On March 13, President Donald Trump announced that he was replacing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo. CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel will take Pompeo’s place, the first woman to hold that position if confirmed. Pompeo has been outspoken on Iran both as a Republican congressman from Kansas (2011-2017) and as CIA director. The following is a collection of key remarks on Iran.
Today marks one year since Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif agreed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On this date, we ought to take the opportunity not to re-litigate that “political commitment,” but evaluate whether it has helped protect the United States, our people, and our interests. Unfortunately for our country’s future, the answer to that inquiry is a resounding no. As a result, Congress must act to change Iranian behavior, and, ultimately, the Iranian regime.
The JCPOA can perhaps delay Iran’s nuclear weapons program for a few years. Conversely, it has virtually guaranteed that Iran will have the freedom to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons at the end of the commitment. Further, in the past year, the Islamic Republic of Iran has launched multiple ballistic missiles – testing increasingly complex and longer range missiles. It has grown its support of terrorist groups, and it continues to take hostages. The deal has, in fact, made our country less safe.
—July 14, 2016, in an op-ed published by Fox News
“You'll have to leave that to the State Department. I think -- I think the last I saw Secretary Tillerson made very, very clear that Assad is not a stabilizing influence in Syria, that is difficult to imagine, and from an intelligence perspective not a policy perspective, I would add, it is difficult to imagine a stable Syria that still has Assad in power. He is a puppet of the Iranians and therefore it seems an unlikely situation where Assad will be sitting on the throne and America's interests will be well served.”
“So Hezbollah is but one example of the Iranians using proxy forces to achieve their outcomes, which is an expansionist capacity to control and be the kingpin in the Middle East, certainly Hezbollah; many of the Shia militias, although not all; their efforts in Yemen, their proxies in Iraq now firmly gaining power inside of Iraq, each of those present threats to the Gulf States, to Israel, and to America's interests. And this administration is going to have the task of unwinding what we found when we came in.”
“We are working diligently to get to the right place there. I will tell you that some of the actions that we have taken have let folks know that we are at least back working this problem in a way that wasn't the case six months ago.”
“So I'll leave that discussion to State Department, who recertified but I'll talk to you -- I want talk to you about the -- about Iran, because you can't talk about the JCPOA the reason that I opposed it when I was a member of Congress wasn't that there might not be some marginal benefit in delaying Iran's nuclear program, it is potentially the case that you could achieve that, you could get increased monitoring, you could stop a few centrifuges from spinning, there might well be marginal benefits on Iran's nuclear that could be achieved by the agreement. In fact, you could go back and look, I said that when I was a member of Congress as well.”
“The challenge of the agreement is that it is short term. It doesn't avail of us -- avail us the capacity to really truly identify all the things that Iran might be up to, and then covers only such a narrow piece of the Iranian risk profile. And so that's what -- that's what the administration is focused on, we're working diligently to figure out how to push back against Iran not only in the nuclear arena but in all the other spaces as well.”
“And I can't get into the details of our intelligence as it relates to what those distinguished scholars have written but I kind of think of Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal like a bad tenant. How many of you have had a bad tenant? You know they don't pay the rent, you call them and then they send a check, and it doesn't clear and they send another one. And then the next day there's this old tired sofa in the front yard and you tell them to take it away, and you know they drag it to the back. This is Iranian compliance today. Grudging, minimalist, temporary with no intention of really what the agreement was designed to do, it was designed to foster stability and have Iran become a reentrant to the Western world, and the agreement simply hasn't achieved that.”
“You know it's a good answer – a good question rather. I would answer it this way, I'd answer it this way, I don't know. I don't know what will push them back, but I can tell you what won't. What won't is continuing -- continued appeasement, continued failure to acknowledge when they do things wrong, and forcing them into compliance, and sometimes yes that will require Americans taking risk. I'm confident this administration will ultimately be willing to do so. When we get our strategy in place I am confident you will see a fundamental shift. We've begun, right, that one of the first things the President did is to go build a coalition of the Gulf States and Israel to help find a platform which could uniformly push back against Iranian expansionism.”
“So here's how -- from an intelligence perspective, here's how I think about that. It is the case that our European partners, for example France just did a deal with China and the National Iranian oil company a $5 billion dollars deal with an entity that remains sanctioned by the United States of America, fascinating.
“So that's a diplomatic challenge. From an intelligence perspective, it is true that 70 percent of the people, in an interesting election, voted for this fellow, Rouhani. But the folks with all the power aren't being voted on. The folks who are causing the mischief, Qassem Suleimani and his gang weren't elected. Those are the folks that we're deadly focused on making sure don't continue to maintain capacity and power. Yes it does, it answers your question in full. Yes, ma'am. That's all I got.”
