Pompeo Testifies Before Congress on Iran

May 23, 2018

On May 23 and 24, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the State Department Budget for 2019. The hearings came days after Pompeo unveiled a new strategy to counter Iran after the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal. "We will apply unprecedented financial pressure, coordinate with our DOD colleagues on deterrence efforts, support the Iranian people perhaps most importantly, and hold out the prospect for a new deal with Iran – it simply needs to change its behavior," Pompeo said on May 23, echoing his earlier remarks. The following are excerpted remarks from his testimonies.


Strengthening American Diplomacy: Reviewing the State Department's Budget, Operations, and Policy Priorities

Opening Statement

"In order to achieve the objectives laid out in the national security strategy, we have a plan. And you’ll hear a great deal about it today. The proposed request reflects our obligation to use taxpayer dollars wisely and effectively.

Our request also makes clear the United States must exert a proportional financial commitment in the pursuit of goals shared by the entire international community. It is time for other nations – especially those with high GDPs – to assume greater responsibilities and devote greater resources towards our common objectives, whether it’s crushing terrorists, stopping Iran’s malign behavior, strengthening the NATO alliance, eradicating infectious diseases, and so much more. We expect good help, good financial support from our partners and allies."

"On Monday I unveiled a new direction for the President’s Iran strategy. We will apply unprecedented financial pressure, coordinate with our DOD colleagues on deterrence efforts, support the Iranian people perhaps most importantly, and hold out the prospect for a new deal with Iran – it simply needs to change its behavior. We seek to work with as many partners, friends, allies as possible to achieve the common objective of stopping all of Iran’s nuclear and non-nuclear threats."

Click here for Pompeo's full opening statement


Question and Answer

POMPEO: "Finally, you opened with your concerns about the hostages being held by the Islamic Republic of Iran. I know those cases well. The case of Bob Levinson. I mentioned three others in my remarks on Monday. I know Mr. O'Brien as well, who will be our special envoy. Know that it will be a very important part of what the State Department does to try and get not only those held in Iran, but Americans held throughout the world back home to their families." 

QUESTION: They seem to be building more and more their forces in Syria. How closely are we monitoring this? It seems they are getting ready for something. 

POMPEO:"I am actually very familiar with this issue, the Iranian efforts in Syria. Their forces have expanded modestly over the past 24 months, but they have become more willing and more capable, that is the weapons systems that they have moved into Syria, have become more capable. That is their capacity to threaten the region, including Israel, has increased over those same 24 even 36 months now. It is a difficult, complex environment to respond in. Rest assured, we are working closely with our European partners, our Israeli partners, our Arab partners. We are well aware of the threat from Iran and we are working to develop details under the strategy I laid out on Monday about how to respond to that." 

QUESTION: ... There is this 180-day period now before the sanctions are fully implemented after the president's decision. Are those discussions continue with our allies? Is there any chance of -- if our allies were to agree to the demands of the administration to strengthen the JCPOA and there were an opportunity to achieve that with them, would that have an impact on what we do over the coming months following the president's announcement to withdraw from the JCPOA?" 

POMPEO:"So we will certainly continue to work with our European partners. Indeed, the German Foreign Minister will be here on Thursday, tomorrow -- or maybe it's even this afternoon when he will arrive. I was part of those negotiations. I don't want to go into the details. I can say this. We worked diligently during my two weeks as Secretary of State to try to bridge that gap and ultimately the three European countries would not sign up for that.

It's worth noting, so there was an extended period where the negotiations took place, some of which predated my time. It's worth noting that during the entire duration of the JCPOA, in spite of their attested willingness to put additional sanctions in place, no sanctions were put in place. So there was this discussion about how we could continue with non-nuclear sanctions. The actual willingness to do that, to actually engage and say we are going to sanction Iranian missile conduct, for example, which would, if put in place properly, have required European businesses not to be in Iran. They are still engaged in this missile activity. I think we can agree it didn't happen." 

QUESTION: And so are we prepared to fully impose secondary sanctions on all of our allies? 

POMPEO: "The answer is the sanctions are back in place today with a 90-day and 180-day wind down period for different components." 

