U.S. Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release
October 22, 2019
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you all. Thank you. Well, good morning, everyone. So I’ve got a prepared speech, and then I got some thoughts. (Laughter.) And I’ll mix them in this morning.
I want to thank Kay and the entire leadership team at Heritage for having me here this morning. We were talking backstage about the gala tonight, and I reminded them that I’d been to the gala a number of times when I was a member of Congress. This is an important institution here in Washington, D.C., delivering on behalf of America, and I value it, and this administration values it, and I know so many leaders all across the United States Government value it as well.
And it’s also great to be here. Everybody remembers the Bob Dylan song, “Shelter from the Storm.” It’s good to be with you all. (Laughter.) And I know there are a bunch of friends here, too, that – people that I’ve known an awfully long time who are here with us this morning, too. I want to thank you all for supporting this really important institution. Heritage has indeed schooled many generations of free market believers in free societies. I was a trustee on a think tank back in Kansas called the Kansas Public Policy Institute. We would read Heritage reports all the time to try to make sure we were getting it right, and trying to get it right for the state of Kansas in the same way you all here are doing that for Washington.
The last time I had the privilege to speak in front of a Heritage audience was in May of last year. I had been the Secretary of State for a number of days. Yeah, I was already missing the CIA. It was a much quieter – (laughter) – much less public space.
Look, we had just pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. I’d laid out 12 conditions, including that Iran end its ballistic missile program, release U.S. hostages, stop financing terrorism – radical stuff, crazy. Stop taking hostages and shooting people in Europe.
The Washington Post ran a headline that said, “Mike Pompeo gives a silly speech on Iran.” The New York Times similarly reported, quote, “In Hardline Speech, Pompeo Criticizes Iran’s Behavior.” That was actually partly true. (Laughter.) I was criticizing their behavior. There’s much more hardline. And you’ve seen that.
Now, compare that to the headline from the Heritage org that ran the same day, which says, quote, “Pompeo Stands Up for the Iranian People in a Major Speech.” And in fact, if you go back and look at the remarks, that’s what I was attempting to do. (Applause.)
And, indeed, I say that – that’s the tone for what I want to talk about today. We were standing up there for the Iranian people. Thank you for getting it right. Thank you for helping me tell the story that sometimes doesn’t get told in other places.
That was my first speech – my first major speech as the Secretary of State. And as I said, that central idea, that animating principle that we laid out there about doing our best to help the Iranian people be successful, I think it set the stage for the work that I’ve done what is now in this last year and a half.
It also set the stage for the way that we’ve tried to conduct foreign policy. I’ve continued to deliver tough messages that recognize a set of basic facts about the way the world is, because we can’t achieve good policy unless we recognize the reality of what’s going on with the ground.
It’s what Vice President Pence did last week when he and I traveled to Ankara, and I’m sure we’ll talk about the situation there when I sit down with Kim.
As with Iran, you’ve probably heard one version of that story. But the story that didn’t get told begins with the truth that our administration inherited a mess in Syria. The previous administration had allowed the caliphate to take root in – not only in Syria, but in western Iraq, approaching the outward parts of Erbil.
It was the Trump administration, with the help of the SDF fighters and 70 nations that built a coalition – something that never gets talked about – the work that we did to build out that team united around the destruction of the caliphate in Syria and Iraq was important and effective. Kurdish forces there, the Arab fighters that were part of the SDF were great warriors.
We also are mindful that our NATO ally Turkey has legitimate security concerns there. Indeed, the United States has designated the PKK as terrorists for an awfully long time. We take those concerns seriously. And so we were working, the State Department in the lead, along with our brethren at the Department of Defense, to build out a safe zone in the region, to try to mediate between the two.
President Trump warned Turkey not to invade. Sadly, they conducted the incursion. And when President Erdogan went ahead, he sent a diplomatic team to try and avert disaster. You’ll see here in just a few hours the 120-hour window will arrive. I’ll talk more about the status, but some progress has certainly been made.
The truth was – the truth was that it was not in Turkey’s interest as a NATO ally to continue with that incursion. The truth was that our invasion set back our shared fight against ISIS. We think now we’re in a better place.
The truth was that President Trump was prepared to cause and raise costs for Turkey in the event that they continued their incursion. So the President used America’s economic might, our economic power, to avoid a kinetic conflict with a NATO ally. And as President Trump tweeted that very day, “There needed to be some tough love in order to get it done.” (Applause.)
It is a complicated story to be sure. The success of the outcome there is not yet fully determined. But it’s a microcosm of what we do every day as the Department of State and I do as America’s chief diplomat. My responsibility, for a start, is to help countries see the world for what it is.
And there’s no shortage of truth to be told. The truth is that Iran is the aggressor, not the aggrieved. The truth is that China is a strategic competitor at best that uses coercion and corruption as its tools of statecraft. (Applause.) The truth is that we can’t rely on failed strategies to convince Chairman Kim to give up his nuclear weapons; there’s still much work to be done. And the truth is that we won’t achieve peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan without every party at the table. The truth is, too, that restoring democracy in Venezuela is in our hemisphere’s interest and we should expend considerable effort to achieve that. (Applause.) And the truth is that every nation has a responsibility to share the burden of these global mission sets to achieve security around the world. (Applause.)
I know the Vice President’s going to talk about that more tonight, but delivering these messages – and many others – sometimes isn’t fun. I sat in a very cold room in Brussels that was colder after my speech than before it. (Laughter.) It certainly hasn’t made me popular with the talking heads. You can just google “Pompeo” and read all about it. (Laughter.)
But I must say, as I stand before you today, I’m confident that we are succeeding and we’re awakening the world to these very threats that I just outlined, and more too. So today, I want to just tell a little bit of the story myself.