—July 31, 2017, speaking at the Aspen Security Forum
JUAN ZARATE: Mr. Director, first talking about Iran, the president gave his speech on October 13th reshaping U.S. policy on Iran. I think the first question on this is why was that speech and that shift necessary? And is Iran in violation of the JCPOA? Or what's the animating principle behind this shift?
POMPEO: We often focus a lot on the JCPOA, and I'm happy to share the intelligence elements that are buried there, but the president has come to view the threat from Iran as at the center of so much of the turmoil that bogs us down in lots of places in the Middle East—right? Whether it's Lebanese Hezbollah, the threat that it presents to both Lebanon and to Israel; whether it's the Shia militias—you can see the impact that they're having today, even in northern Iraq; the threat that they pose to U.S. forces— we had an incident last week.
The list of Iranian transgressions—the missile program, their cyber efforts. The list of Iranian transgressions is long. And from an intelligence perspective, we shared that with the president. I think he concluded that we needed to reconfigure our relationships, not only with Iran but with the Gulf states and with Israel, to ensure that we are addressing what he views as the real threat to the United States in a comprehensive way.
ZARATE: The president seems to be shifting that in the policy, and I think that the administration seems to be pushing, not just on the deal, but around the deal. So how do you explain to people your view of the JCPOA itself and the role it plays in the policy?
POMPEO: Look, the mission set that the president laid out with respect to the deal was to ensure that there were no pathways for the Iranians to achieve a nuclear capability, to not put a president in the future in the same place this administration is with respect to North Korea, to close down all the various avenues.
And so, there are many pieces to that. From an intelligence perspective, we need even more intrusive inspection. The deal put us in a marginally better place with respect to inspection, but the Iranians have on multiple occasions been capable of presenting a continued threat through covert efforts to develop their nuclear program along multiple dimensions, right? The missile dimension, the weaponization effort, the nuclear component itself.
So we need to make sure from an intelligence perspective that we're enabled to do that. And the president has given us the resources to go achieve that and all the various tools that we have, the various legal authorities.
And so, when the president stared at the deal and asked us what this meant from a proliferation perspective inside of Iran, two years, three years, the difference of a breakout time across a handful of months, it didn't seem satisfactory to him. That's no surprise; he's tweeted about it.
It didn't seem satisfactory to him. So he asked us all to go evaluate how we might present a more comprehensive effort to push back against the Quds Force, the IRGC more broadly, and the Iranian regime itself. The effort—the notion—and I'll stay on the analytic side, the notion that the entry into the JCPOA would curtail Iranian adventurism or their terror threat or their malignant behavior has now, what, two years on, proven to be fundamentally false. So...
ZARATE: Has the opposite happened? Have they gotten more aggressive than you would anticipate, or....
POMPEO: So it depends on which dimension. Look, they've been developing their missile system pretty consistently for an extended period of time now.
In terms of testing, about the same as where they were pre-JCPOA. But their desire to put guided rocketry in the hands of Hezbollah, the efforts with the Houthis in Yemen, launching missiles into the—or attempting to launch missiles to the Emirates and into Saudi. These are new and aggressive, and show no signs of having been curtailed by even the increased commerce that they've achieved through having Europeans back in the game in Iran.
ZARATE: I mean, they seem to be pushing on all of the pressure points and what does that mean for us to be able to confront and push back?
POMPEO: All the tools available of U.S. power, so I'll begin with a handful. I could—we could talk about this for a long time, but I'll begin with a handful. It has been far too inexpensive for the Iranians to conduct this adventurism. We should raise the cost of that. The Agency has an incredibly important role there, providing the intelligence basis for us to help, not only the United States, but our partners in the region, which is the second piece of this.
We need all of our partners. Sometimes I hear folks talk about the JCPOA and our partners, and nary a mention of the Saudis, the Emirates, the Israelis, but lots of talk about Germans, and Brits and French, and that's great. They're important partners, too. We need them all working against the continued expansion of the Iranians.
Treasury, too, has an important role. Juan, you lived this in your roles at Treasury. Secretary Mnuchin is keenly aware of the tools that are in his arsenal as well. I mean, think about this today imagine you're a—the Iranians have complained a great deal that they haven't seen the benefits, the economic benefits they had expected. But imagine you're a European CEO, or board of directors or a lender; the intelligence community struggles mightily to figure out which companies are controlled by the IRGC or the Quds Force. It is a difficult, complex intelligence undertaking to sort out which entities are controlled by the Quds Force, which ones have shareholders. It is intentionally opaque, but as much as 20 percent of the Iranian economy is controlled by them.
