Dealing with Iran in a Post-Deal World
Congressman Mike Pompeo
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
7:30PM — 8:45PM
Congressman Mike Pompeo is a third-term congressman from the 4th District, Kansas. He graduated first in his class from West Point in 1986 and then served as a cavalry officer patrolling the Iron Curtain before the fall of the Berlin Wall. He also served with the 2nd Squadron, 7th Cavalry in the Fourth Infantry Division.
After leaving active duty, Congressman Pompeo graduated from Harvard Law School, having been an editor of the Harvard Law Review. He later returned to Kansas and founded Thayer Aerospace, where he served as CEO for more than a decade, providing components for commercial and military aircraft. He then became President of Sentry International, an oilfield equipment manufacturing, distribution, and service company.
Congressman Pompeo serves on two major committees: Energy and Commerce, which oversees energy, health care, manufacturing, and telecommunications, and the House Intelligence Committee, which oversees America’s intelligence-gathering efforts. He has also served on the House Select Benghazi Committee to investigate the tragic events in Benghazi, Libya.
Robert R. Reilly:
I’m very delighted to introduce our speaker tonight and I also want to welcome two members of his staff who are with us this evening. Aaron Ringel, legislative assistant, and Reagan Thompson, named after my favorite president of recent memory, Ronald Reagan, who is policy and communications advisor for Pompeo, who if any of you have paid attention is a renaissance man who began as a West Point cadet, graduating first in his class who then went on to serve in the cavalry in Germany in the latter days of the Cold War before the Berlin Wall came down. I’m willing to consider there was a causal relationship between his service in West Germany-
…That’s the story I tell.
Robert R. Reilly:
-and the fall of the wall. I just- You can confirm it and there we are.
Robert R. Reilly:
Now after leaving active duty Congressman Pompeo went to Harvard Law School and indeed was the editor of the Harvard Law Review. After practicing law for several years, he returned to his home base in Kansas and founded Thayer Aerospace where he served as CEO for ten years. Then went on to become President of Sentry International, an oilfield and equipment manufacturing and service company. He then ran for office successfully in Kansas where has has served the 4th district. He is in his third term. He serves on two committees: the Energy and Commerce Committee and of particular interest to our audience here tonight, the House Intelligence Committee. He was also appoint[ed] to the House Select Benghazi Committee to investigate the tragic events in Benghazi and Congressman Pompeo has just recently returned from the Middle East. He was there on a trip in November. So please join me in welcoming him to address the subject of “Dealing with Iran in a Post-Deal World.”
Thank you, Bob, for having me here tonight. It is a- So I’ve- He said I was running a business and then ran for Congress. I prefer to think of it as I was running a business and then lost my mind. But in those five years I’ve had lots of opportunities to speak. But very seldom do I look at a group and realize, you know you truly are the least talented person on the subject matter about which you’re about to opine… and so it is with some trepidation- Bob said will you come speak to this group and I said, ‘well sure, but how about if I just come listen? It might be more productive’. So I spent some time thinking about what I might share with you tonight that would be additive I know you had a former director of the intelligence agency here to talk about Iran not too terribly long ago and… Combine that with the fact that now four weeks ago I was sitting in my office in Kansas. One of the cool things I get to do is I nominate kids to the military academy. Right so as someone who went to West Point I now get this incredible privilege to invite talented people from across south-central Kansas to- who want to pursue life as an officer in the United States military. We have a big Air Force base, McConnell Air Force base right near where my office is. You can see the planes flying over so all these kids want to go to [the] Air Force and I try to tell them that’s not really military academy but if you want to go there and learn to fly that sounds great too. Not very persuasive, we’ve actually had some great young people come through who have turned out to be fabulous officers in the United States Air Force too. But I have a group of former officers who come lead a panel and have lunch with them in the middle. We do a bunch of the young people in the morning and the rest in the afternoon. I sit at the luncheon one of them ask me about United States policy to Iran after the deal and I couldn’t answer it. I certainly couldn’t answer in the 30 minutes that we had allotted. It turned out I had not spent enough time thinking about what the potential role… I know what the ramifications are I have a pretty good idea [and] so do you. But I didn’t have a chance to sort of think about what are the tasks that could be undertaken by those of us who care about this so much and indeed those of us that have the Article I responsibility that are- that is connected to U.S. foreign policy. So I thought I’d give a little bit of history most of which you will know and then turn to the things that I tend to encourage my colleagues to work on alongside of me. And this… I use the term post-deal loosely. I’ll talk about that but in the post-deal world. Right? The president considers this a fait-accompli at this point I don’t believe that it is. And there are a handful of things I think we can all engage in productively to get better outcomes for America.
I did as Bob said just return from the Middle East. I was in Beirut and the Bekaa Valley for four days and then traveled to Israel. I spent a day in the West Bank, about a day in Tel Aviv. I went a couple days in Jerusalem. I traveled mostly with the intelligence community on these trips. Now just before that a couple months earlier I was in Jordan and in northern Iraq in Suleimaniyah and Irbil and then in Baghdad for a couple of days and then spent two days in Turkey as well, trying to understand U.S. intelligence posture for a handful of programs that surround the Syrian conflict there. And every place I’d go I would end my discussion with the U.S. intelligence folks by asking ‘so tell me what it is you’re spending most of your time on’. And in each of those places in one of the two top things they were spending time on they would answer Iran. It didn’t matter if they were in Lebanon or working out of Jerusalem or working in intelligence operations in northern Iraq. They all were deeply focused on the activities of Iran. I think that tells us an awful lot. I think it also tells us a lot about the enormity of the administration’s failure to deal with Ayatollah Khomeini for what he really is. In my judgement he is truly evil personified. And the ramifications for mischaracterizing the nature of the man are very real. And I think America has to think long and hard about what we’re going to do given that our president has chosen that.
