CNBC Exclusive: CNBC Transcript: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Speaks with CNBC’s Wilfred Frost Today
WHEN: Today, Monday, October 21, 2019
WHERE: Interview aired on CNBC’s “Closing Bell”
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The following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC EXCLUSIVE interview with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and CNBC’s Wilfred Frost, which aired on CNBC’s “Closing Bell” (M-F 9AM – 11AM) today, Monday, October 21st. The following is a link to video of the interview on CNBC.com:
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: Trump 'fully prepared' to take military action if needed
WILFRED FROST: Thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate you coming back on to “The Closing Bell.”
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: Great to be with you again. Thanks for having me on.
WILFRED FROST: We wanted to start on China. And to ask to what extent their actions, whether that is limiting democracy in Hong Kong or other actions altogether, to what extent that's been bad enough that US companies should be criticized for making profits in China?
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: Look, every company has got to make its own set of decisions. But what we've seen over the last few weeks publicly, but we've known now for an awfully long time is that the long arm of Beijing is reaching out into these companies, stealing their intelligent property, forcing technology transfer, making it very difficult to in fact make a profit in China for many, many companies. From a foreign policy perspective, we think it's completely inappropriate for China to attack US businesses whose employees or customers exercise their fundamental freedoms here in the United States. We just think that makes no sense. And we'd encourage every company to make-- take a good, close look ensuring that-- the kinds of things, the reciprocity that President Trump has been demanding from China actually takes place.
WILFRED FROST: Is Hong Kong linked to the trade discussions?
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: No, not-- not directly. Hong Kong is an issue where China needs to fundamentally live up to its obligation. It made a commitment to one country, two systems. President Trump has said that they need to continue to honor that commitment that they made, not only to Britain, but to the United Nations and the world. They need to live up to that there in Hong Kong.
WILFRED FROST: Onto the Middle East generally, Mr. Secretary, the U.S. is becoming increasingly energy independent. And the majority of Middle Eastern barrels now go east to Asia, rather than to the west. Does that alter the long-term commitment that the U.S. administration has to the Carter Doctrine that the U.S. would use military force when necessary to defend its interests in the region?
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: No, it doesn't change that doctrine at all. But our interests are different today. There's no doubt about that the fact that the United States’ dependence on crude oil products and other petroleum products transiting the Strait of Hormuz is different than it was back in the 1980s. That's-- that's a fact. In fact, it's also the case as if you hypothesized – as you laid it out, Asia is much more dependent on this region than the United States is for its primary energy consumption needs. But America's interests in the Middle East remain. Our mission still remains there. We've just got an alteration in the nature of American interests in the region.
WILFRED FROST: You were very critical of President Obama's drawing of a red line in Syria and failing to then enforce it. And in Cairo in January, you were setting out your Middle East agenda in a speech. And you proudly contrasted that by saying, quote, " The Trump administration didn't stand idly by when Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his people." You went on to say, quote, “Our words mean something again, as they should. West Point taught me a basic code of integrity. If we commit American prestige to an action, our allies depend on us to follow through." How, Mr. Secretary, is letting Turkey seize the land of an ally not a major contradiction of all the promises you made personally in that speech in January this year in front of your Middle Eastern allies in Cairo?
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: Oh yeah. Oh, it's fundamentally different. Turkey didn't-- the country that Turkey invaded, they conducted an incursion into, is Syria: a sovereign nation. We worked with Kurdish friends, the SDF up and down the Euphrates River. We jointly took down the threat of the Caliphate of ISIS.
It was to the benefit of the SDF, it was to the benefit of the United States of America, and indeed, to the benefit of the world. The commitment that we made to work alongside them we completely fulfilled.
We continue to fulfill. Even as we sit here today, to fulfill our commitment to counter ISIS not only there in northeast of Syria, but in Western Iraq, in the Philippines, in Western Africa, all around the world. This nation has fully lived up to the commitments that President Trump and I have made to challenge radical Islamic extremism wherever we find it.
And we entered into the discussions with Turkey after they decided to make this incursion against President Trump's wishes. And then clear aim to reduce the risk to the very people that you suggested that we somehow abandoned.
WILFRED FROST: So, the fact that the Kurds, who unquestionably have been an ally, but the fact that they are not a sovereign nation means that they can be sacrificed, essentially, in this way. Or at least their land certainly has been sacrificed. And certainly, tens of their lives, probably hundreds of their lives, have been sacrificed.
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: Well, the work that we did was very clearly aimed at exactly the opposite of that. Indeed, I am highly confident that we saved lives. The work that Vice President Pence and the State Department team did to convince the Turkish government to stop their movement, to cease this incursion, I'm fully convinced that that work saved lives.
Not only the lives of the SDF fighters but the ethnic minorities in the region, if you look at the statement that was agreed to. Our allies see it the same way. We had -- got real commitments to protect ethnic minorities throughout the region from the Turks in the course of negotiating that statement. I think the work that we did saved lives.
