Pompeo on Iran at the U.N.

On the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continued to blame Iran for the September 14 attacks on Saudi oil facilities. He said the United States was “working diligently” to find a diplomatic resolution despite Iran’s "state-on-state act of war." The following are his excerpted remarks on Iran.


Press Conference at the U.N. General Assembly 

SECRETARY POMPEO: I want to spend just a minute recapping two highlights of American diplomacy from this week.  First, as I suggested at the press conference with President Trump, we made good progress on Iran.  The United Kingdom, France, and Germany released a statement this week concluding that Iran bears responsibility for the recent attack on Saudi Arabia and called for the mullahs to return to the negotiating table.  These nations, like others in the Middle East – indeed, all around the world – are facing facts and recognizing that Iran is the aggressor in the Middle East, not the aggrieved.  The more Iran lashes out, the greater Americans — the greater our pressure will be.  All we’re looking for, simply, is the Iranian people to have the peace and brighter future that we’ve been working on since this administration took office.

Yesterday I announced, as part of our maximum pressure campaign, a series of sanctions on some Chinese companies that were violating the Iranian sanctions.  President Trump yesterday signed a presidential proclamation banning Iranian elites and their family members from traveling to the United States.  For years, Iranian regime elites have shouted “death to America.”  Meanwhile, their relatives have come here to live and to work.  No more.  I’ve heard directly from many Iranians enraged at this gross hypocrisy, and yesterday President Trump took action to end it.

QUESTION:  U.S. has just deported an Iranian woman from Australia.  Has there been – and this was a lady who was mentioned by Javad Zarif in a potential prisoner swap with some of the Western hostages.  Has there been any progress made on this issue during this week, and do you – would you expect the Princeton students to be released by Iran in the coming days after this?  Thank you very much.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So I never talk about sensitive issues as you described there.  We – the progress I was referring to this week is the reality of what has taken place, an act of war, a state-on-state aggression, that the Iranians engaged in by taking down some 5 percent-plus of the world’s energy supply in a single, sophisticated attack against Aramco.  I think that – I think for a lot of nations around the world – not just nations in the Middle East, but European countries, African countries, countries throughout Asia – I think being here this week and what we’re able to share with them from the information that America possesses we were able to share with them, I think now it has struck them how clear it is that the Islamic Republic of Iran is not prepared – is not prepared to do the right thing and behave like a normal nation.

They took an act clearly, highly attributable.  They had to know that the world would determine that it was them that conducted this strike.  They didn’t use their usual method of trying to obscure this through use of a proxy force.  They had to know it was the case that the world would rally against them, and yet they still chose to do it.  We spent time – here this week, we spent time nearly every day working to release the Americans and others who were detained wrongfully inside of Iran.  We will continue to do that, and I hope and pray that we make progress on that as we continue to move forward.

—September 26, 2019, at a press conference on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly 


Address to United Against Nuclear Iran’s 2019 Summit 


“I want you all to imagine the scene in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia earlier this month.  It was a bit before sunrise, missiles and drones rained down on Saudi Arabia’s largest oil processing site.  There were many internationals – foreigners, Americans – not too terribly far away.  Workers heard the blasts, and so did their children. 

Thank God there was no loss of life, but there could easily have been.  In that sense, everyone in the region, indeed in the world, got lucky. 

I immediately called this an “act of war”, one sovereign state against another, because it was.  It was an attack on Saudi Arabia, a sovereign state.  It was indeed also an attack on the global economy. 

Some said that that was a rush to judgment, that announcement.  History – like, six days’ worth of history – has proven we were right, that the United States had it right.  We didn’t rush to act.  We were patient.  We called our partners.  We established the facts.  We wanted to make sure everybody had the opportunity to see what we knew. 

And as Senator Lieberman said this week, Britain, France, and Germany released a statement with their conclusions. 

They said, quote, “It is clear to us” – these three nations, “It is clear to us that Iran bears responsibility for this attack.  There is no other plausible explanation.” 

They went on, “These attacks may have been against Saudi Arabia, but they concern all countries and increase the risk of a major conflict.” 

And they declared that, “The time has come for Iran to accept negotiation on a long-term framework for its nuclear program as well as on issues related to regional security.”

