On March 13, President Donald Trump announced that he was replacing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo. Pompeo has been outspoken on Iran both as a Republican congressman from Kansas (2011-2017) and as CIA director. The Senate confirmed Pompeo on April 27. The following is a collection of his key remarks on Iran.
QUESTION: President Trump tweeted about one of your predecessors, Secretary Kerry, saying that he was having, quote/unquote, “illegal meetings” with Iran’s foreign minister in what others have said is an attempt to undermine or subvert or coach the Iranians on how to get around or avoid the new – your new harder, tougher policy on Iran. I’m wondering if you share the President’s view that these meetings are illegal. And whether you do or not, if you have noticed in your attempts to get the Europeans and others, to get them on board with the new U.S. policy, and that efforts by Secretary Kerry, or any other former official for that matter, is interfering in or undermining your efforts.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I’ll leave the legal determinations to others. But what Secretary Kerry has done is unseemly and unprecedented. This is a former secretary of state engaged with the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, and according to him – right? You don’t have to take my word for it. He – these are his answers. He was talking to them. He was telling them to wait out this administration.
You can’t find precedent for this in U.S. history, and the secretary ought not – Secretary Kerry ought not to engage in that kind of behavior. It’s inconsistent with what foreign policy of the United States is, as directed by this President, and it is beyond inappropriate for him to be engaged in this. I remember, I saw him. I saw him in Munich at the Security Conference. He was there with – if I have my facts right, because I think I saw them all with my own eyes – Secretary Moniz and Wendy Sherman, the troika. And I am confident that they met with their troika counterparts, although one can perhaps ask Secretary Kerry if my recollection with respect to that is accurate.
I wasn’t in the meeting, but I am reasonably confident that he was not there in support of U.S. policy with respect to the Islamic Republic of Iran, who this week fired Katyusha rockets toward the United States embassy in Baghdad and took action against our consulate in Basra.
—Sept. 14, 2018, in remarks to the press
.@khamenei_ir fancies himself the leader of the Islamic world, but his regime has been totally silent as China—the top buyer of #Iran’s oil—has persecuted and detained hundreds of thousands of its Muslim citizens. رژیم_ریاکار#— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) September 14, 2018
Today, the regime in #Iran is at odds with world peace. We urge our allies and partners to join the U.S. and deny Iran’s leadership the funds to oppress the Iranian people and to foment terrorism around the world.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) August 8, 2018
The rial is plummeting. A third of #Iran's youth are unemployed. A third of Iranians live below the poverty line. But if you’re a politically-connected member of the regime's elite, the Iranian economy is going great. pic.twitter.com/NCfyv3rCn1— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) July 23, 2018
SECRETARY POMPEO: Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. As I’ll spell out more in a moment, the 40 years of fruit from the revolution has been bitter. Forty years of kleptocracy. Forty years of the people’s wealth squandered on supporting terrorism. Forty years of ordinary Iranians thrown in jail for peaceful expression of their rights. Why has the regime conducted itself in such an abhorrent way over the past 40 years and subjected its people to these conditions? It’s an important question.
The answer is at root in the revolutionary nature of the regime itself.
The ideologues who forcibly came to power in 1979 and remain in power today are driven by a desire to conform all of Iranian society to the tenets of the Islamic Revolution. The regime is also committed to spreading the revolution to other countries, by force if necessary. The total fulfillment of the revolution at home and abroad is the regime’s ultimate goal. It drives their behavior. Thus, the regime has spent four decades mobilizing all elements of the Iranian economy, foreign policy, and political life in service of that objective. To the regime, prosperity, security, and freedom for the Iranian people are acceptable casualties in the march to fulfill the revolution.
Economically, we see how the regime’s decision to prioritize an ideological agenda over the welfare of the Iranian people has put Iran into a long-term economic tailspin. During the time of the nuclear deal, Iran’s increased oil revenues could have gone to improving the lives of the Iranian people. Instead they went to terrorists, dictators, and proxy militias. Today, thanks to regime subsidies, the average Hizballah combatant makes two to three times what an Iranian firefighter makes on the streets of Iran. Regime mismanagement has led to the rial plummeting in value. A third of Iranian youth are unemployed, and a third of Iranians now live below the poverty line.
The bitter irony of the economic situation in Iran is that the regime uses this same time to line its own pockets while its people cry out for jobs and reform and for opportunity. The Iranian economy is going great – but only if you’re a politically-connected member of the elite. Two years ago, Iranians rightfully erupted in anger when leaked paystubs showed massive amounts of money inexplicably flowing into the bank accounts of senior government officials. ...
This list goes on, but we’ve got places to go tonight. The level of corruption and wealth among Iranian leaders shows that Iran is run by something that resembles the mafia more than a government.
On foreign policy, the regime’s mission of exporting the revolution has produced a decades-long campaign of ideologically-motivated violence and destabilization abroad. Assad, Lebanese Hizballah, Hamas, Shia militant groups in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen feed on billions of regime cash while the Iranian people shout slogans like “Leave Syria, think about us.”
Our partners in the Middle East are plagued by Iranian cyberattacks and threatening behavior in the waters of the Persian Gulf. The regime and its allies in terror have left a trail of dissident blood across Europe and the Middle East.
