QUESTION: And with that, we welcome to the program U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Sir, great to have you back. Thanks for being here.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Guy. Thanks for having me on the show today. Hope you’re well.
QUESTION: Likewise. I want to start with a really difficult challenge that you at the State Department and your whole team are dealing with right now. It’s an important one. It’s the repatriation of American citizens abroad in the middle of this pandemic. I can only imagine if I had a loved one overseas trying to get home. If you will just talk about the urgency of those efforts and then just the logistical project that it presents.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well Guy, when this virus hit the world, it began in Wuhan and then spread. Many countries began to shut down travel, sometimes by government edict, sometimes just flights stopped going. And we had tens of thousands of Americans that were stranded all across the world, some of them on church mission trips, some of them there on business, some of them there with families on vacation. And we began to get calls saying, “Hey, we’re stuck,” and we started to build out infrastructure to get them all back home. We’re not done, there’s still work to do, but as of today, over 50,000 people the State Department’s managed to get back, 490-some flights across 70-some countries, inside of countries – we had folks stranded near Mount Everest; we had people in mountainous terrain in Peru – all across the world.
And we set out to build out an infrastructure where we could take in messages from people who were trapped or stranded or needed to get home and translate that into our workload, and then deliver buses, medicine, transportation, the things they needed to be safe and healthy, and then ultimately to get them back home. It’s been quite an undertaking. I’m very proud of the work the State Department team did to get these 50,000 Americans back home. We will stay at it until we’ve got the folks who want to come back here back home as well.
QUESTION: If there is someone listening right now who has someone in their life who might feel stranded or is getting concerned about this, is there a resource you can direct them to right now?
SECRETARY POMPEO: There is. Go to our website, the State Department’s website. There are phone numbers there as well. The program is called STEP; it’s easy to use. You can also reach out to – almost everyone who’s traveling will be able to easily reach to the U.S. embassy. You can call the local embassy in the country that you’re in. If you’re someplace where you’re really stuck, you can go to the local law enforcement. They can help you reach the embassy as well. All of those are tools that you can reach out and get to the State Department. We will have someone make sure and get a message back to you and then we’ll begin to tell you how to get to where you need to get so that we can find a way to find transportation to get you back home. It’s not always instantaneous, the logistics are incredibly complicated, but we are working to bring folks back from places as far as Honduras and from Africa and indeed from all across the world.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) some of these far-flung locations, are you finding that foreign governments are being generally pretty cooperative on this particular front, and is there any sort of work or partnership with the private sector? Like airplanes, for example, how’s that working?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, there have – we’ve had lots of partners. State Department team has led it, but we’ve had – a lot of these flights have been flown by commercial airlines – by American, United – who have agreed to help us and send down aircraft or found an aircraft that we could put somebody aboard. The military, Department of Defense, has been incredibly helpful as well. We have used every conveyance we can possibly find to get them not only from their location to an airport or air transportation, but then those aircraft to get them back home as well.
The host governments have all been very good. They’re often under enormous stress as well because of this virus, but they’ve been great about helping us getting flight clearances, all the things we need to do to move people around, right. In some places, there’s checkpoints. We’ve worked closely with those host governments, and I can’t think of a single country that hasn’t, when we raise the issue and present it to them, didn’t assist us in getting American citizens back home.
QUESTION: Trains, planes, and (inaudible).
SECRETARY POMPEO: (Laughter.) A little bit of everything, yes, sir.
QUESTION: So I want to ask you about – just changing gears to disinformation, and I saw this tweet yesterday from NBC News here in the U.S. It sort of knocked my socks off a little bit. This was the tweet: “U.S. reports 1,264 coronavirus deaths…over 24 hours. Meanwhile in China, where the pandemic broke out, not a single new coronavirus death was reported,” which is sort of like wow, look at what China’s accomplished, and compared to the U.S., that’s – ooh, maybe we’re sort of behind the curve here.
