Apr 21, 2021
Former Sec. of State Mike Pompeo Press Conference on Iran Transcript April 21
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Republican members of Congress held a press conference on April 21, 2021 to discuss Iran and the Maximum Pressure Act. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
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Jim Banks: (00:00)
Capitol Hill we’re here today to introduce to you the latest bill being offered by the Republican Study Committee. We are introducing the Maximum Pressure Act today, which as of right now has 83 original co-sponsors including many of my colleagues who are behind me. In the first 100 days, President Biden has exhibited a troubling pattern. He’s talked a big game, while returning to the same Obama era weakness that emboldened our adversaries and made American families less safe.
Jim Banks: (00:34)
His foreign policy seems to be defined by the approach of speak loudly and carry a twig, which is in stark contrast to the tree limb that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Trump carried on a daily basis. And we’re seeing Biden’s week approach take root with regards to Iran. His administration seems ready to abandon the Trump administration’s successful maximum pressure campaign and reenter the failed Iran deal, again, by circumventing Congress just as President Obama did. That’s why we’re here today to communicate to the Biden administration that we will fight to maintain sanctions on Iran and show our adversaries that if Joe Biden temporarily lifts sanctions, we will reimpose them later.
Jim Banks: (01:30)
This bill will do three things. It shows Congress is not bound to agreements by the president that purports to speak on our behalf. Secondly, it codifies the Trump administration’s maximum pressure strategy until Iran meets the 12 demands laid out by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in May of 2018. The 12 demands that just yesterday, Biden’s state department refused to say that they support. And thirdly, it expands the existing bipartisan Iran sanctions mandated by Congress, making it the toughest sanctions bill ever introduced in Congress on Iran.
Jim Banks: (02:15)
We are here with Mike Pompeo today because this bill was inspired by his work as secretary of state. As the architect of the successful maximum pressure strategy, we consulted with him and took our lead from his example. Because of his work, not just in regard to Iran, but to China and the Middle East as well, I am confident that Mike Pompeo will go down in history as the most consequential secretary of state that we have had in a generation. So today we’re grateful to have him here today. I want to turn the mic over to him to make some remarks as well.
Mike Pompeo: (03:01)
Well, good morning, everyone. It’s great to be back on Capitol Hill with some old friends and some new ones, but it’s equally special to be here, supporting a piece of legislation that matters an awful lot for the security of every one of the constituents of every member of Congress behind me. We’ve got to get this right. Our administration did just that. Jim talked about that. A few facts that are really central to understanding what we were trying to do.
Mike Pompeo: (03:28)
Jim talked about the maximum pressure campaign that we had in place. It wasn’t just economic. That’s gotten all the headlines. In fact, it was effective. I remember some of you saying, well, it won’t work if it’s just America alone, but of course it did. $123 billion of foreign exchange in 2018. 4 billion left for Iran. We took away 95% of the Uranian foreign exchange reserves in just two and a half years, a pressure campaign, an effective one like we delivered.
Mike Pompeo: (03:59)
We’ll continue to make the Iranians make difficult choices, hard choices about whether to underwrite Hezbollah, underwrite the militias in Iraq, the Iranian backed militias there, underwrite the Houthis. Still a terrorist organization, even if not still designated as such. This worked. The Uranians were able to only pay half of the salaries of the terrorists that they had been underwriting for years because of the campaign that we put in place. But it was diplomatic in military too. You saw us build out an enormous coalition: Israeli, Saudis, Bahrainis, Arabs from all of the Gulf states understood that Iran was the central bad actor creating instability in the Middle East, and they joined together alongside of us to push back against them. Military too.
Mike Pompeo: (04:45)
Not only did we strengthen our military, but when Qasem Soleimani threatened Americans, we took him out. We made clear that U.S. policy was going to be aimed at deterrence. That we weren’t going to put tens and thousands of our young soldiers in harm’s way. But when American security depended on strength from the United States, we would demonstrate it.
Mike Pompeo: (05:05)
I’m proud of this piece of legislation. It talks about the things that need to be done for Iran to rejoin the community of nations and says if you don’t do that, sanctions are going to remain in place. This is what Congress quintessentially has the responsibility to do. I’m happy about the 80 plus co-sponsors. I hope there’ll be more. I hope it becomes bipartisan. This isn’t about Republicans or Conservatives or Democrats. This is about the security of America.
