QUESTION: First, we are joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He was sworn in as Secretary of State April 26th, 2018. He previously served as director of the CIA from January 2017 to April 2018. Secretary Pompeo, thanks so much for joining the show again.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Ben, it’s great to be back with you. Hope you’re doing well.
QUESTION: Hanging in there. So Secretary Pompeo, let’s talk a little bit about the foreign policy angle on all of this. We’ve seen tremendous turmoil globally in the midst of all of this. Well, we’re all focused obviously on locking down and staying safe and trying to follow all the guidelines with regard to social distancing, but we’ve seen incredible turmoil internationally.
Let’s begin with China. So China is in large part responsible for the spread of this virus. They knew there was human-to-human transmission weeks before they informed the rest of the world of this. Five million citizens left Wuhan province while apparently they knew that this thing was spreading. What sort of measures should the United States be looking to take in the future to either seek recompense from the Chinese Government or to protect ourselves from future situations like this?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Ben, you’ve got both of those facts right. Two missions: first, to hold accountable the parties responsible for the deaths here in the United States and the enormous economic costs that have been posed on the United States; and frankly, you talk about the international implications.
The whole world, the entire global economic system, the ecosystem all around the world has been decimated in ways we have not seen in our lifetimes. So the United States is engaged in a handful of things. One, diplomatically we’re reaching out to countries all across the world to help them do the right thing, to help their economies get started back up, to make sure that when the time is right we can get international travel kicked back up so that global commerce can recommence. If you get demand back up, that will matter an awful lot to workers right here in the United States of America.
And we’re also working with those countries to make sure they understand that this was in fact a virus that originated in Wuhan, China, that the Chinese Government knew about this certainly by December of 2019, and that they failed to comply with their most fundamental obligations as a nation, and importantly, too, failed to comply with the international health regulations of the World Health Organization and then did a lot of things – and we can talk about them at great length – to cover that up. Those are the kinds of things that we need to address.
When the President talks about the fact that we’re not going to underwrite the World Health Organization, it’s not that it’s to punish anyone, it’s an attempt to say my goodness, this mission failed. This organization failed in its mission to protect the world from this global pandemic. We’re not going to let that happen again, and we’re going to set up something, a system, which delivers an outcome which reduces the risk that anything like this can ever happen again, from China or from anyplace else.
QUESTION: Secretary of State Pompeo, do you think that the United States needs to make a skeptical view of business, doing business in China over the long haul, particularly in fundamental industries like the manufacture of masks, for example, in this particular case medical equipment, defense equipment, given the fact that China basically broke a huge number of supply chains and that is part of the reason why you’ve had this complete breakdown in global product movement?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Ben, of course that’s good common sense. In fact, this is something the President has been talking about since he came to office, something I’ve given speeches on over the last two years. The nature of the trade relationship between the United States and China has been fundamentally broken for a long time. No administration before ours has been willing to confront that. We failed to protect the intellectual property, we failed to make sure that we protected those industries here in the United States that needed that for our national security. You see an example here with respect to issues that preserve our capacity to respond to global health crises, but those are – there is a broader set of national security implications there as well. And then I would say to business leaders all around the world, and I hear it from them too, small, medium businesses operating in China, even the world’s largest businesses – I think they now can see the political risk associated with operating in China. When the Chinese Communist Party refuses to uphold basic norms of transparency, basic set of functions that preserve human rights, and the things that need to happen just to make sure the globe doesn’t end up in crises like – I think out of their own economic interest they’re going to make very different decisions going forward. I think that’s completely appropriate for them to evaluate that.
