05/06/2020 01:24 PM EDT
Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
Press Briefing Room
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning, everyone. It’s been 128 days since Chinese doctor Ai Fen – the director of the Wuhan Central Hospital’s emergency unit – shared information on the internet about a patient with a SARS-like virus. Her colleague, Dr. Li Wenliang, shared Dr. Ai’s report online with medical colleagues.
The next day, December 31st, regional health officials in Wuhan indicated they were treating dozens of patients with an unknown viral pneumonia. And within days, Chinese officials detained Dr. Li and seven others for “spreading false statements on the internet.”
China saw then that it had an emerging public health crisis on its hands. They knew. China could have prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. China could have spared the world a descent into global economic malaise. They had a choice.
But instead, instead China covered up the outbreak in Wuhan. Its National Health Commission ordered virus samples destroyed on January 3rd. China “disappeared” brave Chinese citizens who raised alarms. It deployed its propaganda organs to denounce those who politely called for simple transparency.
And that brings us to today, 120 days on. China is still refusing to share the information we need to keep people safe, such as viral isolates, clinical specimens, and details about the many COVID-19 patients in December 2019, not to mention “patient zero.”
Our truth-telling and calls for transparency aren’t about politics. It’s not about bullying. It’s not about blame. It’s about the ongoing need to save American lives. This is an ongoing threat today. Ask medical professionals in New York City. I think they’ll agree with that.
We need countries to share reliable data in a timely way – now, and the next time that a calamity like this hits. We need reliable partners.
As a result of China’s choices, countries are starting to understand the risk of doing business with the Chinese Communist Party and taking action to protect their people. A few examples. In recent weeks, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, and France have demarched the Chinese Communist Party ambassadors for a whole host of lies and misdeeds.
Spain has returned defective test kits made in China. That country, the Czech Republic, other nations have received shoddy PPE, as well. The Australians and the Swedes have called for an independent review into the outbreak. And my friend Dominic Raab has said that the United Kingdom can’t go back to, quote, “business as usual,” end of quote, with Beijing. Even the EU’s foreign affairs chief admitted that Brussels has been, quote, “a little naive,” end of quote, about China.
I’m heartened by this newfound realism. The free nations of the world are starting to understand that China doesn’t share those democratic values that we hold dear, or their economic interests, and that this matters to the entire world.
There’s no true “win-win” with a communist regime, unless you get to the fair terms that President Trump has talked about and the reciprocity that President Trump did in the phase one trade deal. Now countries have a chance to further insist on what’s right for their people.
Today I want to call upon all nations, including those in Europe, to support Taiwan’s participation as an observer at the World Health Assembly and in other relevant United Nations venues. I also call upon WHO Director-General Tedros to invite Taiwan to observe this month’s WHA, as he has the power to do, and as his predecessors have done on multiple occasions.
Turning to the subject of those who are trying to do good around the world. Today, the United States is committing an additional $130 million in global health and refugee assistance, bringing our total devoted to fighting COVID-19 to more than $900 million in more than 120 countries. Congress has provided $2.4 billion in total.
This new tranche of funding provides more than more than $40 million in additional funds for countries in the Indo-Pacific, prioritizing places like India and Bangladesh and Indonesia.
We’ll also provide more than $20 million in global health assistance to Africa, with major investments in South Africa as well as in South Sudan.
We have allocated $11 million in contributions to the IAEA to support 83 member states in their fight.
I’m also happy today to announce $225 million in additional emergency aid to the people of Yemen, separate from the COVID-19 assistance that I just mentioned.
This assistance will provide the UN World Food Program’s emergency food operation in southern Yemen, as well as a reduced operation in northern Yemen, which the WFP was forced to scale down earlier this month because of ongoing interference of the Iran-backed Houthis.
Whether it’s our work in countering diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, and now COVID-19, the State Department is very focused on saving lives. And by implementing the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy, President Trump’s administration has gone further than any in history in making sure that tax dollars do not subsidize the global abortion industry. We’ll continue to do that.
A couple of quick items, and then I’ll take a handful of questions. First, I mentioned Hong Kong last week. Right now we are delaying our report to Congress that will assess Hong Kong’s autonomy, to allow us to account for any additional actions that Beijing may be contemplating in the run-up to the National People’s Congress that would further undermine the people of Hong Kong’s autonomy as promised by China when they entered the agreement with the people of Hong Kong.
