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Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo Remarks to the Press

Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
United States Central Command
Tampa, Florida
June 18, 2019


SECRETARY POMPEO: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you all for joining me here today. I had a good evening and a really good morning – spent time getting briefed by General McKenzie and his team at CENTCOM and General Clarke and his team at SOCOM. The purpose of my visit was to come down here and make sure that the State Department and the Department of Defense were deeply coordinated across a whole broad range of issues. We certainly discussed the ongoing tension in the Gulf, but we talked about a much broader range of issues. If we're to deliver at the State Department on the President's diplomatic objectives, we have to be tightly woven with our military, and I appreciate General McKenzie, General Clarke, and their teams spending time with me and my team today to make sure we were doing just that.

We had extensive conversations about tactical, operational, and strategic levels of work between our two organizations to make sure that when we present options, alternatives, policy recommendations to President Trump, we're doing so in a way that is coherent and consistent and leads the President to a fuller understanding of the challenges and opportunities connected to decisions that he makes. We certainly, as I said, spoke about the challenges in Iran. We talked about the CENTCOM decision that Secretary Shanahan[1] and the President approved to move a thousand more Americans into theater to make sure that we're in the position to do the right thing, which is to continue to work to convince the Islamic of Iran[2] that we are serious and to deter them further aggression in the region.

It's been our mission since the beginning of this administration to convince the Iranian regime not to move forward with their nuclear program and not to continue to engage in development of their missiles and all the other activities, the malign activities that they've been engaged in around the world. That's why we put in place the pressure campaign that's now been ongoing for a year and a couple months. It's been very effective, and now we need to make sure that we continue to do that so that we ultimately get the opportunity to convince Iran that it's not in their best interests to behave in this way.

We all have to remember this isn't just two and a half years or five years; this is 40 years of Iranian activity that has led us to this point. And to re-establish deterrence is a challenge, but one that I know the Trump administration is up to. And we're working hard each and every day, both in the State Department and the Department of Defense and all of the elements of the United States Government to achieve that.

And with that, I'm happy to take a couple questions.

MS ORTAGUS: Go ahead.


QUESTION: Are there any conversations, either directly or through third parties, with Iran to try and deconflict the situation in the Persian Gulf?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Almost certainly. President Trump had sent President Abe to take a message of his to the leadership in Iran. And you have to remember, these are messages for the leadership. I think the Iranian people are being woefully mis-served by that leadership. But yes, we're engaged in – we have been engaged in many messages. Even this moment right here, communicating to Iran that we are there to deter aggression. President Trump does not want war, and we will continue to communicate that message, while doing the things that are necessary to protect American interests in the region.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Japan and Germany have asked for additional proof –

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I'm sorry. Japan and Germany have asked for additional proof of the attack on the tankers. And you said Sunday that you were going to provide that. Have – when are we expected to see that?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, we'll continue to provide additional information about those attacks. But we shouldn't focus on just those two attacks. There – since the beginning of May, there are now over a half dozen different instances of Iranian attacks in the region – some thwarted, some not successfully thwarted and actually they had an impact. But I saw just as I walked in here Chancellor Merkel say that she thought there was strong evidence that Iran had engaged in this activity. We'll continue to work with partners all around the world.

It's worth reminding everyone here: You have China that depends enormously on energy transiting the Strait of Hormuz. You have South Korea, Indonesia, Japan, all of whom have an enormous interest in ensuring there's freedom of navigation throughout this waterway. The United States is prepared to do its part, but every nation that has a deep interest in protecting that shipping lane so that energy can move around the world and support their economies needs to make sure they understand the real threat – the real threat to their interests in the region, and the real threat to their countries' economies if we're not successful in doing that.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, because of where this is occurring, it obviously falls within the operation – operating theater of U.S. Central – Special Operations Command and Central Command. What do you say to the families of the men and women who work within those commands about how they should prepare themselves for what may come over the next year or two years?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, the first thing I'd do is say thank you to them for their service to the nation. I know many of these young men and women. They are talented, capable, aggressive. They have put us in the place where we have this opportunity to deter Iran. And what I would – what I'd say to them is what I say to everyone who's engaged in this kind of service: America is deeply appreciative. We are providing them with the resources they need to be successful, to continue to engage in the activities in a way that will deliver good outcomes, and to thank them for their willingness to take this ultimate risk that every service member faces.

I remind my diplomats all around the world they, too, face threats to them, to themselves and to their families. And when I get a chance to talk to those officers at the State Department, those diplomats, I tell the same thing I'd like to share with the families that are here at CENTCOM and at SOCOM: I thank them for their amazing professionalism, work, and their willingness to serve America at these challenging times.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary –

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you've said many times that the U.S. is not seeking war with Iran. But President Trump said this week that he would consider going to war over Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. Is that something that was discussed here today at CENTCOM? And can you give us any more details as to the different kinds – when we saw you on Sunday, you said military options were, of course, something that was being considered. Can you give us any more details about those discussions?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, one of the purposes of my visit today was to make sure that we were coordinated. The responsibility for diplomacy achieving the strategic outcomes that President Trump has sent forth falls on all of us, but the State Department has the first oar in the water on that. But we can't do that without making sure that we have the capability to respond if Iran makes a bad decision, if it makes a decision to go after an American or an American interest or to continue to proliferate its nuclear weapons program.

And so we talked about a broad range of issues here today across all of that spectrum. I know that the soldiers, sailors, and airmen and Marines inside of CENTCOM are ready to respond to any threat that the Islamic of Iran[3] should present to the United States. And we talked about each of those and how to make sure that we were in sync and how we would prepare those options for the President of the United States.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what's the advantage of coming here to Tampa to talk with generals rather than talk with generals at the Pentagon? And should your trip here be a message to Iran?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So I talk with generals at the Pentagon all the time, too, so these are not mutually exclusive options. But it was important for me to get here into the headquarters, where a lot of this work is doing – and make sure we didn't have to send a whole bunch of folks up to meet me in Washington. I got a chance to meet with not only those two leaders, but their teams today, and they got a chance in turn to hear how the State Department is thinking about this problem set, how we're delivering deterrence in the region and reinforce with them the strategic objectives of the United States of America. So it was important and valuable to me to get here so that I could talk to a broader range of leaders and hear at a more granular level all of the great work that they've been engaged in.

MS ORTAGUS: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY POMPEO: Great. I'll take one more.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, mass immigration arrests are supposed to happen next week. Anything to say about that?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. I don't have anything to add to that.

MS ORTAGUS: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY POMPEO: I'll say only this. It is the case that in May we had over 140,000 illegal immigrants enter into this nation unlawfully. It is an important undertaking to ensure that we have sovereignty and security at our southern border. And so every action this administration is taking is designed to do just that. President Trump's been unambiguous, very clear. We worked – I worked personally on an arrangement with Mexico now a week and a few days ago. I am confident that we will get that under control. And it is important; it's important for American national security that we do, in fact, achieve that.

Thank you, all.

[1] Acting Secretary Shanahan

[2] Islamic Republic of Iran

[3] Islamic Republic of Iran

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