[We] just took off out of Baghdad. I had two meetings. I was with Ambassador Satterfield, Charge Joey Hood, and Lieutenant General LaCamera. We met with – first with the prime minister and then with President Salih. In each meeting, we went through a number of things.
Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State
ERT London, United Kingdom
May 07, 2019
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good evening, everyone. Can you all hear? Everybody hear in the back? You’re all right? All right.
Well, as you know, we just took off out of Baghdad. I had two meetings. I was with Ambassador Satterfield, Charge Joey Hood, and Lieutenant General LaCamera. We met with – first with the prime minister and then with President Salih. In each meeting, we went through a number of things.
First of all, we talked to them about the importance of Iraq ensuring that it’s able to adequately protect Americans in their country. They both provided assurances that they understood that was their responsibility, and we wanted to let them to know about the increased threat stream that we had seen and give them a little bit more background on that, so they would have enough information that they could ensure that they were doing all that they could to provide protection for our team.
They understand, too, it’s important for their country. We don’t want anyone interfering in their country, certainly not by attacking another nation inside of Iraq. And there was complete agreement across that.
We also talked about some of the broader issues. We talked about the fact that there is still work to do to complete the destruction of ISIS. There are still pockets of ISIS inside of Iraq. We talked about how we would jointly work to keep Iraqis safe by going after those forces with our team.
And then finally, we talked about some of the things that Iraq needs to do to develop its own infrastructure, some of the electricity demands that they have, some of the needs that they’ll have for water in the south this summer. Although it’s been a rainy year for them, they’re still going to have enormous water demand in Basra as the summer approaches. And then also for crude oil and for natural gas, we talked about how we can help them build out the infrastructure that they need.
And so it was a productive set of meetings. We wanted to go there to demonstrate, too, to our team that Iraq is an important place for us, and the Secretary of State wanted to be there to make sure our team understood that this was a place that we were going to continue to stay to do our work to help build out a free, independent, sovereign Iraq.
And then so that’s – and then the last thing I would say is I also understand there may have been a school shooting in Denver. I’ve just seen quick reports. I don’t know much more than that. To those that may have been injured or, if worse, our condolences go out to them.
With that, I’ll take a handful of questions.
MS ORTAGUS: All right, this is going to be difficult, so I’m going to call on everyone. Everyone will get a chance, but let’s – just let me call on everybody since we have some logistical challenges here. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. Mr. Secretary, what do you think emboldened Iran now to increase their activities?
SECRETARY POMPEO: You’d have to ask them.
QUESTION: Is there anything that you – that, I guess, prompted the carrier move, your visit? Anything in particular?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The United States is going to defend its interests wherever we are and always, and we’ll always make sure we have a force structure that we believe can achieve that end. So my visit, the actions taken by the Department of Defense, the messages that we’ve sent to the Iranians, I hope put us in a position where we can deter it and the Iranians will think twice about attacking American interests.
MS ORTAGUS: Matt.
QUESTION: Can you explain – can you go into any detail, please, about, like, you’re expanding on the information that the Iraqis have about the threat stream that you talked about?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I can’t. I can’t say much more. I think the Department of Defense has said that these were very specific. These were attacks that were imminent; that is, they were attacks that were going to happen fairly soon. We learned about them; we’ve taken every action we can to deter them. Other than that, I just can’t say any more.
MS ORTAGUS: Who’s there? Courtney.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thanks. In your meetings, did you – were you able to discuss the energy independence agreements that you talked about in addition to the threats?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We were. We spent quite a bit of time talking about all the infrastructure needs that they have – electricity, natural gas, oil, even more broadly than that. But those are the – water, the ability to transport each of those items. So we talked about each of those, and we worked on helping, ways we could think about that alongside them to make those projects move forward very quickly, so that by summer of this year or fall of this year, we can see some real impact, positive impact, for the Iraqi people, not only in and around Baghdad but in the south, in Basra, in the north, and as well in the Sunni areas to the west, in Anbar.
MS ORTAGUS: Katie.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, could you please speak just a little more broadly about Iran’s infiltration in Iraq leading up to this point of escalation and what their activities have been?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So we’ve talked for a long time about Iran’s influence with militias that are there. We have urged the Iraqi Government, for its own security, to get all of those forces under Iraqi central control. In each of those meetings, those two leaders promised that that was their objective too, they were moving towards that goal, and we talked about how we could assist them with that.
But so long as there are Iranians there who have the capacity in terms of weapon systems who aren’t under Iraqi Government control, then the Iraqi people are at risk and it’s a less stable nation. And we are urging them to move more quickly to consolidate those forces. And we, of course, are working diligently with our coalition partners in the region – it’s not just a U.S. effort – to continue to strengthen the Iraqi Security Forces themselves in the north, around Mosul, in Nineveh, in the south, all across the country.
MS ORTAGUS: Abbie.
QUESTION: Apologies if this was already asked, but I didn’t hear.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: Did you get assurances from them that they would cease their use of Iranian gas?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We didn’t spend much time talking about sanctions issues. We had more pressing items today. I spoke with the prime minister yesterday. I had spoken to him the day before. I’ve had a number of conversations with him where we did have the opportunity to talk about that. They understand the sanctions regime and the need and the demand that we have placed on them to comply with it.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Anybody else?
QUESTION: A quick one on Venezuela, just because the U.S. announced today that they were removing the sanctions on the former intelligence chief. Do you see this as a turning tide? Do you foresee more people stopping to support Maduro?
SECRETARY POMPEO: From the very beginning, we’ve made clear those who choose the right side of history will be rewarded, and those who don’t won’t see those rewards. This leader chose to make this decision to come out, to turn against Maduro, to support the Venezuelan people, and for that we lifted the sanctions.
QUESTION: Since you – since we just left Iraq, can you describe those pockets of Iraq – sorry, ISIS, pockets of ISIS? Have they reverted to an insurgency? What are they doing? What did you learn?
SECRETARY POMPEO: No, these are – there are two issues. There are remnants of ISIS that are there that are still connected to Baghdadi and the centralized forces, but they’re much more dispersed than they were. The destruction of the caliphate occurred not only in Syria but in Iraq as well.
The second pocket is we still have detention camps where we’ve got to do the hard work – and we did talk about this. I don’t think I mentioned this. We talked about how it is we’re going to ensure that those who were terrorists remain in control and not let loose, and those who are simply innocent family members, children, are returned.
And then we also talked about how other nations – some of these are foreign fighters, fighters from Europe, fighters from Africa, fighters from Russia. Those countries need to take their folks home and ensure that they continue to be detained so that their terror threat doesn’t – that those individuals never return to the battlefield.
So we did talk about that issue as well. It’s a big issue. The numbers are in the thousands of people that we’ve got to deal with, some 70,000 in one of the camps. So this is a not insignificant challenge. Not all of those are terrorists. Many of them are families, women, and children. But to separate them, to do the work, is going to take a big coalition effort.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Great, thank you all. Get some rest.