Return to Transcripts main page
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Live On New Day; Iran Vows Revenge After U.S. Strike Kills Top Leader; Tens Of Thousands Rally In Tehran Against The United States. Aired 7:30-8a ET
Aired January 3, 2020 - 07:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Using these proxy forces that he has manipulated for so long to bring so much destruction to the Shias and Sunnis and Muslims throughout the region.
This is a man who inflicted enormous harm not only on American lives but created terribly destructive activities supporting Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad -- all of the bad actors in the Middle East.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right.
POMPEO: Qasem Soleimani was at the center of all of it.
BERMAN: Was there any imminent threat to the U.S. homeland?
POMPEO: These were threats that were located in the region.
BERMAN: And when I ask about the timing, the reason I am asking is because Gen. Soleimani, as you well note, has been an enormous threat to the United States and U.S. interests for decades.
I was in Iraq in -- you know, between 2003 and 2008 when he was responsible for the death of probably 600 or more U.S. servicemen.
So what is different or what was different yesterday than over the last 15 years?
POMPEO: Well, John, you're right about the history of Gen. Soleimani, for sure. What's different today is that Iran has now been engaged for months in what amounted to dozens and dozens of attacks throughout the region.
President Trump has shown enormous restraint to date. While we've made clear to the Iranians that we weren't going to tolerate the killing of Americans, on December 27th, an American was killed in Iraq.
And then we watched the intelligence flow in that talked about Soleimani's travels in the region and the work that he was doing to put Americans further at risk. And it was the time to take this action so that we could disrupt this plot, deter further aggression from Qasem Soleimani and the Iranian regime, as well as to attempt to deescalate the situation.
The risk of doing nothing was enormous. The Intelligence Community made that assessment and President Trump acted decisively last night.
BERMAN: Was this attack in the coming days, do you expect?
POMPEO: You know, we're prepared. We have thought about this a great deal. But remember, they've been attacking for months and we can't forget that somehow --
BERMAN: Right, but I was just saying, was the imminent attack -- was the imminent attack --
POMPEO: -- I hear folks -- oh, I'm sorry, was the imminent attack?
POMPEO: I don't want to talk about the details of the plotting that was taking place.
POMPEO: I'm sorry, John. I didn't understand the question.
BERMAN: OK, no problem.
Listen -- listen, the President of the United States, moments ago, retweeted the State Department directive for all U.S. citizens in Iraq to get out. Why? What is the nature of the threat against U.S. citizens in Iraq this morning?
POMPEO: I don't want to elaborate on the statement that we put out just a handful of hours ago. But make no mistake about it, the Trump administration is focused on protecting Americans to the maximum extent feasible. We made the conclusion that a statement that we issued was appropriate -- that the timing was right for that.
We have -- as you've seen over the past weeks, we've taken actions by building out coalitions in the region, by working to make sure we strengthen our partners in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates -- all things aimed at deterring Iran from aggression. We will continue that action and we are continued to be prepared to respond if that's what's required to keep Americans safe.
BERMAN: Will you remove -- will you call for the removal or evacuation of U.S. State Department personnel from Iraq?
POMPEO: Well, we constantly evaluate our personnel, not only in Iraq but all across the region and across the world. Every day we're evaluating what the right security posture is. We will ensure that we get it right. We'll rely on the people on the ground to help give us guidance about what they're seeing and hearing and we will make appropriate decisions about the posture of our diplomats and our military personnel throughout the region.
BERMAN: What do you anticipate the possible range of responses from Iran will be?
POMPEO: John, we've anticipated a wide range of possible responses and we have done our level best under the direct guidance of the president to prepare for all of those possibilities.
We hope the actual response, John, is that the Iraqi people will do what they've been doing for months. They'll demand that the Iraqi government give them freedom, prosperity, and sovereignty.
We've watched these protests over the last weeks. They weren't burning American flags; they were demanding that Iraqi political leadership stop their kleptocracy, stop their political shenanigans.
And, Qasem Soleimani was at the center of that. He was driving bad outcomes for the Iraqi people. He was causing many Muslims of the region to be killed.
I saw last night there was dancing in the streets in parts of Iraq. We have every expectation that people, not only in Iraq but in Iran, will view the American action last night as giving them freedom.
BERMAN: Well --
POMPEO: Freedom to have the opportunity for success and prosperity for their nations. And while the political leadership may not want that, the people in these nations will demand it.
BERMAN: We'll see.
So far this morning, on the streets of Tehran, we've been seeing pictures and we have a reporter there. We've been seeing pictures of large-scale anti-American demonstrations following the death. This is in Iran, following the death.