Imagine that you're a businessperson deciding whether it was appropriate to take that risk or not, whether the return was there for your company. I think we can make it even more difficult, and I think in order to push back against all these non-nuclear activities—put aside the nuclear issues in the deal, to push back against these non-nuclear activities I think is something the president's intent on doing.
ZARATE: The Treasury Department has designated actors who've been—Al Qaeda actors—who've been in Iran and supported—the 9/11 Commission raised the question, frankly, that was unanswered with respect to Iran's potential role in 9/11. And the president actually raised it quite openly, which I found to be really startling and interesting. Can you talk about that, the Iranian-Al Qaeda links that the president mentioned?
POMPEO: I can't say a whole lot more than he said, but I think it's an open secret, and not classified information, that there have been relationships, there are connections. There have been times the Iranians have worked alongside Al Qaeda.
We actually, the CIA is going to release, here, in the next handful of days, a series of documents related to the Abbottabad raids that may prove interesting to those who are looking to take at this issue—take a look at this issue a little bit further.
But there have been connections where, at the very least, they have cuts deals so as not to come after each other. That is, they view the West as a greater threat than the fight is between them two along their ideological lines. And we, the intelligence community, has reported on this for an awfully long time. It is something we are very mindful of.
And, with the defeat of the real estate proposition in Syria and Iraq for ISIS, we watch what's going on in Idlib. You've got ISIS folks, Al-Nusra Front, Al Qaeda folks up in the north. We're watching to see if there aren't places where they work together for a common threat against the United States.
ZARATE: What are your concerns about the links between Iran and North Korea, and the issue of proliferation writ large?
POMPEO: There's a long history there—deep, there are deep conventional weapons, ties as between the two countries. These are two national states that don't have deep export control provisions within their countries.
And so it is a Wild, Wild West exercise and we do have an obligation to ensure that we account for that, as an intelligence community and then do our best efforts to ensure that we don't have capabilities transition between the two.
It could be the case, I can't say much, but you can imagine that each of these countries would have relative expertise in certain technologies, certain capacities and there won't even be dollars exchanged, but rather, there will be expertise or technology exchanged, as well, for the betterment of each of their weaponization programs, there missile programs and then their capacity to do explosive testing on nuclear devices, as well.
—Oct. 19, 2017, at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ National Security Summit
"Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are the cudgels of a despotic theocracy, with the IRGC accountable only to a Supreme Leader."
"They're the vanguard of a pernicious empire that is expanding its power and influence across the Middle East."
"In recent years, the IRGC has become more reckless and provocative, seeking to exploit the vacuum left by instability in the Middle East to aggressively expand its influence."
"It openly vows to annihilate Israel. And when you look at the death and destruction inflicted in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq by Tehran and its proxies, the threat is clear: Iran is mounting a ruthless drive to be the hegemonic power in the region."
"For unlike ISIS and its mirage of a caliphate, Iran is a powerful nation-state that remains the world's largest state-sponsor of terrorism. The Islamic Republic is Iran's version of what the caliphate ought to look like under the control of an Ayatollah and his praetorian guard, the IRGC."
A soldier from Texas was killed “in an area controlled by a Shia militia aligned with Iran.”
"We do not have evidence of a direct link to Iran, but we are closely examining this tragic incident."
—Oct. 12, 2017, speaking at the University of Texas on the eve of President Trump’s announcement that he would not recertify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal
MARGARET BRENNAN: In terms of the goal here, when you were in Congress you were harshly critical of the nuclear deal with Iran that the Obama administration negotiated and there are obviously flaws that even they recognized there. But the Iranians did give up the vast majority of their nuclear fuel and their production facilities aren't functioning. Have you set a higher benchmark for these talks since North Korea is farther along with its nuclear program.
CIA DIRECTOR MIKE POMPEO: Yes, Margaret, I think that's the case. Most importantly the conditions are very different. The previous administration was negotiating from a position of weakness. This administration will be negotiating from a position of enormous strength with sanctions that are unrivaled against the North Korean regime. That conversation will proceed very differently. My critique of the Obama administration's JCPOA commitment was that they left the Iranians with a breakout capacity. They had a short time frame that these would these restrictions would remain in place. And North Korea's human capital and enrichment capacity continues to remain in place. Those are...those are all things that present risk to the world and President Obama's, excuse me President Trump is determined to prevent that from happening in North Korea.
