Transcript: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on “Face the Nation”

The following is a transcript of an interview with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that aired Sunday, January 5, 2020

MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Good morning to you, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: MARGARET, good to be with you. Thanks for having me on the show this morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Does eliminating Qassem Soleimani take out the specific plot that you say was an imminent threat?

SEC. POMPEO: MARGARET, we made the right decision to take out this terrorist. He not only caused enormous death and destruction throughout the region, killed hundreds of Americans over the years, but had done so in the past couple of days, killed an American on December twenty seventh. We watched him- we watched him continue to actively build out for what was going to be a significant attack. That’s what we believed and we made the right decision. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But on the specific threat– 

SEC. POMPEO: As- as general- as General Milley said–

MARGARET BRENNAN: –has it been eliminated?

SEC. POMPEO: There- there are constant threats. We’ve been we’ve been under threat from the Islamic Republic, Iran, since at least 2015, when the previous administration made the mistake of entering that horrific nuclear deal and gave money and resources to this regime. The threats remain and we’ll continue to take action to respond to them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So Iran can still carry out that specific threat you described as imminent.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Is it still imminent?

SEC. POMPEO: MARGARET, we continue to prepare for whatever it is the Iranian regime may put in front of us within the next 10 minutes, within the next 10 days and within the next 10 weeks. We are- we are focused on delivering a strategy for the American people. We’re gonna get it right in a moment. But we’re more importantly going to get it right over the days and weeks and months ahead. We’ve put Iran in the position it has not been in before. It is under enormous pressure. And we are continuing to be successful at denying them the resources to conduct precisely the types of campaign that we’re confronting as a direct result of what happened over the past eight years before we came into office.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Up until this point, the US had avoided specifically targeting and taking out top Iranian military leaders. Were all of the president’s national security advisers in full agreement that Qassem Soleimani needed to be killed? 


MARGARET BRENNAN: Complete agreement across the cabinet?

SEC. POMPEO: It was a collective decision. It was intelligence analysis that doing nothing created far more risks than the action that we took. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But doing nothing isn’t the same as saying specifically Qassem Soleimani needed to be killed.

SEC. POMPEO: MARGARET there was unanimity that we were making the right decision–


SEC. POMPEO: — that day. It was based not only on this intelligence, but you need to look- look no further than the days that led up to this. Qassem Soleimani led and orchestrated a Kataib Hezbollah attack on an American that killed an American. There was sound and just and legal reason for the actions the president took and the world is safer as a result of the bold action the President Trump took.

MARGARET BRENNAN: President Trump is saying that there are 52 sites that the U.S. would target if Iran retaliates. How is that consistent with what you say is your message of de-escalation?

SEC. POMPEO: Entirely consistent.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Threatening to bomb mainland Iran?

SEC. POMPEO: Iranian leadership needs to understand that attacking Americans is not cost free. Setting out conditions that say these are our expectations, these are the things that America is expecting from you and if you don’t do them, the cost will be clear and- and direct. And we have an obligation to speak to the Iranian leadership clearly and directly so that they understand that America is prepared, that we will continue to keep the American people safe, that we will reduce threats throughout the region if they take certain actions. So they’re entirely consistent. The entire strategy has been one of deterrence. To convince the Iranians that it would be so costly and to support the Iranian people so that they could see that what their leadership was doing was- was destroying their country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But they’re not backing down—

SEC. POMPEO: We’ve been- we’ve been very effective at this.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why do you think that this will make them back down? Isn’t this such a threat to Iranian pride to have one of their most powerful leaders killed?

SEC. POMPEO: Qassem Soleimani—

MARGARET BRENNAN: Does this force them–

SEC. POMPEO: –killed hundreds of Americans. To take a terrorist off the battlefield does not increase the risk of terror. The risk of terror is increased by appeasement. That’s what the Obama- Obama-Biden administration did. It’s what President Trump will never do, MARGARET.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, he also killed thousands of people in the region. He- he directed mass murder, but–

SEC. POMPEO: Hundreds of thousands—


SEC. POMPEO: — a massacre in Syria. Absolutely true.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But does this mean other Iranian leaders are now potential U.S. targets?

SEC. POMPEO: We’re going to do everything required to keep the American people safe.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That sounds like a yes.

SEC. POMPEO: We’re going to- we’re going to do under President Trump what he has directed for months. We’re going to execute our national security strategy and convince the people of Iran that we’re- are with them and the Islamic Republic regime leadership that- that their terrorism will not benefit them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Iraq this morning has been carrying out some votes and debate over the presence of U.S. troops. And now the question is, if- if Iraq legally requires that- this is what they’re looking at, U.S. troops to leave, will the U.S. comply?