We've heard from Iraqi leaders, so far, condemning the U.S. action.
We heard from a French official this morning putting out a statement saying that the world is less safe following the killing of Gen. Soleimani. And the concern there -- no one is saying that Gen. Soleimani was a good actor -- he was a bad actor. What they're suggesting is the destabilization will create a threatening environment. So when you hear from France the world is a less safe place this morning, how do you respond to that?
POMPEO: Yes. Well, the French are just wrong about that. The world's a much safer place today. And I can assure you that Americans in the region are much safer today after the demise of Qasem Soleimani.
And, you know, as for the protests that you described, there's no doubt the last vestiges of theocracy, the kleptocracy in Iran will continue to try and put down these uprisings from the people. They have jailed thousands, they have killed hundreds. It won't surprise me if they try to continue to do that. But know this. The Iranian people understand that America is a force for good in the region. And I'm convinced that the support that we have provided to the people in Iran and the support we will continue to provide for the people in Iraq will work to protect American interests and make lives better for those people as well.
BERMAN: I'm very interested in what the future role for the United States in Iraq will be, particularly after this.
Iraq's Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi condemned this attack. He said, "It's a flagrant violation of the conditions for the presence of American forces in Iraq and the role which is supposed to be limited to training Iraqi forces and fighting ISIS."
So do you see this as a threat to the U.S. presence in Iraq, which has been crucial over the last several years in the battle against ISIS?
POMPEO: John, I've spoken to acting Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi several times over the last couple of days. The president spoke to him. I spoke with the head of the Chamber of Representatives, Mr. al- Halbousi. I spoke last night with the Iraqi foreign minister. I've seen their public statements. I know privately what it is they also see.
And I know that what the Iraqi people will ultimately demand is that the Iranians get out. That the Iranians stop fomenting trouble, stop with these militias that are undermining their government.
America is there to help protect Iraqi people. I've had friends -- I'm sure you have too, John -- that have been killed defending Iraqi sovereignty.
POMPEO: We're there to continue our counterterror campaign and in the process of doing that we will make sure that as we engage that -- as we try and stand up Iraqi sovereignty and give them the space to do that for themselves, we'll protect American interests there.
BERMAN: Mr. Secretary, I do have to let you go. But will the administration be releasing details of the intelligence which did lead to the raid -- the imminent threat -- over the next few days?
POMPEO: John, we'll do our best to release everything that we know that's appropriate, that we can, that doesn't put anyone at risk. We'll do our best.
We want the world to understand that there was, in fact, an imminent attack taking place. The American people should know that this was an intelligence-based assessment that drove this.
BERMAN: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, we do appreciate you being with us this morning. Thank you for your time, sir.
POMPEO: Thank you, sir. Thank you, John.
BERMAN: All right, we'll be getting reaction to what the Secretary said with the former NATO supreme allied commander, coming up.
It was interesting to hear. I mean, he leaned in to the notion that there was a specific --
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.
BERMAN: -- threat -- a specific attack that was foiled.
HARLOW: And dozens or hundreds of American lives were saved, and made news by saying this was a threat in the region, not on the U.S. homeland.
BERMAN: We're going to have to see the intelligence on that.
BERMAN: But, stand by. Much more coming up.
HARLOW: You just heard from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying that taking out Gen. Soleimani saved American lives -- dozens to hundreds of them. He said that this was an intelligence-backed operation. A critically important interview. A lot of answers and some key questions remaining.
Let's talk about what we just heard with the former NATO supreme allied commander, Gen. Wesley Clark. General Clark, thank you for being here.
I know you listened to the entirety of the interview. What struck you most?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER, SENIOR FELLOW, UCLA BURKLE CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: OK, yes. So, first of all, I thought he made an excellent case for the strike. Soleimani was a really bad guy -- everybody understands that. Caused us trouble for decades. Cost hundreds of American lives.
U.S. intelligence was effective. U.S. military action was tactically effective. It shows a lot of U.S. strength and the U.S. obviously made a quick decision. It sounds like a strong action.
And there's no question that the loss of Soleimani will have some impact on Iran's immediate tactical options and also probably on their strategy going forward. So, tactically, a strong case.
The questions then come strategically. How did we get in this position with Iran and how will we get out of it? What's going to happen down the road?
You have to look at the politics on both sides, the strategy, the long-term aids, the allies, the geopolitics in the region, and that's where the questions come in. Iranian politics -- this is a government under siege.
