Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Margarita Rojas of Caracol TV

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, welcome to Colombia.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Margarita, it’s great to be with you.  Thanks for having me on the show.

QUESTION:  You are here to talk about counterterrorism with more than 20 countries.  What is right now the main threat for the region?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So there are multiple threats.  It’s why you saw countries from all across South America travel here to Bogota today – threats from Hizballah, threats from ELN.  We’ve seen threats from al-Qaida.  All of these pose real risks to the people of Colombia, of the region, and of the world.  We came together to just talk about how it is we jointly can combat this.  Just a little while ago we announced that we’ll be sharing our terror watchlist information with Colombia.  These are the kind of things we can do to help keep the people of our two countries safe.

QUESTION:  About that, Colombia and the U.S. have told that Maduro’s regime is supporting the presence of criminal groups like ELN, FARC, (inaudible), and even Hizballah.  How are you going to stop it?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So it’s a collective effort.  It won’t just be Colombia, or it won’t just be the United States.  It’ll be a number of people, including the people of Venezuela who need to hold their own leaders accountable.  Democracy is what we’re shooting for; there’s a purpose of the mission that we’re on together, to get Maduro to leave.  And I was just with Venezuelan President Juan Guaido.  He talked about this.  He talked about the threat of terror to the citizens of his country.

And so we’ll do it together.  We’ll do it by sharing information.  We’ll do it by pulling these bad guys off the street when they commit crimes.  We’ll put them through the proper judicial process.  All of the elements of the world’s power need to be brought to bear.  I was just at the police academy over a year ago.  There was an ELN bomb that went off, killing almost two dozen cadets.  These are the kinds of events that strike terror in the hearts of people, and our governments have a responsibility to do our best to prevent them at every turn, to work together to do that.

QUESTION:  About Juan Guaido:  You just met with Juan Guaido.  What did you decide about the strategy?  Are you going to change it?  Because many people think it has been a failure.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, no, (inaudible) I think that the strategy is working fundamentally.  I remember Secretary Baker, former secretary of state of America, reminding me that before the Soviet Union fell, nobody believed that the strategy was working either.  And then it worked.  What we have done is we have strengthened the Venezuelan people, we have made clear to them that the world stands with them.  Countries all across now almost five dozen countries have recognized Juan Guaido as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, and we have imposed harsh sanctions on that regime, making it more difficult for them to do that (inaudible) harm to the Venezuelan people.

So we’ll continue at it.  There’s obviously more work to do.  Maduro is still there, inflicting one of the largest humanitarian crisis in the history of the world.  But together, we’re moving forward.  We’re working on this project.  We will ultimately get a free and fair election for a new president, and then the Venezuelan people can have a brighter, better, more prosperous future.

QUESTION:  Maduro told to The Washington Post he is willing to talk directly with the U.S. administration.  Do you believe that will?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I wish that Maduro would simply talk with his own people, the people he’s destroyed.  Millions of lives – you now have, goodness, a million and a half refugees that have had to flee Venezuela.  They wanted to be home, they wanted to be with their families.  And they’ve had to leave that country.  They left because of one man – a dictator, an authoritarian, a thug – who has put so much pain in the lives of the Venezuelan people.  What we’re working on is the project which will deliver an outcome where Maduro will leave and the Venezuelan people can have a free and fair election.  We’re talking with the South Americans, the Central Americans, the Europeans, countries all across the world to deliver on that outcome.

QUESTION:  Maduro also told that senior officials like you, like Bolton, like Abrams, underestimated him.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah.  I think he underestimates the Venezuelan people.

QUESTION:  So what’s —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  That’s what underestimated.  He underestimated how much they love freedom, how much they love their country, how much they despise him.  In the end, that will be the solution.  The Venezuelan people will get what they deserve: a democratic, free Venezuela.  We all know its history.  It’s a long and prosperous one.  That will be returned.  The underestimation is the thugs in Venezuelan leadership who believe they can get away with the kinds of behavior they have been getting away with which has destroyed so many lives.

QUESTION:  Juan Guaido is here to fight the travel ban of the regime.  What will happen if he gets captured when he comes back?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Well, we hope that he doesn’t.  He’s the duly elected leader of the Venezuelan people.  He needs to be permitted to return home.  He needs to be protected and secured.  He’s leading the Venezuelan people forward, and we’re going to do everything we can to ensure that he continues to be able to do that.

QUESTION:  Now let’s talk about anti-narcotic efforts.  In Colombia have almost 200,000 hectares on their coca cultivation.  Are those crops a national security problem for the U.S.?  Is Colombia under the risk of desertification?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, it’s too much.  When I was with President Duque today, he agreed, too.  But they’ve made real progress.  When President Duque took over, things were headed in the wrong direction (inaudible) and they’re now headed in the right direction.  He told me this morning that almost 100,000 hectares of coca crops were eradicated during this past year.  Sadly, some of it was replanted, so there’s a lot of work that remains to do.  But I’m happy with what the Colombians are doing.  We’ll support them as we can.  But the Colombian people need to continue to support President Duque’s effort to eradicate these crops and to put a real economic opportunity in front of these people who are engaged in these illegal crop activities.

QUESTION:  Finally, Mr. Secretary, about Iran.  The entire world is watching of the dangers in the Middle East.  What can we expect?  Is there a risk of a war?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  President Trump’s made very clear we don’t want a war.  We don’t want a war anywhere, certainly in the Middle East.  The actions that we’ve taken over the past couple weeks have reduced the risk that there’ll be a war.  We began our conversation talking about terror.  The Islamic Republic of Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, and now we can see countries around the world uniting to take down that terror threat from the Middle East.  And the actions that we took – the death of Qasem Soleimani, and the death of a senior leader of one of the militias there in Iraq – they provide an opportunity for a sovereign Iraq, and they reduce the risk of terror not only in the Middle East, but right here in Colombia.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much for your time —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Margarita, thank you, ma’am.

QUESTION:  — for being with us (inaudible).