Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
Ben Franklin Room
QUESTION: We’re at the U.S. Department of State in the Ben Franklin Room. We’re actually sitting atop the swamp, are we not, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s great to be with you. It’s great to be here at the State Department. This is a beautiful place, where I get a chance to host leaders from all around the world. Thanks for letting me be with you today.
QUESTION: Well, when I made reference to the swamp, Foggy Bottom, this historically has been a place where politics run deep. There is an agenda that oftentimes runs counter to the American ideals, and that’s changed under this administration and under your leadership here at the State Department? I mean, America’s first.
SECRETARY POMPEO: One of the things we have made abundantly clear – President Trump campaigned on this in 2016 and he’s talked about it now for three and a half years – is this centrality, this idea that our foreign policy has to, in the first instance, deliver good outcomes for the American people.
So whether that’s our diplomatic efforts or our economic efforts around the world, or even the disposition of our forces, the central thesis is to make sure we protect Americans and create prosperity and security here at home. The good news is when we do that, when we do it well, you see great things happen, great things happen for people in every nation all across the world. It’s not disconnected to say America first and still want really good things for every human being.
QUESTION: It comes back to leadership, America leading. But it also comes back to leadership here at the State Department, a lot of great people who work here, who are patriots. But in the absence of strong leadership, it doesn’t always turn out the right way. And I think under this President and, in fact, your appointment here as Secretary of State, we’ve proven that America can lead and make some difficult decisions.
And I want to talk about some of those, Secretary Pompeo. And I want to start by just kind of putting this moment in context for the Value Voter Summit. And again, I want to thank you for joining us at the Value Voter Summit. You’ve been a speaker multiple times. You came when you were first elected to Congress, you came last year, and it’s always great to have you being a part of that.
But when you look at the confluence of issues, look at the coronavirus coming out of China; we’ve got, of course, domestic issues; but we’ve got Iran, the snapback of the sanctions there, China working in Latin America, working with the Vatican, a lot of things happening right now.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. This is a moment. There’s no doubt about that. And I think we have done really good work at setting the conditions all around the world for the flourishing of the human condition. And I say that – that sounds lofty and ethereal, but it’s really connected to real people’s lives. And if you think about the way President Trump thinks about foreign policy, it is this idea of principled realism. We can’t be everywhere; we can’t be all things. But we can demonstrate through the goodness of America, through the economic might and power of America, through the way we conduct ourselves around the world – we defend human rights, the unalienable rights that every human being has, because they’re made in the image of God. We defend that everywhere and always. We don’t – we’re not always successful, and we use different tools in different places. But that central set of understandings about how America can be a force for good in the world while delivering really good outcomes for the American people is at the heart of what we’re trying to do.
And whether it’s the theocratic regime in the Islamic Republic of Iran or the nasty brutality of the Chinse Communist Party and what they’re doing in western China to their own people, this administration has stood strong. We have used our tools that we have available to us to deliver a better set of options and opportunities for virtually everyone.
QUESTION: You mentioned, Mr. Secretary, inalienable rights. That brings to mind the commission that you formed, the – on inalienable rights that drew a lot of controversy from the left. But it’s kind of a recalibration of what are human rights.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, I think anyone who has been working in the religious freedom space and the human rights space over these past years would accept the fact that the central understandings of our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that there’s a real crisis. When you see the Human Rights Council at the UN, for example, with countries like Venezuela and Iran and some of the worst actors in the world running those things, sitting as members, we know there’s a real challenge.
So what I did – so I wanted to go back and reground how the United States thinks about human rights around the world, and so I formed a commission led by a woman named Mary Ann Glendon, a professor at Harvard Law School, former ambassador – U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, and asked she and the commission to go back and look and take the central ideas of our Judeo-Christian nation and lay them across how we think about our – the principles of our foreign policy, help everyone get a chance. It’s about 50-plus pages. You can go read it in seven languages on our website and take a look. I think it will remind everyone about why this is, in fact, the greatest nation in the history of civilization.
QUESTION: Well, I actually thought about it last week when I saw President Trump announce the 1776 Commission in the Department of Education. I mean, it would be great to see each of the departments and agency recalibrate and go back to those founding principles, which – I think that’s exactly what the 1776 Commission will do.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, you’ve seen the conflict here in the United States. This is a challenge for every American to consider. This nation was great because our founders laid down a direction and an opportunity and a structure to create an ever-more perfect union – not perfect – we don’t get it right every day. We don’t get it right every day all around the world. But this is a country that shows up and makes things better for people, and this is a nation that has made lives better for Americans for decades and decades.
And I hope that America will continue to be strong, will continue to reflect the values laid down in our founding documents, and when we do so, we’ll continue to make life better for Americans for decades and decades to come.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I think you are a unique Secretary of State. I had the privilege of working with you when you came to Congress, and then of course you went on to the CIA. But you’re a graduate of West Point, you were a tank commander, you don’t back down. And one of the things that I have seen in this administration – several things are unique, but under your leadership here at the State Department, you’ve hosted two international gatherings on religious freedom. And you have stated unequivocally, without apology, that the number-one foreign policy of this State Department reflecting this administration is international religious freedom.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I believe, President Trump believes, that absent religious freedom, the lives of people around the world are very difficult. Authoritarianism almost always follows the oppression of religion. Pushing religion out of the public square drives oppression, drives authoritarian regimes, and really gets at human dignity.