Some have said that they’ve joined the United States.  I think they have joined reality.  I think they’ve joined with the facts as we all see them.  And this is progress.  Nations are standing for that reality.  They’re calling it what it is, something that we all in this room have known for a long time. 

This is the beginning of an awakening – to the truth that Iran is the aggressor and not the aggrieved, as they claim as they run around Washington – or, excuse me, run around New York this week. 

And that is what American democracy and diplomacy has achieved.

When President Trump exited the JCPOA, the nuclear deal, he didn’t just take a stand for American national securities*.  He said at the time the deal only made “Iran’s [bloody] ambitions…more brazen.”

Indeed, Iran has a long history of unprovoked aggression, 40 years now, against its own people, against its neighbors, and indeed against civilization itself. 

The list is long.  From murdering and torturing their own people, to killing Americans from Lebanon to Iraq, to harboring al-Qaida even today, Iran has rampaged for four decades, and sadly with too few consequences.

During this nuclear deal – during the nuclear deal negotiations, Iran’s malign activity didn’t abate one bit, although that was the theory of the case.  Thanks to Israel, we now know they were also protecting, hiding, and preserving their nuclear knowhow at that very same time. 

Indeed, after the deal was signed and the pallets of cash were delivered, they continued backing Hizballah, Hamas, the Houthis, and Shia militias throughout the region.  The world too much appeased them, and then underwrote their terrorism.

When President Trump took office, Iran had not joined the community of nations, as was predicted by the previous administration.  

What we found:  We found a refugee crisis in Syria, thanks to Iran’s support for Assad; a humanitarian quagmire in Yemen, thanks to Iran’s arms transfer to the Houthis; a fragile Iraq, thanks to Iran’s support of Shia militias; an Iranian client state, also known as Lebanon.  We saw Iranians jailed and tortured; American citizens, and citizens of many other countries as well, wrongfully detained.

Just yesterday, President Trump drew a distinction between those who think “they are destined to rule over others,” or “those people and nations who want only to rule themselves.”  It is abundantly clear into which camp the Islamic Republic of Iran falls.

That’s why last year, after we exited the nuclear deal, we began to execute President Trump’s strategy – shorthand it has been deemed the maximum pressure campaign.  But it’s much more than that.

We began to cut off the revenues the regime uses to fund death and destruction, and we’ve seen the benefits of that.  We began to pressure the regime to make a real deal, one that ensures the world’s most reckless regime never possesses history’s most destruction weapons systems.

And as the President said yesterday, “It is time for Iran’s leaders to step forward and stop threatening other countries, and focus on building up their own country,” for their own people.  “It is time for Iran’s leaders to finally put those people, the Iranian people first.”  And I’m confident that the Iranian people will demand that as well.  And when they do, you should know this administration will support them. 

Look, we’ve implemented unprecedented measures to achieve our goal of peace:

We’ve sanctioned the top-level perpetrators for their blood – for the blood they have on their hands.  The supreme leader, Foreign Minister Zarif, and the IRGC are just a few of them.

We’ve hit the Iranian petrochemical sector, the metals sector, the banking sector with sanctions to deprive the regime of billions of dollars, and our enforcement of those sanctions has been and will continue to be relentless.

Thousands of companies around the world are complying with our sanctions because they know their success lies with America and not with the Ayatollah.

And by sanctioning the regime’s petroleum sector, we’ve cut off Iran’s number-one source of revenue.  More than 30 nations have brought Iranian oil imports to zero.  And going forward, our sanctions on the Iranian oil sector will deprive the regime of as much as $50 billion each and every year.  It’s worth noting those sanctions, at their peak, have been in place only since the beginning of May, now some five months.  There is much work yet to be done.

And we’re blessed.  American power means that no other nation could have brought such staggering pressure to bear.  This unprecedented pressure too is forcing the regime into panicked aggression, as we’ve seen public lies.

They’re calling every play in their playbook to goad us into conflict, to create division among nations, and extort them into action*.  And you should know their playbook won’t succeed.

