VOA contributor Greta Van Susteren interviewed U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Friday in Mexico City, where Pompeo is traveling.
Greta Van Susteren: “Mr. Secretary, nice to see you, sir.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “Greta, it’s great to be with you.”
Q: “This is your second trip to Mexico, but why are you here now in Mexico?”
Pompeo: “So, as the new government makes this transition beginning on Dec. 1, we’re working diligently to make sure we have a solid foreign policy relationship with them. So we’re certainly are working with the existing government: I’ll see President [Enrique] Peña Nieto in just a few minutes — was with Foreign Secretary [Luis] Videgaray [Caso] this morning. But also working with my new counterpart, Marcelo Ebrard, to make sure that the United States and Mexico coordinate across a broader array of issues: security, trade and, of course, migration as well.”
WATCH: VOA Interview: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Q: “The United States just negotiated a new deal with Mexico and Canada. Let me turn to the issue of the migration. That caravan that is coming up from Guatemala heading to Mexico and then presumably maybe some place else, maybe the United States: What’s Mexico say about that?”
Pompeo: “So Mexico agrees that it is not constructive to have unlawful migration transit from these Northern Triangle countries through Mexico into the United States. And so part of my mission here today is to coordinate with them in a way that takes these folks, who are often victims — coyotes taking money from these people to transit them through a very difficult transit — kids, children who are put in really bad places, to work with the Mexican government to accomplish President [Donald] Trump’s mission, which is to make sure we have American sovereignty and a secure border.”
Q: “What is Mexico’s strategy to stop the caravan?”
Pompeo: “So we’re working with the current government. It’s their strategy, and we recognize Mexican sovereignty, their right to make the decisions the way they want. Just yesterday they spoke with the U.N., and so they’re going to use all the resources at their disposal to make sure that they treat these people with the dignity and the respect that they deserve — but at the same time create a situation where they understand that it is not fruitful to transit though Mexico into the United States. There are multiple components to this. We’ve worked with the incoming government, too, to make sure this is a sustainable model once we achieve our goal.”
Q: “And then I imagine one of the things to worry about them, you know, the root reason why they are migrating and what is being done by the United States or Mexico, if anything, to sort of deal with the root reason why their leaving their home countries.”
Pompeo: “So the new Mexican government has a vision for how they will work to create jobs and wealth in the southern part of their country. And we all have a vision to try and create opportunity in Honduras, and El Salvador, and Guatemala, in the northern triangle countries as well. Most all of these people are leaving because of economic opportunity. They just don’t have any, and we need to do our best to create an environment where they don’t need to transit, not only to the United States or to Mexico or any place else.”
Q: "President Trump has said, and I'm sure, I mean I suspect, the Mexican government authorities brought it up with you, is that if [migrants] come up to the United States is that two things: One is that they close the border and consider sending military to the border. Did they bring that up with you?”
Pompeo: “We talked about a whole wide range of alternatives. Alternatives that the Mexican government could take, that the Northern Triangle countries could take, and certain ones that the United States could take. We are optimistic, we are watching what’s taking paces with these caravans, which by the way are not organic, are being created by outside forces and supported by them. And working diligently to make sure these people understand that it is not in their best interest to try and make this trip up to the United States southern border.”
Q: “Who are the outside forces? What groups?”
Pompeo: “There are political opponents of the Honduran leadership that are underwriting this. If you take a look at what’s going on down there, this is not just a group of people who happen to wonder together into a big group.”
Q: “Before Mexico, you were in Panama. Why did you stop in Panama?”
Pompeo: “Longtime partner of the United States. On security, on counternarcotics. I’ve known President [Juan Carlos] Varela for some time and I wanted to go back to talk to them about several issues where there’s more work to be done between the two countries, including some concerns we have about Chinese investment throughout Central America, and Panama, and in South America and make sure that we understood each other with respect to the wide range of issues where Panama and the United States work together and important economic relationships as well. And I wanted to make sure he understood we want an investment from them and we were looking to build U.S investment in his country as well.”
Q: “Are you suspicious of the motives of the Chinese investment in Panama?”
Q: “In what way?”
Pompeo: “Look, we’ve watched this all around the world. Panama is fortunate, they are a sophisticated country with a real economy and a growing GDP, so they’re in a pretty good place relative to some other countries. But we’ve watched Chinese predatory activity in countries around the world where they show up with a bunch of money and then put strings on it which put the people in that country in a terrible position, two and five and 10 years down the road. And we think it’s very important that if the Chinese want to invest, that’s great, but it needs to be done in a way that is transparent and open and in the best interest of the people of the country in which they're investing and not tethered to some constraint that the Chinese would place on that country in the event that country’s not able to pay the debt that they’re incurring.”