QUESTION: We’re speaking with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Secretary Pompeo, obviously in times of great economic turmoil like this there has been significant possibility that economic turmoil turns into actual military turmoil. We’ve seen that Iran is starting to get aggressive again. They are starting to harass ships again. Makes perfect sense when you consider that Iran was already on the ropes. Now the oil price has dropped in some cases below zero in futures contracts, which means that they basically have no source of revenue at this point. How should the United States be treating Iran generally? How should the United States be treating Iran with regard to aid for coronavirus, for example? I mean, obviously their citizens are human beings and we’d love to see those people survive. It’s not their citizens’ fault their government is a bag of garbage. But how should the United States be treating the Iranian regime right now, and what do you see as the risk from the Iranian regime toward other actors in the region?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Ben, the President and his team’s been working on the problem set in the Islamic Republic of Iran. We identified them early on as the largest force for instability in the Middle East. There’s many challenges there, but it has been this country that has been the world’s largest state sponsor of terror for many, many years. So our mission set was very clear. We began by tearing up the Iran nuclear deal – it was a disaster in many dimensions – and we began to strip away the things that provided resources for the Iranian regime. That’s different from humanitarian systems when the COVID situation broke out; the United States immediately offered to provide humanitarian assistance to Iran. Not surprisingly, perhaps the regime that cares less about its people than it does about fomenting terror around the world, rejected the U.S. offer of help. And so the effort must continue. We have to continue to deny this regime the capacity to inflict harm around the world.
And I’ll add one more thought there, Ben. This is connected to China, too. China has been one of the countries that has continued to take oil from Iran, even in light of the terror campaign that they have engaged in. The Iranians even today are working alongside the Chinese on a disinformation campaign. Authoritarian regimes in times of crisis tend to work together.
You’ve seen, too, China become aggressive even during this crisis, moving ships to the South China Sea, taking down a fishing vessel in the South China Sea. These authoritarian regimes are the kinds of regimes that hope to benefit in times of crisis, in this case a crisis that emanated from one of their countries. The free world, the democratic nations of the world, need to work together to push back against this. It’s an incredibly important time not only to respond to the virus, but to respond from increased belligerency from these authoritarian regimes.
QUESTION: Meanwhile, Secretary of State Pompeo, because of the giant decline in oil prices, there is speculation that that might be putting some American allies at risk, even non-democratic allies like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the possibility that as that, as that kingdom begins to falter in terms of its ability to make money off of its oil, that that regime could fall into instability. One of the longstanding American concerns has been that if the, if the – if the rulership of Saudi Arabia were to fall, it would be replaced by a much more radical leadership. Is that of increasing concern, given the economic circumstances right now?
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s a great question. We’re watching closely in multiple places around the world the impact of the fall in oil prices, countries whose revenue was 80 or 90 percent dependent on flows from oil prices, sales of crude oil. We’re also seeing increased food security risks in some of those countries as well. Some of them may seem far away, but that instability in some of those nations has the ability to impact the United States in keeping our people safe.
President Trump has made clear our primary function, of course, is to protect Americans first, but those kinds of instability present risk that there will be increased terror threats, increased global terror campaigns. We’re watching them closely throughout the Middle East. I do concern – I do think Americans should be watching to see how the challenge of very, very low, historically low crude oil prices can lead to food insecurity and disruption and instability in places that matter an awful lot to American security.
QUESTION: And Secretary of State Pompeo, that does raise the question as to how vital it is that America reopen as soon as possible. There was a report from the United Nations that if the world economy doesn’t begin to move again, that you could see tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of people on the brink of starvation. There are people who are living marginally right now as the supply lines break down. Their food simply goes away. How vital is it for the United States to reopen, and how fast do you think the United States realistically is going to reopen, and what does that reopening look like?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I’ll second what the Vice President of the task force has said: We need to get the American economy spark back up just as quickly as we can. We’ll obviously do so in a way that is safe. But I talk to folks back in my home state of Kansas. They’re ready to go. They want to get back out and engage in the world. They want to do so in a way that reflects the risk, but they also know there is enormous risk to their communities, to their home towns, and I can see from a global perspective the massive poverty, the massive destruction of wealth, that will be created if we can’t figure out a pathway to get our economies back open and functioning.
We left a time where the United States economy was on fire. The global economy in many places was doing very well. We need to do everything we can to work towards doing that, getting that back going. We’re going to do our part at the State Department; we’re going to help these countries organize, get their systems right, make sure we get the international component of this right, so American business people can travel and goods can flow freely across oceans, and air transport can take place.
All of those things need to come together, and it’s imperative that we do so as quickly as we can. A massive global recession is not safe or secure for the American people. We’ve got to get our country and others back open as quickly as we can, Ben.
QUESTION: Well, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, I really appreciate your time. Thanks for the work that you’re doing in this difficult time, and stay safe out there, sir.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Ben. You do the same. So long, sir.