And so we have made that a real priority. The room we’re sitting in here today has hosted each of these two gatherings. They’re the largest human rights gatherings in the history of the State Department. We bring people from all faiths and people from Judaism, Muslim clerics, Christian leaders of all faiths, Baha’i. We bring a broad group of religious leaders in to talk about how we can bolster religious freedom in the countries from which they come and how the United States can help them achieve that. We think it makes life better for every citizen. We’ve watched where religion is tamped down, seldom do good things follow.
QUESTION: Well, and I’ve been encouraged in my capacity at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to work with you and State Department in advancing that core fundamental human right. It’s not just an American right, but a human right of religious freedom. But that’s the ability for everyone to choose their faith. I mean, they have that right. I think it’s a God-given right to choose to follow a God or not follow one.
But that said, you’ve also been very outspoken about your Christian faith. You haven’t hidden your faith. You’ve been very clear even as you have traveled the world.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, I just think people appreciate knowing who you are, that you’re authentic, and that you don’t hide the things that drive you, the central underpinnings of who you are. And for me, I’m an evangelical Christian. I believe Jesus Christ is my savior. And I think when I meet with counterparts, whether they’re from an Arab state where it’s a majority Muslim country or you’re in Israel, a predominantly Jewish country, I think they appreciate people who are consistent and are of faith. They know where you’re coming from. We all have different ideas. Those three religions have some centrality and they come – they’re all Abrahamic faiths. But they – I think they appreciate that.
I started this speech in Cairo with a sentence that described myself in that way, and I still get notes to this day from people all across the world who said, “That was bold for you to stand in Cairo and talk about you being an evangelical Christian,” but recognizing that the people of Egypt would – were predominantly from a different religion, but that you could find places where you could work together and make life better for the people of both countries.
I think that’s the way diplomacy is best conducted, when people are candid and honest about who they are, what drives them. My duty: I swore an oath to the United States Constitution. That’s what I do as the Secretary of State. The person I am is important for people to understand.
QUESTION: But Mr. Secretary, I also think it’s important from the standpoint of diplomacy, when you look at about 80 percent of the world is religious in orientation and they make decisions based upon those deeply held beliefs, and too often in the West we’ve held to the secular mindset that religion has to be pushed out when the bulk of the world makes decisions based upon their faith. So as a believer who understands that faith is real and it affects people’s lives, I think it gives you an advantage in diplomacy.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I believe that, too. You see this in the United States. We see it in many countries. When you can’t talk about it, when you push it to the background, you push it aside or pretend it’s not part of the process of analysis, you’re taking away one of the fundamental elements of human nature, right, that we’re all made in the image of God and that drives how people think about their lives, their families, all the things that matter and we hold most dear.
So I do. I think it’s important. We work hard to make sure that we maximize religious freedom for every human being all across the world. There’s days I wish we did better. As you know from serving on the commission, lots of places in the world where religious freedom is not available. That saddens me and it drives me every day to work to help my team improve the lives of those people and give them more space to exercise their conscience rights.
QUESTION: I want to wrap up our time together by returning to the issue of China. Recently you had made the comment that the world has awakened to the threat Beijing poses to international security and the global economy. When we see what’s happened with the coronavirus, when we see the fact that they’re working even into the – not in only Latin America, but even here in the United States, to undermine America’s republic.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll give you an example. Tomorrow I’m going to travel to Wisconsin, and I’m going to talk about what the Chinese Communist Party is doing right here in the United States. There’s deep connectivity to some of the things we’re seeing happen in our country. And I see it all across the world – what’s taking place in western China itself, where they’re trying to eliminate those who are not Han Chinese. This is one of the worst human rights violations in recent memory, certainly of this century.
We’ve watched today the challenge that Christians and Catholics have to practice their faith inside of China. The Chinese Communist Party is attempting to rewrite the Bible itself to Sinicize the Christian doctrine. That’s unacceptable. That will diminish the Chinese people, and we want good things for them, just like we want good things for people all across the world. We’ll continue to work hard on this because it’s the right thing for America to do.
QUESTION: When you look at these competing interests, there’s really two global ideologies – one, I think, represented by China, a totalitarian, repressive view; and you have America, which is an ideal of freedom, of individuality, coming together as one for the betterment of all.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, we see that the world is at a point of tipping. There’s no doubt about that. I remember when the Soviet Union fell, there was this idea that history had been written and authoritarianism had been banished from the world. We can now see that that’s not the case. There is a struggle. The Chinese Communist Party is seeking hegemony around the world, and we have an obligation to do our best to make sure that the freedoms that we value and the capacity to exercise our human rights aren’t trampled upon by whether that’s their predatory economic activity or their military might or their information campaigns here in the United States. If we get it right here, I’m confident that people around the world will join us, that those nations that share our traditions and our Western values will also push back against this threat from the Chinese Communist Party, and we’ll prevail.
There’s a group of people who believe America is declining. I don’t believe that for a single minute. This is a nation that is strong and resilient, and I’m proud to have been part of an administration that has understood that and used America’s capacity and capabilities and power for good all around the world.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I think I can say this on behalf of the millions of values voters out there. We’re grateful that you’ve been a part of this administration and for your leadership here at the State Department. Thanks so much for (inaudible).
SECRETARY POMPEO: Tony, thank you very much. Thanks for having me.
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