their cyber capabilities. A “cyber Pearl Harbor” is best prevented, in my view, by dispersed weapons of response and a known will to retaliate. Have we done the former? And is there any doubt about our commitment and ability to do the latter?
MP: There should be no doubt about the latter. We have the capability to respond. And we have laid out a strategy in order to respond. And the President has made clear that if a response is required, we will take one. And with respect to dispersion, I believe we are much more resilient today than we have ever been at any time when this cyber threat was upon us.
HH: You know, I think the elections are going to prove that the China policy has been very expertly articulated, and will be endorsed by the electorate. I think that’s going to happen. We’ll see. There has been a focus on the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi, one of my colleagues at the Washington Post, though I didn’t know him, good and necessary. Any news on that front, Mr. Secretary?
MP: Not much news. We continue to learn a little bit more about what transpired and how Mr. Khashoggi was tragically murdered. You saw that the Saudi prosecutors yesterday made clear that this was a premeditated murder that took place. And we’re continuing to learn the facts. The State Department took the step of beginning to do investigations to prosecute those responsible for, or to sanction those responsible for human rights violations that occurred if the data supports it, and then we have made sure that none of those persons are capable of traveling to the United States. The President has made very clear that we will hold those responsible accountable, but that America has important long term, strategic interests in our relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and that we are going to do both of those things at the same time – protect our interests and hold those responsible accountable.
HH: Now it is very good and proper that that’s happening. At the same time, some commentators have broadened this murder into the opportunity to attack Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Can you explain to the audience how Iranian missiles get fired, I think it’s happened 34 times, it might be higher now, from Yemen into Saudi Arabia? And we’re not talking about firecrackers here. We’re talking about ballistic missiles have been launched from Yemen. How do they get there? How do Iranian missiles get there?
MP: Hugh, first, the number of ballistic missiles that have left Yemen headed for Saudi Arabia and the Emirates is dozens of times higher than the 36 that you identified.
MP: Second, those missiles are coming from, and the hardware and software that supports them, are coming from the Islamic Republic of Iran. We see it in the hardware. We can tell by the telemetry. And we know by the fact that we have had interdictions at sea which make very clear the source of this. So what you have is a proxy war being engaged in by Iran against Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. It’s something that we’ve made clear what we are going to do our level best to prevent. And we’re supporting the Emirates and Saudi Arabia in their efforts to take down these missiles. Think, Hugh, if one of these manages to hit, actually hit an aircraft at the Riyadh Airport. This will be an enormous economic impact to the United States of America, and could in fact kill Americans flying through that international airport. These Iranian efforts are so troubling. We’ve urged our European partners to assist us in pushing back against this activity. And the whole world should understand that Iran is putting commercial civil aviation at risk with the actions that they have taken.
HH: Now the export of extraterritorial violence is always condemned by us, and as it should be, as when the Russian GRU agents attacked with the nerve agent in Great Britain, Saudi agents in Turkey. But am I right that the world’s largest exporter of terrorist violence is in fact Iran by a magnitude of order above everyone else?
MP: It’s not even close, nor is it disputable. Every agency, every UN entity that reports on terrorism identifies Iran as the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. And so a week from now, or a little more than a week from now, the most stringent sanctions ever in place against Iran by the United States of America will come back into effect on the morning of the 5th of November.
HH: Well, I see the ongoing wake for the JCPOA everywhere. Ben Rhodes, I like to call him the Metternich of the network I work for, MSNBC. “The Metternich of MSNBC” is always quick to blast you and the President for alienating the world in walking away from the JCPOA and pointing to the fact that China and Russia have…it’s like an Alice in Wonderland foreign policy, Mr. Secretary. How much time do you have to defend, do you have to spend defending doing obviously necessary steps against the fantasy land foreign policy, fantasy foreign policy league that they’ve got going over there?
MP: I don’t spend much time thinking about Ben Rhodes. I spend a lot of time thinking about making sure that America is secure and our interests are protected. These very missile launches that you described, the terror that you spoke to, the export of malign influence around the world all took place during the JCPOA. And indeed, in nearly every instance that I just referred to, increased during the time of the JCPOA. It was bad for the United States. The right decision was made by the President to withdraw. And our ask of Iran is just to simply become a normal country. Stop exporting terror, stop using proxy forces to create chaos around the world, and we will welcome them back into the league of nations. And we’re just waiting on them to do that.
HH: I am counting on a week from Tuesday being a referendum on that as well as China. And then finally, not as well know, but Governor Rick Scott was my guest this morning. He tells me that Venezuelan expats and the Nicaraguan expats in Florida, with whom he is campaigning and talking about helping in the aftermath of Michael, are still amazed that we allowed Maduro to do what he did over the last ten years to their country. What is our current policy? And how malign an influence is he?
MP: Maduro has behaved in the way that dictators do and imposed enormous personal anguish on Venezuela as we now have several million Venezuelans who have fled their country largely for Colombia, but now to other places in South America as well. The U.S. policy is very clear. We are supporting a return to democratic processes in Venezuela, and we have put significant sanctions on Venezuelan leadership in order to urge them to allow democracy to return so that once again, Venezuela, a country that has tremendous capacity, oil and other natural resources, to be a successful, thriving, democratic nation that contributes to the world’s accumulated wealth, returns to a country of that nature.
HH: Now very soon, Brazil will be out of a period of political instability. They’ll have a new president. He is a…
MP: This weekend, yeah.
HH: A man, yeah, a man of the right. And then you’ll have Colombia and Brazil with renewed political leadership. Do you think that between those two and with help and inspiration from the United States, something can be done about the collapse of Venezuela, because people are suffering in an extraordinary way there.
MP: You mentioned Venezuela and Nicaragua together. I do think that the alignment of the new leaders in South America and Central America are determined to see these nations that are amongst them, their neighbors, behaving in ways that are antithetical to the wellbeing of their own people, give us the opportunity to change the course and direction of those two countries.
HH: And a couple of last questions. Brexit, it just seems to me that the EU is being irrational here, Mr. Secretary, and may force, and I even fear a revival of the troubles of North Ireland if we’re not careful. Do you, are you involved in trying to bring the UK and the EU together to a rational endpoint of this separation, this divorce?
MP: This is a discussion between the EU and Britain. We are very hopeful they will continue to have conversations that will lead to an outcome that’s good for both entities.
HH: And the last question goes to the United Nations. We’ve got a vacancy there, and I’m sure you’ll find the right person. But I have never been a fan of having the ambassador in the cabinet. It has always seemed to me to be a mixed message about line of command. Has any decision been made about that?
MP: Well, that’ll be the President’s decision both with respect to whether it’ll be a cabinet member and who it will be. Lots of work has been done in that regard. And I’m confident that we’ll get a very good outcome, one that allows America to be represented in a fantastic way from the United Nations.
HH: And you used to meet with the President daily, Mr. Secretary. Now you’re on the road a lot. How much time do you get to spend and talk with him about the world as it is and how it’s operating?
MP: Quite a bit. I certainly don’t see him each day in the same way I did in my previous role. But I certainly talk to him every day, and I’ll even be over there today in the middle of the day to spend about an hour with him talking about some of the issues that we discussed this morning.
HH: Well, I hope Iran is the top of that list, Mr. Secretary. Thanks for your time this morning, and we look forward to having you back. And I hope that Tuesday next brings a vote of confidence in our China and Iran policy. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
MP: Thank you, Hugh. Bless you. So long.
End of interview.