Indeed, our European allies are not immune to the threat of regime-backed terrorism.
Just earlier this month, an Iranian “diplomat” based in Vienna was arrested and charged with supplying explosives for a terrorist bomb scheduled to bomb a political rally in France. This tells you everything you need to know about the regime: At the same time they’re trying to convince Europe to stay in the nuclear deal, they’re covertly plotting terrorist attacks in the heart of Europe.
And because fighting the United States and destroying Israel is at the core of the regime’s ideology, it has committed and supported many acts of violence and terrorism against both countries and our citizens. As just one example, well over a thousand American service members have been killed and wounded in Iraq from Iranian-made IEDs.
Today, multiple Americans are detained and missing inside of Iran. Baquer Namazi, Siamak Namazi, Xiyue Wang are unjustly held by the regime to this day, and Bob Levinson has been missing in Iran for over 11 years. There are others, too. And we in the Trump administration are working diligently to bring each of those Americans home from having been wrongfully detained for far too long. …
You know, despite the regime’s clear record of aggression, America and other countries have spent years straining to identify a political moderate. It’s like an Iranian unicorn. The regime’s revolutionary goals and willingness to commit violent acts haven’t produced anyone to lead Iran that can be remotely called a moderate or a statesman. ...
In response to myriad government failures, corruption, and disrespect of rights, since December Iranians have been taking to the streets in the most enduring and forceful protests since 1979. Some shout the slogan, “The people are paupers while the mullahs live like gods.” Others choose to shut down the Grand Bazaar in Tehran. The specific grievances do differ, but all those voicing dissatisfaction share one thing: They have been ill-treated by a revolutionary regime. Iranians want to be governed with dignity, accountability, and respect.
The regime – this is important. The regime’s brutal response to these peaceful protests reflects the intolerance that its revolutionary worldview has produced. Last January, the regime welcomed in the new year with the arrests of up to 5,000 of its own people. They were peacefully calling for a better life. Hundreds reportedly remain behind bars, and several are dead at the hands of their own government. The leaders cynically call it suicide. ...
In light of these protests and 40 years of regime tyranny, I have a message for the people of Iran: The United States hears you; the United States supports you; the United States is with you.
When the United States sees the shoots of liberty pushing up through rocky soil we pledge our solidarity, because we too took a hard first step towards becoming a free country a few years back.
Right now, the United States is undertaking a diplomatic and financial pressure campaign to cut off the funds that the regime uses to enrich itself and support death and destruction. We have an obligation to put maximum pressure on the regime’s ability to generate and move money, and we will do so. ...
While it is ultimately up to the Iranian people to determine the direction of their country, the United States, in the spirit of our own freedoms, will support the long-ignored voice of the Iranian people. Our hope is that ultimately the regime will make meaningful changes in its behavior both inside of Iran and globally. As President Trump has said, we’re willing to talk with the regime in Iran, but relief from American pressure will come only when we see tangible, demonstrated, and sustained shifts in Tehran’s policies.
—July 22, 2018, in a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
"Two weeks ago, President Trump terminated the United States participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal.
President Trump withdrew from the deal for a simple reason: it failed to guarantee the safety of the American people from the risk created by the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
No more. No more wealth creation for Iranian kleptocrats. No more acceptance of missiles landing in Riyadh and in the Golan Heights. No more cost-free expansions of Iranian power. No more.
The JCPOA put the world at risk because of its fatal flaws.
And they’re worth recounting at some length today, if only for the purpose of ensuring that subsequent arrangements do not repeat them."
"Lebanon is an even more comfortable home for Hizballah today than it was when we embarked on the JCPOA. Hizballah is now armed to the teeth by Iran and has its sights set on Israel.
Thanks to Iran, Hizballah provides the ground forces for the military expedition in Syria. The IRGC, too, has continued to pump thousands of fighters into Syria to prop up the murderous Assad regime and help make that country 71,000 square miles of kill zone.
Iran perpetuates a conflict that has displaced more than 6 million Syrians inside the – 6 million Syrians and caused over 5 million to seek refuge outside of its borders.
These refugees include foreign fighters who have crossed into Europe and threatened terrorist attacks in those countries.
In Iraq, Iran sponsored Shia militia groups and terrorists to infiltrate and undermine the Iraqi Security Forces and jeopardize Iraq’s sovereignty – all of this during the JCPOA.
In Yemen, Iran’s support for the Houthi militia fuels a conflict that continues to starve the Yemeni people and hold them under the threat of terror.
The IRGC has also given Houthi missiles to attack civilian targets in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates and to threaten international shipping in the Red Sea.
And in Afghanistan, Iran’s support to the Taliban in the form of weapons and funding leads to further violence and hinders peace and stability for the Afghan people.
Today, the Iranian Qods Force conducts covert assassination operations in the heart of Europe."
"Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Republic – Revolution in Iran. At this milestone, we have to ask: What has the Iranian Revolution given to the Iranian people? The regime reaps a harvest of suffering and death in the Middle East at the expense of its own citizens. Iran’s economy is stagnant and without direction and about to get worse. Its young people are withering under the weight of frustrated ambitions. They are longing to pursue the freedoms and opportunities of the 21st century.