But there are some concrete actions that I do think we can take. I sort of- I made the association a moment ago that our intelligence folks talk about Iran being everywhere. I think it’s worth supporting that with a little bit of data. I do that because the media spotlight has passed on. When the Iran negotiations were going on, Fox News, CNN, they all called, they wanted to talk to me about Iran. If you call one of those outlets today and say ‘hey, I’d like to come on to talk about Iran’, they will tell you there is a cop shooting in Chicago or Colorado Springs attack by a crazy man… facility in Colorado Springs… The media’s truly moved away from this narrative. But indeed it’s my view that you can trace a lot of the volatility throughout the Middle East and we have problems that are too many to recount back to ‘79, back to the Iranian revolution. They obviously predate that in some respects. We’ve had challenges with Islamic terrorism for an awfully long time that predates ‘79 but I think there was an important point made there which was that Khomeini’s overthrow… it sent a message, a terrifying message that America was not capable of rejecting Islamic leadership in certain places in the world. We all know what happened in Iran in the ‘80s. We had an administration that was much more serious than the one we have today but I think the message that was sent in 1979 was one that we are still living with. In 1983 we saw, right? We saw Hezbollah and a place that I got a chance to go see, right? The American embassy there in Lebanon we got to see, where hundreds of Americans were killed. Just recently there was an arrest of the man who took down the Khobar towers almost singlehandedly. And you’ve read the reporting that this was a fellow who has been hiding out in Tehran since that moment. And I would tell you if he was in Tehran he probably was not knitting stockings for the Ayatollah. He was probably still engaged in the very actions of the very nature of the ones that took down the Khobar towers and killed many Americans that day. We know too the history of the Iran-Iraq War where a counterbalance to the Shia-Islamist in Iran was taken down in good measure. Before the war you read was fought to a stalemate but nonetheless I think it ensconced the clerical leadership in Iran in ways that we still today are having to deal with. We watched more recently Iran’s march to control at least good portions of the Middle East and perhaps even much more broadly. They of course still maintain their lock grip on Damascus. They’re close to having a lock grip on Baghdad. The most powerful force in Iraq today is not the Iraqis, it’s not the Americans, it’s the Iranians. I won’t spend a lot of time going into that today but I would prove that out and I think you would all be convinced. The numbers today in an unclassified setting are that Iran has somewhere between 1,500 and 3,000 armed men fighting in northern Syria today. Today I saw a report that Israel has taken action to stop weapons transfers inside of Syria, weapons that were headed for Hezbollah, the Iranian-supported terrorists in southern Lebanon.
Iran at least admits to nearly each one of these and yet our president would tell you this is an ally, someone that we can do business with. He wouldn’t use the term ally but go to Webster’s. Look it up. And our behavior would reflect that these are a group of men that have more than just shared interest but a shared desire and an outcome, right? The outcome is for our president to have them re-enter the community of nations. It’s a fool’s errand at best and at worst it is devastatingly bad for the outcomes that will happen here in the United States. I’ve seen different numbers in Iraq but the number of folks that the Shia militias and the PMC have trained there in Iraq far exceeds the number of folks that the United States has trained in Iraq. When I was in Baghdad, I remember asking the question like how far do I have to leave – I was in what’s the former green zone at this point in Baghdad – how far do I have to go to find the Iranian leadership? And this obviously an informal setting. The’d say ‘oh, just go to the second floor of this building you’re on. Grab a pair of binoculars and look around.’ Our president doesn’t talk about the fact that Iran today is the primary motor force for what’s taking place and the difficulties that America has found in Iraq since the departure of United States forces in December 2011.
So I talked about the current clerical leader there. I said I thought he was evil and he is a vicious fanatic. They call for the destruction of the Great Satan. They make no mistake about their willingness to cut off hands and the way they treat women is… well-known. We’ve also watched as they’ve imprisoned at least four Americans, all of whose names you could probably get off the top of your tongue. I’m not convinced that our president could do the same. I can assure you that while our president says that in the negotiations with Iran that this was raised at every meeting. Anybody ever not been in one of those? It was a perfunctory opening to the meeting… probably began with a handshake and then the perfunctory opening statements and then they got down to negotiations and those negotiations did not include efforts to return to the United States in spite of the fact just before we left on a Wednesday before Thanksgiving- Excuse me, the Friday before Thanksgiving, we voted on a piece of legislation to try and stop Syrian refugees coming into this country until at least some time as we can identify the risks connected to their entrance and that’s great. And we did the right thing. I voted for it. There’s much more work to do. But none of that gets to the root of the challenge. At the root of the challenge is that this president stood by while Syria burned. The six million displaced peoples, half of whom are refugees, half of whom are internally displaced, are a direct result of this president’s failure to take a set of actions that I think at the time would have been relatively simple, supported by enormous numbers of people all around the world by every faith. And this president simply sat by and watched or worse. And the worst in my judgement was making it very clear that he had desired a shift in power. That he was desirous of the fact that Iran continued to grow and increase its scope and influence in the Middle East. And this was not only an outcome that he was willing to tolerate but one that he was willing to promote. And I don’t say that lightly. That’s a sharp accusation. But nonetheless the evidence absolutely bares that out.
When I was in Beirut… It’s a dysfunctional government, right? In Lebanon today there’s no president. They don’t have any capacity to even have parliament meet. They can’t pick up the trash. And when you would talk… I think I met with everybody who believes they’re going to be the next president. It’s a good thing I had multiple days because it’s a very long list of people. But everyone of them will tell you that at the very core of their challenge isn’t simply Hezbollah. That’s a problem. It’s the resources. They’re provided to Hezbollah by Iran and it’s Iran’s meddling in their internal politics that has prevented them from figuring a way forward for themselves and they for an awfully long time didn’t have Jeffersonian democracy but… a measure [of democracy]… [They] had a stable, capable government that could promote a banking system that worked and an economy that was passable in spite of the challenges that the nation faced. And today… [It is] a pure stalemate directly as a result of Iranian influence. I left about 30 hours before a bomb went off not far from the road that I drove back. I flew commercial into Beirut International. My son thinks it was- It’s not the dumbest thing ever. Many dumber things- I grounded him for two months once. I know he would rank that #1, traveling to Beirut #2. But you could see the challenge that they’re going to continue to face. You know… the capacity now for Lebanon to move forward with Iranian obstinance is near zero.
