Secretary Michael R. Pompeo at a Press Availability

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Morning, everyone.  How are you all?  Pretty good, healthy?  Awesome.

Look, today I want to talk about a number of multilateral initiatives that we’re advancing here at the State Department.  We’re cooperating with our partners and allies and friends across the world in unprecedented ways.  It’s been a hallmark of the administration that frankly deserves more attention.

Look, it starts with working to go out and meet with these people.  This Sunday I’ll depart for India, for Sri Lanka, for the Maldives, and then on to Indonesia.  On every stop I will discuss a broad range of bilateral topics, but also work to find out with each of those countries the best ways that we can make sure that we cooperate to preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific.

I’m especially looking forward to doing that with Secretary Esper and our 2+2 ministerial dialogue with our Indian friends.  It’s been postponed because of the virus.  I’m glad we’re going to be able to execute that in person here in just a few days.  I’m sure that my meetings will also include discussions on how free nations can work together to thwart threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party.

And on that front, good news.  This Friday the EU High Representative Josep Borrell and I will launch the U.S.-EU dialogue on China.  I’m confident that the discussion will deepen our long-term engagement with EU friends on this important issue.

For instance, Europeans are concerned too about the environment, just as we are.  Just this week, the CCP issued a “fact sheet” that was – “fact sheet” is in quotes – a “fact sheet” trying to divert attention away from its own horrific environmental record.  Let me give you a few real data points.

The PRC is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, bar none – number one.  The PRC is indeed responsible for an estimated 30 percent of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans – more than any other country.  The PRC is the world’s largest consumer of illegal wildlife and timber products – again, number one.  PRC-flagged or owned vessels constantly fish illegally or overfish in waters under the jurisdiction of other coastal states, in particular in Africa, Asia, and in South America.

We’re pushing back on the Chinese communist propaganda efforts here at home, too.  Today I’m announcing the State Department is designating the U.S. operations of six China-based media companies as foreign missions.  They are all substantially owned or effectively controlled by a foreign government.  We’re not placing any restrictions on what these outlets can publish in the United States.  We simply want to ensure that American people, consumers of information, can differentiate between news written by a free press and propaganda distributed by the Chinese Communist Party itself.  They’re not the same thing.

I’d also like to note last week President Trump released the National Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technologies.  It outlines fundamentally how the United States will maintain global leadership in conventional weapons, artificial intelligence, semiconductor, and space technologies.  Our competitive edge in each of these arenas is all the more important as the Chinese Communist Party and Russia seek to supplant America as the leader in these fields.

In other news from Asia, last week the United States and Japan held the first ever consultations for a new host nation support agreement by which Japan will take on its share of the burden for our mutual security.  We agreed to continue coordination on dates and framework for formal negotiations in the coming weeks.

Also last week, U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer and I and Ambassador Joseph Cella virtually signed an agreement with Fiji that opens the door to regular talks between the United States and Fiji on our growing commercial relationship.  Contrast that with the activity that took place early this month when Chinese diplomats appeared uninvited at an event organized by the Taipei trade office in Fiji.  They started taking pictures of guests, were asked to stop, and then got into a fight, a brawl, resulting in one of Taipei trade office staffers suffering a head injury.  We wish our Taiwanese friend a healthy, safe recovery.  This isn’t, unfortunately, the first time we’ve heard allegations of Chinese diplomats behaving inappropriately.

Shifting gears to Russia, President Trump has made clear that the New START Treaty by itself is not a good deal for the United States or our friends or allies.  Only 45 percent of Russia’s nuclear arsenal is subject to numerical limits, posing a threat to the United States and our NATO allies.  Meanwhile, that agreement restricts 92 percent of America’s arsenal that is subject to the limits contained in the New START agreement.

And China – China of course is not bound at all.  Zero percent of their weapon systems are governed and restricted by the New START agreement.  What we’ve proposed to extend that agreement would be historic, it’d be a great achievement.  Russia has agreed in principle to freeze all of its nuclear warheads.  We’re very pleased about that.  But we need to make sure that U.S. and Russian negotiators get together just as soon as possible to continue to make progress to finalize a verifiable agreement.

