On July 10, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the United States will not tolerate Iran’s presence in Syria. “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,” he told The National. The goal is to develop a political solution that leads Iran’s leaders to “conclude it’s not worth the candle for them to be in Syria.” The following are excerpts from two interviews.
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: 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.