In Israel all anyone wanted to talk about was Iran. There were terrorist incidents going on. There were knifings taking place. The Israelis are highly confident that they can figure their way through the problem of that magnitude. They are convinced that if they could get the Iranians out from meddling on behalf of the Palestinians in the West Bank and providing resources into the West Bank, that they could keep this from becoming the third intifada, the intifada 2.5. But they know this isn’t an isolated incident… whether it’s Hamas in Gaza receiving funding or the Iranians providing direct support in the West Bank… very, very difficult for them to figure out how to keep the lid on. They have done it to date. I had a handful of time to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I was there. I was the only Member of Congress traveling. It was kind of him to take some time out of his schedule to speak with one member of congress but our entire conversation was dominated about the agreement between Iran. I know he was against it. He certainly thinks the nuclear piece of this is of great long-term danger. But his far away biggest concern is the terror ramifications that result from an Iranian economy that is now more robust and hundreds of millions of dollars of resources that will flow nearly directly to terrorism and to the Iranian IRGC. It looks like a commercial entity but for all intents and purposes the kleptocrats of the IRGC will get their hands on it before the Iranian people and they. They of course are up to no good.
I could spend a lot of time talking about the failures of the agreement. But I know you all know a lot about that so I won’t. When you stare at the thing, the document that was presented in its entirety, what you come to realize is it’s very consistent with the President’s desire for Iran to increase its scope and power. And Iran… Maybe that is the macro flaw in the agreement. It’s the premise. It’s the philosophy that underlay all of the negotiation that took place. I made a bit of a big deal about a letter that I received from the State Department. I got a letter back that said… We’ve sent 15 of 18 letters to the State Department. We usually get back nice letters that say thank you for writing. We appreciate your interest. This one was more honest. It says ‘Oh, this is not a treaty. This is not an executive agreement. This is nothing more than a-’. They use the term quote, “political commitment,” end of quote. We all knew that but I promise you if you go to Kansas and I promise you if you into an MSNBC studio, that they are deeply convinced that this is an agreement as binding as START or SALT or any of the treaties that have been executed by the United States in all of history. In fact what we have is nothing of the sort. What we have is a failed negotiation and a deadline that was reached and a president who decided to hold a press conference. And [he] announced to the world via joint press release that no party would sign, including the United States, that no party was committed to in any material way, and that has no binding force as a matter of international law even for the lefties at the law school which I attended. This is dangerous because Americans don’t understand that. If you ask the average American on the street, they’d say, ‘No, no, no, we have this agreement. We have to live up to it. The Iranians will have to live up to it as well and if it fails there’s recourse.’ And of course none of that is true.
It reminded me of that moment- So I am new to this stage. I served in the Army and I was a tank platoon leader and a tank company executive officer, so I was a knuckle-dragging mud-runner. So this part of the foreign policy debate is new to me. But when Tom Cotton and I went and sat down with the IAEA in Vienna and we were told about these two side agreements [that] to this date no American has read, I remember my first thought was, “My gosh. I didn’t prepare enough for the meeting. How could I have not have known that these two documents were out there and that we hadn’t had the chance to see them.” I thought I’d read it, 159 pages in its entirety. I believed I’d understood most of the nuance and then at the number 2, 3, and 4 guys at the IAEA level looked me in the face and said you’re not- You’re never going to see this agreement. That’s a deeply consistent with this president’s underlying philosophy and so for all the shortcomings and technicalities in the agreement… It’s the philosophy that underlays the agreement that I think will prove the most difficult for Congress to get to.
So… what do you do? Prime Minister Netanyahu and I both spoke to the fact that it is what it is. The president has entered into this arrangement. His administration is intent on following through with it. There are elements in the arrangement which undoubtedly will cause some delay in the Iranian nuclear program. It appears that they are proceeding apace to disconnect a number of centrifuges. Who can be against the disconnection of a centrifuge? It’s good. There are a handful of other things that if you stare at you will say that’s good. And I suspect the Iranians will for the moment do a fair amount of things that look and feel like compliance. And I assure you equally the American media will report every compliant act that the Iranian regime undertakes. The truth is we have already seen and we will see again in now two weeks… two weeks from today roughly… We will see the first failure of the process. We will see a report issued by the IAEA that deems to explain the history of the Iranian nuclear program. Their so-called previous military dimensions over their nuclear program, their weaponization efforts. Secretary Amato in an attempt to protect himself made a statement now three days ago which was very clear. He doesn’t have any ability to certify one way or the other the history of the Iranian weaponization program and won’t when he writes his report. And so what you’ll see is a report that says yeah we think we know and it’s not as bad as Pompeo thinks it is. It won’t have my name in there but that will be the trigger to move towards implementation and the relief of the sanctions which lay at the core of the commitments that the United States made.
So what do we do? How do we push back on this? For at least… what’s the next thirteen months. It may take a little while for the new president to come into office and we may not get a president who has a different view. We should all be mindful of that as well because we could end up with a third term of the Obama administration with respect to how Iran has to be dealt with. There is one candidate who was the Secretary of State for this president who is responsible for most of these policies as well. There is no reason to expect that were she to be elected, she would take any different approach with respect to the clerical regime.
So step one is always speak up about it. Sometimes I tire my staff. I think members of Congress have an obligation to talk about this incessantly and demand that it be covered such that the American people understand the risk that is presented to them. I have not yet mentioned ISIS or Al Qaeda or Al Shabaab or any of the terrorism threats that we face. I don’t believe any of them could be resolved absent a resolution of the proper role of Iran in the Middle East so we ought to talk about that. We ought to ensure that everyone understands how important it is. There are a number of tasks Congress can take with respect to designating terrorists. I could go through a long list here, but certainly we ought to get the IRGC, the primary force in a killing of 500 Americans in Iraq during the war there… We ought to get them to be designated by- as a foreign terrorist organization. The Treasury Department’s done a little bit. They have designated the Quds Force. The EU has frankly done better than we have in some material respects and all of that will vanish. Congress can do that. We can pass legislation that would make that happen. By the way I won’t talk about this but I am also convinced that when we do these things, and you’ll see my list, I am convinced that there are 150 Democrats who are looking for a soul cleansing because they recognize that they went in the tank for this administration and made an enormous mistake in granting Iran this power. They too are on the hook for this deal. Not because having voted differently on Corker-Cardin would have changed this president’s action in any material way. I don’t know that it would have. But they had a chance. They had an opportunity to voice their displeasure and they didn’t and I think many of them are now looking for chances to do precisely what it is I’m describing here.