Iran’s leaders can change all of this if they choose to do so. Ali Khamenei has been supreme leader since 1989. He will not live forever, nor will the Iranian people abide the rigid rules of tyrants forever. For two generations, the Iranian regime has exacted a heavy toll on its own people and the world. The hard grip of repression is all that millions of Iranians have ever known.
Now is the time for the supreme leader and the Iranian regime to summon the courage to do something historically beneficial for its own people, for this ancient and proud nation.
As for the United States, our eyes are clear as to the nature of this regime, but our ears are open to what may be possible. Unlike the previous administration, we are looking for outcomes that benefit the Iranian people, not just the regime."
—May 21, 2018, in a speech at The Heritage Foundation
“President Trump has said that 'Iran is not the same country it was five months ago.' That’s because our campaign of financial pressure, our withdrawal from the nuclear deal, and our full-throated support for the Iranian people, which I articulated in a speech this past Sunday, are having an impact.”
“There is enormous economic challenge inside of Iran today, it’s an economic structure that simply doesn’t work. When you’re a country of that scale that foments terror, through Lebanese Hezbollah, through Shia militias in Iraq, into Yemen, conducts assassination attempts in European countries, provides enormous support for Hafez Assad, outside of Lebanese Hezbollah in Syria. That’s expensive, and I think the Iranian people are beginning to see that that’s not the model that they want. That the Iranian expansionism that the supreme leader and Qassem Soleimani so favor is not what they’re looking for. And I think you’re beginning to see the economic impact combined with understandings inside of Iran of the kleptocracy that it is, leading to fundamental decisions that the Iranian people will ultimately have to make.”
“The question that President Trump faced was was the JCPOA good enough, and he concluded that it wasn’t remotely good enough. I think he said it was one of the worst deals in history – I don’t want to get the language wrong – so he concluded that we would find ourselves in a better place with an opportunity to revisit all of these issues, the broad spectrum of issues, not just the nuclear portfolio but the military program, their malign activity around the world, all of them in a package. It did accept the understanding that there would be those that wouldn’t come alongside of us, but you should know there is a coalition – it’s not America and America alone – we have others who believe that this was the right decision too: the Israelis, the Saudis, the Emirates, the Bahrainis, other smaller European governments – not the E3 themselves, but there are a number of folks who are beginning to coalesce around an understanding of how we can appropriately respond to Iran to take down the nuclear risk to the United States, as well as the risk from these other malign activities.”
—July 25, 2018, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Hmm… Can this be explained? pic.twitter.com/wXXC8urswV— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) June 20, 2018
Interview With Mina Al-Oraibi of The National
QUESTION: Thank you. I want to ask you about Iran, basically, because of course, here in the region, we have a lot of concerns about Iran’s expansionist policies, and you recently said that Ayatollah Khamenei has to be held to account for destabilizing the Gulf’s security. How can he be held to account?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So there are lots of ways. First, a united opposition is very important, and it’s one of the reasons I’m here. We have great partners here in the United Arab Emirates, we have great partners with the Saudis and the Bahrainis, many countries pushing back, demonstrating that what we’re asking is pretty simple: Iran to become a more normal country.
The tools we’ll use will be varied. They’ll often be diplomatic. You see the U.S.-led efforts on sanctions, so economic tools. And then it’s also the case that we will be prepared to make sure that when Iran does things like launch missiles that come here or go to Riyadh, that we’re prepared to defend the region as well militarily.
QUESTION: The recent threat of closing the Strait of Hormuz is one that, of course, the whole world cares about. Is that a realistic threat?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The United States has made very clear we’re going to make sure that the sea lanes remain open. It’s been a longstanding U.S. policy and we’re prepared to make sure that that happens.
QUESTION: Now, if we look at Yemen, we see an uptick of activity from Hizballah and from Iran’s support for the Houthis. What can the international community do to stop that and how can we see an end to the war in Yemen?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I do hope that there ultimately is a political resolution there. The UN, through Mr. Griffiths, is working hard to achieve that political resolution. But at the end of the day, it’s going to require a global effort to convince the Iranians that this kind of meddling, this kind of interference, this kind of promotion of violence directed at Arab countries outside of Yemen doesn’t make sense for them. And so all the same tools that I described previously are the ones that will ultimately lead to the Houthis and others in Yemen realizing that the war is not worth continuing, that a political resolution is the one that’s best for the people of Yemen.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) sorts of actions that can be taken in addition to, of course, the sanctions to convince the Iranians to change their behavior? Because what we’ve seen in the last few years is whatever pressure has not wielded the results you’re hoping for so far.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, remember the last few years, the sanctions were lifted. And so much of this malign activity, this increase in resources provided to Hizballah, the increase in resources provided to the Shia militias fighting in Iraq and in Syria, the support for the Houthis in Yemen, the efforts in Bahrain, those all took place against the backdrop of a relief from sanctions as a result of agreements that were entered into in the JCPOA. America has now withdrawn from those. These sanctions are returning. And I am convinced that the combined effort of the Gulf states and the United States and the Europeans will ultimately achieve a good outcome and convince the Iranian people that this is not the kind of activity their government ought to be involved with.