Q: “So how do you convince Panama to turn down Chinese money? Is the United States [ready to] sort of step up to the plate and do its own investment?”
Pompeo: "[A] country like Panama is pretty straightforward: They want to be a part of Western society. They want to do things by the book, by the rule of law, without the corruption. They want to engage in activity that’s beneficial to their own people and have the economic capacity to do so. They’re not in the position where the poverty in their country drives them to have to take money even under onerous conditions, and so you just talk about how you can help make sure that America will be there to provide alternatives and that other Western countries will be there too to make sure they understand that it’s in their people's best interest to engage in commercial activity that truly, over the long haul, benefits their own people.”
Q: “Well, it certainly seems like China’s getting a bigger footprint there, especially when the fact that about a year ago Panama recognized China and not Taiwan. It seems that China certainly is moving into that area.”
Pompeo: “Yeah, China is intent on that. And again, we don’t have any problem with Chinese commercial investment. That’s their right to go compete in the world. I’m convinced that if we compete with them all over the world, we’ll do incredibly well. But what we can’t accept and what we need to make sure every country understands [is] that when they show up and it looks too good to be true, it almost certainly is.”
Q: “And have you brought that up with China about their trading in the West but operating in Panama?”
Pompeo: “I don’t know that I’ve brought up Panama in particular, but I’ve certainly brought up what we view as commercial practices, whether state-owned enterprises that are inconsistent with good behavior around the world.”
Q: “Venezuela is also an issue in this hemisphere, it’s a failed state [with] President [Nicolas] Maduro, it doesn’t look like it’s getting any better. What’s the U.S. strategy, if any, with Venezuela?”
Pompeo: “We’ve been very consistent. We have urged the people of Venezuela to restore democracy to their own country, and you’ve seen the sanctions that we’ve put in place. Not only against the country, which sometimes have an adverse impact on the people of Venezuela, but also against the Venezuelan leadership and those people who are pressing their own citizens.
"And another reason for my visit to this part of the world is to urge the countries of OAS [Organization of American States] and of the region to ensure that we have a coordinated set of policies. A common understanding of, frankly, the Lima Group and other organizations have done really good work to put pressure on the Maduro regime and to try and create opportunity for those in Venezuela who want the restoration of democracy. This is a nation with enormous economic capacity, the ability to have real wealth. And what they need to do then is the rule of law and democracy, and we are continuing to work with the Venezuelan people to assist them in achieving that.”
Q: “Coincidentally, I was at the border of Venezuela. I was in Colombia a few days ago and it looks pretty bleak. People were parading. ...”
Pompeo: “Stuff, lots of migration there as well.”
Q: “And with no hope, they tell me stories about the hope — the industry has collapsed, to the extent it’s all been nationalized, but they don’t have groceries on the shelves. It’s just getting worse there, and Cuba has moved in there.”
Pompeo: “We are searching for a solution which will deliver democracy to Venezuela and then it can go back to being a country with the things that you described, simple accommodations for their people. It’s the Maduro regime that has inflicted this set of horrible living conditions on the people of Venezuela and it will ultimately be the people of Venezuela that fix it.”
Q: “Can/will the U.S., or do you anticipate the U.S. will increase sanctions in Venezuela?”
Pompeo: “We’re pretty consistent at our pattern of identifying sanctions that we think will deliver on the democratic outcome and so I, well, I don’t want to tell you what we’ll do tomorrow. I’m confident we find other places where we think we can exert pressure in a way that will convince Maduro that this isn’t gonna work, that he’s not gonna get to retain power forever and that oppressing his people in the way you’ve just described is inhumane and inappropriate and not what real leaders do. And so we’re hoping this transition led by the Venezuelan people will take place, and I’m confident that we will find other places where sanctions will be appropriate.”
Q: “You use the term 'transition.' Is that sort of, uh, is that a word for coup? I mean, do you expect Maduro not to be in power?”
Pompeo: “I expect the Venezuelan people to restore democracy to their country. If they happen to choose Maduro — well, you know, the Venezuelan people get to choose. As you described the horrors that Maduro has inflicted on his people, that seems unlikely to me.”
Q: “Have you filed the litigation with Citgo, which is 90 percent of the income to the government of Venezuela is from their oil, from Citgo and now there’s a question of what’s going to happen with Citgo, which will only add increased financial pressure on Venezuela. Are you following that at all?”
Pompeo: “I am. That’s a very complicated issue ... we’re, Treasury and State Department, are both following this very, very closely, and we’re constantly re-evaluating our approach to all of the economic issues surrounding Venezuela.”