The third thing is there is no complete map yet of the IRGC enterprise. And there’s certainly no map of the IRGC’s terror enterprise. We ought to undertake that. We ought to ask our intelligence community and the State Department to map out every one of the businesses that has an economic interest that is owned by any member of the IRGC. It’s not hard work. We could complete it in short order. We have to turn their attention to the Congress [which] can make them do something that is that simple. I was speaking to a handful of people earlier… Representative Roskam and Representative Zeldin and I have introduced legislation that I believe will come to the floor of the House before too terribly long that will give everyone of our fifty state attorneys general increased power to put sanctions at the state level on the Iranian regime. They’re not broad in scope. They are not the sanctions that I’ve just referred to with respect to these terrorists but they can do a handful of things which will have an enormous impact on Iran’s economy. And after all just like our economy the better it is, the more wealth that is created, the greater capacity that we have to defend ourselves. Iran is no different. To the extent we can slow their economy, we can decrease their capacity to support terror around the world. And they’ll have to figure out how to pay all those nuclear scientists that they are buying somewhere in the world. Since we have such good visibility into their nuclear programs in Iran today. That was a joke. We can move forward on legislation that exists with respect to Hamas and Hezbollah. We can attempt to deny them funds and weapons in ways that this administration has chosen not to do. We can make that mandatory as well. And we can force this administration to acknowledge via the courts, saying these are the things that are happening there. It was in place one time previously. It has now gone away. We can restore the order as it comes from that. Not long after the agreement was entered into Iran also began… continued experimentation with respect to its ballistic missile program. One can read the political commitment one way, one can read it another. I would argue that it was illegal. If it wasn’t illegal after the JCPOA, it certainly was under the UN Security Council Resolution. We sent Samantha Powers to the UN to say ‘hey, stop that’… very effective diplomacy. We can put sanctions in place with respect to the ballistic missile program.
I had a conversation… So… There’s an Ambassador Mole. I don’t know if anybody knows him. He has been deemed Ambassador in charge of implementation of the political commitments. That’s his job. He was the Ambassador to Poland most recently. He’s actually a decent fellow. I [have] met him now three or four times. And of course when I read through some of this list with him, his response is ‘well, you have to be really careful. You could just upset the deal’. And of course I… ‘Well, I wouldn’t want that’. But he’s very honest, right? He acknowledges that this president has made clear he agrees that anything that is done that doesn’t relate to the nuclear aspects of the Iranian program is fair game. So sanctions on human rights, on terror, and on all things non-nuclear are in bounds. And my urging to him was that as we move these forward in Congress over the coming weeks and months, that he issue a statement to that effect. And acknowledge that these things don’t impact the nuclear deal. He said he’d take that under consideration. But was very open to say to the extent these don’t impact the nuclear program there, we view this as reasonable. It is the case that this administration has put sanctions on a handful of folks post-deal that are good, that are steps forward. They were small. They were micro. But the administration has taken some incremental sanctions on Iranian terror. This is good and we should reward the administration. We should thank them for that. We should issue press releases to talk about the things that they do that are good. There’s a serious of sanctions that already exist today on the IRGC that are about to expire that we should impose on them or extend them however you want to consider it.
In my role on the intelligence committee, I am about two thirds of the way of putting in place a review process that I hope will be sufficiently rigorous. We will demand near real time information from the intelligence community that tells us what they know and what they don’t know about Iran’s compliance with the agreement. Much of that ought to be able to take- ought to be able to be performed in an unclassified setting and I hope that we’ll be able to do that. Some of it won’t. Some of these will reveal particular methods or sources and we will have to do some classified setting[s] but make no mistake, Congress in its oversight role has a duty to continue to take the list of political commitments that this administration claims were made and hold the Iranians accountable to them. If we can achieve that, it will be a good term. It is not the magic elixir. Okay? So… let’s be clear. No commitments were made with respect to undeclared nuclear locations. There’s a process that everyone talked about being 24 days and they’ll be able to go in and actually look at an undeclared site after three weeks and three days but the truth of the matter is anybody who spent any time with the intelligence community realizes the folly. Who’s going to turn over- So you have to provide the basis for your claim. There was an activity that you’d like to take a look at that. Who’s going to turn that over? I hope the administration won’t turn it over. This information they won’t share it with me. I hope they wouldn’t share it with the Iranian regime and say ‘hey, we know you’re doing this and here’s how we know it and so the provisions about inspecting undeclared sites are virtually impossible to enforce and we ought to continue as the Article I overseer to call them out each time that happens. The last thing I was thinking about a lot is enforcing existing sanctions. Sometimes this is overlooked. There’s a long list of places this administration and frankly the administration before it too has turned its head and for a series of reasons, some credentialed, others philosophical, chosen not to enforce existing agreements. That time is over. Our deal is made. We have the arrangement that we- that the President so desperately wanted. And we ought not now to have any reason to look the other way with respect to our particular activity. The two last places we should look for things that Article 1 can do are first to the Iranian banks. We know that our Treasury has done important work around the world in fighting against radical Islamic terrorism, has been able to cut off money flows, and identify bad guys through their efforts to move money around the world. The Iranian banks too are about to be- [to] have sanctions lifted from them. We ought to re-impose those sanctions because those banks are deeply connected to terror and we ought to make sure that this administration reports each time one of those formally designated banks engages in terror activities as well.
These are simple tasks and if we can continue to keep pressure on the banks we accomplish a secondary mission. The secondary mission for this work from Article I over the next 13 months is to… to the extent possible keep the Europeans from investing in Iran. It’s a difficult task. They are chomping at the bit. Good luck. Go ahead and try to find a hotel in Tehran. It is very, very difficult. The Germans are there. The French are there. The Brits… have, and are, have been, and continue to be there. But to the extent we can make their general counsel very nervous about issuing an opinion on a long term investment in Iran, we will have achieved an important goal. If we can slow the rush to make a little bit of money from a radical, clerical regime, we give this next president a chance. A chance to go unwind this deal. I use that term carefully we have had presidential candidates say lots of things about what they’re going to do on day one… Good luck. It’s a little trickier than that. But to the extent we can keep capital from flowing to Iran, we accomplish not only the mission of keeping money out of the hands of terrorists, but we give this next president increased flexibility as he or she moves forward.