This summer, Iran attacked oil tankers in international waterways, it shot down an American UAV, and defied and threatened to defy its nuclear commitments, and it continues to declare death to Israel. And just yesterday, the regime added your organization – as Senator Lieberman said, a peaceful nonprofit ‒ to its list of terror groups, just like it did to our friends at FDD a few weeks before this. 

That’s outrageous.  It’s outrageous even for this regime, which indeed does mean you are doing something right.

And Iran just flat out lies, and each of us needs to call them on it every time we see it. 

I flipped on Fox News last night and saw President Rouhani speaking to Chris Wallace, an odd thing in its own right. 

Rouhani claimed that Iran defeats terrorism wherever it goes.

He claimed, “certainly, undoubtedly” that Israel supports ISIS. 

And incredibly, he said – and I must quote this – he said, quote, “Iran is a country that has brought peace in the region,” end of quote.  And yet too many people listen to Rouhani and Zarif, and take their words as relevant, or important, or material, or accurate. 

Rouhani is desperate to deceive because the world is awakening to the truth.  The truth is that Iran responds to strength and not to supplication.  President Trump knows that. 

More and more nations are beginning to stand up to Iran’s thuggish behavior, and disengaging economically.  We will ensure that all of them do.  They’re coming to realize, to quote the President, “No responsible government should subsidize Iran’s [bloodlust].” 

We’ve made progress.  France has now banned Mahan Air from flying in and out of its country.

Germany, too, has banned those planes from landing on their soil. 

Argentina recently designated Hizballah as a terrorist group.

And the United Kingdom, said that it would no longer abide the false distinction between Hizballah’s political and military wings. 

Greece has refused to let an Iranian supertanker carrying oil to Syria refuel in its ports. 

The Netherlands, for the first time, announced that Iran was likely behind the murder of two Dutch citizens who were Iranian dissidents. 

Australia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the UK have all joined our efforts to protect freedom of navigation in the Straits of Hormuz. 

I was with the GCC nations yesterday.  They know the threat Iran poses to peace and are united around stopping it.  It was clear, too, when President Trump met with them yesterday, that they’re prepared to do what it takes to ensure stability in their region. 

Now I know, too, that there will be more than a few talking heads explode when I say this, but this is effective multilateralism.  It’s what the Trump administration has tried to do, multilateralism based in reality and facts, and with clarity of purpose. 

Countries are showing themselves to be what President Trump lauded yesterday, “sovereign and independent nations who protect their citizens, [respect] their neighbors, and honor the differences that make each country special and unique” in its own right. 

This is what American diplomacy has achieved; there’s more work to be done. 

But countries are indeed awakening to the truth that the more Iran lashes out, the greater our pressure will and should be. 

And you can count on America to lead; each nation can.  As President Trump said yesterday, “As long as Iran’s menacing behavior continues, sanctions will not be lifted, they will be tightened.”  That path forward begins now with two new actions:

First, we’re taking new action to disentangle the IRGC from the Iranian economy.  The United States will intensify our efforts to educate countries and companies on the risks of doing business with IRGC entities, and we will punish them if they persist in defiance of our warnings. 

Second, today we are imposing sanctions on certain Chinese entities for knowingly transporting oil from Iran contrary to United States sanctions. Importantly, we’re also imposing sanctions on the executive officers of those companies as well.  And we’re telling China and all nations, know that we will sanction every violation of sanctionable activity. 

So as I close this morning, I ask responsible nations:  Will you publicly condemn Iran’s malign activity?  We need you to; the world does. 

Will you work with us to restore deterrents?  We need you to; the world does. 

Will you help us protect freedom of navigation in global trade?  We need you to; the world does.

Most importantly, will you help us get Iran back to the negotiating table?  We need your help; the world needs it. 

And will you stand with us alongside of Israel?  We need you to; the world needs you to join us. 

Our goal is very straightforward, although not simple.  But we know diplomacy is working, our resolve is strong, and our eyes our open.  The awakening, I think, in the world, has begun. 

To quote the President one last time – at least one last time this morning – “All nations, every nation has a duty to act.”  What will you do?"