Mike Pompeo: (05:31)
If we get this right, we will continue to preserve our freedom, that of our friend and ally in Israel. And we will continue to build on what the administration did with the Abraham Accords as well. It’s good work. Ask yourself this, of the 12 things we asked the Iranians we would like them to do, which one is it you’d like to have them give up? Which of those 12 does anyone find unreasonable? These are expectations we ask of every country and there is no reason we ought not to place sanctions on the Iranians until they comply with these basic norms of civilized nations. Thank you all for supporting this piece of legislation. Good luck. I’m here to help in any way I can to support you all, getting this across the finish line. Thank you.
Jim Banks: (06:20)
Thank you again, Secretary Pompeo. We are inspired again by your leadership. I want to thank many members who contributed to this piece of legislation that Madison has in his hands. I want to specifically thank Joe Wilson, Don Bacon, Bryan Steil, French Hill, Andy Barr, Tony Gonzales, Andrew Clyde, Lisa McClain and Greg Steube, who all contributed greatly to the final draft of the legislation that we were introducing right now. And that’s why I want to turn the mic over to a few members to explain their support. I think I’ll start with Debbie Lesko from Arizona.
Debbie Lesko: (07:00)
Well, I’m Debbie Lesko from the great state of Arizona. And I first want to thank Jim Banks for the great work that he does, not only on this bill, but also for the Republican Study Committee. And I want to thank Secretary Pompeo for the fantastic work he did while he worked for the Trump administration. And thank you for supporting this legislation. This is such an important issue. Iran is a huge terrorist sponsor, threatens Israel, threatens other areas, including the United States. We cannot let our foot off the gas pedal. We need to continue to do what the Trump administration and Secretary Pompeo did, have tough sanctions, tough things against Iran, the terrorist state. We cannot do what the Obama administration did and give them busloads of cash and think that’s going to work, because it didn’t. So again, I want to thank all of the members here, the Republican Study Committee, Secretary Pompeo, we want to keep America safe. We want to keep Israel safe and we want to stop this terrorist threat. Thank you very much.
Jim Banks: (08:33)
And now I want to turn it over to August Pflueger from Texas.
August Pflueger: (08:41)
I’d like to thank Congressman Banks and the Republican Study Committee for their leadership, for his leadership on an important topic. This is not a nonpartisan issue, this is all Americans that are concerned about the safety and the security. Secretary Pompeo, thank you for your leadership for holding Iran accountable. The number one sponsor of state terrorism, who was absolutely hell bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. President Biden has talked a big game, but all we see is a soft policy and a disturbing pattern of behavior that will only allow Iran, who has showed us their true intentions over the past decades, the ability to further their terrorist goals.
August Pflueger: (09:30)
Going back to the JCPOA only hurts the United States and it allows Iran to keep key nuclear advances. We must embrace a strategy that holds them accountable and is based on the realities of the environment. As someone who spent their entire career fighting against terrorism in this region and others, it’s key that we embrace maximum pressure. It’s key that we hold Iran accountable. Biden wants to play softball with our adversaries.
August Pflueger: (10:03)
As someone who has fought against them firsthand, I know that when you do that, you give them the upper hand. Secretary Pompeo offered us the ability to negotiate from a position of strength under President Trump’s leadership. Nice guy tactics are not going to work here. It’s time to bring the pressure back and to make clear to our adversaries around the world that the United States does not compromise with terrorists. That we are committed to the protection of Israel, committed to the security of this country and committed to making sure that the world can live knowing that Iran will not continue to threaten the region and our allies and partners with nuclear weapons. Thank you very much.
Jim Banks: (10:55)
Oh, we have a big show of support here as you can see. I want to make it clear that the Republican Study Committee Steering Committee on behalf of our 154 members of RSC has taken a position in strong support and endorsement of this piece of legislation. I’m grateful to all the members who came out today to show their support. And with that, we’re happy to open it up for a few questions before it rains. Anybody for me or Secretary Pompeo? Yes. [inaudible 00:11:25].
Mike Pompeo: (11:47)
Yeah. I’ve been working on this issue with respect to Iran for an awfully long time, including my time in Congress, you can go back to 2014 and 2015 and watch the work that I did. Today I’m a private citizen. I’m here in my status as a private citizen. As a private citizen, I care deeply that Iran never has a nuclear weapon. And when I saw this legislation forming, I talked with Congressman Banks and I said, I want to be a part of making sure that this is successful. This matters to my son, to my family, to people all across the state that I love back in Kansas and to every American. And so it is not only appropriate, but I hope constructed, that I’m here today to help this piece of legislation maintain sanctions on a regime that threatens us all. [inaudible 00:12:26].