Also, I’m excited to report that negotiations on the U.S.-UK Free Trade Agreement are now underway, something President Trump has sought for a long time.
A few matters related to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Last week, the United States sanctioned an individual and his company who were doing business with the IRG Qods Force for years, generating revenue and resources for their terror campaign. Anyone conducting business with Iranian entities should exercise extreme caution to ensure that they are not working with the IRGC.
And I’d like to take this moment to commend our German friends for banning Hizballah and taking strong action against suspected Hizballah supporters. I hope that all other EU member states will follow.
Our gratitude also goes out to Switzerland, the United States protecting power in Iran for now four decades, for its efforts to extend Michael White’s medical furlough seeking – and seeking humanitarian furloughs for Siamak Namazi and Morad Tahbaz and bringing home all U.S. citizens wrongfully detained. We welcome their assistance and we appreciate all that they’ve done.
We are not the only nation whose citizens are subject to the Iranian regime’s brutality. I was appalled to see reports last week of Iranian guards on the border of Afghanistan’s Herat province abused, tortured, drowned Afghan migrants who dared to cross the border simply in search of food and work. We encourage the Afghan authorities to undertake a full investigation and to seek to hold those perpetrators accountable.
Let me close on an upbeat note by mentioning two human rights victories. First, the United States was pleased to see the transitional government in Sudan take the first steps to ban female genital mutilation and cutting. It’s a big step, a bright step closer to a future in which all women and girls worldwide won’t have to suffer this barbaric practice. It would be great to see nations like Somalia, Equatorial Guinea, and Djibouti, where FGM is widely practiced, follow Sudan’s lead.
Second, it’s only fitting that on the same weekend as International Press Freedom Day the family of Daniel Pearl successfully challenged a lower court ruling that overturned the conviction of four individuals responsible for Danny’s kidnapping and murder. We welcome the Government of Pakistan’s commitment to ensure that justice is done in this case, including by filing their own appeal.
Finally, while on the topic of Southcentral Asia, I want to give a shout-out to one of my colleagues, Alice Wells, as she prepares to depart the State Department. She’s done remarkable work. I’ve worked closely with her. She is an exemplary diplomat who for more than now three decades has served the American people. I want to wish her all the best in her future endeavors.
Happy to take a couple of questions.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Nike.
QUESTION: Good morning. Thank you. Good morning, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning.
QUESTION: How are you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m good. Hope you are well.
QUESTION: On behalf of the press corps, we are very sorry for your recent loss. Our deepest condolence to you and your family.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, thank you. That’s very kind. Thank you.
QUESTION: On China, what do you mean when you say there is enormous amount of evidence that the virus is from the Wuhan lab? The reason I ask is because Army General Mark Milley said yesterday that we don’t know if the virus emerged from the Wuhan lab. Separately, when the COVID-19 was gaining momentum in January and early February, did Chinese officials reassure American officials that it was under control and would be resolved on its own, maybe because of the warming weather? Do you feel they misled you? Is the administration pondering punitive measures on China? Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I’ll take the questions in sequence. So I saw General Milley’s statements. Entirely consistent with what I think everyone in the administration has said, including President Trump. The Intelligence Community is still figuring out precisely where this virus began. Here’s how this could get solved really quickly: The Chinese Community Party could do what they’re committed to do under their obligations to the World Health Organization, to be transparent, to be open, to do the simple things that nations all around the world do to make sure that pandemics like this don’t get out of control, and in fact, importantly, stay out of control. I mentioned the number of days. This is an ongoing challenge. We still don’t have the samples that we need. We still don’t have the access. We collectively, the world, don’t have the samples. It’s not even just that in the moment they couldn’t do the right thing; they continue to be opaque and they continue to deny access for this important information that our researchers, our epidemiologists need.
And importantly, this could happen again. This – these are the kinds of risks. This is why – this is why when I see people say, well, America is bullying the Chinese – we’re demanding of them only what we demand of every nation, right. Be transparent. Be open. Be a reliable partner. The very things they say – the Chinese say they want to cooperate. Great. Cooperation is about action. It’s about opening up. It’s about sharing this information.