QUESTION: Are you working on an alternative deal when it comes to the nuclear activities of Iran? Do we expect another deal, a different type of deal?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, if there’s another deal, it’ll be completely different. It will be of permanent duration and not temporary. It will have a verification regime that is sufficient to ensure that nuclear weapons aren’t being hidden or developed in a clandestine way. And equally importantly, it won’t just be about the nuclear program. It’ll be about their space program, which is really a proxy for their missile efforts. It’ll be about their missile program, it’ll be about the malign activity, it will be a comprehensive effort to convince Iran to behave in a way that we ask every other country in the world to behave.
QUESTION: Iran’s presence in Syria is one that causes concern for Syrians and the region. Are you in talks with the Russians to work together to push out Iran and Hizballah’s influence in Syria?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So we have spoken with many parties in Syria, including the Russians, and made very clear, as have the Israelis, that the Iranian presence in Syria is not appropriate and won’t be tolerated. So we’re working diligently to develop a political solution that not only achieves America’s goal of defeating ISIS that’s still there, still a challenge for us in Syria, but leads Iran to the place where they conclude it’s not worth the candle for them to be in Syria. There’s no reason for them to reach out to that country. There’s no reason to have military forces on the ground there. And we’re going to undertake, along with our partners, a comprehensive program to diminish that activity.
QUESTION: We’ve seen some Iraqi militia forces in Syria under the leadership of Iranian military commanders or the IRCG commanders. What do you say to the Iraqi Government on that role that they’re playing?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So yes, Qasem Soleimani is causing trouble throughout Iraq and Syria, and we need to raise the cost for him, for he and his organization and for him personally. With respect to the Iraqi Government, we’re working closely with the Iraqis to make sure that as they move through their government formation process – as the election is now over, as they move through the government formation process, what America wants is an Iraqi – Iraq for Iraqis, not influenced by Iran but rather comprised of the various groups: the Kurds, the Sunnis, the Shias. We want everyone to have a voice in an Iraqi national government that leads to an Iraq that is strong and independent and robust and economically successful as well.
QUESTION: If we go back to Syria, is the U.S.’s position still that Assad must go?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Our first step is to take down the violence. The first thing that America’s working on politically is to reduce the level of violence. We have six million-plus displaced persons. We’ve got to restore the opportunity for the Syrian people to begin to engage politically and develop a stable, non-violent Syria. At that point, the political decisions, the constitution of Syria will be sorted out by the Syrian people.
QUESTION: And I want to ask you finally, on the issue of Qatar, as the Qatar crisis has developed, they’ve gotten closer and closer to Iran. So as this coalition is put together to face off on Iran’s activities in the region, what is your message to the Qataris on that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: My message and the President’s message to the entire Gulf (inaudible) is that we hope that they will begin to have discussions and resolve this dispute. We understand there are differences of views. This happens among countries with great frequency. But we do also recognize that these disputes lead to a strengthening of Iran, it allows Iran to create a wedge between Gulf states that have a shared threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran. And so we are hopeful and we are prepared to try and help facilitate to the extent we can a resolution of this set of disputes.
—July 10, 2018, in an interview with The National
Interview With Mohannad Al Khatib of Sky News Arabia
QUESTION: Thank you. The United States is reinforcing various sanctions on Iran. We’ve heard statements over the last few days coming from Tehran that basically amount to threats, (inaudible) in the region, that – some went as far as threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz. How would the United States respond (inaudible) such threat?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, it all starts with Iranian bad behavior, the kinds of things that threaten the people here in the Emirates – missiles being launched from Yemen that strike real risk to the people of all of the Gulf states. And so American policy is aimed to deter that.
I’ve seen these remarks about their threats. The world should know that America is committed to keeping sea lanes open, to keep transit of oil available for the entire world. That’s the commitment we’ve had for decades. We continue to honor that commitment.
QUESTION: Aside from the nuclear issue with Iran, Iran is involved (inaudible) in many destabilizing activities in several countries in the hemisphere: Yemen (inaudible), Syria. What will the United States do in order to limit these activities?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, one of the great things is we have wonderful partners like the Emirates, the Saudis, many countries, the Bahrainis are all working alongside of us to push back against Iranian malign behavior, whether it’s their activity underwriting the Houthis in Yemen, Hizballah in Syria and in Lebanon, in Iraq and Syria Shia militias that are inflicting real harm on ordinary citizens.
So we intend to do a number of things, though one that we are most focused on today is ensuring that we deny Iran the financial capacity to continue this bad behavior. So it’s a broad range, a series of sanctions aimed not at the Iranian people, but rather aimed at the singular mission of convincing the Iranian regime that its malign behavior is unacceptable and has a real high cost for them.
QUESTION: Iran has said several times that they intend to stay in Syria for the long term. How does the United States view this?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Iran needs to get out of Syria. They have no business there. There’s no reason for them to be there. There’s been Iranian influence there for a long time. Iranian forces, Iranian militias must leave the country.
QUESTION: Also on the issue of the Syrian (inaudible), there is a big (inaudible) going on south of Syria today. The armed groups that were supported at one time by the United States are losing ground. How are you looking at this?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s a very difficult situation. From the United States perspective, we need to achieve a political solution in Syria, one that reflects the diversity of the Syrian nation. We are aiming to set the conditions for a political resolution. We’re prepared to continue the conversations often led by the UN in a way that takes down the violence, de-escalates the threats to the people of Syria, allows the some six million displaced persons from Syria to begin to return and to rebuild, and that ultimately achieves a constitution and a political resolution that’s consistent with what the Syrian people truly want and deserve.