And lastly we shouldn’t forget that this regime… This agreement was arranged by President Obama… and someone. I don’t know who the counterparty is. I don’t know who we entered into this agreement with. It’s not in the document. None of you have ever done this before by the way. When you signed a mortgage, you know exactly who your lender is. There’s a legal name on there. Every agreement you enter into has been an executed document and it’s very detailed: the legal counterparty. In this one I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s just the Ayatollah. I don’t know if it’s Rouhani. I don’t know who we struck this deal with. But I know it wasn’t the Iranian people. I know that there is still opportunity there. Opportunity that this president cast aside in 2009. And we ought to not forget that there are a group of folks inside that country who desperately want something very different than what Rouhani and Khamenei want. And by the way I don’t distinguish between them I think the leadership there is altogether and wants the same thing and I think their fights and their disagreements and the things they tell us about hardliners… I think they’re all the same. I think they all want the same thing. I think they want more money in their pocket and more terror around the world. That’s- That’s who the counterparty is, is somewhere in that mix. But if we keep an eye on the Iranian people, we have an opportunity somewhere down the road to go do what we ultimately need to do, which is twofold.
First is to continue to keep the capacity to take out their nuclear program at the appropriate point. Congress has an enormous role in this. That’s funding our defense establishment in a way that it continues to have the technology and capability to do that. And to ensure that the Israelis still have the capacity to accomplish that mission, if our president simply doesn’t have the temerity to execute a program that is important. And that is keeping Iran from having a nuclear weapon. And finally, it gives us the chance to ultimately get to the finish line, which is the abolition of the current regime. The only way- And I’ve seen folks talk about taking out the nuclear program. I’ve heard experts say it will only push them back two years. I’ve seen others that say it will push them back five years. I don’t know how long it pushes them back. That depends on how many of their nuclear engineers you can find. Right? So a lot of this isn’t hardware, it’s… human ingenuity. By the way we should know who those folks are too. But at the end of the day, they can rebuild that human ingenuity as well. And it’s going to take a leadership… a regime with a different intention than the one that currently controls Iran and we can have an important role in making sure the opportunity for regime change exists. I think Congress can continue to push and talk about it and help us achieve that end at the time that is most appropriate.
I’ll close with this thought. So there’s challenges all across the world today. I was in Ukraine not terribly long ago and you can see Russian advances there. There were bombs in Indonesia. Problems in lots of places that we could all identify. I put the near term threat far and away the greatest from what’s going on in Iran today. It tops my list. I’ve heard smart people say Mexico presents the greatest threat. I’ve heard others say that the greatest threats are from Russia or China. I think those all are things we’ve got a ton of work to do on. But today in the short one if you’re looking about the threat that implicates my job, my job is to keep the people of Kansas’ 4th congressional district safe. The best place to go push, the best leverage that we can achieve in Congress is to go work towards an ultimate change in Iran and I am dedicated to doing that. And with that I am happy to take questions or have you all tell me how wrong I am. I’d prefer questions.
Audience member: I was particularly interested in your comment, this notion that states might have the power to impose sanction at the state level. Realistically, how many do you think would? Do you have any sense of that?
Pompeo: So I think the number today is… 30. I think there are 30 states that already have some level of sanctions. Some of them are pretty weak. So there’s work to do even in many of those 30 states as well. I’ll bet there are two dozen who are good work at the state level could go increase the capacity to deny Iran resources. That is we could either take them from nothing to something important or take them from a low level of sanctions that exist today. What we have to make sure is this administration will attempt to say they are preempting – that this agreement was preemptive. There’s a long legal doctrine about how that works. This- I don’t think a press release qualifies for that. But they’ll be a legal fight that comes with it. It is also salutary to have this debate in the states as well, right to have attorney general, governors, and state legislators talking about Iran… is a megaphone that no one member of Congress can possibly achieve so the sanctions are important as the primary objective. The secondary objective of keeping Iran top of mind for our citizenry I think is a close second.
Audience member: I have a good example of California about ten years ago…
Reilly: Louder, please.
Audience member: Oh, I’m sorry. A model to follow perhaps… was Iran’s relationship with the state of California… investments, exchange of finances between the retirement of California public officials and Iran. And they… an Iranian-American who had been tortured in Iran in prison [**referring to Roozbeh Farahanipour] was the architect of that with the California State Senator named Joel- I could get the details for you. His first name is Joel [**referring to California State Senator Joel Anderson] and it worked. It forced the state to disassociate any relationship with Iran, involving tens of millions of dollars.
Audience member: This gets a real path to follow.
Pompeo: It’s important and I’m personally going to go to the next attorneys general conference. I think I’ve got a slot to go speak to them and talk to the attorneys general directly about the things they can do, provide them a model of legislation to try to help them achieve it and help them know how to talk about it as well.
Audience member: I wanted to take the opportunity to commend you for your engagement with this issue and all the related issues, traveling, speaking, and meeting. I wanted to ask a couple of things did you garner or did you gain any insight on the attitude of the Sunni world, the mystery of Obama vis-a-vis the Sunni world? I thought he was our friend.
Audience member: He’s supposedly engaged in Libya. He went to other places to promote the Arab Spring and all of a sudden he becomes Iran’s friend.
Audience member: How does the Sunni world see that? And second, I drove back from Atlanta I just switched and came here from… so I had some time to listen to the radio and I heard some feedback from the hearings. And the announcement that you’re going to be sending some more special forces over to Syria. Following that announcement, the radio commentator made the announcement that the Iranian National Guard specifically stated, “We will target those Special Forces people.” Here we have Shia forces stating publicly that they’re going to go after American Special Forces as soon as they touch the ground.
Audience member: So maybe you can give us the context for that.
Pompeo: So I don’t know that I have the- I’m not surprised that that statement was made… public but I’m surprised that they made it. It wouldn’t… That’s exactly right. That’s right. They have. So I’m happy to advocate for putting more forces into defeat ISIS. If somebody said that was the tactical objective. But you have to have a strategy before you can put in people. Right? It doesn’t do any good to throw away resources when you don’t know what the answer is that your desires are achieving. This president hasn’t a clue. Other than the one that we’ve been talking about tonight.