QUESTION: The results of the most recent elections in Lebanon changed. What is the status of U.S. policy? Do we need to make changes on how we provide economic and security assistance to be more effective to counter Hezbollah and Iranian influence? And what do you see as the most effective tool pursuant to UN Security Council sanctions that the United States can promote to enforce the disarmament of Hezbollah, which today, has 150,000 missiles directed at Israeli families? 

POMPEO: "With respect to Lebanese Hezbollah, we not only have them as a problem in Lebanon, we have them as a problem in Syria as well. Iranian funded. Iranian fueled. Part of our Iran strategy is aimed clearly at reducing their capacity to create havoc and conduct terror operations around the world. 

Second, you asked about the election. Certainly it changes, but it ultimately, it's our assessment at this point that the overall balance of power won't be materially changed as the outcome of that." 

QUESTION: I know you have these E-3 negotiations that apparently got pretty close to an agreement. I applaud the efforts to move forward with more leverage on Iran by lifting the sanctions in a 90 to 180 day timeframe. Can you tell us about what the status of those negotiations are? And if there is any path forward to come forward with a deal with our European allies, the Saudis and Iran. 

POMPEO: "So we are not very far along. We are only a handful of days from the president's decision to withdraw from the JCPOA. But a number of discussions have taken place below the foreign ministry level. I am planning for, depending, frankly, on my schedule, sometime in early June or mid-June to gather up with a number of partners, including the E-3 partners, to plan our way forward. 

There is near perfect overlap with our values and interests on this. There is no dispute about the Iranian missile program, its malign behavior, about the assassinations that were spoken about earlier. Everyone agrees to the problem set. We need to find a path forward together to address it. And it economic sanctions get a lot of attention. They are important. They're an important tool. But there is a great deal more to that, some of which we can talk about in this setting, some of which we cannot. Each of which needs to be delivered globally. So, when you think about our allies here, it's not just the three Europeans. We have Arab countries in their backyard. We have the airport in Riyadh that has missiles landing in it. There are Americans that are going to land in the Riyadh airport within the next 12 hours. These are serious issues.

We are simply asking Iran to be a normal country. Some said my remarks were fantasy. How bout stop killing folks? It doesn't seem like a fantasy. We demand it of every country in the world. We certainly ought to be able to achieve that and get our partners to agree to help Iran be that way." 

QUESTION: This administration has been in power for a year and a half and nothing in the JCPOA prevent the administration from cracking down on Iran's malign activities in the region and they've done very little. So why will it be different now? How will you translate this very lovely wishlist into actual policy? 

POMPEO: "In the almost three years of the JCPOA the Iranians marched across the Middle East. They conducted heinous activities."

QUESITON: How do we go about -- I mean, the Iran deal gave them a cash windfall, I guess we will be moving to impose new sanctions. Will there be other things that haven't been enacted in the law that you want Congress to do? Because it seems to me that order A has to be choking off the money flow to this regime.

POMPEO: "So Congress has granted the executive branch a great deal of power to execute these sanctions already. I am - having said that - I am confident that we will come back to you, seeking further authority to expand the scope of what it is we are permitted to do. It also goes beyond the economic sanctions. There are designations. There are issues with respect to visas. There are a broad set of undertakings that not only the State Department, but other areas of government can take to achieve what the president laid out, which is to deny Iran the wealth creation opportunities that have permitted them to threaten the world." 

QUESTION: The Iranian people obviously are not happy with this regime. This is a militant Islamic regime that's been imposed on a relatively pro-Western populous, educated middle class. We see the protests. The president has spoken out, I think correctly. What can we do to help? Because it seems like the regime cracks down on the social networks. They don't want there to be a free flow of information. But I think it is certainly in our interest to empower people who view this regime as illegitimate and not representative of their ideals. 

POMPEO: "It's long been a U.S. deeply held position that we will do the things we can to ensure that people's all around the world have their human rights, their political rights, their capacity to express themselves -- we shouldn't shy away from that with respect to Iran, either. There are a number of tolls we can use, some of which I'm now responsible for their implementation, others exist other places in government. We should bring them all to bear to allow the Iranian people to be governed by the leaders that they choose." 

QUESTION: In addition to the sanctions, what else can we do and what else can I tell the Utahans to expect to move us towards a situation where we wouldn't have nuclear weapons there? 

