June 4, 2019 — Washington, D.C.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a conversation with American Jewish Committee (AJC) CEO David Harris, discussed the U.S.-Israel relationship, Israeli-Palestinian peace process, continuing Iranian and Hezbollah threats, UN treatment of Israel, and efforts to combat antisemitism.
A segment of the interview was shown for the first time today at the AJC Global Forum, the leading global Jewish advocacy organization’s signature annual event. Nearly 2,500 civic, political, and Jewish leaders from across the United States and 50 countries around the world are participating in the AJC Global Forum, June 2-4, in Washington, D.C.
“I've always had a special place in my heart for Israel,” Pompeo said at the outset of his conversation with AJC’s Harris. “Long before I came here to be the Secretary of State or even when I was the CIA director, I've known of the deep, important relationship between our two countries,” said Pompeo. “It’s certainly a relationship founded in mutual security interests we have, but also the nature of the two countries, democracies with a profound respect for the rule of law…and profound respect for the protection of religious freedom.”
Pompeo expressed hope that the U.S-Israel relationship “never becomes partisan.”
“I see a long trajectory that has brought us closer and closer together since the founding of Israel,” he said. “Members from Congress or political parties from across the political spectrum” should understand the relationship with Israel “is of great value to the United States of America.”
On the Administration’s efforts to move the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward, Pompeo said, “It is unimaginable that any arrangement will be agreed to by the Israelis absent them protecting their own natural security interests. That’s a prerequisite.”
Pompeo said that in developing the Administration’s peace plan, the U.S. relationship with Gulf Arab nations is “central to what we are trying to accomplish.” He cited the February meeting in Warsaw, Poland, where “Gulf States came together with Israel in a way that hasn't happened in decades. I think that's important. I think it creates an opening for the very possibility that we can conclude this.”
But Pompeo also noted that Arab states “have become frustrated” with the lack of a peace partner on the Palestinian side. “It can’t be a terrorist group. It can’t be someone who is afraid to take some risks,” he said.
The Secretary encouraged all parties to “keep an open mind” about the Administration’s peace plan. “Take the entire context of what we are proposing as our vision for moving forward, and we can begin to build from that. If we can get that far, if we can get serious, good-faith people on all sides of this issue to seriously sit down and have a conversation, we will have done more than has happened in recent history,” he said.
Pompeo said that the recent U.S. “focus on Iran” is a response to “the nation in the Middle East that is causing the most instability in the Middle East.”
“It is 40 years of aggression, 40 years of arming proxy forces, 40 years of arming Hezbollah and disrupting Lebanon. Today, disrupting Yemen by underwriting the Houthis. Firing missiles, even today, into Saudi Arabia,” he said. “The world is at risk from this Iranian malign activity.”
Acknowledging that Europe chose to take a different approach to the Iranian nuclear agreement after the U.S. withdrew from the JCPOA, Pompeo emphasized that regarding “the risks that are presented to Europe by Iran, there is no daylight.” He cited European forces in Iraq, stationed with Americans, and European citizens that visit Riyadh as potential targets for Iran, which already has interfered in Iraq and fired missiles into Saudi Arabia.
‘The JCPOA simply failed,” said Pompeo. “The theory was that if you stopped their nuclear program, they would join the Community of Nations, they would begin to behave in a way that was fundamentally different than they had been behaving. That’s just proven wrong.”
Pompeo said he has not seen “any material progress” by European countries to recognize Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization. “The American position is very clear” on Hezbollah, said Pompeo. “It is a unitarian entity. It is a terrorist organization. It is underwritten by the Islamic Republic of Iran, and it, in its entirety, must be designated as a terrorist entity.”
Pompeo dismissed the argument by some in Europe that labeling Hezbollah a terrorist organization would somehow lead to political instability in Lebanon. “The destabilization of Lebanon is a direct result of the continued underwriting and success of Hezbollah,” said Pompeo. Regarding Hezbollah’s participation in Lebanon’s government, Pompeo pointed out that historically “terror organizations put a political patina on what they are actually doing. We can't be fooled. No one should misunderstand the last armed militia remaining in Lebanon is Hezbollah. The Lebanese armed forces ought to be the only armed force inside of Lebanon.”
UN Treatment of Israel
Explaining the Administration’s decisions to pull the U.S. out of UNESCO and the UN Human Rights Council, Pompeo said unfair treatment of Israel in both bodies “had just come so unhinged.”
“We withdrew both from our participation and the resources that the United States provided with the aim being not to destroy those institutions, which in some cases do some good, but to fundamentally require them to reform, and at the very least, to make sure that Israel was treated fairly,” he said. “I hope one day that each of those institutions can be rejoined when they begin to treat all countries including Israel with the respect and dignity that they deserve.”
Pompeo, who appointed Elan Carr as U.S. Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism in February, said “the Trump administration puts a really high value on this mission, and we're doing all that we can to reduce the risk of antisemitism across the world.”
In addition to “moral suasion,” Pompeo said “we’re thinking about foreign assistance and the broader set of diplomatic tools that we have to bring to bear” in considering how governments are behaving with respect to antisemitism.