QUESTION: We turn now to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Mr. Secretary, good morning.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning. Good to be with you.
QUESTION: Good to have you here. It’s been an eventful 24 hours. Do you deny that there were other issues that played in to the cancellation of these talks?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Margaret, you have to go back to first principles and what we’ve been trying to do for, frankly, two and a half years of the Trump administration in Afghanistan. President Trump made clear we wanted to do everything we could to reduce risk to the United States, that we would not have terror strike the United States from Afghanistan as it did on 9/11, and we would never give up protecting the American people; but at the same time, we wanted to make sure we got the force posture right, that the $30-plus billion a year that we’re spending there is not a sustainable model, and he wanted to reduce that.
So we entered negotiations with the Afghan Government. We’ve worked closely with President Ghani over the past months. We’ve worked with other Afghan leaders. We’ve worked with the Taliban to try and get the Taliban to commit to reducing violence – they had committed to doing so; to get them to agree to talk to their other Afghan brothers and sisters, something that multiple administrations have tried to do for, goodness, 15-plus years now – we had that; and to get them to make a public commitment to break with al-Qaida, something that as far back as the Bush administration Americans had been trying to get. We got that too. And so —
QUESTION: They never agreed to a ceasefire. The violence has been intensifying throughout.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So back to where we were. We were working to deliver that set of outcomes so that we could make good decisions about American treasure and risk. I was just a few hours ago out at Dover Air Force Base for the dignified transfer of the remains of Sergeant First Class Barreto. I was with his family. Amazing patriots. I led the CIA, where we had officers in harm’s way, taking real risk every night.
President Trump is committed to reducing that risk so that there will be fewer fallen American soldiers, heroes. This is the mission set. We’re trying to do that through peace and reconciliation negotiations. I hope that we can get back to doing that, but it’s going to take more than words.
As President Trump demonstrated, if the Taliban can’t live up to their commitments, if they’re going to continue to do the things that they’ve been doing, and as we approach this decision point in the discussions with the Afghans, they blow up – blow up Kabul and kill an American, President Trump will never do that. He walked away in Hanoi from the North Koreans when they wouldn’t do a deal that made sense for America. He’ll do that with the Iranians. When the Chinese moved away from the trade agreement that they had promised us they would make, he broke off those conversations too. I hope we can get to this place. It would be good for the Afghan people, and if we can get it right, it’ll be good for American national security as well.
QUESTION: Certainly. Sixteen Americans have been killed —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: — in Afghanistan this year. The President said on August 29th that he’s taking U.S. troops down to 8,600. Is that still the plan? Is that happening?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re going to have to take a good look at that. We’re going to always as we – every time we make decisions, and I’ve watched the President. This will be the President, the Department of Defense’s decision about what our force posture will ultimately be. We want to make —
QUESTION: So that order has not been given and he does not intend to do that yet? That’s up for consideration?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We want to make sure everyplace that there is the risk of terror to the United States – not just Afghanistan, in the Sahel, in the Philippines; we have terror risk all across the world – we want to make sure always that we have the right number of forces, the right composition of our forces. We’ve got great partners in Afghanistan with our NATO partners who are there fighting alongside of us as well. President Trump will always make the decision about what the right level of American military activity is, and as I think he suggested in his —
QUESTION: So he’s standing by that decision, though? That’s what I’m asking you to clarify.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think as you saw in his tweet last night, we’ve killed over a thousand Taliban in just the last 10 days. So it has not been the case that we’ve been negotiating with our hands tied behind our back. Unfortunately, applying military pressure to the Taliban is necessary to get the negotiated outcome that we’re looking for, and we’re going to – we’re going to keep at that, and we’ll always protect America.
QUESTION: So 14,000 is where it stays for the foreseeable future?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I can’t answer that question. Ultimately, it’s the President’s decision.
QUESTION: Okay, because it was in the deal that within 135 days it was going down to 8,600, and the President said that was happening.
SECRETARY POMPEO: We are absolutely intent upon ensuring that we reduce the risk that we’ll have more folks coming back through Dover.
QUESTION: I know you went to that dignified transfer last night, and that had to be an incredibly moving moment. It is the fact that those deaths have continued, that the Taliban never agreed to a ceasefire, that it is the week of 9/11, that this was Camp David, that has caused some concern even among Republican allies of the President. Congresswoman Liz Cheney out this morning saying that no member of the Taliban should ever go to Camp David. That was where U.S. leaders fled to as safe haven the night of 9/11. Who told the President that this was the appropriate place for the Taliban to visit? You yourself have called them terrorists.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. Look, I don’t talk about internal negotiations or deliberations on who said what to whom and when. I have honored that for two and a half years now. But make no mistake, we were very thoughtful. We thought about this a long time, and ultimately, the President made the decision that this was the right place. We know the history of Camp David. It’s where peace has been negotiated many, many times. And sadly, you often have to deal with some pretty bad characters to get peace. I’d say to anybody who’d say you shouldn’t negotiate with the Taliban, tell me who else they’d like us to talk to to try and get reconciliation in Afghanistan, something that the —
QUESTION: Well, I guess, the President himself at Camp David.
SECRETARY POMPEO: — something that the Afghan – something that the Afghan people want and something that would be a great thing for America’s service members and for American national security.
We understand who the Taliban are. We’re clear-eyed. And I assure you that even today on the ground, General Miller has all the authority he needs to make sure he preserves and protects American fighting forces there and takes it to the bad guys. So we’re still at this hard. We’ll still be at it hard. In the end, we hope that we can find a solution that reduces the level of violence and increases the probability that we won’t have to have more American lives destroyed, more heroes returned.
QUESTION: Had the Taliban ever accepted the invitation to come to Camp David?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes.
QUESTION: Because in a statement today to Tolo News, they said that they were invited at the end of August but that they postponed it until an agreement had been signed.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, they’re —
QUESTION: That agreement was not signed.
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s correct. There’s been some confusion. I think there are other folks speaking. It’s – suffice it to say, we were confident that we were going to be able to have these meetings what would be this afternoon at Camp David.
QUESTION: And why was that meeting called off?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The President was very clear. They didn’t deliver —
QUESTION: Well, he said they were immediately* called off on Thursday after this killing.
SECRETARY POMPEO: They didn’t —
QUESTION: But as I said, 16 U.S. service people have been killed, and throughout that, U.S. negotiators have continued to come back to the negotiating table.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, ma’am, and we’ve given better than we’ve gotten, I can assure you, and I want to assure the American people of that as well. It’s not a war of attrition. That’s not my point. My point is that we didn’t do what previous administrations had done. When they entered into negotiations, they were incapable of fighting and talking. We did both. We continued to protect the United States of America during those tough negotiations.
As for the timing, I’m not going to get into it because it’s not appropriate. But know this: The President ultimately made the conclusion that the meetings today wouldn’t deliver on the outcome that he is demanding we get for the American people. And when he saw that, when he saw that they couldn’t deliver on the reduction in violence commitments that they had made, he said there’s no sense in having this meeting.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, a lot on your plate I’d like to talk to you about. We have to leave it there for today.