Transcript: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on "Face the Nation," September 22, 2019

Pompeo: Attack on Saudi oil plant was "act of war" by Iran

The following is a transcript of the interview with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that aired Sunday, September 22, 2019, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: Good morning and welcome to "Face the Nation" in New York, where world leaders face a number of critical challenges at the annual United Nations General Assembly. Late Friday, the Pentagon announced the U.S. will deploy additional troops and military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Increasing security in the region after last week's attack on oil fields in Saudi Arabia. The Trump administration has placed blame for those attacks squarely on Iran and announced on Friday a new round of sanctions against Iran's national bank. President Trump has not ruled out military strikes but it seems he is holding off on them for now. We begin this morning with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who called the oil field attacks, "an act of war." Mr. Secretary, good morning. 

SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: Margaret, it's good to be with you again. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You are the only U.S. official who has directly and definitively blamed every single part of these attacks on Iran. Is there any question that the attack was launched from Iran? 

SEC. POMPEO: No reasonable person doubts precisely who conducted these strikes. And it is the intelligence community's determination that is likely the case that these were launched from Iran. You- you've seen the pictures--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Likely.

SEC. POMPEO: --that came from the north- that came from the north. It was a sophisticated attack. These weapons systems had ranges that could not have come from the Houthis. It is crazy for anyone to assert that they did. I mean it is literally nuts on its face to make an assertion that this was an attack by the Houthis. This was Iran true and true, and the United States will respond in a way that reflects that act of war by this Iranian revolutionary regime.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It was launched from Iran?

SEC. POMPEO: This was an attack by Iran on the world. This was an act of war. I'm here at the U.N.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. Because the president hasn't--

SEC. POMPEO: The U.N- the U.N.- the U.N.'s- the U.N.'s primary--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --been that specific--

SEC. POMPEO: --the U.N's primary charter--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --and other countries haven't either.

SEC. POMPEO: --is to prevent state on state attack--

MARGARET BRENNAN: And Saudi Arabia hasn't either.

SEC. POMPEO: The U.N.'s primary charter is to protect peace around the world. This was a state on state act of war.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Iran's foreign minister as you may have heard has repeatedly denied any part played by Iran in this attack. Will the U.S. release evidence that proves he's lying?

SEC. POMPEO: Well, we already have. There- there's already ample evidence that demonstrates that he's lied. You saw the Saudis showing these were Iranian systems built- built and manufactured inside of Iran. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But they haven't--

SEC. POMPEO: We know- we know where-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --given evidence or said it--

SEC. POMPEO: --we know where they attacked.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --was launched from Iran.

SEC. POMPEO: Look, look, don't- I don't know why anybody listens to the Iranian foreign minister. He has nothing to do with Iranian foreign policy, and he's lied for decades and then he resigned. It- it's just- it's not even worth- it's not even worth responding to him. It's- it's been- it's beneath the dignity of anyone in the world to listen to someone who repeatedly makes the claim that the Houthis launched this attack.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Saudi Arabia has shown itself incapable of defending its most--

SEC. POMPEO: No that's- that's--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --prized--

SEC. POMPEO: --that's not true. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --asset and it is America's best customer when it comes to buying American made weapons. U.S. intelligence also didn't warn of this attack happening. Are you concerned about the stability of the kingdom that they were this vulnerable?

SEC. POMPEO: Yeah, you don't have all your facts quite right, but you saw the announcement that the secretary defense made on Friday. We're going to continue to reinforce. We're looking for a diplomatic resolution to this, unlike the Iranians who apparently--

MARGARET BRENNAN: What part of the facts is wrong?

SEC. POMPEO:  --who are apparently blood--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Saudi Arabia was not able to defend itself.

SEC. POMPEO: Apparently the Iranians are bloodthirsty and looking for war. President Trump and I, we're looking for a diplomatic resolution to this. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: What does that mean? 

SEC. POMPEO: We had a- we had a nation state attack, another nation state the largest attack on the global energy supply I think in all of recorded history. The good news? When I walked in there this morning brent crude was traded at 64 bucks a barrel and the world has responded in a way that has made sure that there's ample supply in the system. But make no mistake about it we're- we're prepared to do the things we need to do to try to deter Iran from this kind of behavior.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What does a diplomatic resolution mean? The attack happened.

SEC. POMPEO: Yeah, so the resolution looks like this: Iran becomes a normal nation. We lay it out, now a year ago in May--

MARGARET BRENNAN: These are your 12 steps?

SEC. POMPEO: No- no missile strikes. No- no capacity to build out their nuclear weapons program, broadly speaking. Stop the assassination. They're- they're killing people in Europe. They have an assas- assassination campaign in Europe. This is not a normal nation and we hope- we hope the Iranian people, who we think are demanding that their country stop this kind of behavior, act in a way that causes the Iranian regime's behavior to change. That's our mission sense. That's what President Trump is determined to achieve. First and foremost through diplomatic means.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But the president hasn't laid those things out publicly as you just did.

