U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during an interview on Thursday that he would “happily” visit Iran for negotiations and would love an opportunity to address the Iranian people directly.
Pompeo sat for an interview with Kevin Cirilli of Bloomberg TV, who asked if the situation with Iran is “getting back on track” or if tensions were still “intensifying.”
In response, Pompeo pointed to “40 years of malign behavior” by Iran, which he argued became even worse after former President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal provided the regime with ample funding for further mischief.
“We had a terrible deal that the previous administration had entered into that had as one of its major side effects creating enormous wealth for the leadership inside of the Islamic Republic of Iran. And they were using that wealth in malign ways,” he charged.
“So we broke out of the deal, we stopped giving them money, we put pressure on the Iranian regime, and we’re forcing them to make tough decisions about how they’re going to behave. We want change in behavior from the Iranian leadership so that the Iranian people can ultimately get what it is they deserve,” he said.
Cirilli asked how that change in behavior could be achieved when Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif insisted this week that U.S. sanctions against Iran have “backfired.”
“Foreign Minister Zarif is no more in charge of what’s going on in Iran than the man in the moon,” Pompeo replied. “At the end of the day, this is driven by the ayatollah. He will be the ultimate decision-maker here.”
Pompeo added that Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Commander Qassem Soleimani, who answers to the theocracy rather than Iran’s secular government, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are the only Iranian leaders who can resolve the current crisis.
“Those are the people upon whom we’re trying to apply sufficient pressure to show them that the cost just isn’t worth it, to convince them that if they simply behave like a normal nation that the Iranian people can live normal lives,” he said.
“Would you go to Tehran?” Cirilli asked.
“Sure, if that’s the call, I’ll happily go there,” Pompeo answered.
When Cirilli asked if he would be willing to appear on Iranian state television, Pompeo said he would “welcome the chance to speak directly to the Iranian people.”
“Zarif gets to come here, he comes to New York, he drives around in the most wonderful city in America, and he speaks to the media, he talks to the American public, gets to put Iranian propaganda out into the American airwaves,” the secretary complained.
“I’d like a chance to go not do propaganda, but speak the truth to the Iranian people about what it is their leadership has done and how it has harmed Iran. I think the reason they won’t permit that to happen is because they know the truth as well,” he said.
Pompeo hit the same point about the irrelevance of Iran’s foreign minister during an interview Thursday with Brett Baier of Fox News.
Pompeo dismissed Zarif as someone “everybody meets with when he comes to New York and he wears nice suits,” and said Soleimani and Khamenei are the “individuals that have to decide that the cost to the Iranian people is simply too high and they can’t continue to engage in this behavior.”
“We’re fine with them having defensive weapon systems. Every country can do that. But they can’t conduct assassination campaigns. They can’t arm Hezbollah. They can’t help the Houthis in Yemen. Those are things that are terror campaigns, and they just aren’t tolerable,” he said.
“When they rejoin the community of nations, the wealth that will be created for the Iranian people will be enormous – commercial activity, all the things that normal nations get to do. People want to conduct business with the United States of America. We’re prepared to do that. But this simply can’t happen with the Iranian leadership behaving the way it is today,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo told Baier that Britain, France, Germany, Norway, Japan, South Korea, and Australia are among the nations that have been asked to participate in a joint security initiative for the Strait of Hormuz.
“Every country that has an interest in ensuring that those waterways are open and crude oil and other products can flow through the Straits of Hormuz needs to participate to protect not only their own interests but the fundamental understanding of free and open waterway,” he urged.