Turning to the Middle East, last week the United States Government pulled off an outstanding collaborative effort to bring home two U.S. citizens held hostage by the Houthis in Yemen.  Both had an emotional reunion with their families, and I am happy to report they are both doing well.  My deepest condolences go out to the family of a third American who died while in captivity but whose remains have now been repatriated.

We’re very grateful for the diplomatic help we received from the leaders of Oman and Saudi Arabia so that we could get these Americans back home.  Indeed, as you’ve all seen, we’ve enjoyed excellent cooperation with our Gulf partners in this administration.  Yesterday I led the first ever United States-United Arab Emirates Strategic Dialogue and we look forward to continuing to work with our Emirati partners to make the Expo 2020 Dubai a real success.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin just concluded a historic trip to Israel, Bahrain, and the United Emirates and Qatar, a trip which included signing additional agreements under the Abraham Accords.  It also featured the first ever Israel direct flight to Bahrain and the first ever commercial flight from the Emirates to Israel.  We hope such flights become routine.  We expect that they will.

On Iran, this week we made good on our promise made in June that – when we said we would sanction commercial entities doing business with the Islamic Republic of Iran regime and their shipping lines.  Six entities and two individuals have now been designated.  It’s a warning to anyone doing business with this company.

In Iraq last weekend, Iran-backed terrorists burned down the Baghdad headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and a second group murdered eight Sunni Arabs in Saladin province.  We in the international community support Prime Minister Kadhimi and the Iraqi Government’s growing efforts to hold accountable Iran-supported arms groups that are undermining Iraq’s stability and its sovereignty.  The Iraqi people will not stand for it.

On Libya, I want to commend the Libyans’ reassertion of sovereignty as they take steps towards a lasting ceasefire during UN-facilitated talks in Geneva this week.  We repeat our call, the United States call for foreign forces to leave the country and let Libyans decide their own future.  We look forward to the upcoming Libya political dialogue forum and to supporting the transfer of power to a new executive authority.

On Friday in Lebanon, we’ll honor the 241 American service members murdered 37 years ago by Iranian-backed Hizballah suicide bombers in a terrorist attack on U.S. and French peacekeepers.  The United States will always remember those heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice on that day and we remain resolute in bringing their killers to justice.

A comment on Syria:  Tomorrow I’ll participate in a meeting with my counterparts in the Syria small group to reaffirm the U.S. Government’s strong support for a peaceful political resolution in the Syrian conflict under UN Security Council Resolution 2254.  I want to commend the European Union for their good work and the recent announcement of strong sanctions against Assad’s ruthless officials.  We continue to share the EU’s resolve to hold the Assad regime and its supporters accountable for the violent repression of Syrian civilians.

A bit closer to home, we’ve consistently supported the Bolivian people in their right to freely, fairly choose their government.  We congratulate President-elect Luis Arce on his victory and look forward to working with the elected government for a hemisphere of freedom and prosperity.

In Sudan, General Electric and Sudan civilian-led transitional government signed an MOU on October 15th of – for significant new projects for power and health care that’ll be an enormous benefit to the people of that country.  It’s a welcome sign that the relationship between our two countries is advancing.  They’re poised to take even greater strides once Sudan comes off the State Sponsor of Terror list as President Trump announced this week that we will do and we expect to happen.

Finally, three quick items.

First, the U.S. is pleased to nominate Chris Liddell as the secretary to – as the secretary general of the OECD.  I’ve known Chris now for a long time.  He’ll do an outstanding job working with other free market democracies to develop best practices and standards that drive growth and create jobs.

Second, the Department of State will convene the first ever U.S. Government-sponsored conference on combating anti-Semitism on the internet and social media, titled “Ancient Hatred, Modern Medium,” and will be broadcast from the State Department website this afternoon and tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. Eastern time.