It may be that, as Sec. Pompeo said, the Iran government will say OK, OK, we've had enough. You guys are pressuring us economically. You've shown you can attack our -- kill our best general. We give up. We're going to come back and you got your way.
But there's nothing in the record of the Iranian government --
CLARK: -- in over 40 years of struggle against the United States --
CLARK: -- that would indicate they would do this.
HARLOW: I was just going to say that.
CLARK: More likely, they are going to -- right --
CLARK: They're going to come back at us.
HARLOW: So --
CLARK: Now, the question then is what do we do then? Do we escalate this again? What if they strike an ally? What if they strike an American embassy?
Now, they put a bunch of cruise missiles in on the Saudi oil facilities. They could go back to that. They could put their cruise missiles in on an American embassy somewhere. So these are all issues that decision-makers have to consider.
HARLOW: Gen. Clark --
CLARK: So, it is -- you could call it a preemptive strike, but is it strategically wise? That's the question the world is asking today.
HARLOW: John asked him a critical final question and that is will you release the intelligence so the Congress -- they'll be briefed later today -- but the American people can know what this was based on. And he indicated -- I read it as him saying more affirmative than not. They're going to release as much as they can. That is what he said.
What will you be looking for in that intelligence?
CLARK: Well, I think you'd be looking for some sort of dramatic plan that would attack an American embassy or attack an American community somewhere or maybe somehow result in the use of chemical weapons or something against an American group. Something that's remarkably different from something that's been done before. But even there, what you have is a tactical risk that we took in striking Soleimani weighed against the overall U.S. strategy.
Remember, we went out of the Iraqi nuclear agreement because we didn't like Iran's activities in the region. We didn't think the agreement was tough enough. So we thought by pulling out and putting them under economic pressure we could then get a better agreement.
We don't want a war and they don't actually want a war.
HARLOW: Gen. Clark, I'm sorry to --
CLARK: So the question is how do we --
HARLOW: I'm sorry to --
CLARK: -- get off the tit-for-tat escalation.
HARLOW: I apologize for interrupting but we've just heard the first response from the president since this attack.
He just tweeted. Let's pull it up and I'll read it. Short, here -- quote, "Iran never won a war, but never lost a negotiation!" That from the president.
What do you make of his response?
CLARK: Well, I think he's trying to take their tactical action and put it into a strategic context that says you better come back and talk to us now, and that's the right move.
But it's going to be very hard for the Iraq -- the Iranian government to do this. The Iranian government is going to be under pressure to take action and to take escalatory action.
CLARK: And then, what's our response? That's the challenge. How do we get off the escalation ramp?
HARLOW: Gen. Wesley Clark, thank you so much for your perspective this morning. Sorry to cut it a little short.
HARLOW: Obviously, we've got a lot here to get to. Thank you very much.
CLARK: Thank you.
BERMAN: We're getting some new pictures in from the streets in Tehran. Let's put those up so people can see. These are demonstrators -- tens of thousands of people on the street protesting the U.S. airstrike that killed the Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani.
The implications? What does it mean? Christiane Amanpour joins us, next.
BERMAN: All right, breaking news. These are live pictures of tens of thousands of Iranians on the streets of Tehran. This is after the United States killed Iran's most powerful military and intelligence leader in an airstrike near the airport in Baghdad in Iraq.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was on with us just moments ago, said the attack was carried out to thwart some kind of an imminent attack by Iran against the United States.
Joining us now is CNN's chief international anchor, Christiane Amanpour.
Christiane, the secretary would not go into details and obviously, those details matter here. The American people, particularly after the Iraq War in 2003, do not trust the idea that there was an imminent threat unless we see exactly what it was. He wouldn't tell us what it was. He said that might be coming.
What do you see going on here?
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, I think it's going to be very hard to expect the administration to suddenly deliver all this information.
I think what was more interesting is what he said to you and it was quite, in my view, somewhat conflicting. It was, was it -- this just about security --
AMANPOUR: -- or was it about trying to have a regime change in Iran and get the Iraqis to throw the Iranians out there and all the rest of it? Was it both?
And that also leads to the next question. What is the strategy? And I think that that's the most important question that we have going forward.
It is absolutely clear that Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force of the Islamic -- of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp was, all we've all been saying all morning since this happened, the second, if not the most important person in Iran who was the major arm of Iran's foreign policy abroad. And who has networks and tentacles and huge influence across that region -- Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen. You name it, Qasem Soleimani's footprint, his handprints are all over that place.
