Transcript: Mike Pompeo on "Face the Nation," March 1, 2020

Pompeo says "rocky and bumpy" road ahead in Afghanistan

The following is a transcript of an interview with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that aired Sunday, March 1, 2020, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: Yesterday, the U.S. signed a deal with the Taliban that may lead to a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Since it began in 2001, the war has claimed the lives of more than 2,400 American troops. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is just back from the signing ceremony in Doha. He got off the plane just a short while ago. And thank you for being here, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:  Thank you. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: So this is significant. And according to the deal that was released, the U.S. will bring down troops to 8,600 in the next 135 days. And then if conditions are met, a total withdrawal within 14 months. But the president said yesterday, if bad things happen, we'll go back in. What's the benchmark there?

SEC. POMPEO: Yes, ma'am. This was a historic day. American blood and treasure have been expended in this place for an awfully long time. We went there after 9/11. No one still feels the anger of that day any more than I do. But it was time. And the Taliban knew it was time. President Trump has allowed us to take the fight to the Taliban these last two years. And we have done so. It's why they, for the first time, have announced that they're prepared to break with their historic ally, al-Qaida, who they've worked with much the det- detriment of the United States of America. You can see, go read the document, the Taliban have now made the break. They've said they will not permit terror to be thrust upon anyone, including the United States, from Afghanistan. This is historic in that way and no one should underestimate the Trump administration. You can see our work on counterterror, whether it's al-Baghdadi, Qassem al-Rimi--

MARGARET BRENNAN: How long will it take--

SEC. POMPEO: --the work that we did against Qassem Soleimani. This is a president who is committed to defending and protecting the American people. We'll do that every place we battle against terror, whether that's Afghanistan or any of the other dozens of places, we push back each and every day.

MARGARET BRENNAN: How long would it take to get U.S. troops out? Because you're saying this is based on conditions. That means the Taliban has to follow through on a few things. 

SEC. POMPEO: Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So what would make the president hit the brakes and stop the withdrawal?

SEC. POMPEO: Look, we can't get hypotheticals about what it would take exactly but there is a detailed set of commitments that the Taliban have made about the levels of violence that can occur, the nature of what's got to take place. We are hopeful that in the coming days, there will be inter-Afghan negotiations that commence as well. That has not happened before. It's going to be rocky and bumpy. No one- no one is under any false illusion that this won't be a difficult conversation. But that conversation for the first time in almost two decades will be among the Afghan people. And that's the appropriate place for that conversation to take place. We're- we're prepared to do what it takes to ensure that we keep America safe. We've asked everyone there to reduce the levels of violence, both the Afghan national--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. 

SEC. POMPEO: --security forces and the Taliban.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But President Trump said he's going to meet with the Taliban in the near future. When? Where? Is that Camp David?

SEC. POMPEO:  I don't know when. I don't know where. I- I'm very confident. President Trump  wants to make sure that everyone in Afghanistan understands that the United States is committed to making sure that this conversation take place. We've been at this for an awful long time. You recounted the loss of American life. There's a better path forward. The Taliban now know this because of the work that we've done. And President Trump will be actively engaged in helping us get the conditions right and beginning this journey that the first step was taken in Doha yesterday.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're gonna take a break and continue the conversation on the other side of it. Please stay with us. We hope you will, too.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION, and we are continuing our conversation with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is just back in the U.S. after signing a deal with the Taliban in Doha. And- and just that statement alone is kind of amazing. You were the first U.S. Cabinet official to ever meet with a member of the Taliban. I think you actually met with one of the founding members of the Taliban who is involved in this.

SEC. POMPEO: I met with a senior negotiator yesterday, yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You- you called them terrorists in the past. Do you still consider the Taliban terrorists?

SEC. POMPEO: They have an enormous amount of American blood on their hands.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And apparently in a partnership still with al-Qaida?

SEC. POMPEO: Yup, they said yesterday, signed a document. The gentleman whom I met with agreed that they would break that relationship and that they would work alongside of us to destroy, deny resources to and have al-Qaida depart from that place.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you trust that?