Audience member: So what is Iran saying?
Audience member: When they say we’re going to target them as soon as they touch the ground? And what does the Sunni world think about this whole switch?
Pompeo: So I met with… The only contact I had with Sunni leaders was in Lebanon. On this last trip I did meet with Sunni leaders in Iraq as well when I was there. They’re not of one voice. But if you ask for the predominant tone it is one of disgust and disappointment. They were all very hopeful that America would lead and that- and when I say lead they don’t mean putting two armored divisions and a carrier group there. They mean having be the force that we were at the end of our time when Iraq, right, during the awakening, were… We worked closely with them to develop something that looked like it might get to a political solution. Whether we would have ever gotten to that outcome we can all debate and have lots of Georgetown salon[s] talk about it. What I would say is they are all deeply aware they are on their own.
Audience member: They feel betrayed?
Pompeo: They feel very betrayed. Yeah. And they… There is no hope that will be fixed under this administration. I think that for a while they thought maybe we’re misreading this. Maybe this is just the rapprochement that’s going to try and build- They no longer believe that. They would now share my view that this administration’s tilt towards Iran. ‘Tilt’ isn’t even the word; the handoff of responsibility in the Middle East to the clerical leadership in Iran. Yes, sir?
Audience member: You mentioned the importance of supporting the Iranian people against the Iranian leadership. The history of sanctions has invariably worked against the people and supported regimes and is apparently doing exactly the same thing in Iran. What would be your approach or strategy for accomplishing that by supporting the Iranian people?
Pompeo: So it’s difficult. I completely agree with your premise. The sanctions almost always leave the kleptocrats with nice homes and all the [unintelligible] they can tolerate that leaves the average citizen in the country in a condition that is worse off. Having said that I don’t see any alternative but to try and put that country in a place where the people rise up themselves. That is… to the extent that the Iranian regime gets what it thinks it’s going to get from sanctions relief, people will be more tolerant of the hardliners of the clerical regime. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. I think Rouhani is counting on this, right? There is election. Don’t forget there are ‘elections’, I use the term loosely, scheduled for February and they are going to talk in their campaign about all the great stuff that is coming to the Iranian people as a direct result of this agreement and this particular leadership team if you will. The sanctions matter. They provide the impetus for the Iranian people to rise up. I truly believe that. There are other tools that we have in our kit bag to help an established group inside of Iran once they have decided that it is that they have a partner. But make no mistake about it if today you think you can- 50 or 100 or 200 thousand prepared to go fight the Iranian regime, are you going to launch that effort with Barack Obama in the White House? … I mean tell me what he would do. He would immediately call for calm. Right? He’d say ‘hey, we all settle down’ and then he’d allow Iranian thugs to go murder these people.
Audience member: 2009.
Pompeo: Yeah, it’s… So that wasn’t the right response in 2009. In 2009, there were a number of tools that they could have used to have provided support that… There are no guarantees about what would have happened but we would have greatly increased the likelihood that would have ended up with a difference in the nature of the regime if not a different regime in its entirety. We… we did nothing. And we allowed many of them to be killed and imprisoned and there’s still many of them sitting in Evin prison today. Yes?
Audience member: This is maybe a hopeless question but Boeing, GE, Caterpillar, a whole host of… the Chamber [of Commerce]… are deeply committed to the deal and have been for… I would argue since 1995. Various groups, Iranian American Council and others have all been front groups for large numbers of corporations. And these are no longer just American corporations and should not be seen that way. Increasingly, both their foreign military sales and certainly aircraft sales have been to overseas companies. Recently, [in] early November a vote was taken. An amendment had been proposed to have the ExIm Bank not fund sales to supporters of terrorism designated… supporters of terrorism and it failed. And it failed with over 40 I believe, 43 or so, Republican votes. In spite of the fact that in the Iran deal there is a very specific retraction of four specific executive orders that prevented the ExIm Bank from funding these deals so…
Audience member: In fact the Iran deal very specifically now enables the ExIm Bank to fund Iran.
Pompeo: Especially with respect to aircraft spare parts.
Audience member: Yeah. Exactly. And we’re talking an estimated $20 billion – billion with a b – in sales of aircraft over the next decade approximately. So given that tremendous pressure of these- And this is very bipartisan at this point.
Pompeo: It is.
Audience member: These are very powerful companies. This is sort of… you know the… the driver, the engine, it seems of much of this rapprochement that is going on and these companies are absolutely indifferent it would appear to the possibility of starting World War III or even have accounted for it in their own portfolio of investment possibilities.
Pompeo: Yeah… So those are bookend questions. Right? So you talked about how the people are hurt and you just talked about how corporations will benefit-
Audience member: Certain ones-
Pompeo: From the same- Certain corporations will benefit. Those are absolutely… those are parallel. I think it’s true. I think corporations will benefit and I think if the sanctions are lifted people will be marginally better off and the truth of the matter is, it takes a leader to rise above the commercial aspects of this and say this is bad for the American people. I am excited to help the Iranian people. My constitutional duty is to help the people of Kansas and America. And I think your question is hopeless. I don’t- I said that I- So tomorrow I’m going to get a chance to vote against the Export-Import Bank one more time.
Audience member: What’s your forecast?
Pompeo: I don’t know. There’ll be a hundred votes against it. 20 Democrats and 80 Republicans will vote against the Highway Bill to which the Export Import Bank… I agree, unencumbered… has been attached. But it won’t- No one will think about tomorrow as a national security development or very few of us will think about tomorrow as a national security development. We’ll think about it as a highway bill. I would love to see us… Look we’re going to- We’re now going to allow the Iranian Air Force and the Iranian Commercial Fleet, Air Fleet, to get healthy again after so many years of truly struggling. It reminds me… [This is] only marginally related. I was in Amman. I think I was traveling on my way back and I’m at the gate. I can’t remember where our flight was to. I think Istanbul. At the next gate is a commercial flight to Damascus. And I said to my travel companion… I didn’t use Queen’s English. I used adjectives that I shall not share with you tonight. “What the heck is there a runway still in Damascus for?” And it shows the absolute failure of this administration to understand the capacity of commercial activity to help them achieve their national security efforts. Yeah. Yeah. Air Syria. Airplane sitting there. By the way, good luck. I watched. I looked at the gate lounge there. Good luck at screening any of those people. Inbound and… Folks got off the plane too. I assume was coming in from Damascus although I don’t know that. Claire do you have a question?