POMPEO: "So, there are many tools in addition to the economic sanctions. There are designations of senior leaders that will impact those leaders' capacities to move around the world. Our efforts in Syria are designed certainly to protect our friends, Israel, the Jordanians and others, but to the extent we are successful in the counter-ISIS campaign, we also contain the space in which Iran can move with great freedom and set conditions in Syria, which will, for the first time in a long time, begin to call out Iran for what they are really doing there, which is not fighting terrorism, but rather working to expand their power.

Iran moves in lots of parts of the world. We are aiming to build a global effort, much like we were successful doing against North Korea, to call out Iranians. So if there are Iranians working in countries, we are going to work to convince folks that they ought not be doing the things that create the wealth that, frankly, has been used in ways that the Iranian people don't want it used."

QUESTION: The previous secretary, Mr. Tillerson, said before this committee that he thought that the best end solution for Iran was a regime change, peaceful regime change from within. Do you still hold that philosophy? 

POMPEO: "What I said on Monday, which is the president's policy, is that we are very hopeful that the Iranian people will get a chance to elect a government that they want." 

QUESTION: And are we still supporting the dissidents and encouraging them, or supporting them politically and verbally in their desire, of the protests they are making, to have a regime change in Iran? 

POMPEO: "I have certainly spoken, both in my previous role, now in this role, and in my previous previous role, as a member of Congress, I have spoken about supporting Iranians who feel their voices aren't being heard. We should continue to find our voice in doing that. Both in the government and I think individually as well." 


Full Committee Hearing Review of the FY 2019 State Department Budget Request

Opening Statement 

"Our request also makes clear the United States must exert a proportional financial commitment in the pursuit of goals shared by the international community. It is time for other nations – especially those with high GDP – to assume greater responsibilities and devote greater resources toward common objectives, whether it’s crushing terrorists, stopping Iran’s malign behavior, strengthening the NATO alliance, eradicating infectious diseases, and so much more. We expect greater burden sharing for our allies and partners."

"On May 21st I unveiled a new direction for the President’s Iran strategy. We will apply financial pressure, coordinate with our DOD colleagues on deterrence efforts, support the Iranian people, and hold out the prospect of a new deal for Iran – if it changes its behavior. We seek to work with as many partners, friends, and allies as possible to achieve the common objective of stopping all of Iran’s nuclear and non-nuclear threats."

"Our highest priority is keeping the American people safe. The FY 2019 budget request for $7.3 billion in security assistance will help protect Americans at home and overseas. The State Department will continue to lead international efforts to denuclearize North Korea, and to prevent Iran and other actors from unlawfully acquiring weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, while strengthening the capacity of partner nations to do so as well."

Click here to read Pompeo's full opening statement. 


Question and Answer

QUESTION: President Trump was clear that he intended to terminate our involvement [in the Iran nuclear agreement], but then listed three conditions that if the agreement was modified, one to include ballistic missiles, even though Congress passed statutes giving the president authority to impose new sanctions against Iran for ballistic missile violations. He also mentioned he wanted inspections more intrusive, even though the IAEA had said that they were satisfied with the inspection regime. And lastly he said we needed to deal with the sunset provisions, which dealt with limitations, even though the agreement had no sunset on it, but it was certainly unclear as to when trip wires would cause violations on the agreement. Is the administration still in that mode? These are the three changes that must be made for it to be satisfactory, or has there been a change in position? 

POMPEO: The State Department had been trying to get those agreements from the three European countries prior to the president's decision. We were never able to get there. The same problem that existed, on my fourth day in office when I was briefed on it, existed til the very end. It simply -- there was no evidence that the Europeans had any intention of actually agreeing to those three provisions.

QUESTION: But is that still our position that these changes must be made?

POMPEO: We've laid out a series of things that we are working diligently to get the whole world to sign up for. A series of 12 things that we are demanding the Iranians do. They are simple things, each of them. I think you would agree with each of those 12 items. And that's what we're looking for Iran to achieve and that's the mission statement the president set out for the State Department. 

QUESTION: Is regime change part of our objective here? 

POMPEO: No sir. 