MARGARET BRENNAN: In Syria there are now reports of napalm being used in addition to chlorine gas attacks just outside Damascus and East Ghouta. Why doesn't the president's red line on chemical weapons apply in these cases?
CIA DIRECTOR MIKE POMPEO: Margaret, the president's made very clear that he won't tolerate chemical weapons usage and he has demonstrated his willingness to respond. In this case, the intelligence community is working diligently to verify what happened to there. I've seen the pictures. You've seen the pictures as well. We have a higher standard to make sure we understand precisely what took place, precisely who did it so that our response can meet the threat. And we're working to develop that. We've seen those reports and the president asked me nearly every day what it is the intelligence community knows about the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons and who else, the Russians or the Iranians who might be responsible for them.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The Israelis including their prime minister was here this week warning that Iran is unchecked within Syria. Should the U.S. mission change to be able to counter Iran and its proxies like Hezbollah?
CIA DIRECTOR MIKE POMPEO: So I'll leave policy to others. What I can say about what's taking place inside of Syria that the Iranians had a free pass in the previous, previous administration. In fact the JCPOA and the negotiations prevented a United States response. That is they didn't want the previous administration, Ben Rhodes and Obama's team, didn't want to upset the apple cart. This administration has taken a much stronger approach, a much more aggressive posture with respect to countering Iran.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But that's not part of the mission now.
CIA DIRECTOR MIKE POMPEO: But we're working closely and we're working closely with the Israelis to develop a full intelligence picture of what's taking place there so that the president has options to counter that threat.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So what I hear you saying is that the mission is not solely to counter ISIS. You are also looking at Iran and its proxies.
CIA DIRECTOR MIKE POMPEO: President's made very clear we're working diligently to find the right approach to counter the incredible spread of Iranian hegemony throughout the Middle East.
—March 11, 2018, on CBS Face The Nation
“Sophisticated adversaries like China and Russia, as well as with less sophisticated adversaries like Iran and North Korea, terrorist groups, criminal organizations, and hackers are all taking advantage of this new borderless environment.”
“With respect to Iran, we must be rigorously objective in assessing the progress made under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. While I oppose the Iran Deal, as a member of Congress, if confirmed, my role will change. I’ll lead the agency to aggressively pursue collection operations and ensure analysts will have the time, political space, and resources to make objective and sound judgments.”
“First, you have my commitment that we, if I’m confirmed at the Agency, will continue to evaluate their compliance with the Agreement in the way that you just described the Agency has been doing to date. I concur with you that that work has been good and robust. And that intelligence I think important to policymakers as they make decisions. I think my comments were referring to the post-January 6 2016 rampage of Iranian increased activity. And that’s, I know you share my concern about that as well. And so when I was speaking to the risks that Iran presents, it was certainly from those activities. Whether it's the fact that they’ve now had --- we’ve now had missiles that we’ve had to fire back at in Yemen, the Iranian supported Houthis, the list is long. They’re still holding Americans in Iran. Those are the concerns that I was addressing that day. You have my commitment as the Director of the CIA when I’m confirmed that we will continue to provide you the intelligence to understand both what’s taking place in the nuclear arena with respect to the JCPOA and its compliance, as well as to the set of activities that are outside of that.”
“Senator, the Iranians are professionals at cheating. And so while I think that we have a very sound inspection regime, I have to tell you I worry about the fact of the thing that we do not know, we do not know. And so you have my commitment that I will continue to improve and enhance our capacity to understand that and do everything I can to diminish the risk that in fact we are missing something.”
—Jan. 12, 2017, speaking at his Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing
“In an unclassified setting, it is under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity. This is not an insurmountable task for the coalition forces.”
—Dec. 3, 2014, during a roundtable with reporters
"The deal reached today between the Obama administration and Iranian leaders is an unconscionable arrangement that increases the risk to Kansans and all Americans. The Iranian regime is intent on the destruction of our country. Why the President does not understand is unfathomable.
"Instead of taking advantage of crushing economic sanctions to end Iran's nuclear program, the administration negotiated a deal against the will of the American people that does nothing but give Iran leverage and enable this totalitarian regime to continue growing its terrorist practices.
"This deal allows Iran to continue its nuclear program -- that's not foreign policy; it's surrender.
"This deal will have dramatic and negative consequences on our national security for generations to come. It is wholly unacceptable that the President has chosen to place the safety of the American people at such high risk with today's agreement."
—July 14, 2015, in a statement