STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now, in one sense, the president's decision to withdraw troops from Syria was no surprise. He'd been wanting to withdraw for some time. The timing? Well, that was a surprise. The president declared ISIS to be defeated, and he said this even though the U.S. military has made hundreds of strikes on targets in Syria as recently as this month. Other administration officials, including the president himself have since acknowledged the fight continues. So this was a question for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. We sat down yesterday at the State Department. Is ISIS defeated?
MIKE POMPEO: We've made the caliphate in Syria go away.
INSKEEP: He said the U.S. and allied forces have taken the capital and territory once claimed by the Islamic State. And so now, the fight is changing.
POMPEO: We remember - you remember this, Steve. You remember cells with people in them being burned. The president made an enormous commitment to take down the caliphate, and that has been achieved. We now have the battle that is a longtime battle, which is a counterterrorism battle not only against ISIS but against al-Qaida and others - HTS - all the terrorist groups. President Trump remains just as committed today as he was yesterday and the day before. And the progress that the Trump administration has made in defeating ISIS in Syria is extraordinary, and we're very proud of that accomplishment.
INSKEEP: That was part of our wide-ranging discussion in one of the ornate rooms just outside Pompeo's office. It is decorated with portraits of Pompeo's predecessors, including Thomas Jefferson. The secretary is wrestling with a question that leaders since Jefferson have faced - when to get involved in overseas conflicts and, also, how to get out. In the case of Syria, the president's order would leave behind a nation that is still in chaos. Aside from the remnants of ISIS, a civil war continues and Iran is involved.
As recently as Monday, a U.S. envoy said the administration was determined to address those problems, too. The decision to withdraw instead left many U.S. lawmakers, including supporters of the president asking, what happens next to U.S. allies? And that prompted our next question to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
When U.S. troops leave Eastern Syria, of course, U.S. allies - Kurdish groups - will remain in eastern Syria. What obligations does the United States have to its Kurdish allies?
POMPEO: Over at the State, we've been working diligently for a long time, including the entirety of my time in service here to achieve the U.N. process to get a political outcome in Syria that takes down the threat of - threat of violence. We are committed to that. Ambassador Jefferys (ph) is hard at work...
INSKEEP: Jim Jeffrey is the envoy for Syria.
POMPEO: ...Trying to implement - the special envoy for Syria is, today, hard at work trying to deliver against the U.N. commitments. We're counting on the Russians. We're counting on the Turks. We're counting on each of those parties to honor their commitments to these U.N. - this U.N. Security Council resolution, and the United States will continue to lead those diplomatic efforts.
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the Russians and the Turks. The Turks, who, of course, have been hostile to the Kurds, have already said they're preparing to move into eastern Syria. The Russians have said...
POMPEO: A lot of history, Steve. You shouldn't enter - you shouldn't enter that debate today.
INSKEEP: (Laughter) Would you...
POMPEO: The history...
INSKEEP: ...Warn the Turks...
POMPEO: ...Between the Turks - the history between the Turks and the...
INSKEEP: Would you warn the Turks against attacking the...
POMPEO: There's a lot of history, Steve. Some folks want to just talk about what happened this morning. The history between the Turks and the Kurdish is a long one. It is a complicated one. And the United States is deeply aware of the set of relationships there. And we have a very clear mission set. Our mission set in Syria was the defeat of the ISIS caliphate, something that the previous administration could not accomplish.
INSKEEP: But I'm asking you about something a little different here. The Russian Foreign Ministry has said in the last day that the withdrawal of U.S. troops creates good prospects for a peaceful solution, and they gave the example of Aleppo, where the Syrian government, backed by Russia, went and destroyed U.S. allies and took over. Would you warn the Syrian government against moving against the Kurdish allies that you are leaving behind?
POMPEO: I don't give much credit to the Russian statements on much of anything to be honest with you, Steve. Here's what I know. The United States made a commitment.
We led a global defeat-ISIS campaign to take down the caliphate in Syria. We've achieved that. And I've spoken to European counterparts, Middle Eastern counterparts over the last week to 10 days. This effort - this defeat-ISIS coalition remains. And we are clear-eyed about the risks to the United States from terrorism, and we will yield to no one in our efforts...
INSKEEP: On terrorism - no commitment to U.S. allies left behind in Syria then.
POMPEO: We always have commitments to our allies. We have done this relentlessly. Y'all report it differently, Steve. I get it. I get the game, but you all report this differently. Our - the American commitment to our allies - not just in this situation but all across the world, you report that America is withdrawing from the world when, in fact, just the opposite has taken place.
President Trump and our State Department has led a global American leadership campaign that is unrivaled. We're incredibly proud of it. Our allies see that. We stare at the things that don't work anymore, and we demand that they begin to work. This is not only in the best interest of America but our allies as well, Steve.
INSKEEP: Let me ask you about another subject. Has North Korea's Kim Jong Un let you down?
POMPEO: We've known from the very first trip that I took when I was in a previous role that the challenge of denuclearizing North Korea was not one that would be - something that would be easy. We have diplomatically, relentlessly worked to support the president's mission statement, which is to denuclearize North Korea. We got that commitment from Chairman Kim. We've made some progress. There remains a long ways to go, but we are hard at it even today.
INSKEEP: But they haven't agreed to give an accounting of their nuclear weapons, which is something you wanted. And as time passes, they're beginning to get concessions. North and South Korea are talking about reopening roads and railroads. The United States is working to loosen travel restrictions. North Korea is getting benefits without giving things up.
POMPEO: And North Koreans have not suffered an economic sanctions regime like the one that the Trump administration has imposed and continues to impose ever.
POMPEO: You have to remember, Steve. I mean, you say things, and they're just unfounded, Steve. You say we're going to loosen travel restrictions when, if you read the statement very clearly, we're working to make sure the humanitarian assistance can be delivered.
INSKEEP: It is a narrow...
POMPEO: It is...
POMPEO: Right? It's in the statement, Steve. Don't read half of it. Read it all.
INSKEEP: I read it all.
POMPEO: It's important because this has deep connotations. You're suggesting to your listeners that somehow, we're relaxing the economic sanctions campaign. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth of the matter is that we are very consistent with what we've done before, making sure that where there is real need, real humanitarian need there, that we don't deny that to the people of North Korea. And sometimes, it takes getting an American to be able to travel in there to achieve that. And where that's the case, we want to facilitate that.
INSKEEP: I think it is fair to say they, however, have been evasive. They've been canceling meetings with your diplomats. Has Kim Jong Un let you down?
POMPEO: It's been a great process. They're not firing rockets. They're not conducting nuclear tests. We have a ways to go, and we will continue to achieve - to work to achieve the president's agenda.
INSKEEP: Second summit's going to happen?
POMPEO: I'm counting on it.
INSKEEP: What would you say, Mr. Secretary, to officials in China or North Korea or Iran, for that matter, who may feel that they should try to outwait the Trump administration, that the president will not be here forever, that he's been politically weakened lately?
POMPEO: I don't talk about politics. I'm hoping I get to be the secretary of state for six more years.
INSKEEP: Mr. Secretary, thanks so much.
POMPEO: Great. Thank you very much, Steve.
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