WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted the Obama administration repeatedly when asked about the political standoff in Venezuela and the status of trade talks with China.
“Each of the problems that we’ve spoken about today … the Obama administration did nothing to address any of them,” Pompeo told USA TODAY in an exclusive interview Saturday.
“We have taken these on in a serious way, and they are difficult problems,” President Donald Trump’s chief diplomat said. “This administration has worked with our allies and partners around the world in the way that for eight years, we completely neglected.”
Here’s what Pompeo said about three pressing international issues:
Pompeo did not answer a question about whether the U.S. was helping opposition leader Juan Guaido return to Venezuela. The Trump administration is pushing for the ouster of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and has recognized Guaido as the country’s legitimate leader.
But Maduro has maintained his grip on power, and Guaido is now stuck outside the country – threatened with arrest if he returns.
Pompeo said the Trump administration has made progress in addressing the political and humanitarian crisis there. But he would would not say if the U.S. was working with Guaido on his return. Instead, he said the Obama administration had “led from behind” and “exercised strategic patience” in the region.
“All disastrous for the security of the American people,” he said. “We’re working to help the duly elected interim president Guaido assert his power and get food and humanitarian aid assistance in to starving people.”
The Trump administration is negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban that could bring an end to the 17-year war there. The Taliban have agreed in principle not to allow Afghanistan to be used as a haven for terrorists plotting future attacks against the U.S.
But Afghan women are terrified that if the Taliban return to power, they will lose all the rights they’ve gained under the new Afghan government. The Taliban barred girls from attending school, forbade women from appearing in public unless escorted by a man and beat women who did not comply with their strict edicts.
Asked about those fears, Pompeo said, “We are working to get a reconciliation agreement that will be good for every Afghan – men, women, children.”
“There are still places where life is not good for Afghan women,” he said. “The United States is a force for good there.”
He argued that a peace deal would reduce the ongoing violence in Afghanistan, which he said puts women and children at risk.
“There is nothing like that violence to hurt the weakest among us – the children, the kids,” he said. “If we can take down the violence level, if we can stop the fighting, we will have made substantial progress in terms of protecting every Afghan.”
Pompeo said the Trump administration is making good progress in its trade negotiations with China, which touch on everything from market access to intellectual property theft.
Pompeo sharply rejected any suggestion that the talks were taking a long time to produce a deal, pivoting again to Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama.
“It’s just been two years that this administration’s had the opportunity to course correct from the disastrous policies that the Obama administration put in place to allow China to steal the heartbeat of agricultural America,” he said. “The Chinese were stealing us blind.”
Trump recently said the trade negotiations have been “very productive,” and he agreed to delay a threatened increase in tariffs against China. Pompeo echoed that assessment.
“I think we’re in a good place. I think we’re making real progress,” he said. “And when they are we will have protected American farming for generations to come.”
More: President Trump announces delay in tariff hikes against China, plans summit at Mar-a-Lago
More: Afghanistan talks sound a lot like ‘peace with honor’ ending to the Vietnam War