And finally, next week the United Nations will recognize the 20th anniversary of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security.  We call on the United Nations and all countries who share responsibility for the women, peace, and security agenda to uphold the promises of UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

And with that, I’m happy to take a few questions.

MS ORTAGUS:  Ms. Pak.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Nice to meet you, since after pandemic I didn’t – I missed you so much.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yes, ma’am.  I’m here today.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  I have two questions on the South and North Korea.  Recently President Moon Jae-in of South Korea mentioned about the declarations of the end of the war with North Korea.  Is it possible that the North – without North Korea nuclear – abandonment?  And I have a second question:  So will there be any change of USFK if the defenses cost share is not met enough for the United States?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So our position on that set of issues, that suite of issues with respect to denuclearization of North Korea, a brighter future for the North Korean people, which would obviously include documents that would change the status between North and South Korea.  There’s been no change in the way the United States thinks about this.  We continue to believe that there’s an important, good outcome for global peace and stability and for the North Korean people, and we hope that we can get back to the table and begin to have those discussions in a serious way and would ultimately lead to what the president of South Korea was speaking to.

QUESTION:  And second question, do you have anything about the cost sharing within South Korea, if not it may be enough in – for the United States and DOD still leaving the U.S. troops in South Korea?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, we’re still working our way through it.  I don’t have anything to announce today.  The discussions, the conversation about appropriate burden sharing there continues.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MS ORTAGUS:  Said, go ahead.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Hello.  Good day, sir.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Sir, there is a Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli prison.  He’s on his 87th day of a hunger strike.  He’s about to die.  He’s 46 years old and a father of six.  I wonder if you have – he’s under administrative detention with no charge.  I wonder if you have anything to say about this particular case and if you have something to say about the principle of administrative detentions practiced by Israelis – by the Israeli authorities sometimes that go on for years.  Thank you, sir.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I don’t want to comment on a particular fact pattern or particular case other than to say we have had long conversations about this set of issues.  This is not new, this set of concerns.  We have consistently made clear that Israel has the right to defend itself and make the appropriate decisions it needs to make for its own security, and we’ll continue to defend that.

MS ORTAGUS:  Amber.

QUESTION:  Good morning, Secretary.  Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yes, hi.

QUESTION:  Multiple former intelligence officials as well as U.S. ambassadors have stated publicly that they think the recent stories about Hunter Biden and his emails are the products of Russian disinformation.  However, the DNI, FBI, and DOJ have all said they have not seen intelligence stating that that’s the case.  Does the State Department concur with their assessment?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  When I was the CIA director, I always preferred that people defer to the Intelligence Community about matters best known to them.  I saw DNI Ratcliffe’s statement.  I have every reason to believe he’s got it exactly right.

QUESTION:  Thanks.

MS ORTAGUS:  Will.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  Another political issue, it seems, is the email search for Hillary Clinton’s emails, and we were just wondering what are those emails that you’re looking for, who is releasing them, and when they’ll be released.  You’ve said before it would be before the election.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  What I said is we’d continue to do the work that we have done for an awfully long time, and we’ll produce them when they are prepared to be produced.  And I’ve been at this – this is the 17th time I’ve been asked this question and I’m going to give you the same answer I gave the previous 16.

MS ORTAGUS:  Michel.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Happy to take the 18th if you’d like.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  I have two questions, one on Sudan.  When should we expect Sudan to be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and is this step related to Sudan normalizing with Israel?  And second, can you comment on the visit that Mr. Patel made to Syria to release two American citizens, and have you made any progress, and is the U.S. ready to withdraw from Syria as a price for this release?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Look, when we work on prisoner issues, this is something that we focus on.  We compartmentalize that.  Our ask is that the Syrians release Mr. Tice, they tell us what they know.  They have chosen not to do that so far.  We’ll continue to work for the return not only of Austin, but of every American that’s held.  We’re not going to change American policy to do that.  As the President said clearly, we don’t pay for the return of hostages.  We work to make the case that they need to get these people returned, and that is our expectation of every country, not only Syria, but all the Americans who are held in Iran.  Every place we find them, we work diligently, and we’ve had enormous success.