WILFRED FROST: So, the ceasefire may well do that. And we all pray and hope that it does. But nonetheless, as you just said, and as you said clearly as well last week in an interview, that President Trump explicitly told President Erdogan not to do this in that phone call. Nonetheless, he went ahead and did it. And lives have been lost, as a result. The punishment is economic sanctions that have last, what, five, ten days? What would warrant now a military response from the US, bearing in mind, of course, we've seen a state in state, your words, attack by Iran on Saudi Arabia as well?
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: I'm sorry-- a military response to what action?
WILFRED FROST: What would warrant a military response in the region from the US today? If it's not seizing of an ally's land and killing of allied lives, albeit not one with a sovereign state.
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: Yeah. Look, I never get out in front of the president's decision about whether to take the awesome undertaking of using America's military might to protect American interest. But the world should know. We've done it before. We took strikes into Syria when chemical weapons were used. We did it to uphold the fundamental norm that chemical weapons can't be used. The previous administration refused to enforce this basic, decent human rights norm.
We did it. And the world should know that we will continue to do that. Where we see American interests at stake or fundamental norms around the world that need to be enforced, we'll use all the powers that we have. You suggested the economic powers that we've used. We'll certainly use them. We'll use our diplomatic powers as well. Those are our preference.
We prefer peace to war. But in the event that kinetic action or military action is needed, you should know that President Trump is fully prepared to undertake that action.
WILFRED FROST: Turkey is, of course, a NATO member. They get lots of extra shared intelligence. Because of that, there is also around 40 or 50 NATO US nuclear weapons housed in Turkey. How much do you trust President Erdogan personally?
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: You know, I never talk about trust. I always talk about-- making sure that we work closely, that we use our diplomatic skills, that we verify everything. You should know, we have a number of NATO partners that do things that aren't consistent with what America wishes we would do.
We're partners in a NATO alliance. It doesn't mean that we always agree. Look, you've seen NATO partners take a very different approach on the JCPOA, the Iran Nuclear Deal. We think it's terrible. Three of our-- three of our closest friends chose a different path. It doesn't mean that you break off a relationship or tear everything up.
You work, you use diplomacy, you use the skills that you have, you use American power to try and get the outcomes that are in America's best interests, while working with these important allies in all the other spheres where you have real, true, important overlapping interests.
WILFRED FROST: Mr. Secretary, you were on the infamous 25th of July call between Presidents Trump and Zelensky. You are on record of saying that you felt that call was, quote, "wholly appropriate." If it is appropriate, have you therefore floated the idea of investigating Joe Biden to your counterparts as well, whether in Ukraine or elsewhere?
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: Look. I was on that call. I'm on lots of calls with the President of the United States. I know precisely what it was we were working on in Ukraine. We were trying to reduce corruption. We were very focused on making sure that we provided the defensive weapon systems that the Ukrainian people needed to defend themselves against Vladimir Putin's incursion into the Donbas, into Southeast Ukraine. Those are the things I've been focused on.
Those are what I've spoken to my new counterpart, the new foreign minister in Ukraine about. That's what we'll continue to be focused on. I'm very pleased with the work we've done. I'm pleased with what the new government in Ukraine is trying to accomplish. And we hope that together, we can be successful.
WILFRED FROST: You mentioned you've been on lots of calls with the President. You also said in an interview on PBS on the 9th of October, quote, "Countries all around the world every day call me to try to get America to behave in the best way that's in the interest of their country. They try to apply pressure to me." So, was the Trump-Zelensky call that you heard and the others you heard in fact the norm, not the exception? And that people should just accept that and get used to that's what diplomacy is like today?
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: I-- as recently as yesterday, I had a foreign leader call me seeking to apply pressure to the United States to get us to act in a way that was consistent with what they were trying to do. It's the nature of politics, of power, of foreign interactions. Each country trying to act and deliver on-- for its own people. That's what sovereign leaders are hired to do, brought onboard to do. We do that with our friends and we do it with those that are less friendly to us. We work to achieve aims. It's often the case that these aims overlap. Where it is, we hold hands and work together. And where it's not, we find a path forward that's in the interest of the American people. That's what President Trump has consistently done.
WILFRED FROST: And if it's the norm these days, does that means it's also—
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: It's not just these days.
WILFRED FROST: --right?
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: It’s not just these days. You can go back thousands of years and watch nation states interact in this very way, trying to achieve outcomes, working together, coming-- forming compacts, treaties, agreements, handshakes, working together to achieve each nation's best interests. Sometimes that means one country will have to give a little more or a little bit less. This is the nature of nation state interactions. It's pretty fundamental.
WILFRED FROST: Mr. Secretary, my final question. I know we're up against the clock. The President has turned on a few of his-- foreign policy chiefs and thrown them under the bus as it were-- before. He called Rex Tillerson, quote, "dumb as a rock." He said recently James Mattis was, "The world's most overrated general." Do you get concerned when you see the President take down those very qualified past servants who were nothing but loyal to him, as you continue to be?
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: Every day, I come work on behalf of the administration, the American people. I raise my right hand to defend the Constitution. That’s what I'm focused on every day.
WILFRED FROST: Mr. Secretary, as always, thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: Thank you very much, sir.