QUESTION: Are you in agreement with the Russians on what’s going on in the south of Syria today
SECRETARY POMPEO: No, we had an agreement with the Russians that they would not move in the south. There was a de-escalation zone that the Russians had agreed to. They now have clearly violated that and we are working with all parties concerned to get each party – the Russians, the Syrians, the Iranians, everyone to honor the commitments that they’ve made in the various political processes that have been undertaken with respect to Syria.
QUESTION: You had a tweet a few days ago saying that Iran’s activities in Yemen, the – (inaudible) the prolonged suffering of the Yemeni people will not be tolerated. What will Washington do in order to (inaudible)?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, we’ve done a lot of things. We’ve done work to push back against the threat of al-Qaida in Yemen. We’ve worked with the Saudis and with the Emiratis to reduce the risk from the Iranian threat there in Yemen through identifying transit of weapons that are moving in and around the region so that the Houthis don’t have the material to conduct these threats. We think it’s important that every place Iran attempts to use its force we raise the cost for them such that the Iranian people will ultimately reject that use of force.
QUESTION: The U.S. allies in Europe that were part of the 5+1 agreement with Iran are in talks with Iran right now in order to salvage what’s left of this agreement. How are you hoping talking to the Europeans about this and how are they responding?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, it’s a great question. I’ll actually leave here and headed for Brussels. I’ll meet with my European counterparts to talk about exactly this set of issues. Frankly, we agree in large part. The Europeans understand the threat that Iran poses. Indeed, just this past week, there were Iranians arrested in Europe who were preparing to conduct a terror plot in Paris, France. We’ve seen this malign behavior in Europe. The Europeans understand the threat. We are working through a difference. The American people concluded that the JCPOA made no sense, that it was truly a pathway for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. So we are attempting to stop that. We’re working now with the Europeans to develop a plan and a path forward to continue to stop Iran from its nuclear program, but also to push back against its missile system and its terrorist behavior.
QUESTION: Some countries in Europe and in other parts of the world intend to keep on getting oil from Iran even after the sanctions are imposed. How would you look at this?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, that will violate the sanctions that we put in place. Come November 4th, there will be a U.S. sanction that prevents crude oil from passing from Iran to other countries. It will be sanctionable activity. We will enforce those sanctions. There will be a handful of countries that come to the United States and ask for relief from that. We’ll consider it. But make no mistake about it, we are determined to convince the Iranian leadership that this malign behavior won’t be rewarded and that the economic situation in their country will not be permitted to be rectified until such time as they become a more normal nation.
—July 10, 2018, in an interview with Sky News Arabia
HUGH HEWITT (MSNBC): Speaking about the use of force, let’s turn to Iran, probably the greatest exporter of violence in the world on a daily basis (inaudible). Do you foresee having to use force if they continue on a nuclear path?
SECRETARY POMPEO: 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 he – 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 this is the best interest of Iran, other actors in the Middle East, or indeed the world.
HEWITT: 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 and Iraq or Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates are great friends in the Middle East. Would they support that wrath descending on Iran in the form of American military action if they move this way?
SECRETARY POMPEO: 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. Just I truly hope that’s never the case. It’s not in anyone’s best interest for that. But make no mistake, President Trump has 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 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 Hizballah 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.
HEWITT: 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 Qods Force again, but you’re saying – I want to just understand – if necessary, the United States is prepared to do whatever it has to do to stop them from having a nuclear weapon.
SECRETARY POMPEO: President Trump’s been unambiguous about – in his statements that says that Iran will not be able to obtain a nuclear weapon. Remember too, Hugh, it’s important to remind your viewers the previous agreement permitted them to continue to enrich uranium, all right? We cut a tougher deal on our allies, the Emiratis, 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.
HEWITT: Anyone who follows your Twitter feed – and I do follow it, 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?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think it’s a mark of President Trump and our administration. We are very hopeful that there will be an increase in the democratic values, and the capacity for Iranians to speak their mind inside the Islamic Republic of Iran.
—June 22, 2018, in an interview with MSNBC’s Hugh Hewitt
"We are going to put together a coalition that pushes back against not only Iran’s nuclear program – which, by the way, Margaret, they still deny. No Iranian leader has admitted they had a weapons program, and the facts are now public that they did. They ought to at least be honest about that. But it’s not going to just be the nuclear file. It will be their missile program. It will be their effort to build Hizballah. It’ll be their threats against Israel. It’ll be the work that they’re doing in Yemen to launch missiles into Saudi Arabia, for goodness sakes.
This is the activity that the Iranian regime has undertaken during the JCPOA. We’re going to make a shift. We’re going to deny them the benefit of the economic wealth that has been created and put real pressure, so that they’ll stop the full scale of the sponsorship of terrorism with which they’ve been engaged in these past years."
—May 13, 2018, on CBS Face the Nation
“With respect to the JCPOA, we talked about it some today. I’m confident that that’ll be a topic on my trip throughout the Middle East as well, not only talking about the concerns that President Trump has expressed consistently, but talking about ways to potentially address those shortcomings, finding a potential solution to the very flaws that President Trump has identified for a long time now.