It begins with showing up, like we did last week in Turkey. I’ve been to some 55 countries now, and many of which were passed over by my predecessors.
I’ve been to Latin America six times, a place in the Western Hemisphere that had been too long neglected by senior leaders in our government. I’ve been to Colombia and Peru and to Ecuador and Paraguay and to Brazil. I’ll be back down to South America in just a couple weeks with the President in Chile.
I went to Finland in May to bring real truth about what’s going on in the Arctic, about Chinese and Russian land grabs and militarization in that region.
And I traveled not just to Australia, India, and Thailand to present our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, but I also had the opportunity to be the first Secretary of State in history to go to Micronesia, and when there, I talked about the important interests that the Micronesian people have in ensuring that China is something about which they are fully aware.
I had the good joy to go to Hungary and Slovakia and to Iceland and to Montenegro, all of which hadn’t had a Secretary of State visit in way too long.
And then I traveled for the first time as the Secretary of State, because it’s the first time it was possible to travel, to North Macedonia, a pro-America stronghold in the Balkans.
I guess that the number of Americans that know about this work is few and far between, and that’s okay. But the truth is the story about what the Trump administration is doing needs to be told. That’s my job. It’s why I’m here today. It’s why I travel here domestically probably more than many secretaries of state have done so, too. I think it’s important that the American people get a chance to see what it is their taxpayer dollars are being used for by the United States Department of State.
But showing up only matters if you’re there for a purpose and that you’re willing to tell the truth when it’s tough and that you’ll continue to speak to them about things that are hard. It’s a lot of fun to go into a meeting and tell them what they want to hear and talk about what great allies you are and toast and cheer and compliment each other on the important work you’re doing together. It’s much more important to speak about the things that are difficult, where there are disagreements and truths that need to be told.
We’ve apparently taking over the truth-telling role from the NBA. (Laughter and applause.) Take – if you go back and look, too, I knew when I was seven years old I was going to be in that league, and it’s just too bad. (Laughter.)
Take Iran as a good example. I referenced this at the beginning. Ever since I gave that “silly” speech, the conversation’s turned. Hundreds of private companies are on board with our sanctions. There was this threat that European companies would stay in Europe. I was told so many times, boy, American sanctions alone won’t work. You should ask the ayatollah if that statement is true.
And after the regime bombed Saudi oil facilities, Britain, France, Germany – the E3 – released a statement. They said that they believed it was clear – quote, “clear to us that Iran bears responsibility for this attack… [and that] the time has come for Iran to accept negotiation on a long-term framework for its nuclear programme.” That is a very different position than they were in before American diplomacy began to put pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran and its corrupt, kleptocratic regime. (Applause.) The world is learning, too, that Iran responds to strength, not supplication.
Iran is only one chapter, too, in the story. Look at the way President Trump has changed the global conversation on China or consider the numerous instances of American principles returning to multilateral bodies, thanks in large to bold strategies of this administration.
We’ve put together an enormous coalition – I’m incredibly proud of Foreign Service officers of the State Department – put together a coalition called the Lima Group, dedicating themselves to restoring democracy to Venezuela. Fifty-plus countries now recognized Juan Guaido as the duly elected leader of the Venezuelan people. This was good, solid diplomatic work, hard fought and done with the elan of the American State Department.
We convinced ASEAN to declare its support for sovereignty and a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific as well.
We’ve reconvened “the Quad” – the security talks between Japan, Australia, India and the Untied States that had been dormant for nine years. This will prove very important in the efforts ahead, ensuring that China retains only its proper place in the world.
And I’m very proud, too, we hosted more than a hundred nations for the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, the largest human rights conference ever held at the State Department ever. We’ve done it for two years running. (Applause.) It’s underreported. If you google the Trump administration and human rights, you are unlikely to see MSNBC report on this amazing work that brought leaders from all faiths to Washington, D.C. to talk about the critical nature of the fact that this first freedom, this freedom we have in the United States of America, is powerful and important, and sets the trajectory for nations all across the world.
Just recently, 20 nations joined us at the UN in a letter that claimed that abortion is in fact – is fact – and just – excuse me – rejecting the claim that abortion is a human right. (Applause.)
This is not to say it has been without cost, that we’ve awakened every sleeping mind or snuffed out every fake news story. Far from it.
And based on the news coverage that – when I talk to folks back in Kansas where my – our friends are, our family is, our church is, I talk to them. I don’t fault them. Sometimes they don’t have the story right. Sometimes they’ll not see that America is in fact a force for good around the world. Our job is to make sure we tell that story, and when I say “our” I mean mine and yours.
Here’s the other story: A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit my ancestral home in a little town called Pacentro in Abruzzo. I know most of you are from there. (Laughter.) There are about a thousand people in Pacentro, and there were 1,050 people on the street. It was a really great experience personally to go back to where my grandfather was from. My dad never had the chance to get there.
But I was walking these cobblestone streets, and there were kids waving American flags. I’m not going to read the text to you; it’s not politically correct. But there were people that had been on the planet for a while grabbing my hands, local officials eager to welcome me. They wanted America to be present and to help them, and they knew we were a force for good.
This was incredibly representative of what I see every day as I travel the world. All around the world people are happy to see the American Secretary of State. They want to know that America’s there. They want us to forcefully advocate for the things they know that they believe in or know that they ought to, and their government ought to believe in.
And I believe firmly that because we’re doing this hard work of diplomacy, many of our friends and partners are beginning to see the world with new eyes.
For now, that’s the story. I’m confident that our record backs it up – and that history will reflect that as well. I wish you all the best of luck. Thank you all for being here with me today, and I look forward to taking some questions.
May God bless Heritage, and God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)