Audience member: Yeah. I think we’ve all heard various estimates of numbers about the frozen funds. Iranian frozen funds in various banks. What’s your sense of how much there is? What the likelihood of it being released to Iran is? And then, finally, what leverage if any does the United States have over the release of these funds given that they’re mostly in Asian banks like China, Japan, India, [and South] Korea?
Pompeo: So the best number if- Mike point a put on it I’d say it’s $115-120 billion dollars. It could be five or ten billion less than that. It could be 50 or 60 billion dollars more than that but the best data I’ve seen suggests somewhere in the range $115 billion dollars. It’s going to be released. Almost certainly. And I think the United States has enormous leverage on whether it be released no matter where it sits around the world. Remember who’s the one country’s banking system that everyone needs access to? It’s ours. They- [It’s] very difficult to transact anything very complex around the world today without access to SWIFT, U.S. clearinghouse, U.S.-based clearinghouse. If we told entities that held this money, if you release that money we’ll deny you access to SWIFT, you know what they would say: ‘Yes, sir. Roger that. We’ll hang on to it as long as you like.’. People- You hear all the time, ‘well, the Europeans are going to lift their sanctions. Goodness gracious what are the Americans going to do?’. Let me tell you. There is still only, for good or for bad, there is still only one big king in the economic world today with respect to sanctions and it is us. Especially with respect to international banking transactions. Countries jump. When you Treasury folks get on a plane and show up in a country… I have- I’ll give you a real time example. When I traveled to Lebanon I met with their head of the equivalent of the Federal Reserve. He’s been doing this an awfully long time. And the Lebanese Parliament hadn’t met in months and months and months. I was there on a- I think I flew out on a Tuesday or maybe it was Wednesday. We had lunch the day before. And the Lebanese Parliament was going to meet on Thursday for one purpose… for a single purpose. They were going to meet because Treasury told them if they didn’t change some of their banking laws, they were going to be denied access to the U.S. banking system so from Hezbollah to the Maronite Christians they were going to show up for one thing. It is very telling. Just at a very small level, the Lebanese banking system is very small but they too know that if they get shut out of the capacity to deal in the U.S. SWIFT system, the global SWIFT system which we control… So if we wanted to, if the United States wanted to keep those assets frozen, it’s almost a certainty that we could achieve that. But we don’t. Yes, sir.
Audience member: Thank you for your powerful comments, Congressman. In the long term how confident are you that the United States can be a force for good in the Middle East? I mean even under the- Even with the right President we’ve not done so well historically. What makes you think going forward… It’s real easy for us to blame it on the current administration, which I do. What makes you think we can make a contribution in the future?
Pompeo: I mean I think history is consistent with that. I would agree there are many follies the predate the current administration. I would concede that and we can all list them. We’d probably list different things and have different sets of things we’d give a one to a ten. I’d give one to three. So we could- But I- I think it’s hard to look at the Middle East and say that it is worse off today because of U.S. involvement in the Middle East. I think that argument… Rachel Maddow would make it but… I think most serious foreign policy groups across a broad spectrum would give us some credit for it being better than the complete absence of the United States. I am not an optimist – I hope I didn’t convey this – with respect to cure all the challenges of the Middle East. I don’t pretend that for a moment. The challenge… You asked in the context of the Middle East. I truly do believe that this is a problem inside of faith and that faith extends to places outside of the Middle East as well. And so I don’t think that you can define the challenge by geography but rather we have a military, political, and diplomatic challenge and a faith-driven challenge to figure out how to contain what is not a small minority inside the Islamic faith that believes in much of what it is we are facing in the Middle East today and the threats that we face here in America as well. There are… How many have ever been to Kansas? [Unintelligible] Except Bob who came to speak on a very important topic on the Catholic community not too terribly long ago. There are somewhere on the order of 50 Islamic terror cases in Kansas today. Think about that. Three million people… that’s [a] small state [in the] scheme of things. 50 open cases, many of which wouldn’t be directly connected to violence that is these weren’t bomb builders but they’re funders and folks working alongside to help proselytize with respect to extremism. There is an enormous challenge outside of the Middle East but yet inside the faith of Islam. Today we have a public diplomacy challenge. We have – that I didn’t speak about at all tonight because I just don’t think it’s fruitful with this administration but I think if we did it well we’d have an opportunity to begin to make it better. That’s my only- That’s all I got. Here’s what I know. Absent any intervention by the United States and leadership there it gets worse, not better. The nature of that intervention though is incredibly important. Yes, sir.
Audience member: I just wanted to mention that I’ve done arms control treaties/agreements, executive agreements, political agreements for twenty years and nuclear non-proliferation for thirty. And you have won of the very few coherent, rational explanations of what the Iranian deal is. I just wish more members of Congress shared your view. The question I wanted to ask you was is there really a significant segment of Congress that would be upset if a Republican President walked in the first day and abrogated that agreement?
Pompeo: I don’t think so… I don’t think so. I’ll tell one more story although I’m being recorded so I have to be a little more careful.
Reilly: I can pause…
Pompeo: No, no, I’m fine. It’s absolutely fine. So I spent August calling my Democrat colleagues, trying to convince them when they came back. I knew we were going to have just days. I knew we were right up against it. I called up my Democrat colleagues, many of whom- I’ve been here two-and-a-half terms. There are a lot of Democrats that could be seeing the root of that and they wouldn’t know, right? I just haven’t had a chance to have an interaction with them. I know they wouldn’t know who the Congressman from the 4th District of Kansas was but I wanted to go so I called. [I] ended up speaking to just over 80. I’m going to use this to get to the answer to your question. I did not hear a robust defense of this deal from a single one. None of them said, ‘no, no, no Mike here’s what’s-’ I mean you hear a little bit about how it’s going to delay their nuclear program for a little bit because of certain elements, right? They’re going to go pour concrete in a rock and they’re going to do something at Ferdow, disconnecting anvils and centrifuges. I would acknowledge that yep, you just hit the peak. You just identified the one good thing. And then they would concede the remainder and it was bad. They would concede the terrorism risks and they would concede all that. And then I would say ‘it sounds like you’re with me’. And they’d say ‘Oh, no, no, no. You don’t understand.’. And the truth of the matter is the political pressure that was put upon them was like nothing they had ever seen before. Forget me, I have only been here five years. Many of these folks in Congress twelve, fourteen, sixteen years. They’ve never seen anything like that. I’ve had a more junior member who’s actually a very liberal democrat but a pretty good on national security issues as these things go. And I’ve traveled so I know him some. ‘So you agree with me’? He said, “yeah but I got to talk to Barack Obama more last week than my entire first two years in Congress. That’s pretty cool.”
