MANHATTAN — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the Iranian people should convince their leaders to change behavior and "act like a normal nation" to avoid military confrontation with the United States.
President Donald Trump is willing to meet with Iranian leadership without preconditions, Pompeo said, with the goal of avoiding military action. In the meantime, the United States is increasing military resources in the region.
Those resources are "aimed at the singular objective of deterring Iranian aggression," Pompeo said.
In an interview following his lecture Friday at Kansas State University, the secretary of state addressed escalating tensions with Iran, outlined his vision for a forthcoming plan for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and reaffirmed his commitment to remaining in his current position despite ongoing talk that he could prevail in a crowded GOP primary next year for U.S. Senate.
No, he's not willing to say he won't run.
"A lot of people are thinking about me running for the Senate," Pompeo said. "That doesn't include me. I'm focused every day on more than enough work as America's secretary of state. Everybody gets nervous because I won't say, but I've just found in life what you should do is focus on what's in front of you — keep doing that."
He reflected on the "otherworldly" feeling of returning as the highest-ranking cabinet member to his home state, where he won four elections to represent the 4th District in Congress from 2011 to 2017. He left to become director of the CIA under Trump, then moved to the secretary of state position in April 2018.
Pompeo returned to deliver a speech on America's role in upholding human rights around the world. After his remarks, which were part of the 53-year-old Landon Lecture series at K-State, he faced tough questions from the crowd about the administration's willingness to embrace science, immigration policies and actions by Pompeo's security detail with a protester outside.
The secretary joked that his staff warned him not to take questions from the crowd, and he insisted he hasn't been sheltered from protests.
"I'm pretty sure I know exactly what people think of our policies," Pompeo said.
Riley George, a senior and president of K-State Young Democrats, said she respects others coming to campus with differing views but was critical of Pompeo's speech.
"Being that Secretary Pompeo is an adamant supporter of the Trump administration's family separation policies, he isn’t someone who has any place speaking about the United States being a world leader when it comes to human rights," George said.
Ben Meers, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, said Pompeo has "hitched his wagon" to the president and is out of touch with the impact the administration's policies have on Kansas.
"Pompeo’s steadfast support for the administration’s unfair, shoot-from-the-hip trade war with China is destroying livelihoods and trading partnerships that took generations for Kansans to build," Meers said. "Pompeo's service as secretary has pushed America toward a confrontation with Iran that Congress has not approved, put wealthy corporations and special interests ahead of working Kansans and simply proven he would be a horrible senator for Kansans."
Pompeo said he talks to the president almost every day, and the two have an hour every week where they walk through various projects.
The decision on a military confrontation, Pomepo said, is up to Iran.
Iran has taken multiple ships from the high seas, placed mines on ships, and destroyed an American unarmed vehicle flying in international air space. Those are the acts of "rogue terror regimes," Pompeo said.
He compared Iran to Norway. If Norway launched missiles into Saudi Arabia, Pompeo said, the world wouldn't tolerate it.
"If Norway had militias, armed militias, it was underwriting in Syria and in Lebanon, threatening Israel, no one would stand for that," Pompeo said. "Iran should be no different. It needs to engage in the world the way normal nations do."
To avoid a military strike, Pompeo said, Iran must cease development of nuclear weapons systems and stop building up missiles that threaten the Middle East and Europe.
The revolutionary regime has to give up jihad, he said, "and that's for the Iranian people to drive."
"The people there need to convince their leadership they're spoiling, they're wasting, they're killing their own kids, they're spending too much money, and they're putting themselves in a position where they're going to continue to be a pariah state to the world," Pompeo said. "And we hope that leadership will hear the voices of their people and change their behavior."
Elsewhere in the Middle East, the administration is preparing within the next 12 weeks to unveil its plan for unlocking the riddle of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Pompeo said he hopes the plan, which is already being previewed with a handful of people around the world, will become a conversation starter.
"This won't be the answer — nobody will sign that document — but we hope it provides the foundation for good, solid efforts," Pompeo said, "that both the Israelis and Palestinian people will stare at and think: 'There's a lot in there I like. There's a bunch in there I don't like, as well.' But we think this is a basis upon which we can begin to have (talks) between each other about what the shape of this relationship might look like going forward."
The secretary also addressed concerns raised by an internal report that revealed politically motivated harassment at the State Department. Leadership mistreated staffers who were accused of being disloyal to the president, according to the report released last month.
The State Department welcomes people with different political views, Pompeo said, but "no one should mistake that for working in ways that are adverse" to the administration.
"You have to engage in the agenda that's put forth by the duly elected leader, in this case President Trump," Pompeo said. "So it is my expectation that everyone will work on that mission, whatever their own personal views may be. That's completely fine. We want a wide range of ideas inside the State Department, and believe me, we have them. And that's a good thing. I consider that all to the good."