SEC. POMPEO:  Don't trust anything. We're gonna deliver. It's about actions. The agreements set out, the conditions that set out the space. But no, this deal doesn't depend upon trusting anyone. It has a deep, complex, well-thought out, multi-month negotiated verification complex and mechanism by which we can observe and hold every member of the agreement accountable. We'll do that. It's not about trust. It's about what happens on the ground, not only yesterday, which was an important day, but in the days that follow. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: The U.S. pledged in this agreement, which is public, as you say, that it will help to get up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners released. The president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, says no way, no how. He- nothing like that was agreed to. All of this is supposed to happen in the next 10 days. Did the U.S. agree to help release 5,000 prisoners?

SEC. POMPEO: You saw what the document says. It says, we will work with all relevant--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So Ghani- what he's saying is wrong?

SEC. POMPEO: It says that we will work with all relevant parties to build on confidence, to create confidence building measures amongst all of the parties, the Afghan government, non-Taliban, and others in the Afghan. We- we want this to be an inclusive process.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But it's a process--

SEC. POMPEO: We want- we want women--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --this would be a spoiler in just--

SEC. POMPEO: We want- we want women--

MARGARET BRENNAN: -- the first 10 days.

SEC. POMPEO: We want women to be involved. They'll be lots of people say things. They'll be lots of noise. Everyone's competing for attention and time in the media. What matters is the actions that we take, the discussions that we had. We have come a long ways and we have worked not only yesterday. While I was in Doha, Secretary defense was in Kabul, along with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg. They made a declaration. There was a commitment from the Afghan government, too. We've made a lot of progress. No one is under any illusion that this will be straightforward. We've built an important base where we can begin to bring American soldiers home, reduce the risk of the loss of life of any American in Afghanistan, and hopefully set the conditions so the Afghan people can build out a peaceful resolution to their, now what for them is a 40 year struggle.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well putting 5,000 or up to 5,000 fighters back on the field is obviously- would have a significant impact on- on any of the implementation, one would think. So, are- are--

SEC. POMPEO: So, there have been- there have been--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --do you expect this to actually happen?

SEC. POMPEO: --there have been prisoner releases from both sides before. We've managed to figure our path forward. We'll know who these people are. We are working to build out a set of confidence measures that will do for America what President Trump has committed: reduce our cost in blood and treasure and keep America safe from terrorism. I don't think any American can doubt President Trump's seriousness in that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Congresswoman Liz Cheney, Republican, and about 20 allies--

SEC. POMPEO: Who I know well.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --who you know well, wasn't very happy with you this week, though, because she released a public letter saying that there are problems with this, that you- you- you are pretending that the Taliban can be counterterrorism partners and saying, you know, the Taliban still allied with al-Qaida and pointed out you personally when you were a member of Congress, she suggested wouldn't accept a deal like this, that you raised concerns about secret side deals that the Obama administration had cut with Iran-- 

SEC. POMPEO: Right. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --back then. So that any kind--

SEC. POMPEO: Oh, I remember it well, yes. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --any kind of annex- she says there are secret annexes to this deal. 

SEC. POMPEO: Yes. She- she- I'm happy to talk with her. There--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are there? 

SEC. POMPEO: There are no annexes that the members of Congress won't have a chance to see--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Meaning there are classified details--

SEC. POMPEO: The public- the public document-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --that will be shared with Congress? 

SEC. POMPEO: The public document was released yesterday. There are two implementing elements that will be provided. They are secret. They are military implementation documents that are important to protect our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. Every member of Congress will get a chance to see them. They're classified, secret. There aren't any side deals. Remember, the side deals I was complaining about were deals that the American side never got to see. John Kerry never got to see those side deals. This is- this is not that. This is a fully transparent arrangement. And as for--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So there's no deal to keep a certain U.S. military presence in Afghanistan?

SEC. POMPEO: And- there- the document that was made public yesterday is the complete agreement. The implementing elements of that will be available for every member of Congress to see. Know this. I saw what Congresswoman Cheney said, and I have an enormous amount of respect for her. The American people should know Donald Trump is not going to take words on a paper. We're going to see if the Taliban are prepared to live up to the commitments they've made. The Bush administration and the Obama administration both tried to get the words that were on the paper yesterday that the Taliban would break from al-Qaida publicly. We got that. That's important. Now, time will tell if they'll live up to that commitment is our expectation. They have promised us they will do so and we'll be able to see on the ground everything they do or choose not to do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, it's a historic agreement. 

SEC. POMPEO: Thank you MARGARET. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Secretary, thank you for coming on to talk about it. We'll be right back.