QUESTION: Do we want to include in a nuclear type or JCPOA type commitment of Iran's activities in regards to terrorism? 


QUESTION: And is there a reason why the Trump administration has not used the additional tools that Congress provided to deal with terrorism and human rights violations? 

POMPEO: I don't know the answer to that question. 

QUESTION: Is there a reason why we haven't engaged the Europeans, which have offered to join us in these matters, prior to us pulling out of the Iran agreement, where now we do not have their attention? 

POMPEO: I have to be honest with you, the Europeans have told us, it's true, they are prepared to engage with us on missiles. And for three years, right, the JCPOA, almost three years, did nothing. Nothing. 

Terror. They've talked about agreeing to things on terror. We said they said they would do it. What happened, this is my judgment, what happened is, and you saw this yesterday, the Iranians made an announcement, I don't know if you saw this, they said if the Europeans do anything on missiles we will withdraw from the JCPOA. This is what happened, the Iranians viewed this JCPOA as not just nuclear. That's very important senator. 

QUESTION: The question I'm trying to get answered, is that we gave you these tools to deal with additional areas. They have not been used. And the Europeans, you had their attention because they did want the United States to pull out of the nuclear agreement. Now we don't have their attention because they are worrying about whether they are going to have sanctions imposed against their country. So I'm not sure what the strategy is now in terms of going after them for their terrorist activities, their human rights violations and ballistic missile violations. 

POMPEO: The strategy is to develop a global consensus that says that we're simply asking the Iranian regime to do what we ask any country to do, behave like a normal nation. 

QUESTION: You stated, first we will apply unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime. You said the leaders will have no doubt about our seriousness and thanks to our colleagues at the Department of Treasury, sanctions are going back in full effect, new ones are coming. Will the administration be on track to have these sanctions fully re-imposed by the November deadline and can you talk about what additional sanctions may be considered? 

POMPEO: No, only to say that there are -- the preparations are well along for rolling those out here before too long. You saw some initially against the Central Bank of Iran and some of its officials. In that same vein, the core effort with respect to the sanctions is to deny Iran the wealth to do the bad stuff that they had been out doing during the JCPOA.

People forget that all of this bad activity took place during the JCPOA. And so it is not the case that the withdrawal caused the Iranians to launch missiles into Riyadh and into the Golan Heights, but rather this activity occurred during the JCPOA. And so we've got a series setting out.

And we are hopeful, my task is to build a consensus around the world, so that the world begins to join in on those sanctions as well, so they are not simply U.S. sanctions, but global and UN sanctions in addition to those that the United States puts in place. 

QUESTION: Are you advocating that President Trump remove Iran from the list of countries whose citizens can't come to the United States through the travel ban and help me with whether the Trump administration visa policy is consistent with outreach to the Iranian people. 

POMPEO: So there are many pieces of this that I will concede we still have work to do to figure out. I would say that more broadly that set of polices is under review to try and make sure we get that right. What I was speaking to, wasn't actually that. I was speaking to a broader understanding, where -- it's important to know, for the Iranian people to understand, that they won't be on their own. Some have suggested and there was a question from Senator Caine earlier about whether our motive is regime change. It's certainly not.

It is the case that we are convinced that the Iranian people don't support the adventurism that has been engaged in. And so the efforts we have, we've talked about the GEC, we've talked about other public diplomacy tools that America has, that I think has fallen into disrepair. Getting those back out and being effective communicating with the Iranian people as well. 

QUESTION: Could we get Saudi Arabia to the table with Iran to discuss either a freeze of ballistic missiles -- you know, when we went to Russia we didn't just come and say we will give up our weapons, neither did Russia. We did in parity, we had an agreement. If you leave Saudi Arabia out of it and leave Israel out of it and look at Iran in isolation that's not the way they perceive it. I don' think they will jump at your 12 notions..

POMPEO: I think the example of Saudi Arabia is a reasonable one. We have told the Saudis exactly what I asked from the Iranians. 

QUESTION: To talk about their nuclear program? 

POMPEO: We have -- they have said they want a peaceful nuclear energy program and we have told them we want a gold standard section 123 agreement from them, which would not permit them to enrich. That is simply all I've asked of Iran as well.