CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Thursday that Russia has no plans to leave Syria and will continue to try to meddle in U.S. affairs to “stick it to America.”
He reiterated his belief that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election and described the U.S.-Russia relationship as “complicated.”
Pompeo also said he has seen only minimal evidence that Russia has pursued a serious strategy against Islamic State militants in Syria. He said any suggestion that Russia has been a U.S. ally in Syria is not borne out by what’s happening on the ground.
The CIA director spoke in a wide-ranging conversation at the Aspen Security Forum, an annual gathering of intelligence and national security officials and experts in Aspen, Colorado.
Syria and Iran
He said it’s difficult to imagine a stable Syria with President Bashar Assad still in power. He called Assad a “puppet of the Iranians,” who now have a “significant foothold in Syria.”
Russia will stay in Syria, he said, because it loves its naval port in Tartus, off the Mediterranean Sea.
Pompeo continued his criticism of the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran. The Trump administration recently confirmed that Iran had met its obligations under the deal but warned it would face consequences for breaching “the spirit” of the accord — a reference to Iran’s continued pursued of a ballistic missile program.
He noted that President Donald Trump has been working with Gulf states and Israel to find a common way to push back against Iranian aggression in the region.
“When we have our strategy in place, I’m confident you will see a fundamental shift in policy” toward Iran, Pompeo said.
North Korea front of mind
Pompeo also addressed the threat from North Korea and said Trump asks questions about Pyongyang nearly every time he sees him.
It’s one thing for North Korea to have a missile that can harm the United States and another for it to have an arsenal of such weapons, he said, adding that things can be done to narrow its capacity to develop a stockpile.
While some people believe North Korea’s leader is irrational, Pompeo said he is convinced Kim Jong Un understands his core mission, “which is to keep himself in power.”
While he avoided saying the U.S. might favor a regime change, Pompeo said he’s “hopeful that we will find a way to separate that regime” from its nuclear capabilities.
“The North Korea people — I’m sure are lovely people — and would love to see him go as well. You know they don’t live a very good life there,” Pompeo said.