“There’s a lot of people thinking about my future a lot more than I am”
Here is the transcript of McClatchy reporter Jon Shorman’s interview with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. They spoke Sept. 6 in Manhattan, Kansas, where Pompeo was speaking at the Landon Lecture Series at Kansas State University. Shorman reports for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star.
Q: With your trip back for the Landon Lecture today, this is going to be your third trip back to Kansas this year. What’s been pulling you back so much recently?
Pompeo: You know I think that’s three times in three years since I left to be America’s director of central intelligence. We regret, Susan and I, that we don’t get back home more often. We love it here. It was great when I landed last night. It feels special. It’s where our friends and family and our church, all the things we love so dearly. Today I came back because I got this incredible privilege to give a speech in the Landon Lecture Series. I looked at the people who came before me to do this. It’s a pretty remarkable list of folks, so today I’m going to be with the K-State community talking to them about things we take for granted in America, unalienable rights, these central ideas that were America’s founding principles, and how they apply for American diplomats around the world. That’s what drove me back today. I came back last week because my mother-in-law was moving to Kansas. She’s a little older now. So it’s been a series of things.
Q: This trip has helped fuel speculation that you are maybe interested in Pat Roberts’ Senate seat, so let’s settle this right now once in for all. Yes or no, will you run?
Pompeo: I’ve said consistently since this set of conversations came up that I’m focused on what I’m doing. I intend to remain America’s secretary of state as long as President Trump wants me to do that. Every day I’m focused on my mission. That’s what I do.
Q: That doesn’t exactly sound definitive.
Pompeo: You can take it however you’d like. I hear all the speculation. There’s a lot of people thinking about my future a lot more than I am. I spend my days focused on delivering American foreign policy around the world, every hour, every day. That’s what I’m doing. I never vary from that.
Q: Have you talked to the president about the race? Has he requested that you stay in the position?
Pompeo: I never talk to anybody about private conversations I have the president. Look, I see the noise. I see all the talk. All I can tell the American people and the people of Kansas is we love this place. But my mission’s that I get this privilege to be America’s secretary of state. I’m the 70th secretary of state. I intend to do this just as long as President Trump will give me this incredible privilege and every day I will work to deliver security for the American people as America’s most senior diplomat.
Q: Kansas farmers have been seeing the effects of the trade war, the trade tensions with China. It’s been reported that you’ve said you believe the trade war could end by the 2020 election. Do you believe that?
Pompeo: Kansas farmers have been seeing the trade challenge in China, not just for the last weeks but for decades. I remember. I remember when I was a member of Congress from Kansas I would hear farmers say, ‘I can’t sell my products into China. I can’t sell my corn, my soybeans, my wheat, my dairy products.’ I was an American manufacturing business owner. We couldn’t sell our stuff into China without the risk that they would steal our intellectual property, work that Kansas engineers had created. They’d steal it. That’s unacceptable. And previous administrations frankly just ignored it. President Trump’s not ignoring it. We’re going to get a set of fair reciprocal trading arrangements with China. We’re going to grow the American economy because we’ll get access to those markets. And we will make sure that if an American young person at K-State is an engineer and they invent something and they sell it to China, China doesn’t go steal it from them. It’s outrageous. So, I see the noise. People talk about this trade war. The Chinese created these conditions. China chose to cheat. China chose to not open up their markets to the American people. President Trump —this isn’t political. Presidents from both political parties had just looked away from this for decades. We’re not going to do that.
Q: But do the tariffs risk pushing the U.S. into recession?
Pompeo: The American economy, I saw today we have unemployment at 3.7 percent was today’s announcement just a couple hours back. The American economy is strong. We are confident. We will get this right. Recession risk is when America is weak. When America allows China to walk over us and treat us horribly. That’s what’s happened for 20 years. And I think Kansans get that. There’ll be some bumps in the road. I’m sure there will be some people who see these tariffs and are impacted by it. President Trump’s doing his best. Any time we see someone lose their job or a farmer who is struggling, that bothers us. President Trump has provided some resources to farmers to try and mitigate any of those costs associated with this. But when I talk to people – I was in Iowa a few months back, talk to folks on the phone all the time all around America – when I talk to them they know. They know China had a set of rules that were making their businesses and their employees more at risk and they’re proud of the fact that we finally have a president who’s prepared to stand up for the American people.
Q: Speaking of China, the leadership in Hong Kong has said it plans to withdraw the extradition bill that helped spark protest there. What else does the Hong Kong leadership need to do?