Your first question was about Sudan.  I don’t know the precise timing, but we are – we have begun the process to lift the designation of state sponsorship of terror.  It’s the right thing to do.  There’s been a lot of work done on this over the course of the first three years of the administration.  We believe there is a firm legal basis for doing that, and we think that there will be enormous bipartisan consensus that that’s the right to do.

We also are continuing to work to get every nation to recognize Israel, the rightful Jewish homeland, and to acknowledge their basic fundamental right to exist as a country.  That certainly includes Sudan.  And we are working diligently with them to make the case for why that’s in the Sudanese Government’s best interest to make that sovereign decision.  We hope that they’ll do that.  We hope that they’ll do that quickly.  We hope every country will do that quickly.

MS ORTAGUS:  Yuni.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  So I have two questions.  First is:  What do you expect to accomplish during this – your visit to Indonesia?  And the second is:  What do you think about Indonesia’s rejection to U.S. proposal to allow maritime surveillance planes to land and refuel there?  And this proposal is – looks like similar with Pentagon report that China wants to have that base for military logistics in Indonesia.  So is there any connection with that?  Is it that this U.S. proposal is trying to push China away from Indonesia?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Well, for the specifics, I’ll defer to the Department of Defense about their conversation about particular military issues.  I – Secretary Esper will be traveling with me to India but not along with me to Indonesia, but I am confident – he hosted the Indonesian defense minister, I think it was last week, here in the United States.  But it’s no surprise that the United States firmly believes that it is in Southeast Asia, and that certainly includes the entire swath all the way down to Southcentral Asia, that it’s in their best interest to ensure that their sovereignty is protected against the continued efforts to encroach upon their basic rights – their maritime rights, their sovereign rights, their ability to conduct business in the way that they want to inside of their country that the Chinese Communist Party continues to threaten.

So I’m confident we’ll talk about that set of issues on my trip, but there are important things that I want to go see both my counterpart as well as the Indonesian president to discuss where I am very confident.  There are commercial issues, security issues, and diplomatic issues where the United States has already improved the relationship between the countries, but there’s more that we can do.  I know the Indonesians share our desire to make sure there’s a free and open Indo-Pacific, and we want to make sure they know they have a capable, willing partner in the United States of America.

QUESTION:  Can you answer also —

MS ORTAGUS:  I’m sorry.  Let’s go to the next one.  Nike.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Good morning and thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Hi.

QUESTION:  Hi.  On Armenia and Azerbaijan, what would you – what do you hope to achieve from your meetings on Friday with the foreign ministers with – from Armenia and Azerbaijan?  Will the United States broker another ceasefire?  And separately, if I may, on Taiwan and China.  Does the United States oppose unilateral change of the status quo in the Taiwan Strait as Chinese airplanes increasingly fly into Taiwan’s airspace, and what are your thoughts about a strategic clarity to deter a potential Chinese invasion?  Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I don’t have anything new to announce with respect to our desires and hopes for Taiwan, and our expectation is that the Chinese Communist Party will live up to the commitments that they have made.  It always comes back to this with the Chinese Communist Party: They’ve made promises, they’ve made commitments to the world.  We’ve seen them break them just about everywhere.  Right, we saw the promises they broke to the people of Hong Kong.  We saw the promise they made to President Obama that they wouldn’t put weapons systems in the South China Sea.  They turned around and built out.  I could go through the list of things that they have promised to do.  They have promised to make available to the world enough information so that we could figure out how the heck the Wuhan virus got out, and they have continued.

I spoke earlier this week with the two chairs of the organization that will be conducting the investigation, and I must say I am not hopeful that there will be a full forensic review of what actually took place there and how now hundreds of thousands of deaths and trillions of dollars’ worth of wealth have been destroyed by the Chinese Communist Party to hide what it was they were doing, and why it was the case they locked down Wuhan but continued to allow flights to travel out of China, and what actually did happen in that lab.