So the details of where patient zero, where this began, are things that are knowledge that’s in the possession of only the Chinese Communist Party. They’re the ones that can help unlock that. If they need technical assistance, we’re happy to provide that assistance to them. We do need – the world needs answers to these questions for not only the current moment but so that we can make sure that we reduce the risk that something like this could ever happen again with thousands and thousands of lives lost and enormous economic cost to the entire world.
As for the details, I think we’ve – the administration has laid out a timeline of what we’ve seen. It is pretty clear that at the front end of this the Chinese Communist Party misled the world. That is, they knew more and they didn’t share that, and they had an obligation to do so under the International Health Regulations that they are required to adhere to under World Health obligation– World Health Organization’s rules set. They didn’t do that. The World Health Organization also failed to do that. And it’s not only that they didn’t enforce, but the World Health Organization needs to still demand that there be an investigation. Dr. Tedros needs to be just as concerned as the United States and Australia and other countries are that we still don’t have access to the answers we need.
These are important issues that are ongoing, real issues, and we need to get them resolved.
MS ORTAGUS: Michel.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: — sorry for your loss, first.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you very much.
QUESTION: On Israel, Israeli media has said that you are traveling to Israel next week. Can you confirm that? And on the other hand, Israeli defense officials said that Iranian forces are pulling out of Syria and closing military bases there. Can you confirm these reports? And since you mentioned Sudan, did you approve the nomination of Noureddine Sati as Sudan ambassador to Washington, and when are you planning to send a U.S. ambassador to Khartoum? Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So the last question is we’re working to get each of those things done with respect to Sudan. We think what they’ve done is remarkable. We want to support that, and so whether it’s their ambassadors being credentialed here and accepted here and us being prepared to send an ambassador there, we’re working our way through that. We’re going to get it done just as quickly as we can.
I don’t have any travel to confirm, but I think in the upcoming hours and days you will see an announcement. We’re hoping to get back out and be on the ground to do the things that the State Department needs to do that we physically need to be located in those places for. We’re hoping we can get that started up before too long. It’ll start off smaller, but we’re hoping to get back at it, just like we’re hoping that we can get the economy back open not only here in the United States but all across the world as well.
I don’t have anything that I can add to with respect of what the Israeli defense – I think it was an Israeli defense official that said that. But we have been very clear to the Assad regime all along, and to the Russians in Syria: The Iranians need to leave. They need to leave not only the southwest corner that has a direct and real impact on Israel and risks to the Golan, but more broadly throughout the country. The very terror regime that we talk about in the Islamic Republic of Iran has got a campaign that supports what Assad has done that has brutalized and destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands, caused six or seven million people to have to flee Syria. The Iranian regime is responsible for that in the same way that the Syrian regime is. We hope that they’ll rethink that and get back to doing what Iran needs to do, which is to take care of its own people in this very difficult time inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. We think those resources could be much better used to support the Iranian people.
MS ORTAGUS: Rich.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Rich, how are you?
QUESTION: Good, how are you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Way in the back today.
QUESTION: Yeah, I know. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: I know.
QUESTION: Good thing I have my contacts in today. (Laughter.) Would you be able to tell us, or does the U.S. know who may have initiated or bankrolled this operation in Venezuela from over the weekend? And has the State Department started engaging the Maduro regime about the two Americans who are reportedly in custody there?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So your first question, there – as I think the Secretary of Defense said, or maybe it was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the President too, there was no U.S. Government direct involvement in this operation. If we had been involved, it would have gone differently. As for who bankrolled it, we’re not prepared to share any more information about what we know took place. We’ll unpack that at an appropriate time. We’ll share that information that makes good sense. What was your second question, Rich?
QUESTION: Just the two American citizens there —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, we’re going to work on this. It’s a consular matter in the sense of any time there are Americans that are detained someplace, we’ll work to get them back. We will start the process of trying to figure a way if in fact these are Americans that are there, that we can figure a path forward. We want to get every American back. If the Maduro regime decides to hold them, we’ll use every tool that we have available to try and get them back. It’s our responsibility to do so.
MS ORTAGUS: Nick.
QUESTION: Secretary, thank you very much. You mentioned Dr. Ai Fen right at the top.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes.
