Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo arrives for a closed briefing before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. May 16, 2017. .
(photo credit: REUTERS/AARON P. BERNSTEIN)
The Iran nuclear deal failed to permanently cut off Iran's path to a nuclear weapon, as well as thwart its Middle East terror activities, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said at a conference Thursday.
US President Donald Trump had concluded the deal had only delayed Iran’s nuclear program, and that “the notion that entry” into the deal “would curtail Iranian adventurism, the terror threat, proved to be fundamentally false.”
Pompeo was being interviewed on stage by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance chairman Juan Zarate, just days after Trump decertified Iran’s compliance with the deal in a major speech.
Though he evaded a question about whether Iran had violated the nuclear deal on a technical level, Pompeo focused on the Islamic Republic's continued testing of ballistic missiles, prompting of Hezbollah to threaten Israel and being “at the center of so much turmoil in the Middle East.”
He admitted the deal’s inspection provisions had put things “in a marginally better place” in following Iran’s nuclear activities, but said he hoped Trump’s new pressure on Iran would lead to “more intrusive inspections.”
The CIA director expressed concern that the exchange of nuclear technology between Iran and North Korea was a major danger, and specifically mentioned them assisting each other in the area of nuclear weapons testing.
Zoning in on North Korea, he appeared to concede that Pyongyang can — or within months will have — the ability to fire a nuclear weapon against the US.
The American focus must now be on having an ability to stop or shoot down such a weapon, as well as preventing the North from developing a robust nuclear capability — meaning the ability to fire multiple nuclear missiles with accuracy.
“It is one thing to be able to deliver” one missile on “certain trajectories. It is another thing to deliver all of the pieces to develop a truly robust capability.”
Strikingly, Pompeo acknowledged that North Korea could blindside the US in terms of how quickly its capabilities were moving in the nuclear arena, even as he complimented the CIA’s current and past efforts on the issue.
Discussing Syria, he said Trump will push back against “both Iran…and the Syrian regime,” though he did not give details.
Top Israeli political and defense officials have expressed concern that Trump’s understandings with Russia regarding Syria did not address Israeli concerns about Iran and Hezbollah building a new front against Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
Regarding ISIS, he said that, “the fall of the Caliphate is great news, a historic achievement to be sure, but a partial success at best.”
“The list is long about where they operate, what they can do. They still have the capacity to control and influence citizens all around the world,” he said.
Pompeo said he does not like the term “lone wolf terrorist,” explaining he believed that it obscured the investment and influence of ISIS and others in inspiring individuals to commit terror even if their specific actions were not ordered by ISIS.
Speaking more broadly about his actions at the CIA, he said that it would “become a much more vicious agency" in fighting adversaries.
He said he had “asked officers to reengage out in the field” and told the agency that he was “ready to accept more risk” to obtain important intelligence through “traditional espionage” or human spying.
Pompeo said US allies “are thrilled at the CIA’s return to the traditional understanding that it is out on freedom’s frontier.”
Addressing his and the CIA’s relationship with Trump, Pompeo said sometimes “the president asks really very diff questions. He challenges us where he thought we were in the wrong place. We went back to validate our work, or correct it if we had it wrong.”
Crucially, he said, “the president has promised he will have our backs” and beyond just the question “of funding.”
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