“You asked if we talked about the decision. There’s been no decision made. So the team is working, and I’m sure we’ll have lots of conversations to deliver what the President has made clear. Absent a substantial fix, absent overcoming the shortcomings, the flaws of the deal, he is unlikely to stay in that deal past this May.”
—April 27, 2018, at a press availability in Brussels, Belgium
“Iran, meanwhile, has been on the march and has paid too low a price for its dangerous behavior. Our administration has developed a strategy to counter Iran that will raise that cost. The issues surrounding Iran’s proliferation threat are real and we, along with our allies, must deal with the long-term risk that its capability presents. But we cannot let the nuclear file prevent us from acting against Iran’s cyber efforts or its attempts to provide missiles to the Houthis to attack Saudi Arabia and Americans who travel there. Iran’s activities in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon threaten the very existence of Israel, and the global reach of Hezbollah threatens us right here in the homeland. Iran freed American hostages for the sake of a deal and then turned immediately to holding still more. I will work for their freedom every day.
“President Trump is prepared to work with our partners to revise the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to fix its most egregious flaws. If confirmed, it will be an immediate personal priority to work with those partners to see if such a fix is achievable. The stakes are high for everyone, but especially Tehran. If confirmed in time, I look forward to engaging key Allies on this crucial and time-sensitive topic at the G7 Ministerial Meeting on April 22nd and the NATO Ministerial Meeting later that week.”
“Iran wasn't racing to a weapon before the deal. There is no indication that I'm aware of that if that deal no longer existed that they would immediately turn to racing to create a nuclear weapon today.”
—April 12, 2018, in remarks during his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Today marks one year since Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif agreed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On this date, we ought to take the opportunity not to re-litigate that “political commitment,” but evaluate whether it has helped protect the United States, our people, and our interests. Unfortunately for our country’s future, the answer to that inquiry is a resounding no. As a result, Congress must act to change Iranian behavior, and, ultimately, the Iranian regime.
The JCPOA can perhaps delay Iran’s nuclear weapons program for a few years. Conversely, it has virtually guaranteed that Iran will have the freedom to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons at the end of the commitment. Further, in the past year, the Islamic Republic of Iran has launched multiple ballistic missiles – testing increasingly complex and longer range missiles. It has grown its support of terrorist groups, and it continues to take hostages. The deal has, in fact, made our country less safe.
—July 14, 2016, in an op-ed published by Fox News
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
—July 31, 2017, speaking at the Aspen Security Forum
JUAN ZARATE: Mr. Director, first talking about Iran, the president gave his speech on October 13th reshaping U.S. policy on Iran. I think the first question on this is why was that speech and that shift necessary? And is Iran in violation of the JCPOA? Or what's the animating principle behind this shift?
POMPEO: We often focus a lot on the JCPOA, and I'm happy to share the intelligence elements that are buried there, but the president has come to view the threat from Iran as at the center of so much of the turmoil that bogs us down in lots of places in the Middle East—right? Whether it's Lebanese Hezbollah, the threat that it presents to both Lebanon and to Israel; whether it's the Shia militias—you can see the impact that they're having today, even in northern Iraq; the threat that they pose to U.S. forces— we had an incident last week.
The list of Iranian transgressions—the missile program, their cyber efforts. The list of Iranian transgressions is long. And from an intelligence perspective, we shared that with the president. I think he concluded that we needed to reconfigure our relationships, not only with Iran but with the Gulf states and with Israel, to ensure that we are addressing what he views as the real threat to the United States in a comprehensive way.
ZARATE: The president seems to be shifting that in the policy, and I think that the administration seems to be pushing, not just on the deal, but around the deal. So how do you explain to people your view of the JCPOA itself and the role it plays in the policy?
POMPEO: Look, the mission set that the president laid out with respect to the deal was to ensure that there were no pathways for the Iranians to achieve a nuclear capability, to not put a president in the future in the same place this administration is with respect to North Korea, to close down all the various avenues.
And so, there are many pieces to that. From an intelligence perspective, we need even more intrusive inspection. The deal put us in a marginally better place with respect to inspection, but the Iranians have on multiple occasions been capable of presenting a continued threat through covert efforts to develop their nuclear program along multiple dimensions, right? The missile dimension, the weaponization effort, the nuclear component itself.
So we need to make sure from an intelligence perspective that we're enabled to do that. And the president has given us the resources to go achieve that and all the various tools that we have, the various legal authorities.
And so, when the president stared at the deal and asked us what this meant from a proliferation perspective inside of Iran, two years, three years, the difference of a breakout time across a handful of months, it didn't seem satisfactory to him. That's no surprise; he's tweeted about it.
It didn't seem satisfactory to him. So he asked us all to go evaluate how we might present a more comprehensive effort to push back against the Quds Force, the IRGC more broadly, and the Iranian regime itself. The effort—the notion—and I'll stay on the analytic side, the notion that the entry into the JCPOA would curtail Iranian adventurism or their terror threat or their malignant behavior has now, what, two years on, proven to be fundamentally false. So...
ZARATE: Has the opposite happened? Have they gotten more aggressive than you would anticipate, or....
POMPEO: So it depends on which dimension. Look, they've been developing their missile system pretty consistently for an extended period of time now.
