Q&A: Justin Warmoth interviews Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

QUESTION:  Mr. Pompeo, we really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us this morning.  So first off, tell us about today’s event talking in front of VFW and the convention here in Orlando.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  First of all, thanks for having me on the show this morning.  I appreciate the opportunity.  It’s a great day.  I have chance to be with these amazing men and women who chose a service to America as part of their life and, indeed, who fought in our wars, from World War II to Vietnam to Korea and to our struggles in the Middle East.  These are amazing patriots, and I wanted to come here on behalf of the Trump administration and thank them for their service, to honor them, and to talk to them about how President Trump and this administration are working to make sure that young men and women who choose this life of service in the nation’s military are being protected and provided the resources they need to do their jobs.

QUESTION:  And speaking of war, obviously tensions are escalating with Iran.  Do you see us going to war with them?  What line would Iran need to cross if the U.S. engages?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Well we’ve got now 40 years of bad behavior from the Islamic Republic of Iran, and I must say, there are no indications they’re slowing down.  They seized a British tanker; they lied about it.  They shot down an American unarmed vehicle; the lied about its location.  They are a force for bad things all across the world.  But our military is strong.  It’s why I’m here today to talk to these veterans.  We’re prepared.  President Trump has said plainly we don’t want to go to war.  We don’t seek conflict with them.  We simply want them to stop terror attacks.  We want them to stop building out their nuclear weapons program.  All of the things that people here in Florida get.  We want them to behave like a normal nation.  That’s the ask.  That’s what we’re seeking them to do, and we’re hopeful that this can be resolved diplomatically.  That’s the mission of the State Department.  That’s why I’m here with these great veterans in Florida today.

QUESTION:  Is there a line that would need to be crossed for the U.S. to engage?  What line is that do you think?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So the President’s always been clear we’re not going to forecast or tell the enemy what we’re going to do or what we’re not going to do.  That’s not in our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines’ best interest.  We’re watching this closely.  We’re communicating; we’re deterring.  We’re putting forces in place so that our soldiers and sailors will be safe.  But I think the world should know and I think the people of Florida should know that we’re prepared to make sure that the sea lanes there are open.  We’ll build out a big coalition of countries all across the world to do that.  We’ll ultimately be successful.

QUESTION:  Have they been receptive to talks with you or are they kind of pushing you off?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  It’s mixed; it’s very mixed.  I think they’re struggling to figure out what to do.  Their economy is struggling badly.  The regime is losing the support of the people inside of Iran, so there’s turmoil there.  We’re confident that – the British are speaking to them today about the ships that they seized.  The United Nations is beginning to see that Iran is truly a bad actor.  The world is coming together to help everybody.  The things that people in Florida understand so intrinsically, so basically, that Iran here is the challenge.  They’re the threat, they’re the problem of what’s taking place, and that America is a force for good in the region.

QUESTION:  So one more thing.  Pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal was – fast-forward to now – a good idea in your eyes?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, it was a necessary thing.  I remember when I was the CIA director, the JCPOA was still in effect for a good part of that time, and even before that, even before this administration came in, they’d increased their missile activity.  They continued to work on their nuclear program.  All of the things that the JCPOA was aimed at resolving, it didn’t work.  The deal was a bad deal.  America was stuck with a deal that wasn’t going to deliver on behalf of the American people.  The veterans that will be with me here today, I think they get that.  They want America to be strong.  They want us to enter into agreements that make sense for America.  This one didn’t.

QUESTION:  When the President tweets about foreign affairs, does that make your job easier or harder?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  The President communicates in a unique way.  It’s – people around the world understand that.  They see it.  It’s very helpful.  There’s clarity, I think.  Any leader I go to see all around the world – this week I was in Mexico and Ecuador and El Salvador and Argentina these past four days – every one of them has a sense of what the President’s thinking, and that’s helpful.  There’s no surprises.  They – I don’t have to share with them some private conversation.  The President communicates, I can fill in the details for them, and it makes for an opportunity to have a clear, candid, frank discussion, both with our friends and those who aren’t our friends.

QUESTION:  I want to ask you about the recent trip to North Korea and the historic trip with the President walking into the DMZ.  Talk about being there for that moment and what that ultimately means for the country.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So it was really something.  The President very much wanted to meet again with Chairman Kim.  This would have been the third time he’s had the chance to meet him.  I’ve now met him a half dozen or more times.  When we came into office, the North Koreans were launching intercontinental ballistic missiles.  They were continuing to conduct nuclear testing – things that put people in Florida at risk.  So he wanted to meet with him one more time, and they got a chance to do it when he was headed up to the DMZ – the boundary that demarcates the North from the South – and he wanted to talk to him about the opportunity for North Koreans to live a better future and have a brighter life.  And so when he stepped across, the first time that a president had stepped across that boundary, it was historic, and just as importantly, it opened up an opportunity for us to continue the negotiations, which I hope will begin soon, and which are aimed squarely at denuclearizing North Korea in a way that presents a lot less risk for the entire world.