Pompeo: That will be up for the Hong Kong people to decide, but as for China they made a commitment. They made a set of promises about one country and two systems. That promise continues for decades to come. They need to live up to that promise. That’s our hope. That’s our expectation. It’s what we’ve said in the administration repeatedly. We hope too this will be peaceful. We don’t want violence in Hong Kong. If China will do that, if they’ll live up to their promises — we’re happy to see they withdrew that extradition bill, but it’s broader than that. We need them to live up to the promises they make. I see this. You know the question you asked me before, we want China to stop cheating. They promised to open up their markets to us, they promised they would stop fentanyl from coming into the United States. They promised they wouldn’t militarize the South China Sea. We’re simply looking for China to live up, not to the demands that we placed on them but to the things they committed they would do in the world.
Q: Shifting gears a bit, the president at the G-7 did not attend the session on climate change. It appears the president won’t attend the UN secretary general’s summit on climate change. What message are we sending to the world when the president isn’t participating in these kinds of discussions?
Pompeo: The message that this administration has sent to the world is that we are going to do things that actually matter to the American people. Meetings, ribbon cuttings – we left the Paris accords. The United States has actually honored the commitments it made. We’ve actually reduced CO2 outputs. How has China done? China’s in the deal, right? Everyone wants to talk about the fact that America withdrew from the deal. In, out — what really matters is not fancy meetings, cocktail parties, agreements of elites socializing in places in Europe. What really matters is delivering for the American people. And the United States has done that. And we’ve done it through innovation and manufacturing technology. That’s how we have reduced our carbon footprint here in the United States. I wish China would do that. Frankly, I wish Europe would do that, too. They like to talk, they like to have meetings, they like to have ceremonies. We like to actually deliver outcomes.
Q: Is climate change a threat to national security?
Pompeo: Any time there’s a risk to American national security, from whatever source – whether its radical Islamic terrorism, nuclear weapons systems in North Korea or Iran – this president will act to address them. And so as we see issues that are impacted by changes in climate, or other things that change around the world – we worry about fragile states, all the things that come from impoverished nations. We want to create wealth and security around the world. But our first mission set is unambiguous: We want to protect the American people. That’s the guidance President Trump has given me. It’s what I do every day.
Q: Your special representative on Venezuela policy, Elliott Abrams, I believe has said that the administration is talking to some members of the (Venezuelan President Nicolás) Maduro regime about potentially negotiating his exit. But I want to ask you if Maduro’s granted asylum and you provide relief to some of the aides that are helping him, will anyone in the Maduro regime ultimately face justice?
Q: Can you elaborate?
Pompeo: No. But I’ll say this. Previous presidents refused to take on this challenge. The Venezuelan people are the losers for that. They’ve been subjected by Maduro and his nasty regime to deprivation that wasn’t necessary. It’s the largest man-made humanitarian disaster of the last decades. And this administration’s been serious about restoring Venezuelan democracy. We’re working to deliver that. We built out that coalition of 50+ countries that have now recognized Juan Guaido as the appropriate, duly-elected leader in Venezuela. And I’m confident we will provide the support that’s necessary so that Venezuela can return to a country with some level of freedom, some level of democracy, and the opportunity to feed its own people.
Q: Will the president shake hands with Maduro at the UN General Assembly?
Pompeo: I don’t speculate on things like that.
Q: Turning to Afghanistan, the United States appears close to a deal with the Taliban there —
Pompeo: A deal with the Afghanistan government.
Q: The Afghanis, excuse me.
Pompeo: We may sign agreements with others as well, including the Taliban.
Q: But there are concerns regarding that potential deal, have you declined to sign that agreement?
Pompeo: Yeah, I saw those stories. I don’t know where they came from. Fake news in the extreme. They’re just ungrounded. It’s ridiculous. That you asked about it, I find ridiculous. What’s the mission set? We’ve been in Afghanistan now for almost two decades after the attacks from 9-11. We’ve spent over $30 billion a year there for an awfully long time. President Trump made clear in his campaign he wanted to do two things. We had an American soldier killed there just yesterday. A young man from the 82nd Airborne. We want to get this right. We want to protect America from terrorism, not only from Afghanistan but from all around the world. But we want to do so in a way that’s respectful of the commitments that our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have made now for two decades. We think we can achieve that in a way that is different, we think we can get commitments for the Afghans to talk for the first time, in, goodness, almost 20 years now. We hope we achieve it and Ambassador Khalilzad is still in the region working on that even today. If we get those outcomes, if we get those agreements, then President Trump will ultimately have to make a decision about exactly what our force posture will look like. But I know the principles that drive that decision-making for him.
Q: And, finally, to bring this back to Kansas, whenever your time as secretary is ultimately over do you plan to return to the state?
Pompeo: I always try to be careful about what will happen in the future. Susan and I love Kansas. It’s still home. It’s where our friends are, family are. It’s where our church is. You know we don’t have grandkids yet, but Susan reminds me we’re going to be wherever they happen to be if we ever have grandkids. We do hope we get back to Kansas one day. It’s a great place to live and we miss it dearly.