In terms of testing, about the same as where they were pre-JCPOA. But their desire to put guided rocketry in the hands of Hezbollah, the efforts with the Houthis in Yemen, launching missiles into the—or attempting to launch missiles to the Emirates and into Saudi. These are new and aggressive, and show no signs of having been curtailed by even the increased commerce that they've achieved through having Europeans back in the game in Iran.
ZARATE: I mean, they seem to be pushing on all of the pressure points and what does that mean for us to be able to confront and push back?
POMPEO: All the tools available of U.S. power, so I'll begin with a handful. I could—we could talk about this for a long time, but I'll begin with a handful. It has been far too inexpensive for the Iranians to conduct this adventurism. We should raise the cost of that. The Agency has an incredibly important role there, providing the intelligence basis for us to help, not only the United States, but our partners in the region, which is the second piece of this.
We need all of our partners. Sometimes I hear folks talk about the JCPOA and our partners, and nary a mention of the Saudis, the Emirates, the Israelis, but lots of talk about Germans, and Brits and French, and that's great. They're important partners, too. We need them all working against the continued expansion of the Iranians.
Treasury, too, has an important role. Juan, you lived this in your roles at Treasury. Secretary Mnuchin is keenly aware of the tools that are in his arsenal as well. I mean, think about this today imagine you're a—the Iranians have complained a great deal that they haven't seen the benefits, the economic benefits they had expected. But imagine you're a European CEO, or board of directors or a lender; the intelligence community struggles mightily to figure out which companies are controlled by the IRGC or the Quds Force. It is a difficult, complex intelligence undertaking to sort out which entities are controlled by the Quds Force, which ones have shareholders. It is intentionally opaque, but as much as 20 percent of the Iranian economy is controlled by them.
Imagine that you're a businessperson deciding whether it was appropriate to take that risk or not, whether the return was there for your company. I think we can make it even more difficult, and I think in order to push back against all these non-nuclear activities—put aside the nuclear issues in the deal, to push back against these non-nuclear activities I think is something the president's intent on doing.
ZARATE: The Treasury Department has designated actors who've been—Al Qaeda actors—who've been in Iran and supported—the 9/11 Commission raised the question, frankly, that was unanswered with respect to Iran's potential role in 9/11. And the president actually raised it quite openly, which I found to be really startling and interesting. Can you talk about that, the Iranian-Al Qaeda links that the president mentioned?
POMPEO: I can't say a whole lot more than he said, but I think it's an open secret, and not classified information, that there have been relationships, there are connections. There have been times the Iranians have worked alongside Al Qaeda.
We actually, the CIA is going to release, here, in the next handful of days, a series of documents related to the Abbottabad raids that may prove interesting to those who are looking to take at this issue—take a look at this issue a little bit further.
But there have been connections where, at the very least, they have cuts deals so as not to come after each other. That is, they view the West as a greater threat than the fight is between them two along their ideological lines. And we, the intelligence community, has reported on this for an awfully long time. It is something we are very mindful of.
And, with the defeat of the real estate proposition in Syria and Iraq for ISIS, we watch what's going on in Idlib. You've got ISIS folks, Al-Nusra Front, Al Qaeda folks up in the north. We're watching to see if there aren't places where they work together for a common threat against the United States.
ZARATE: What are your concerns about the links between Iran and North Korea, and the issue of proliferation writ large?
POMPEO: There's a long history there—deep, there are deep conventional weapons, ties as between the two countries. These are two national states that don't have deep export control provisions within their countries.
And so it is a Wild, Wild West exercise and we do have an obligation to ensure that we account for that, as an intelligence community and then do our best efforts to ensure that we don't have capabilities transition between the two.
It could be the case, I can't say much, but you can imagine that each of these countries would have relative expertise in certain technologies, certain capacities and there won't even be dollars exchanged, but rather, there will be expertise or technology exchanged, as well, for the betterment of each of their weaponization programs, there missile programs and then their capacity to do explosive testing on nuclear devices, as well.
—Oct. 19, 2017, at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ National Security Summit
"Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are the cudgels of a despotic theocracy, with the IRGC accountable only to a Supreme Leader."
"They're the vanguard of a pernicious empire that is expanding its power and influence across the Middle East."
"In recent years, the IRGC has become more reckless and provocative, seeking to exploit the vacuum left by instability in the Middle East to aggressively expand its influence."
"It openly vows to annihilate Israel. And when you look at the death and destruction inflicted in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq by Tehran and its proxies, the threat is clear: Iran is mounting a ruthless drive to be the hegemonic power in the region."
"For unlike ISIS and its mirage of a caliphate, Iran is a powerful nation-state that remains the world's largest state-sponsor of terrorism. The Islamic Republic is Iran's version of what the caliphate ought to look like under the control of an Ayatollah and his praetorian guard, the IRGC."
A soldier from Texas was killed “in an area controlled by a Shia militia aligned with Iran.”
"We do not have evidence of a direct link to Iran, but we are closely examining this tragic incident."
—Oct. 12, 2017, speaking at the University of Texas on the eve of President Trump’s announcement that he would not recertify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal
MARGARET BRENNAN: In terms of the goal here, when you were in Congress you were harshly critical of the nuclear deal with Iran that the Obama administration negotiated and there are obviously flaws that even they recognized there. But the Iranians did give up the vast majority of their nuclear fuel and their production facilities aren't functioning. Have you set a higher benchmark for these talks since North Korea is farther along with its nuclear program.
