Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with VOA Persian Director Setareh Derakhshesh Thursday afternoon to discuss the Trump administration's plans for a new security framework aimed at ending Iran's nuclear program. They also discussed recent protests in Iran, and the administration's efforts to free Americans being held by the government.
Setareh: Secretary Pompeo, thank you very much for doing this interview with us.
Pompeo: It’s wonderful to be with you.
Question: As secretary of state, you chose Iran as [the subject of] your first major foreign policy speech. Why Iran? Is it because of the urgency or the importance of it?
Pompeo: I think it’s both. It’s something that the president has viewed as a serious threat to Middle East stability and therefore to American national security and it also looks at the place that the Iranian people find themselves, and he thinks it’s a place America can help make a difference. He has long thought that the agreement that the previous administration entered into didn’t serve any of those interests – the interests of the Iranian people or Middle East stability or, frankly, for America. And so it was a priority for him and thus I wanted in the first weeks since the secretary of state to have an opportunity to lay out how President Trump thinks we can make things better in each of those three situations.
Question: What is the ultimate goal of the proposed new security framework, and how is it different – how does it differ from the initial JCPOA?
Pompeo: Yeah, so very different. Different in breadth and I think different in its goal. The first agreement was very narrow. It was an effort to say that the Iranian regime was spending a ton of money on its nuclear program and it wanted to halt that – a noble objective, a good goal, a worthy one. But the threat that Iran presents is so much greater than that, right. They’re taking – they’re launching missiles into Muslim countries. They’re taking the human rights away from their people.
All of these things I think President Trump cares deeply about, and so his vision is that if we begin again to set out what we think are pretty basic ideas, right. So these 12 things that I listed are all pretty straightforward. We’re not asking a lot from the Iranian leadership, just behave like normal leaders; don’t loot your people, don’t waste your people’s money on these adventures in Syria and Yemen and in Lebanon and in Iraq, the list goes on; lead your people, build a great nation, use the resources you have for that. That’s all we’re simply looking for.
Question: Is that going to be part of the new proposed security framework that Iran would stop or should stop meddling in other countries’ affairs?
Pompeo: Yeah, so we’ve asked for that. Look, we’ve asked them to stop spreading terror around the world, not to build out militias in Iraq, not to put Iranian dollars and Iranian citizens, who are losing their lives in Syria – it’s inappropriate for Middle East security and it’s bad for the country. So our aim is to set conditions where Iran will behave like a normal nation, right. And if they do that, if they – and this is not the Iranian people - this is the Iranian leaders who have taken control and done this damage. If we can create conditions where they’ll stop that, the Iranian people will have great success, and we will have Americans visiting there, and we’ll have all the great things that we do when there are friends and allies as opposed to folks who are presenting risk to our country.
Question: I’m going to get to the human rights issue also, sir. But if I may, I want to continue on the security framework if possible. How about a requirement for Iran to let inspections in the military sites? Is that going to be part of also the framework?
Pompeo: So it is. With respect to the use of nuclear material in Iran, just as we have in Saudi Arabia, just as we did with the United Arab Emirates, we don’t believe it’s appropriate for Iran to have the capacity to create fissile material, to enrich uranium or have a plutonium facility. If they want a peaceful nuclear energy program, fine, but they could import that material. And other countries do it; it works for many countries around the world. And in order for us to achieve that, to get comfortable that that’s the case, there will have to be inspections. That would include inspections at military sites and research laboratories and all the places that had been participants in previous iterations of Iran’s program.
Question: And you mentioned human rights. There are protests, anti-government protests, all around Iran. I wanted to get your take on that. What do you – how do you feel about these protests? And do you think that the United States can maybe support the protesters?
Pompeo: We can certainly provide moral support. I think importantly, the Iranian people will make these decisions for themselves. These protests have been ongoing now for months and months – some of them very small, some of them larger – often very much in sync with what I laid out this past week, their – how this wealth gets distributed to Qasem Soleimani and not the ordinary citizen in southeast Iran or in Tehran or wherever it might be. This wealth is being squandered so that ordinary Iranian citizens are both sending their young men off to fight and die and living lives that aren’t as secure and as wealthy as they could be if Iran would simply change its behavior.