SEC. POMPEO: He- he and I fully understand the mission set. I- I- I know it because he's told it to me.

MARGARET BRENNAN: If you look at just the things that have happened over the past few months, the U.S. has been very clear that it places blame for the shooting down of that American drone on Iran, the attack on the oil tanker in the UAE on Iran. This attack on Iran. It seems Iran's behavior is getting worse not better, based on the Trump administration's campaign. You've been very aggressive with these sanctions. Why do you think sanctioning them leads to better behavior?

SEC. POMPEO: Margaret, you- you start the clock at the wrong point. Nineteen-seven--

MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm talking about what happened this summer.

SEC. POMPEO: 1979 is the trajectory of the Iranian revolution. 40 years of terror. 40 years- the previous administration chose to arm them, to provide the wealth and resources that have underwritten these very attacks that we're seeing today. They were able to build up these missile systems--

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you think--

SEC. POMPEO: --they were able to improve. They were--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --the Trump administration policy is working is what you're saying, despite the fact that these attacks are continuing to happen because--

SEC. POMPEO: It's work--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --Liz Cheney, Lindsey Graham, Republican allies of the president have said the failure to carry out some kind of obvious retaliation or a military strike looks like weakness.

SEC. POMPEO: Yeah, we've responded in a number of ways. This is not about weakness. This strategy is working. We- we sanctioned the Central Bank on Friday. Margaret, you have to remember that the sanctions that we've put in- put in place that ultimately will cause the Iranian regime to shrink by between 10 and 15 percent in the year ahead, only went in place in May of this year. They're- they're five months on. We're at the beginning of that sanctions campaign, but I- I don't think anyone should mistake President Trump for having the resolve to make sure we get this right and when the moment calls for it I am confident the president will take all appropriate actions.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But I- I guess, fundamentally, the question is why do you think sanctions will be preventative and not just punitive? Why do you think making Iran more desperate will get them to act more responsible?

SEC. POMPEO: It'll deny them the resources to foment the exact kind of strikes that we have seen over this past summer. It will deny them the money, the wealth, the resources. They're operating today in five countries. It's expensive. They've already had to make difficult decisions about whether they're going to feed their people, provide medicine to their people or they're going to launch missiles into Saudi Arabia. I am convinced that the Iranian people see those choices being made. And as time goes on they will continue to see that those conditions worsen and they'll demand- they'll demand that their leadership not bring their brothers and sisters back home in body bags, but rather use those resources. The- the- the Iranian people are great people. We- we stand with them and I am- I'm confident they will demand that their leadership behave in a way that reflects the great history of this place.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you considering cyber attacks? Would that be a less obvious, less direct form of retaliation?

SEC. POMPEO: President talked about our use of those previously, but I'm certainly not going to forecast what we'll do as we move forward. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But suffice it to say, building up defensive presence and sanctions are not the limit of what the Trump administration will do?

SEC. POMPEO: Oh goodness, no. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to also ask you about Ukraine. The president's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani is publicly calling for an investigation by the Ukrainian government into Joe Biden, who is obviously a- a political opponent of the president. Is it appropriate for the president's personal attorney to be inserting himself in foreign affairs like this?

SEC. POMPEO: If there was election interference that took place by the vice president, I think the American people deserve to know. We- we know there was interference in the 2016 election and if it's the case that there was something going on with the president or his family that caused a conflict of interest and Vice President Biden behaved in a way that was inconsistent with the way leaders ought to operate, I think the American people deserve to know that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you think it's appropriate for Rudy Giuliani to be doing that? Has the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine been providing support- the State Department been supporting what he's doing?

SEC. POMPEO: So I'm not- I'm not going to talk about that other- other than to say this. We have consistently worked to support the Ukrainian people. I remember the previous administration. I would- Margaret, you'll remember, I was a member of Congress and Barack Obama refused to provide defensive weapons systems to the Ukrainian people. He sent them blankets. This president, much to the consternation of Vladimir Putin who- you know there's this storyline about Russia and we're weak on Russia- this president sent defensive weapons systems to the Ukrainians so they could defend themselves while Barack Obama allowed one-fifth of Ukraine to be stolen by Vladimir Putin. This administration is working to develop a great relationship with Ukraine. We'll see President Zelensky this week here in New York, I think, and we're looking forward to that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Will you ask him or have you asked him to open an investigation?

SEC. POMPEO: I've talked to Foreign Minister now a couple of times. We talk about the important relationship between our two countries and how we can make Ukraine stronger and have great economic commerce between our two great nations.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Secretary Pompeo you've got a very busy week. Thank you for joining us. 

SEC. POMPEO: Thank you very much, Margaret.