CIA DIRECTOR MIKE POMPEO: Yes, Margaret, I think that's the case. Most importantly the conditions are very different. The previous administration was negotiating from a position of weakness. This administration will be negotiating from a position of enormous strength with sanctions that are unrivaled against the North Korean regime. That conversation will proceed very differently. My critique of the Obama administration's JCPOA commitment was that they left the Iranians with a breakout capacity. They had a short time frame that these would these restrictions would remain in place. And North Korea's human capital and enrichment capacity continues to remain in place. Those are...those are all things that present risk to the world and President Obama's, excuse me President Trump is determined to prevent that from happening in North Korea.
MARGARET BRENNAN: In Syria there are now reports of napalm being used in addition to chlorine gas attacks just outside Damascus and East Ghouta. Why doesn't the president's red line on chemical weapons apply in these cases?
CIA DIRECTOR MIKE POMPEO: Margaret, the president's made very clear that he won't tolerate chemical weapons usage and he has demonstrated his willingness to respond. In this case, the intelligence community is working diligently to verify what happened to there. I've seen the pictures. You've seen the pictures as well. We have a higher standard to make sure we understand precisely what took place, precisely who did it so that our response can meet the threat. And we're working to develop that. We've seen those reports and the president asked me nearly every day what it is the intelligence community knows about the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons and who else, the Russians or the Iranians who might be responsible for them.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The Israelis including their prime minister was here this week warning that Iran is unchecked within Syria. Should the U.S. mission change to be able to counter Iran and its proxies like Hezbollah?
CIA DIRECTOR MIKE POMPEO: So I'll leave policy to others. What I can say about what's taking place inside of Syria that the Iranians had a free pass in the previous, previous administration. In fact the JCPOA and the negotiations prevented a United States response. That is they didn't want the previous administration, Ben Rhodes and Obama's team, didn't want to upset the apple cart. This administration has taken a much stronger approach, a much more aggressive posture with respect to countering Iran.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But that's not part of the mission now.
CIA DIRECTOR MIKE POMPEO: But we're working closely and we're working closely with the Israelis to develop a full intelligence picture of what's taking place there so that the president has options to counter that threat.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So what I hear you saying is that the mission is not solely to counter ISIS. You are also looking at Iran and its proxies.
CIA DIRECTOR MIKE POMPEO: President's made very clear we're working diligently to find the right approach to counter the incredible spread of Iranian hegemony throughout the Middle East.
—March 11, 2018, on CBS Face The Nation
“Sophisticated adversaries like China and Russia, as well as with less sophisticated adversaries like Iran and North Korea, terrorist groups, criminal organizations, and hackers are all taking advantage of this new borderless environment.”
“With respect to Iran, we must be rigorously objective in assessing the progress made under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. While I oppose the Iran Deal, as a member of Congress, if confirmed, my role will change. I’ll lead the agency to aggressively pursue collection operations and ensure analysts will have the time, political space, and resources to make objective and sound judgments.”
“First, you have my commitment that we, if I’m confirmed at the Agency, will continue to evaluate their compliance with the Agreement in the way that you just described the Agency has been doing to date. I concur with you that that work has been good and robust. And that intelligence I think important to policymakers as they make decisions. I think my comments were referring to the post-January 6 2016 rampage of Iranian increased activity. And that’s, I know you share my concern about that as well. And so when I was speaking to the risks that Iran presents, it was certainly from those activities. Whether it's the fact that they’ve now had --- we’ve now had missiles that we’ve had to fire back at in Yemen, the Iranian supported Houthis, the list is long. They’re still holding Americans in Iran. Those are the concerns that I was addressing that day. You have my commitment as the Director of the CIA when I’m confirmed that we will continue to provide you the intelligence to understand both what’s taking place in the nuclear arena with respect to the JCPOA and its compliance, as well as to the set of activities that are outside of that.”
“Senator, the Iranians are professionals at cheating. And so while I think that we have a very sound inspection regime, I have to tell you I worry about the fact of the thing that we do not know, we do not know. And so you have my commitment that I will continue to improve and enhance our capacity to understand that and do everything I can to diminish the risk that in fact we are missing something.”
—Jan. 12, 2017, speaking at his Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing
“In an unclassified setting, it is under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity. This is not an insurmountable task for the coalition forces.”
—Dec. 3, 2014, during a roundtable with reporters
"The deal reached today between the Obama administration and Iranian leaders is an unconscionable arrangement that increases the risk to Kansans and all Americans. The Iranian regime is intent on the destruction of our country. Why the President does not understand is unfathomable.
"Instead of taking advantage of crushing economic sanctions to end Iran's nuclear program, the administration negotiated a deal against the will of the American people that does nothing but give Iran leverage and enable this totalitarian regime to continue growing its terrorist practices.
"This deal allows Iran to continue its nuclear program -- that's not foreign policy; it's surrender.
"This deal will have dramatic and negative consequences on our national security for generations to come. It is wholly unacceptable that the President has chosen to place the safety of the American people at such high risk with today's agreement."
—July 14, 2015, in a statement