So it’s not about – you asked about regime change. It’s not about changing the regime. It’s about changing the behavior of the leadership in Iran to comport with what the Iranian people really want them to do.
Question: So it is what earlier John Bolton had said, that the goal of the administration is not regime change in Iran?
Pompeo: That’s correct. Yes, ma’am.
Question: And how do you feel about the opposition groups in the United States and in Europe? Do you support their efforts?
Pompeo: Yes. They should be – so long as they’re working towards the same goal that we are. I’ve seen from time to time that wasn’t always the case with some of the groups, some of the smaller groups, frankly. So long as they’re working towards the same thing. We don’t want them advocating for regime change either. We want them working on behalf of the Iranian people, ordinary Iranian citizens who want nothing more than to live their lives, to be able to take their hijab off, to be able to go to work and raise their families and worship in the way they want to worship. This is for the Iranian people to do, and so if there are those on the outside who are working towards that goal, we certainly welcome it.
Question: Mr. Secretary, two years ago as a congressman you personally wanted to go to Iran, you were prepared to go to Iran, and you wanted to press the leadership – Khamenei and Zarif – to give you access to the American hostages. As secretary, are you going to press the Iranian leadership again to free the American hostages? And as you know, Bob Levinson disappeared more than 11 years ago.
Pompeo: I know the story of Mr. Levinson well. I pray for his safe return, and our team works for it every day. As for the other Americans, we hope that the Iranian leadership – Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Zarif, Ayatollah – all would see that it’s in their best interests to – and for nothing more than basic humanity - to allow these innocent Americans to return to their families. There are big, big issues out there, but it seems pretty basic to me that one ought not hold innocent people from returning to their loved ones.
So yes, we’ll work on it. We’ll pray for it. And we hope that one day, in the same way that we were blessed to have three Americans return from North Korea a few weeks past, we have that same kind of day for those that are being held by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Question: I wanted to ask you about the chants, the slogans that we still hear inside Iran: “Death to America,” and “Death to Israel.”Before any type of agreement that Iran or Tehran and the United States would have about Iran, don’t you think that it should be a requirement for Iran to stop that?
Pompeo: Yeah, their leaders most especially. In America, people say all kinds of things. We have a wide-open democracy. There are people who like President Trump and who don’t. I find that just fine. I am untroubled by that.
When you have senior leaders, when you have others fomenting these sort of fake gatherings to do nothing but come after and talk – chant, “Death to America” or “Death to Israel,” the Iranian leadership ought to stop. They ought to stop that because it’s not the right thing for their people.
I think most Iranians – I think most Iranians look at what we’ve been able to accomplish here in America and how blessed we’ve been, and think that that’s a model that works in the sense of we’ll certainly adopt a different form of democracy, and we’ll have a different form of government, and we’ll have different values and beliefs across a certain set of things, we’ll have different religions, and that – that’s all fine. But the basic common understanding of humanity, that you treat every human being with dignity and respect, that you don’t export violence around the world, that you don’t steal and plunder from your people, those core values that are civilizational, they’re historical – I think the Iranian people share those in the same way that the American people do.
Question: Mr. Secretary, I want to go back to something that you said, part of your speech. You stressed that – stressed, and you just mentioned it, that “no more wealth creation for Iranian kleptocrats.” What is your take on congressional efforts to expose the hidden wealth of the corrupt leaders of Iran, from Ayatollah Khamenei to the president? And if there is such a bill that would pass Congress, would the administration support this exposure?
Pompeo: We would. We think it’s very important. It’s just as important as an informational matter. The Iranian people deserve the truth. You have senior leaders that are pocketing money, using businesses that are nominally fronts, and frankly, just stealing. To the extent we can prove that and demonstrate that, I’d welcome the chance to expose it so the Iranian people can judge for themselves whether these are the individuals they want to lead their country.
Derakhshesh?: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.
Pompeo: Thank you very much, ma’am. It was great to be with you.
Derakhshesh?: We appreciate it very, very much.