—September 25, 2019, in a speech at the United Against Nuclear Iran’s 2019 Summit


Interview on Fox News Sunday 

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, earlier in the week, you said of the attack against the Saudi oil facilities that it was, quote, “an act of war,” and you said that Iran was definitely behind it. When you say something is an act of war, does that demand ultimately a military response?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Our mission set’s been very clear. President Trump would like to have a diplomatic solution. That’s the task that’s in front of us. It’s what we’ve been aiming for, for a little over two years now with the strongest sanctions that have ever been put in place against this revolutionary regime.

You know the history: 40 years of terror from Iran; it’s an anti-Semitic set of leaders that would like to wipe Israel and America from the face of the Earth. Our mission set is to avoid war. You saw what Secretary Esper announced on Friday. We’re putting additional forces in the region for the purpose of deterrence and defense, with our objective to be very clear: to support the Iranian people so that they can get this regime to cease behaving in a way that is so destructive not only to their own country but to the entire Middle East.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, there are reports this morning that Houthi militants in Yemen have warned both Saudi Arabia and the United States that Iran may be planning another attack in Saudi Arabia. Is that true?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So I’ve certainly seen that reporting, and I won’t talk about American intelligence and what we know. But suffice it to say we’re consistently concerned that Iran will continue to behave in the way that it has now for 40 years. It did so before the JCPOA, it did so during the JCPOA, and they continue to act in ways that are inconsistent with their obligations.

I’m here this week at the United Nations. I traveled to Jeddah and to Abu Dhabi this week. The whole world understands that Iran is the bad actor. They are the evil force in the region. They are destabilizing in the Middle East. And I hope this week, here in New York, the whole world will come together to push back against this and convince the Iranian leadership that this behavior is simply unacceptable.

QUESTION: That may be a tough hill to climb, though, yes?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I think there’s a handful of countries that are actually supportive of Iran and what Iran is doing, are certainly unwilling to push back. But it’s the case – this is the world’s responsibility to respond from these state-on-state acts of war that took place in Saudi Arabia this past week.

QUESTION: If Iran were to launch, in the middle of all of this, another attack against Saudi Arabia, would the United States have any other option but to respond militarily?

SECRETARY POMPEO: John, unlike the previous administration, we try – we do our best to avoid talking about what we will do. But the American people should know, just like the Iranian people should know, America is prepared to respond in ways that are consistent with America’s national security interests. Our first aim, of course, is to keep the American people safe and secure, and part of that is to make sure that we have all the things in place so that we can do that.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, many military and foreign policy experts, even members of the President’s own support group, believe that in calling off the retaliatory strike in response to that drone shootdown at the last minute, the President signaled to Iran that there are no consequences for its malign activities. What do you say to that criticism?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, first of all, there have been consequences, real consequences. The Iranian economy will shrink by between 10 and 15 percent in the year in front of us. And we took a handful of actions, some of which I can’t talk about here. So there were certainly consequences. The Iranians aren’t looking for a green light. The Iranians have behaved poorly for 40 years. And so it’s not the case that any particular response has allowed the Iranians to think they have freedom to move about the cabin.

I assure you of this: The Iranian leadership understands full four-square that President Trump will take appropriate action and impose appropriate costs on Iran if they continue to act in the way that they’ve done over these past now 40 years.

QUESTION: You mentioned, Mr. Secretary, at the beginning of this, the sanctions that President Trump put on Iran on Friday. He said that they were sanctions at the highest level. If these sanctions don’t work, what’s next? What’s left?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, they are working, John. The toughest of the sanctions, the essential ban on the – Iran’s ability to sell its crude oil around the world, took effect only in May of this year.

QUESTION: But what I mean is if they don’t – if they don’t work to bring Iran to the table.

SECRETARY POMPEO: As Secretary Esper said on Friday night, we’re prepared to act in ways that are necessary in order to achieve the outcome President Trump has very clearly laid out. I talked about it a year ago in May. We know what the objectives are. We simply want Iran to behave like a normal nation.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is it possible that if there were a retaliatory military strike against Iran that it would be able to be contained? Or would it, as Javad Zarif and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Council have warned, erupt into all-out conflagration in the Middle East, which would likely involve U.S. bases in the region, would likely also possibly involve Israel?

SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re certainly deeply aware of the risks. It’s why we want to resolve this in a way that doesn’t resort to kinetic action if it’s at all possible to achieve that.