That tweet was sent literally days after the U.S. Intelligence Community that you’re very familiar with – your time at the CIA – assessed specifically that China is not telling the truth about their statistics. Have you been surprised? ABC News had a tweet today showing a video of a light show in Wuhan as they’re celebrating going back to normal, which is just propaganda, frankly. Are you surprised at the willingness of some Western media organizations to repeat or parrot disinformation from not just China but other countries as well?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Guy, you know this. In challenging times, when there’s a crisis, a moment like this, the American people need journalists, people who are writing, reporters to do good work, candid work that assesses situations accurately, that reflects reality. And so my ask of each of the people who have been talking to us about what’s taking place, how it’s been – it’s just – write what’s going on. Talk about the amazing work that the United States Government has done. We have to have – this idea of transparency is paramount. It still remains the case; this is not behind us. We’ve still got lots of work to do to identify how best to get our economy kick-started and get that going.
This will be an American effort, America will lead this effort, but we’ve got to get the whole world’s demand cycle back going. That will require every country not to hide data about the genetics of the disease, not to hide information about deaths and transmission. Every country has to be transparent and I’m counting on journalists, good reporters to go do that work in a way that shares with the world who is doing the right thing by the world and helping save lives and who is not sharing that information in a way that can ultimately drive the loss of life – certainly around the world but drive loss of life here – for the people that the President and I have signed up to make sure we defend and protect.
QUESTION: Yeah, and look, I’ve seen some of your comments regarding China, and the President as well. He did say something at the briefing the other day about some of the disinformation blaming this coronavirus outbreak on the U.S. military, which is completely baseless and false. It’s a lie. And the President was asked about, and he said well, that’s a mid-level person. We always want to assume the best about our counterparts in China and Chairman Xi and some of the top people in that government. And look, I don’t always assume the best about what the Chinese are up to, but I also understand there’s a diplomatic effort affront here as well, not just on coronavirus but also other priorities like trade and things like that. What’s the balance of speaking the truth when it’s uncomfortable for an adversary but also keeping important channels open?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I think the President spoke the truth when the Chinese made a statement that somehow suggested that American soldiers – or there was an American connection to how this virus began and he just said, “Well, that’s just not right.” I think that’s absolutely the truth. I think he’s also speaking the truth when he says we’d like to find ways to cooperate and work with the Chinese people. That’s a good thing in a time of crisis. The first people that the United States repatriated from the world was from Wuhan to get about 800 or so Americans out of Wuhan. We needed Chinese cooperation to do that.
We should work with the Chinese, but to cooperate – Guy, you know this, right – to cooperate requires them to be truthful and to be transparent. We want to cooperate on figuring out what – where this virus began and how it began to spread. That means you have to share information so that the scientists from the United States and from Europe and the top scientists from all around the world have access to that information. And so we’re all about finding cooperation and places to move forward, but it requires truthful, candid information and sharing of data sets so that the professionals can get their arms around this virus.
QUESTION: Last question. It pertains to Iran. We’re seeing some commentary from I would say some of the usual suspects that it’s cruel of the United States to keep sanctions on Iran while they’re going through a very difficult time with coronavirus. I think they’ve been hit very hard and are being opaque about it. And it just – it sort of amazes me because there has been one example after another of outreach and offering of humanitarian help that would have nothing to do with these sanctions that Iran is rejecting. Why do some Americans keep conflating these two issues?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I can’t account for that; you’d have to ask them. The very first thing we did when we learned that Iran was being hit in a significant way with this virus was to reach out and offer humanitarian assistance. We did so publicly. You can see my statement and the State Department statements. We did so privately. We made very clear to them there was – there wasn’t a cost to this. We wanted to bring technical assistance and all the things that America can bring to help save Iranian lives. We’ve now facilitated assistance from other countries as well. We want good things for the Iranian people, but this is no reason to try and infuse cash to the Iranian regime. We’ve seen this before. That cash will go into the pockets of the corrupt leaders. That cash won’t go for medicine and food and supplies. If it was going to go to them, Guy, the money that they have already today wouldn’t be being used to transfer missiles around the world and to fund Hizballah.
SECRETARY POMPEO: They’ve got money; there are resources there. To suggest that sending cash to Iran right now is going to solve this humanitarian crisis is just a failure of logic. We hope that they’ll accept the humanitarian assistance (inaudible) that the Iranian people so desperately need, and there is no sanction in place today that prevents that from happening.
QUESTION: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo our guest here on the program. We have to leave it there. Mr. Secretary, stay healthy. Thank you for joining us today.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I will. Thank you, Guy. Bless you. So long. Happy Easter.