Mike Pompeo: (12:31)
I’m actually doing this publicly and openly, unlike Secretary Kerry who had private conversations with Uranians that was trying to undermine our administration. I’m doing this in a way that is in the finest traditions of American democracy. I’m out here in front of you taking questions, talking about the important factors to keep America secure. That’s how I’ll behave. I’ll do it in this way. The way that’s consistent with the finest traditions of former secretary of states as well. [inaudible 00:13:16].
Jim Banks: (13:16)
You have to speak up. Maybe come up a little closer. [inaudible 00:13:19].
Mike Pompeo: (13:30)
Yes. My guess is this election will be about as free as fair as the last one was. It is almost certainly the case that we’ll end up with an Iranian leader that the people would reject if given the fair and free opportunity to voice their views. I regret that this election will be so constrained, conducted under a regime that will deny people their basic freedoms. I don’t know who the Ayatollah will end up selecting, but that’s the process that will happen. It will certainly be someone who doesn’t have America’s best interests at heart, and doesn’t have more importantly, the people of Iran’s best interest at heart.
Speaker 5: (14:05)
Can I ask you one more question?
Jim Banks: (14:07)
One more question. Anybody? Yes [inaudible 00:14:12].
Mike Pompeo: (14:22)
Yeah. So the question is about the terror sanctions that are in place. My view of terror sanctions being lifted is if they’re no longer terrorists, one might well consider lifting them. But we saw already once, with respect to the Houthis, the Iranian backed terrorists in Yemen who no one disputes they’re continuing to conduct terror. Indeed, I saw over the weekend, continued terror attacks into Saudi Arabia. They lifted those sanctions. It is a head-scratcher. It is immoral, and it is deeply troubling that if there are sanctions in place for terrorists, this ought to be bipartisan.
Mike Pompeo: (14:54)
If there are sanctions in place where people are conducting terror campaigns across the world, American power and prestige on the line, because we have designate them as terrorists. If the underlying factual situation hasn’t changed, I don’t see how an administration could in good faith lift those sanctions. That’s in part what we’re doing today here with this important piece of legislation.
Jim Banks: (15:12)
I want to give an opportunity for our Republican whip, Steve Scalise, to speak as well.
Steve Scalise: (15:17)
I want to thank RSC chairman, Jim Banks, for his leadership. Especially good to see my dear friend, former Energy and Commerce Committee colleague and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo here with us. He was such a great leader during the Trump administration at standing up to the bullies around the world and supporting and backing our allies. And there’s nothing more important in foreign policy and diplomacy. And number one, making sure that our friends around the world know that we have their back.
Steve Scalise: (15:53)
Israel never had that assurance during the Obama years. They need to have that assurance these days, especially because Iran doesn’t play by the same set of rules as everyone else. Iran has been very clear what they want to achieve. They want to eviscerate Israel and they want to eviscerate the United States of America. And for the Biden administration to restart the kind of negotiations to let Iran get a nuclear weapon that they were able to do during the Obama years, there is no bigger threat to the Middle East than a nuclear armed Iran. There’s no bigger threat to America than a nuclear armed Iran. And any attempt to bring them back into the world economy and give them that legitimacy, undermines America’s interests, undermines Israel’s interests, and it jeopardizes our national security.
Steve Scalise: (16:41)
And so what this Maximum Pressure Act really does is says, Congress needs to play a role. We cannot let Iran get a pathway to a nuclear weapon. And if President Biden is getting the old band back together and you see John Kerry coming back, their track record was dismal on standing up to Iran. Their track record was dismal on backing our allies around the world. It’s time we stand with our allies. It’s time we stand up to the bullies again as President Trump did, as Secretary of State Pompeo did.
Steve Scalise: (17:10)
There are some dangerous people out there. We’re seeing Russia start to try to move in again to Eastern Europe. We’re seeing Iran try to move towards a nuclear weapon again. We’re seeing China ramp up their pressures and the things that they’re doing all around the world to undermine American dominance. It’s time we stand up to the people that want to do us harm. And I appreciate the fact that Secretary Pompeo is joining with the Republican Study Committee, with Jim Banks’s leadership, to say that we’re going to stand up for America against the bad actors around the world and against a nuclear armed Iran.
Jim Banks: (17:43)
All right. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you.