But as for Zarif, I don’t know why anybody listens to him. He has nothing to do with Iranian foreign policy. He lies all the time. We need to make sure that we do the right things to protect and secure America and do our best to provide the resources to the Emirates and the Saudis, who I had a chance to speak to this week on my trip, so that they have increased capability to defend themselves and their own people.

And when we do those things, I am confident that we will have set the conditions for deterrence; and if that deterrence should continue to fail, I am also confident President Trump will take the actions that are necessary.

—September 22, 2019, in an interview with John Roberts of Fox News Sunday


Interview on ABC This Week

QUESTION: The Pentagon did announce Friday that in response to the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities that the U.S. will be sending more air defenses to Saudi, President is also announcing more sanctions. What kind of message does that send to Iran, a nation that you say conducted an act of war?

SECRETARY POMPEO: We have 40 years of terror from this nation, and they conducted an attack on the oil fields, one of the largest attacks on the global energy supply in history, and so President Trump’s strategy that we laid out now two years ago is working. We are well on our way to forcing the Iranian regime to ultimately make the decision to become a normal nation. That’s all we have ever asked.

And so the President made a couple decisions on Friday. We tightened sanctions on the regime, which put the revolutionary regime in a difficult position. The Iranian people applaud that. They understand that their leaders are taking them in a direction that is not good for their country. And we then announced that we’re going to move some additional forces. The Secretary of Defense talked about that on Friday evening.

Each of those is aimed at deterrence. We do want a peaceful resolution of this. That’s our objective. We hope that the added deterrence, the work that we’ve done in the Strait of Hormuz to keep the straits open, and now the additional air defense systems and capabilities that we’ll put in the region, will achieve just that.

QUESTION: The Saudis reportedly already have over a dozen Patriot missile batteries, and yet a swarm of explosive-laden drones and cruise missiles got through. What does sending a few more air defenses over there do that those other air defenses did not?

SECRETARY POMPEO: It’ll improve. It’s about volume and density. You know this story well. It’ll improve the capabilities for them. We’re going to assist the Emiratis as well. We’re going to strengthen all of the capabilities there. It will make it more difficult and I’m glad you acknowledged this was an Iranian attack with land-attack cruise missiles and UAVs that took place, an act of war by a state.

I’m here in New York. We’ll be at the UN all week talking about that. We hope the United Nations will take a strong position. It was designed exactly for this kind of thing, where one country attacks another country, and we hope the United Nations will rally around what it is I know the Iranian people want: a peaceful resolution and an Iranian regime that is not engaged in over five countries in terror and mayhem.

QUESTION: You say the plan is working, but the stated purpose of the maximum pressure campaign is to reduce Iran’s malign activity and prevent them from getting nuclear weapons through tough economic sanctions.

Since you pulled out of the nuclear deal, there have been attacks on oil tankers, shooting down a sophisticated drone that cost more than $100 million, the attack on the Saudi oil fields, and posing such a threat in Iraq that we closed the consulate in Basra and reduced our diplomatic corps by about 50 percent, and Iran is now breaking the JCPOA limits on enrichment and storage.

So isn’t this campaign having the opposite effect you hoped for?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Some of the facts you had there aren’t quite right, but you started the clock at the wrong point. Remember, we took over when the previous administration had handed this regime – this revolutionary, zany, zealous regime – $150 billion. They had fueled the very acts which you just described and created the wealth and resources for them to do that. And I think it’s important that all of your viewers understand that during the JCPOA – not after President Trump made the correct decision to withdraw, but during the JCPOA there were dozens of missile attacks into Saudi Arabia by Iranians, there were assassination campaigns conducted in Europe.

QUESTION: I’m aware of that, Mr. Secretary. But since you pulled out of the JCPOA, you’re disputing the fact that they bombed an oil field or that the Basra consulate was closed?

SECRETARY POMPEO: No, ma’am. I’ve said clearly they bombed that oil field, and we are working to extinguish their capability. And we’ve seen it. We’ve seen Hizballah struggle with resources. We’ve watched internal decision making about whether they should arm their army or their air force. They’re having to – remember, Martha, we’ve only had these tough sanctions on since May. We’re talking about less than five months. We’re at the start of the sanctions campaign, not the middle or the end. The Iranian economy will shrink by somewhere on the order of 10 to 15 percent this year, and the regime knows their people won’t stand for this. They know that the Iranian people understand that their adventurism, bringing back dead Iranians from Syria and from Iraq, is not going to sit well with the Iranian people. And that’s who we support and that’s our mission set.

QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, President Trump has had some very strong words, some very strong tweets about Iran. Let’s go to one of them. “To Iranian President Rouhani, never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before. We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence and death. Be cautious.”

That was a year before Iran shot down that $130 million drone, and the consequences of that were that the U.S. reportedly launched a cyber attack and placed sanctions on the ayatollah. Senator Lindsey Graham said he believes Iran saw this as a sign of weakness by the U.S. Why do you believe the U.S. response now – economic sanctions – is sufficient to deter Iran in the future?

SECRETARY POMPEO: President Trump and I both want to give diplomacy every opportunity to succeed. But I think the whole world knows that when that fails, when it’s the case that we no longer believe that we can convince the Iranian regime to behave in the way that we’ve asked them to behave, just to behave like a normal nation, I think the whole world knows, including the Iranian regime, of American military might.

QUESTION: Are you confident we can avoid war? Iran doesn’t seem confident.

SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re working towards that. I’ve watched. I’ve watched their leadership talk about all-out war, talk about the destruction and death of Israel, wiping the state – remember, Iran began as anti-Semitic, anti-Western, anti-modern. That’s the history of this regime, Martha. You know it well for 40 years. Our administration is taking this on in a serious way, and we are working diligently to see that this has a diplomatic outcome. But make no mistake about it: If we are unsuccessful in that and Iran continues to strike out in this way, I am confident that President Trump will make the decisions necessary to achieve our objectives.

—September 22, 2019, in an interview with Martha Raddatz of ABC This Week


Interview on CBS Face the Nation

QUESTION: You are the only U.S. official who has directly and definitively blamed every single part of these attacks on Iran. Is there any question that the attack was launched from Iran?

SECRETARY POMPEO: No reasonable person doubts precisely who conducted these strikes, and it is the Intelligence Community’s determination that it is likely the case that these were launched from Iran.


SECRETARY POMPEO: This was a sophisticated attack. These weapons systems had ranges that could not have come from the Houthis. It is crazy for anyone to assert that they did. I mean, it is literally nuts on its face to make an assertion that this was an attack by the Houthis. This was Iran true and true, and the United States will respond in a way that reflects that act of war by this Iranian revolutionary regime.

QUESTION: It was launched from Iran?

SECRETARY POMPEO: This was an attack by Iran on the world. This was an act of war. I’m here at the UN.


QUESTION: Because the President hasn’t been that specific and other countries haven’t either. And Saudi Arabia hasn’t either.

SECRETARY POMPEO: The UN’s primary charter is to protect peace around the world. This was a state-on-state act of war.

QUESTION: Iran’s foreign minister, as you may have heard, has repeatedly denied any part played by Iran in this attack. Will the U.S. release evidence that proves he’s lying?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, we already have. There is already ample evidence that demonstrates that he’s lying. You saw the Saudis showing these were Iranian systems, built and manufactured inside of Iran. We know where they attacked.

QUESTION: But they haven’t given evidence that said that it was launched from Iran.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, I don’t know why anybody listens to the Iranian foreign minister. He has nothing to do with Iranian foreign policy and he has lied for decades, and then he resigned. It’s not even worth responding to him. It’s beneath the dignity of anyone in the world to listen to someone who repeatedly makes the claim that the Houthis launched this attack.

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia has showed itself incapable of defending its most prized assets and it is America’s best customer when it comes to buying American-made weapons. U.S. intelligence also didn’t warn of this attack happening. Are you concerned about the stability of the kingdom that they were this vulnerable?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, you don’t have all your facts quite right. But you saw the announcement that the Secretary of Defense made on Friday. We’re going to continue to reinforce. We’re looking for a diplomatic resolution to this, unlike the Iranians, who apparently are —

QUESTION: What part of the facts is wrong? Saudi Arabia was not able to defend itself.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Apparently, the Iranians are bloodthirsty and looking for war. President Trump and I, we’re looking for a diplomatic resolution to this.