SEC. POMPEO: MARGARET I don’t want to speculate about what the Iranian- Iraqi leadership will do. We’ll watch. We’re following very closely what’s taking place in the Iraqi parliament. Make no mistake about it, the Iraqi people, too, are protesting, but not against America. What you see on TV– 

MARGARET BRENNAN: –But this is the Prime Minister– 

SEC. POMPEO: — is happening- is happening at the direction– 



MARGARET BRENNAN: –who is talking about this right now. 

SEC. POMPEO: The- the- the- having the– 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Expelling 5000 U.S. troops.

SEC. POMPEO: The acting prime minister of Iraq, who resigned, because of massive Iranian interference in his own government’s ability to execute sovereignty and independence for Iraq. It’s why he left. And it is the United States–

MARGARET BRENNAN: –But the Iraqi parliament has now voted to prove it. 

SEC. POMPEO: It is the United States that is prepared to help the Iraqi people get what it is they deserve and continue our mission there to take down terrorism from ISIS and others in the region. That is in defense of the Iraqi people and is good for America, too.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So I hear you saying the U.S. wants to keep those troops there and will work on that. What are you doing diplomatically behind the scenes to try to de-escalate?

SEC. POMPEO: Well, it’s not just behind the scenes. We’re doing some of it publicly, too. The message– 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Have reached out to the regime– 

SEC. POMPEO: The message is–


SEC. POMPEO: –that we’re- we’re – the Iranian leadership, including my counterpart, knows precisely what President Trump believes, wants and desires and is demanding from the Iranian leadership. Make no mistake about it. But it’s not just the last few days, MARGARET. It’s something we’ve been working on for an awfully long time. We’ve built out an enormous coalition, Gulf states, Israel. We built out a maritime coalition. We’ve got an air defense initiative that is a multi-country effort. We flowed American forces. But we’ve had forces coming in from our European friends and partners as well and the Canadians. This is a multi-country–


SEC. POMPEO: –global diplomatic effort–

MARGARET BRENNAN: But for the first time since World War II–

SEC. POMPEO: –to deter Iran–

MARGARET BRENNAN: –the U.S. has now taken out a foreign military leader on foreign soil. 

SEC. POMPEO: He’s a terrorist.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This is- maybe, but this is a significant action. Do you really believe that Iran’s going to sit down, negotiate now?

SEC. POMPEO: Depends how smart they are. It depends how much they take seriously what President Trump has communicated. If they take it seriously, they’ll do the right thing. They will not continue to threaten not only Americans, but the entire region. The instability they have created for our ally Israel, for our partners, the Saudis, our friends, the Emiratis, all of these countries, Soleimani and his band of Merry Brothers have been a negative influence in the region for an awfully long time. And they are thankful for the action that American took.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The details of the threat that you describe as imminent, and it sounds like you are also saying is ongoing, have not been shared with Congress. The details that were transmitted yesterday were kept classified. When will the American people know why President Trump decided to do what he did?

SEC. POMPEO: MARGARET those aren’t the same thing. You said they had been kept from Congress and kept classified. They have been shared with Congress. The congressional leadership has certainly seen it. Those members who have come back will get to see most all of that same information. I don’t think any reasonable American elected official would see what President Trump and I and Secretary Esper saw and conclude that we could have done anything but the action that we took. And–

MARGARET BRENNAN: But will that be declassified and–

SEC. POMPEO: –and we will–

MARGARET BRENNAN: –explained to the American public?

SEC. POMPEO: –and, MARGARET, we will do our best. We understand the obligation to share with the American people why it is we’re taking the actions we can and we will do so. President Trump has done so in tweets. I’ve done so in messages. I’m sitting here with you today articulating why it is in America’s best interest, the action we took. As for specific pieces of intelligence, you and I both know I was the director of the CIA. There are things you simply cannot share. There are valuable information streams that we must protect. We will need them in the days and weeks ahead. And we will never present the risk to the United States by putting at risk that valuable information.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But to be clear, that threat continues to exist? That plot?

SEC. POMPEO: There- there remain enormous set of risks in the region and America’s preparing for each and every one of them. That includes not only the threats from the proxy militias in Iraq, but in the region more broadly along every vector, including cyber.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Secretary Pompeo, thank you for joining us this morning.

SEC. POMPEO: Margaret, thank you very much for having me on.

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