These are important questions that the world is entitled to know the answer to, and the Chinese Communist Party continues to break the most fundamental commitments they made to the World Health Organization that said there’s a set of rules – they’re called the IHR, the International Health Regulations – and we’ll comply with them, and yet they continue as we sit here today to break that promise.

So as for Taiwan, our policy hasn’t changed.  I hope that the Chinese Communist Party will choose to honor its commitments as well.

Your first question was about what I hope to accomplish when I meet with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia on Friday.  You referred to will we broker another ceasefire, suggesting that the previous commitments to ceasefire didn’t work.  It’s a complicated situation on the ground.  It’s a complicated diplomatic situation.  And our view remains, as does the view of nearly every European country, that the right path forward is to cease the conflict, tell them to de-escalate, that every country should stay out, provide no fuel for this conflict, no weapons systems, no support, and it is at that point that a diplomatic solution that would be acceptable to all can potentially be achieved.  That’s what I – that’s what I’ll talk to them about on Friday and I’m anxious to hear from them what they’re seeing on the ground and how we might get closer to what it is we think is not only in the United States’ best interest, but in each of their countries’ best interest as well.

I’ve got time for one more.

MS ORTAGUS:  Okay.  Francesco.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Hi, how are you, sir?

QUESTION:  I am good, thank you.  I wanted to ask you about injuries, afflictions that are experiencing some U.S. diplomats in Cuba, and – but also in China.  And some of those in China are saying that the administration has been covering up these cases.  What is your response to that, and what is the State Department doing for the protection of diplomats, of its diplomats?  And why didn’t you crack down on China over harming U.S. diplomats as you did on – like the administration did on Cuba?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, that question is kind of like, “When did you stop beating your wife?”  Right?  (Laughter.)  Right?

Look, the reality is, is that many of the facts you just laid out there are wrong.  I don’t have a lot more to add to this.  I’ve been working on this problem set for – personally – for a long time.  We, every day, every day, work to make sure that our diplomats, wherever they are stationed, are safe and healthy and protected.  And when something happens to them, we take care of their medical needs and we work to eliminate the risk and impose costs on those who may well have taken action to create that.

That happened in every case with respect to every one of the incidents that you described there.  It happened in every country around the world.  There were no politics attached to this.  The suggestion somehow is that we didn’t protect our officers because of some larger political objective.  That is patently false, patently.  It’s patently false, clearly false, unambiguously false.  I emphasize this because this is really important.  We don’t want any country around the world to think for a moment that they can do something, and we won’t take serious action.  I don’t want any of the people that work for me for a moment to think that we won’t do everything necessary to reduce the risk and, as best we can, protect them in every place they go.  We’ll never defer to a political situation in order to – and sacrifice the safety not only of State Department officials but all of those who work in our embassies all across the world.  We’ve got people from nearly every agency working in our operations all across the globe, and it’s important that our team understand that, and every country understand that as well.

I’m following these incidents.  We’ve tracked them closely.  We’ve done a lot of work to try and identify how this all took place.  And we continue to try and determine precisely the causation of this while doing our best to make sure we’re taking care of the health and safety of these people, and if there are real medical conditions, making sure that they are completely and thoroughly addressed as well.

QUESTION:  Can you just update us —

MS ORTAGUS:  Nick, no.

QUESTION:  — on what you know precisely of what these injuries are and if there is any implication of foreign actors?  What’s the status of what you know now?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah.  I don’t want to add anything here.  It is a complicated – it’s a very complicated situation and there is not yet any complete U.S. Government analysis which definitively tells us precisely how these all came to be, whether they’re part of a single cohort.  It’s a very complicated situation.  We have – there are multiple theories, and you should know there are significant U.S. Government resources now, what, three-plus years on, devoted to getting to the bottom of this and then holding those responsible accountable should we determine that that’s required.

MS ORTAGUS:  Thanks, everyone.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Great.  Thanks, everybody.  Thank you all.  Have a good day.