The United States CIA director, Mike Pompeo, said on Thursday that Russia had no plans to leave Syria and would continue to try to meddle in US affairs to “stick it to America”.
He reiterated his belief that Russia interfered in the US presidential election and described the US-Russia relationship as “complicated”.
“I think they find any place that they can make our lives more difficult, I think they find that’s something that’s useful,” he said
Pompeo also said he had seen only minimal evidence that Russia had pursued a serious strategy against Islamic State militants in Syria. He said any suggestion that Russia had been a US ally in Syria was not borne out by what was happening on the ground.
But he said he was hopeful there would be places in the world where the US and Russia could cooperate on counterterrorism.
He said it was difficult to imagine a stable Syria with the president, Bashar al-Assad, still in power. He called Assad a “puppet of the Iranians,” who now had a “significant foothold in Syria”.
Russia would stay in Syria, he said, because it loved its naval port in Tartus, off the Mediterranean Sea.
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.
He said the Trump administration was working on ways to push back against Iran, which wanted to be a “kingpin” in the Middle East.
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 pursuit of a ballistic missile program.
When it comes to Iranian compliance with the agreement, Iran is a “bad tenant”, Pompeo said. He likened their compliance to a renter who did not pay rent until the landlord demanded it and then sent a bad check. He said the US president, Donald Trump, had been working with Gulf states and Israel to find a common way to push back against Iranian aggression in the region.
What won’t work is appeasing Tehran or forcing them into compliance, he said.
“When we have our strategy in place, I’m confident you will see a fundamental shift in policy” towards Iran, Pompeo said.
He also addressed the threat from North Korea and said Trump asked questions about Pyongyang nearly every time he saw him.
“It is at the front of his mind,” Pompeo said.
It was one thing for North Korea to have a missile that could harm the United States and another for it to have an arsenal of such weapons, he said, adding that things could be done to narrow its capacity to develop a stockpile.
While some people believed North Korea’s leader was irrational, Pompeo said he was convinced Kim Jong-un understood his core mission – “which is to keep himself in power”.
CIA director brands WikiLeaks a 'hostile intelligence service'
While he avoided saying the US might favor a regime change, Pompeo said he was “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.
On another issue, he said he believed WikiLeaks would “take down America any way it can”. He noted that the anti-secrecy group’s website urged students to become CIA interns so they could become whistleblowers.
Pompeo acknowledged that Trump had said during the presidential campaign that he loved WikiLeaks.
“I don’t love WikiLeaks,” Pompeo said.
Besides Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who leaked documents revealing extensive US government surveillance, WikiLeaks has released nearly 8,000 documents that it says reveal secrets about the CIA’s cyber-espionage tools for breaking into computers. WikiLeaks previously published 250,000 State Department cables and embarrassed the US military with hundreds of thousands of logs from Iraq and Afghanistan.