Q: “This is not your first trip this week. You were also over in the Middle East. You were in Saudi Arabia and Turkey. How do you describe currently the importance of Saudi Arabia to the United States?”
Pompeo: “They have been a strategic ally of ours since the early 1930s and recently have been even more important. They have assisted us in pushing back against the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, the Islamic Republic of Iran. They’ve been a great counterterrorism partner during our administration. We have economic ties with them that are deep and important, a broad spectrum of strategic relationships between the United States and Saudi Arabia."
Q: “If the investigator turns out, if the investigation that’s on going that the Crown Prince [Mohammed bin Salman] or the King [Salman] had deeper involvement that’s being suspect or people are saying in the media that its determined to be that. What can the United States do or what should it do in light of the fact of its strategic importance?”
Pompeo: “Well, the president has said that it’ll have to be some response in the event that the fact turns out the way that you hypothesized that they will turn out. I’m not going to get into what those responses might be. We’ll certainly consider a wide range of potential responses, but I think the important thing to do is that the facts come out.
"When I traveled to Saudi Arabia, I met with the king, I met with the rown prince at great length. I met with Foreign Minister Adel el-Jubeir, and I made it very clear to them that the United States takes this matter very seriously. That we don’t approve of extrajudicial killings. That we don’t approve of that kind of activity. That it’s not something consistent with American values, and that it is their responsibility as this incident happened in the consulate.
"It’s their responsibility to get to the bottom of this, to put the facts out clearly, accurately, completely, transparently, in a way that the whole world can see. And once we’ve identified the fact set, then they have the responsibility and the first instance to hold accountable those inside the country that may have been involved in any wrong doing.”
Q: “Alright, Turkey’s been at odds with Saudi Arabia. This certainly has put them at greater odds in light of what’s happened. What’s the strategic importance of Turkey to the United States?”
Pompeo: “So my second stop this week was in Ankara. I met with President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and my counterpart, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. We have deep relationships. They’re a NATO ally. We have had challenges with them. They had held Pastor [Andrew] Brunson. They still continue to detain three locally employed people who were at our embassy there, so there’s still many challenges in this relationship, but they sit at an incredibly important place and they always will: the bridge between Europe and the Middle East.
"And as a member of NATO, we need to work to continue to improve that relationship so that we can work together to achieve the ends of NATO and ends in places where Turkey and the United States have overlapping interests, including the challenges that are in Syria today. I think there are real places where we can work with Turkey in Syria to get better outcomes for the Syrian people.”
Q: “It’s incredibly complicated, isn’t it?”
Pompeo: “It is complicated.”
Q: "Completely complicated. All right, North Korea: You were recently over in that region and it was announced that some military exercises with South Korea are going to be postponed, ones that were scheduled for December. Do you anticipate a meeting between Kim Jong Un and President Trump in the very near future?”
Pompeo: “I do.”
Q: “How do you define very near future?”
Pompeo: “I’m not prepared to tell you when it’s going to be, as the date has not yet been set, but the president’s committed to doing that. We’re working on finding dates and times and places that will work for each of the two leaders. I’m very hopeful we’ll have senior leader meetings here in the next week and a half or so between myself and my counterpart to continue this discussion so that when the two of them get together there’s real opportunity to make another big step forward on denuclearization.
"Chairman Kim reiterated when I was with him, I guess it's two weeks ago, his commitment to that. That he stands by the commitment he made to President Trump in Singapore on June 12, and we intend to do everything we can to make sure that he delivers on that so that we can come to a day where the people of North Korea will indeed have a brighter future. President Trump is determined to help North Korea achieve that.”
Q: “What surprised you the most about the negotiations with Kim Jong Un?”
Pompeo: “Ah, goodness, I’m not sure much has surprised me. In the sense of this is very difficult. For decades, North Korea has depended on their nuclear arsenal, or the promise thereof, as their linchpin for their security. And, so, to make that transition decision — to make that strategic decision that Chairman Kim tells us he has made that says we no longer need our nuclear arsenal for our country to be successful — is a very difficult challenge for a North Korean leader. I am very happy that he has made this decision, but to execute on that is complex and will take time. And so long as we can continue to make process — progress — and not have missiles being fired and nuclear tests being conducted to perfect their program even further, then I think it’s all to the good.”
Q: “One last question. What’s a better job: director of CIA or secretary of state?
Pompeo: “That’s the only question I’m not going to answer, Greta. They are both great jobs.”
Q: “Which one do you get more sleep with?”
Pompeo: “It’s an incredible privilege to have the chance to do each of those two.”
Q: “Which do you get more sleep with?”
Pompeo: “I think I got a little more sleep in the previous one.”
Q: “Thank you, Mr. Secretary.”
Pompeo: “Thank you, Greta.”