QUESTION: What does that mean?

SECRETARY POMPEO: We had a nation-state attack another nation-state, the largest attack on a global energy supply, I think in all of recorded history. The good news – when I walked in here this morning, Brent crude was trading at 64 bucks a barrel, and the world has responded in a way that has made sure that there’s ample supply in the system. But make no mistake about it: We’re prepared to do the things we need to do to try to deter Iran from this kind of behavior.

QUESTION: What does a diplomatic resolution mean? The attack happened.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. So the resolution looks like this: Iran becomes a normal nation. We laid out now a year ago in May.

QUESTION: These are your 12 steps.

SECRETARY POMPEO: No missile strikes, no capacity to build out their nuclear weapons program broadly speaking, stop the assassination campaign. They’re killing people in Europe. They have an assassination campaign in Europe. This is not a normal nation. And we hope, we hope the Iranian people, who we think are demanding that their country stop this kind of behavior, act in a way that causes the Iranian regime’s behavior to change. That’s our mission set. It’s what President Trump is determined to achieve, first and foremost through diplomatic means.

QUESTION: But the President hasn’t laid those things out publicly as you just did.

SECRETARY POMPEO: He and I fully understand the mission set. I know it because he’s told it to me.

QUESTION: If you look at just the things that have happened over the past few months, the U.S. has been very clear that it places blame for the shooting down of that American drone on Iran, the attack on the oil tanker in the UAE on Iran, this attack on Iran. It seems Iran’s behavior is getting worse, not better, based on the Trump administration’s campaign. You’ve been very aggressive with these sanctions. Why do you think sanctioning them leads to better behavior?

SECRETARY POMPEO: You start the clock at the wrong point.

QUESTION: I’m talking about what happened this summer.

SECRETARY POMPEO: 1979 is the trajectory of the Iranian Revolution, 40 years of terror, 40 years of terror. The previous administration chose to arm them, to provide the wealth and resources that have underwritten these very attacks that we’re seeing today. They were able to build out these missile systems. They were able to improve it.

QUESTION: So you think the Trump administration policy is working is what you’re saying, despite the fact that these attacks are continuing to happen?


QUESTION: Because Liz Cheney, Lindsey Graham, Republican allies of the President have said the failure to carry out some kind of obvious retaliation or military strike looks like weakness.

SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve responded in a number of ways. This is not about weakness. The strategy is working. We sanctioned the central bank on Friday. Margaret, you have to remember that the sanctions that we put in place ultimately will cause the Iranian regime to shrink by between 10 and 15 percent in the year ahead only went in place in May of this year. They’re five months on. We’re at the beginning of that sanctions campaign. But I don’t think anyone should mistake President Trump for having the resolve to make sure we get this right. And when the moment calls for it, I am confident the President will take all appropriate actions.

QUESTION: But I guess fundamentally the question is why do you think sanctions will be preventative and not just punitive? Why do you think making Iran more desperate will get them to act more responsible?

SECRETARY POMPEO: It will deny them the resources to foment the exact kind of strikes that we have seen over this past summer. It will deny them the money, the wealth, the resources. They’re operating today in five countries. It’s expensive. They’ve already had to make difficult decisions about whether they’re going to feed their people, provide medicine to their people, or they’re going to launch missiles into Saudi Arabia.

I am convinced that the Iranian people see those choices being made, and as time goes on, they will continue to see that those conditions worsen, and they’ll demand – they’ll demand that their leadership not bring their brothers and sisters back home in body bags, but rather, use those resources. The Iranian people are great people. We stand with them. And I am confident they will demand that their leadership behave in a way that reflects the great history of this place.

QUESTION: Are you considering cyber attacks? Would that be a less obvious, less direct form of retaliation?

SECRETARY POMPEO: The President talked about our use of those previously, but I’m certainly not going to forecast what we’ll do as we move forward.

QUESTION: But suffice it to say, building up defensive presence and sanctions are not the limit of what the Trump administration will do?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, goodness, no.

—September 22, 2019, in an interview with Margaret Brennan of CBS Face the Nation


Some of the information in this article was originally published on September 24, 2019.