CIA’s Mike Pompeo on Iran

On July 20, Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo said that Iran’s implementation of the nuclear deal has been “grudging” and “minimalist.” At the Aspen Security Forum (an annual gathering of government officials, industry experts and journalists), he argued that the nuclear deal has not fostered stability in the region or led Iran to “become a reentrant to the Western world.” Pompeo said that Iran has been using proxy forces to expand its influence in the region and become the kingpin. The following are excerpted remarks on Iran.


MR. STEPHENS: So let's get right to it. I want to start with Syria, it's been in the news not just for years but in particular this last couple of days, I just want to ask you a general question. What in your – who in your view is the enemy in Syria.

MR. POMPEO: Yeah, so I'll give you the intelligence perspective on that and it is not singular. So I suppose you start with the threat that America is most involved in today that is the defeat of ISIS, mostly in the north and along the east but of course they will come up in another flavor one fine day. The agency is, along with our great partners from DOD and foreign partners are working diligently to defeat ISIS in that particular region.

But today you have Iran extending its boundaries, extending its reach, now making an effort to cross the borders and link up from Iraq, a very dangerous threat to the United States. Just yesterday, one more time, we learned that Iran is the world's largest state sponsor of terror, and they now have a significant foothold in Syria.

MR. STEPHENS: Does the end state include the end of the Assad regime?

MR. POMPEO: You'll have to leave that to the State Department. I think -- I think the last I saw Secretary Tillerson made very, very clear that Assad is not a stabilizing influence in Syria, that is difficult to imagine, and from an intelligence perspective not a policy perspective, I would add, it is difficult to imagine a stable Syria that still has Assad in power. He is a puppet of the Iranians and therefore it seems an unlikely situation where Assad will be sitting on the throne and America's interests will be well served.

MR. STEPHENS: Since you mentioned that, you know, something that's been talked about for a long time the extension of a Shiite crescent from -- across from Tehran to Beirut. Talk about two elements in that, number one the Israelis are very unhappy with the fact that -- with the fact of the ceasefires because they think that -- they fear that it's going to entrench Iranian power very close to their borders. And the Israelis have wanted a 40 kilometer buffer. And I wonder what effect do you think those sorts of ceasefires will have on Iran's reach? The second point is, reports coming out that

Iran is manufacturing with Hezbollah advanced missiles in Lebanon today. So can you talk about the Iranian Hezbollah piece and what the -- what's the strategy against it?

MR. POMPEO: So Hezbollah is but one example of the Iranians using proxy forces to achieve their outcomes, which is an expansionist capacity to control and be the kingpin in the Middle East, certainly Hezbollah; many of the Shia militias, although not all; their efforts in Yemen, their proxies in Iraq now firmly gaining power inside of Iraq, each of those present threats to the Gulf States, to Israel, and to America's interests. And this administration is going to have the task of unwinding what we found when we came in.

We are working diligently to get to the right place there. I will tell you that some of the actions that we have taken have let folks know that we are at least back working this problem in a way that wasn't the case six months ago.

MR. STEPHENS: Let me switch from ISIS to Iran, the administration just recertified the JCPOA the Iranian nuclear deal as we are obliged to do I guess every 90 days. That surprised me, and I understand from reports there was a vigorous debate in the White House between Trump, who was more -- President Trump, who was more skeptical and some of his advisors who were more determined to see the deal recertified. You, as a congressman, were one of the most outspoken members in opposing the agreement. And so -- in fact, you and Tom Cotton were responsible for unveiling or rather revealing secret, somewhat secret annexes to –

MR. POMPEO: I like that somewhat secret, yes.

MR. STEPHENS: Somewhat secret -- it depends on your definition of secret -- annexes that weren't publicly well known to the agreement. We now have reports from David Albright of the other ISIS, from Olli Heinonen, a former senior official in the IAEA that Iran continues to manufacture centrifuges for -- highly advanced centrifuges. It continues to stonewall IAEA requests for investigation of sites. It has once and perhaps twice exceeded the 130 metric ton cap on the production of heavy water. So on that basis why did you -- why did the administration choose to recertify the agreement?

MR. POMPEO: So I'll leave that discussion to State Department, who recertified but I'll talk to you -- I want talk to you about the -- about Iran, because you can't talk about the JCPOA the reason that I opposed it when I was a member of Congress wasn't that there might not be some marginal benefit in delaying Iran's nuclear program, it is potentially the case that you could achieve that, you could get increased monitoring, you could stop a few centrifuges from spinning, there might well be marginal benefits on Iran's nuclear that could be achieved by the agreement. In fact, you could go back and look, I said that when I was a member of Congress as well.

The challenge of the agreement is that it is short term. It doesn't avail of us -- avail us the capacity to really truly identify all the things that Iran might be up to, and then covers only such a narrow piece of the Iranian risk profile. And so that's what -- that's what the administration is focused on, we're working diligently to figure out how to push back against Iran not only in the nuclear arena but in all the other spaces as well.

And I can't get into the details of our intelligence as it relates to what those distinguished scholars have written but I kind of think of Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal like a bad tenant. How many of you have had a bad tenant? You know they don't pay the rent, you call them and then they send a check, and it doesn't clear and they send another one. And then the next day there's this old tired sofa in the front yard and you tell them to take it away, and you know they drag it to the back. This is Iranian compliance today. Grudging, minimalist, temporary with no intention of really what the agreement was designed to do, it was designed to foster stability and have Iran become a reentrant to the Western world, and the agreement simply hasn't achieved that.

MR. STEPHENS: So what will? I mean…

MR. POMPEO: You know it's a good answer – a good question rather. I would answer it this way, I'd answer it this way, I don't know. I don't know what will push them back, but I can tell you what won't. What won't is continuing -- continued appeasement, continued failure to acknowledge when they do things wrong, and forcing them into compliance, and sometimes yes that will require Americans taking risk. I'm confident this administration will ultimately be willing to do so. When we get our strategy in place I am confident you will see a fundamental shift. We've begun, right, that one of the first things the President did is to go build a coalition of the Gulf States and Israel to help find a platform which could uniformly push back against Iranian expansionism.

MS. WRIGHT: I want to get back to Iran. You talked about regime change when you were in Congress, do you think that is a either realistic or viable option today given the fact that most of our allies recognize Iran, are now doing business with Iran that, you know, in the elections recently more than 70 percent of the population turned out. And if you do believe it's a realistic or viable option, is it on the table today?

MR. POMPEO: So I keep getting held for things I said before I was in this job that's the darnest thing. (Laughter)

MR. POMPEO: So here's how -- from an intelligence perspective, here's how I think about that. It is the case that our European partners, for example France just did a deal with China and the National Iranian oil company a $5 billion dollars deal with an entity that remains sanctioned by the United States of America, fascinating.

So that's a diplomatic challenge. From an intelligence perspective, it is true that 70 percent of the people, in an interesting election, voted for this fellow, Rouhani. But the folks with all the power aren't being voted on. The folks who are causing the mischief, Qassem Suleimani and his gang weren't elected. Those are the folks that we're deadly focused on making sure don't continue to maintain capacity and power. Yes it does, it answers your question in full. Yes, ma'am. That's all I got.


Click here for a full transcript of Pompeo’s remarks.