And I said, “so we’re going to see a lot of [unintelligible] in your district?” “Oh, you have no idea.” Right? And these were express trains. But I say that the arm twisting that was put in place… They… Many of the Democrats who oppose this deal knew in their heart of hearts that the best thing they could say was ‘hey, this president’s going to do it anyway. Let’s go ahead and not do some crazy vote on Corker-Cardin and upset our political future.’ I’m not trying to be cynical in any material respect. They would also make the case that this was the best deal that could be achieved. And they would make various rationalizations. But to your point had the President declared that he wanted to talk away from the table and couldn’t get to a deal and we were going to redouble our support for Israel and prepare for conflict with Iran, they would have been equally as happy. So I suspect if that happens a year from now, you won’t hear a great deal of squawking from too many folks. Yes, sir.
Audience member: I pay attention to the news. I put it altogether. I can’t think of… this isn’t just sympathetic toward Iran. This isn’t just cooperation. He wants them to win. You know? But I’ve never heard it articulated and I appreciate you doing so. But I still hope you can help me out because I’m wondering where does it come from? I mean what leftism or new leftism or socialism or pro-Muslim or you know where… what part of him or what part of politics does that come from?
Pompeo: You’ve asked… I was going to say the one question but there are a lot of questions that I can’t answer. I don’t know. I… about two years ago I made a commitment to my wife that I would stop trying to get into Barack Obama’s head. You know, to reduce our psychiatric care bill. And… but nonetheless just as with any leader their intentions and motivations are very important to understand. Right? It requires you to apply a rational approach to thinking about this and I for the life of me cannot come up with a rational approach for him
Audience member: On any significant foreign policy issue… You know going all the way back to ‘09 the uprising in Iran versus the regime… He’s with the regime. Yeah. The Russians say we don’t want you know ballistic missile components in Poland and Czechoslovakia because we have the right to hold them at risk.
Audience member: You know and he’s with Russia. Part of a- A mob rises up in Egypt and he abandons a great friend of America. And then when they’re in power he’s with you know them [unintelligible]. You know it goes on an on. I can’t think of anything where he’s been on our side.
Pompeo: The data you point out is correct and I’m not afraid to talk about the data. The data is very clear. Every time there has been a conflict between the Christian west and the Islamic east the data points all point to a single direction. You asked me why. That gets trickier, right? It is very clear that this administration – and when I say that a very narrow slice inside the leadership regime here in Washington has concluded that America is better off with greater Iranian influence certainly in the Middle East but I think around- certainly it’s tolerated around the world. But if you ask me why they think that… I’ve listened to listened to them intently and I cannot with any certainty provide you an answer to that. Yes, sir.
Audience member: From an intelligence and a counterintelligence perspective how effective do you see the Iranian regime at infiltrating the U.S. government and how… and influencing our decisions and how effective is our counterintelligence against it?
Pompeo: I don’t know how to answer that in this setting.
Audience member: Is that good or bad?
Pompeo: I may just take a pass on it entirely… So lots of effort. I can’t- [It’s] difficult to characterize how good it is. We’ve had successes, counterintelligence successes. But of course you never know what it is you don’t know exactly. There is also an enormous effort, a legitimate effort, inside the intelligence profession broadly speaking because not just the CIA, broader set to help America understand Iranian behavior. So they’re going to do their level best to figure out what Iran is doing. The challenge is a political one – alright – which is when we come back and say ‘oh, it turns out they did x’, people inconsistent with the commitments. I think this administration will find a way to marginalize that or rationalize away any response. I mean the idea that we’re going to snap back sanctions is ludicrous on its face. [It’s] simply not going to happen during this administration so intelligence folks are a bit dejected because if they do their work perfectly and discover something that would require snap back, I think they all know too that there will be an answer to that that which would preclude any of these sanctions being reimposed. But the good news is the fact that it’s not an executive agreement it does the next president…. The president’s going to use his authority to waive these sanctions so their set of sanctions, the president didn’t need an agreement with Iran to waive them, right? He just needed to write a note, saying ‘I’m going to waive these things’, so he didn’t need any agreement to do it. He’s going to go do it. The next president can equally about 12:01, I forget which day in January, the third week in January, go undo those waivers as well, put them back in place. But your question’s a very good one with respect to Iran. I will say this: the Iranians have a robust effort to target our intelligence folks. It is real and it is around us. You need look no further than the fact that they tried to knock off the Saudi Ambassador at a nice restaurant in Georgetown not too terribly long ago. I mean this administration forgets that. That was 2011. That’s four years ago. It’s the same cast of characters. That’s a bad answer to your question. But damn it, it’s mine. Yes?
Audience member: Congressman, I just- Do you mind if I… ?
Pompeo: No, if you’ve got a better answer…
Audience member: What may be just another dimension… When… I’m an old Cold War-warrior. I worked Soviet issues before I was sent to learn Farsi and became an Iran desk officer at the Pentagon and… when Zarif… so I’ll use the term, which you will know… counterintelligence… ‘agent of influence’… And when Zarif was ambassador, Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, on three occasions I was invited to meet him. And my name was given because I worked at an intelligence agency- My name was given to him by Americans who were maybe not anti-regime but anyway they were compromised in some way. There was a very rich democratic fundraiser, a millionaire. You would know the name. He’s the most… He’s the richest democratic contributor in the country. He arranged a meeting between Zarif and the present Secretary of State many years ago.