Pompeo to 'Post': All options still on the table to counter Iran
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrapped up a visit to Israel replete with dramatic policy announcements with a conversation with The Jerusalem Post on Friday.
Just the day before, Pompeo became the first US Secretary of State to visit a West Bank settlement, as well as the Golan Heights. And while he was at the Psagot Winery in Sha’ar Binyamin, he announced that products imported by Israelis in Judea and Samaria to the US would be labeled “made in Israel,” and that the US would consider the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement to be antisemitic and all funding would be revoked from its affiliates.
But there are many more issues regarding Israel on the agenda, from continuing the maximum pressure campaign on Iran to the momentum created by the Abraham Accords.
Pompeo wouldn’t quite admit that his time in office is, in all likelihood, ending in two months, in keeping with his boss, US President Donald Trump’s continuing challenge to the apparent election results in favor of Democratic candidate Joe Biden. But much of his remarks still had the air of a retrospective, of someone looking back at a job that he considered to be well done.
The following is a complete transcript of the interview, edited for clarity.
The Jerusalem Post: There has not been as much public talk about Iran on this visit. With all the sanctions on Iran, there’s very little talk about options beyond that as Iran continues to enrich uranium. As far as the US is concerned, are all options still on the table?
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: Of course. The administration has been clear on that for its entire four years. There is no reason that would change today or tomorrow.
My judgement is, and history will reflect, that we’ve been pretty successful.
I remember when we first began the maximum pressure campaign. We’d withdrawn from the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 Iran deal], and the world said this will never work, American sanctions alone won’t work.
Well, they have significantly reduced Iran’s capacity to foment harm around the world. It’s not complete. They’re still active as you can see from the continued enrichment that they have not changed fundamentally the nature of the activities they’re undertaking, operating militia groups throughout Syria and Iraq, underwriting Hezbollah, but not as much as they were. But most importantly, not as much as they would have, had we continued to pile pallets of cash [to send to Iran]. And so the path that the president took denied the regime their resources to continue to put Israel at risk and the Middle East at risk.
[Trump] has done several things. One, he denied them money. That also sent a strong message to the Middle East that facilitated the Abraham Accords [through] this central understanding, this isolation of Iran in ways that are deeply different than before, whether it’s the [United Arab] Emirates or Bahrain or Sudan or whoever signs the Abraham Accords next.
I think central to that was the president’s Vision for Peace, the twin concept of Iran as the prime actor who is causing instability in the Middle East, and finally, [overturning] the notion that you can’t do anything until you solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict, those were historical understandings. It was a precondition to do anything in the Middle East that we can’t begin to build peace, prosperity and stability in the Middle East until we solve that conflict. President Trump has demonstrated that that was false for all of these years.
JPost: Here in Israel, a lot of people are concerned about presumed President-elect Joe Biden’s willingness to return to the JCPOA. There is a bill in Congress proposing to allow Israel to get bunker buster bombs to defend itself in case Iran gets too close to the bomb. Is that something the Trump administration would be willing to consider in the coming months?
Pompeo: I don’t want to get into our decision-making or thinking about any particular activity.
Consistent with what we have done to date, we have tried in each case to build out an enormous coalition [against Iran] and we have successfully done that [in away] that understands the things that create opportunities in the Middle East and reduce risk to Israel and therefore, risk to the US as well.
Decisions about particular weapons systems and the like, I cannot comment on, but suffice it to say we’re going to continue to do all the things that we have done previously and continue to work each and every day. You said something about sanctions earlier this week. Look, we’re continuing to work and stand behind the policies we have laid down for four years, and we will continue to do that for as long as the country demands it. Today, that is what the US has, and we will continue to work.
JPost: How easy or difficult it will be for the next administration to scale back these policies?
Pompeo: I don’t know. We’re still counting votes in the US, so there’s not much game in talking about that, other than to say we’re very convinced that we have made the Middle East safer and the policies we put in place are the right ones.
It cannot be the case that rewarding Iranian intransigence, rewarding terror, rewarding Iranians for building their enrichment programs is the right course of action to make Israel safer.
From the Trump administration’s perspective, it makes absolutely no sense and so it’s our firm belief that the continuation of the things we’ve been doing leads to a very increased likelihood of a safer, more prosperous Middle East and that our friends in Israel will be safer and more secure as a result of that as well.
JPost: Are there any steps being planned in the coming months to further entrench the Trump policy with regard to Israel’s control in Judea and Samaria and especially in Jerusalem? In Israel there are plans for construction in east - really south - Jerusalem and talk of more building. There are calls to apply sovereignty in E1 between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim. Is there any chance Israel’s sovereignty in those areas would be recognized?
Pompeo: We’re not gonna talk about the policies that are under consideration but there’s every reason to expect that the direction of travel for US policy with respect to Israel will continue.
JPost: There were reports that you wanted to specifically target human rights organizations for their anti-Israel bias. The text of your new policy that BDS is antisemitic and affiliated groups would lose US funding referred to boycotts against any territory controlled by Israel. Does that mean organizations, like Amnesty International, that encourage settlement boycotts are going to lose support?
Pompeo: I think the policy is pretty clear. We are going to continue to apply that policy against existing facts on the ground and when it’s applicable, we’ll apply it.
JPost: The Palestinian Authority is now shifting some of its policies, agreeing to cooperate with Israel again and reportedly downsizing its “pay for slay” program to pay terrorists in prison and their families. Are they talking to the Trump administration again? Is there any movement now to try to encourage these steps?
Pompeo: (breathes in sharply, audibly) Ohhh yeah. We’ve been trying to encourage them for four years! We always remain hopeful that we will increase the communications between ourselves and the Palestinian leadership.
If you look at the Vision for Peace that we laid down, it clearly demarcated a brighter future for the Palestinian people, and yet the Palestinian leadership refused to even negotiate on its basis. That’s unfortunate for the Palestinian people.
With respect to Palestinian policy, we hope that Palestinian policy will come to reflect the will of Palestinians. If it does, I am confident that the Palestinian leadership would come to the table. They’d sit down, have hard-fought negotiations. They’d have disagreements we’ve had for decades, but they can come to a set of common understandings that would deliver a really good outcome and a much better life for the people that live in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip as well. These are places where people are living in very difficult conditions, and it’s most unfortunate and unnecessary. It’s brought to them by failed leadership whether it’s the [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] in Gaza or Hamas in Gaza or the leadership in the West Bank today, it’s most unfortunate
JPost: What is next for the Abraham Accords? Can we expect more countries recognizing Israel in the short term?
Pompeo: I never predict, I just work.
We’ll continue to work to help make the case why it’s in every one of these nations best interests to join the Abraham Accords. I’m convinced that it is in the end. These are decisions made by sovereign leaders. They’ve got to conclude it’s in the best interests of their people, and I am hopeful more nations will join.
I believe in all my heart that the Trump administration policies that we have set up created the conditions for those leaders to make exactly that decision, and if they do, it will be a glorious thing for the region. The people of those countries will be better off, [with] more prosperity and opportunity. They’ll get access to Israeli technology and smarts and creativity and vice-versa. There will be better security relationships and diplomatic relationships.
The Middle East deserves a set of understandings that have Israel as part of the solution here in the Middle East. The Abraham Accords is the instrument for achieving that, and it’s been glorious to be part of a team that has helped these nations get to this place.