He was so well-known and, in some quarters, beloved in that region that they are going to have to take some kind of action. As one expert said to me, maybe draw some blood in response. How, we don't know. We've been watching and listening to those massive live demonstrations and taped demonstrations on -- inside Tehran. We have to wait to see what happens around places like Iraq, Lebanon, and et cetera.
But what they're already saying -- because I'm trying to listen to the words of the speakers underneath -- is this was the pride of Islam and we have to avenge his death. And they've used the word Jihad and other such things.
So the question is really, honestly and truthfully, what is the strategy? Is this going to be an accidental slouch into a war in the Middle East or are all parties -- not just the United States, which has said that they want to deescalate, but all the leaders of the Shiite Islamic factions, which are backed by Iran in that region, not to mention Iran itself -- are they going to try to deescalate this?
And yes, Qasem Soleimani is and does have the blood -- the blood of many Americans on his hands from what happened in Iraq in the early days of the Iraq -- the U.S. war there. But also, remember that Qasem Soleimani was the only person with his militias who stood between ISIS and Baghdad when ISIS took over a lot of Iraq back in 2014.
AMANPOUR: So it's a very, very mixed bag and a mixed picture, and it's really hard to see which way this is going right now.
HARLOW: Christiane, give us the global perspective on where this leaves America this morning and our allies because Benjamin Netanyahu, fully supportive, of Israel -- fully behind the U.S. on this. But, France -- the French government, this morning, says the world is now a more dangerous place.
AMANPOUR: Well, you know, you heard Sec. Pompeo say to John that the French are wrong. I mean, he categorically said that.
Remember that some -- you know, on the eve of the Iraq War -- the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March of 2003, then-President Chirac said the United States was going to open a can of worms. And France did not go along with this action and wanted more time to figure out what exactly was the intelligence with the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And, President Chirac was proved right.
I think the French have a huge history in that region; so do the British. So do many other people who not only have a history and a diplomatic history but also have people and personnel in the region.
So that is going to be, again, something to watch because as everybody has said, it's unlikely that Iran would take on the United States in any effort at symmetrical warfare. It's very, very unlikely. It hasn't happened in the past, it's unlikely to happen now.
But the asymmetrical -- the ability to lash out in many parts of that region is clear and present and it is the reason -- or at least one of the main reasons why successive U.S. presidents, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama, and up until now, President Obama have not -- sorry, President Trump -- have not taken this massive escalatory step.
And remember, Qasem Soleimani was at the height of his power when he was taken out, unlike Osama bin Laden, who was a forgotten nothingburger sort of hiding in a villa in Pakistan.
But, it's not the person you take out, it's what they leave behind, and the tentacles, and who comes next. Al Qaeda terrorism did not end with the sidelining of Osama bin Laden. ISIS has not ended with the killing of al-Baghdadi.
So if you're trying to end whatever is happening, this is a major escalation and we need to see what the plan is.
BERMAN: And also another note. Obviously, Soleimani, for better for worse -- and this isn't a value judgment -- he was a government official. That's what differentiates him from bin Laden as well. So you are killing a government official with this and that has different implications.
Christiane, we have to let you go in about 20 seconds. The U.S. relationship with Iraq -- the Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi condemned this action. It's a violation of the U.S. agreement to station troops in Iraq.
What will this do to the U.S. presence there?
AMANPOUR: Well, overnight, the U.S. missile attacks on the al Qutb, the Hezbollah al Qutb base, changed the U.S.-Iraq relationship. Iraq suddenly went -- and this is what experts are telling me -- from demonstrating against the Iranian presence and others to demonstrating against the United States.
Did the United States expect its embassy in Iraq, one of the most guarded embassies in the world, to be breached by pro-Iranian militias in Baghdad? Did the United States expect that when it retaliated for the killing of that American contractor?
And now, the government of Iraq is under massive pressure. We'll see how it plays out and whether these Shiite militias, whether it's Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq, whether it's Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah in Lebanon -- you know, what is the pressure from the streets?
And, of course, what will Iran do? I mean, the idea of Iran wanting now to do that famous photo op that President Trump wanted back in September at the U.N., it's over.
BERMAN: Oh, yes.
AMANPOUR: They're talking about revenge now and so we just simply don't know what's going to happen.
And remember, the French are saying it's more dangerous because Emmanuel Macron was the mediator between President Trump and Hassan Rouhani, trying to get that relationship back on track.
AMANPOUR: But the U.S. have gone from maximum economic pressure to now, military action.
BERMAN: Christiane Amanpour, great to have you with us this morning. Thank you very much.
HARLOW: Such an important voice. Christiane, thank you.
Our breaking news coverage continues right now.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.