QUESTION: And I wanted to zoom in on something specifically you said about her. She’s discussed publicly in an interview that has since disappeared many of the facts you mentioned, except for one. You said that then National Health Commission ordered samples destroyed on the third; I believe that’s new. Is that based on evidence that you have or is that based on public reporting? And to zoom out a little bit on China, the U.S. and the EU, the EU has not joined your call to investigate China. At the beginning, as you know, the U.S. didn’t participate in the EU vaccine donors conference. Are the U.S. and the EU on the same page when it comes to China and COVID-19?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Let me see what I can get you that supports the statement that I made, see if we can get you material. I’ll make sure the team does that. Second, so the EU held a donors conference. China was there. So the party that perpetrated this, right – this began in Wuhan, China – was there, and we regretted there wasn’t a call for transparency from them. I think that’s always appropriate. They – it turned out, as I understand it, the Chinese Communist Party didn’t show up with a dime either.
I talked about all of the assistance that we’ve provided, we will continue to provide. If you look at the response around the world, who it is that’s actually leading the response to this global pandemic, it is not close. It is the United States of America, and it will continue to be so.
We’ll continue to work with our partners all across the EU, not just the French, the Brits, and the Germans, who sometimes are conflated with “the EU.” We’re working with countries all across Europe. We think they are coming to see, just as the United States sees with great clarity, how this came to be, how it could have been different, and importantly, the things that need to change both now to prevent the ongoing crisis – the things I talked about in my opening remarks – and the things that need to change such that we reduce the risk that something like this ever happens again. I think the people all across Europe are seeing how this came to be, and they are not going to tolerate business as usual as we move forward.
QUESTION: Sir, just to – just to follow up, why not show up to that donors conference, then?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We are going to do everything we can in every form to provide both the resources, technical skills, and the leadership to deliver a response here. We’ll do that, and we’ll do that with our European partners. We’ll find the right forms to do that.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay, last question. Barbara.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, hi, Barbara.
QUESIOTN: Mr. Secretary, hello. I just want to go back to Nike’s question, because it’s kind of puzzling. You had all of these statements. General Milley, she mentioned about the – he doesn’t know. Dr. Fauci said there was evidence that strongly indicated the virus evolved in nature, not in a lab —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, no, that’s all – that’s all consistent. That’s all —
QUESTION: There are reports that intelligence-sharing among Five Eyes shows it’s very unlikely it came from a lab.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Barbara, Barbara, we’ve been through it. Barbara —
QUESTION: And so on. So I’m just wondering —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah.
QUESTION: And also, the IC statement last week doesn’t sort of talk about any evidence. Are you basing your assertion on information —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Barbara.
QUESTION: That all of these parties do not have? And a second question about the —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Barbara, Barbara. Let me just put this to bed. Your efforts to try and find, just, to spend your whole life trying to drive a little wedge between senior American officials, it’s just – it’s just —
QUESTION: No, we’re wondering where this strong evidence you’re talking about – because you’re the only one who’s saying that.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Barbara, every one of those statements is entirely consistent. Every one of them. Lay them down together, there’s no separation. We’re all trying to figure out the right answer, we’re all trying to get to clarity. There are different levels of certainty assessed at different places; that’s highly appropriate. People stare at data sets and come to different levels of confidence. Every one of us stares at this and knows the reality. The reality is this came from Wuhan. Every one of us stares at this situation and says, who can provide the answer to precisely where patient zero was from, where this actually came from? We all know who can unlock the keys to that. Every one of those leaders, whether it’s Dr. Fauci or General Milley, or myself, or the President, we all know how to get to this answer. That’s where the focus needs to be. It’s where our focus is.
QUESTION: And have you made a formal request? Have you asked the CDC to make a formal request for data access to the Wuhan lab?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, there have been many – there have been – that’s a great question. There have been many formal requests, and we will continue to make formal requests for this information.
QUESTION: Did you get a formal response from Beijing?
SECRETARY POMPEO: You should ask Ambassador Cui, who had a great op-ed this morning, and I can’t wait for my daily column in the China Daily News.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay, thanks.
MS ORTAGUS: No, he’s got to go. (Inaudible.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: All right, go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: One more question?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: Following up on my colleague’s question, I actually have your statements from last week where you did a lot of interviews with some of – conservative colleagues. Any time you want to come down and talk to us, by the way, feel free.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Can hardly wait.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) But seriously, but you said in multiple interviews on May 1st, April 30th, and other days some version of “We don’t know if the virus came from inside the lab in Wuhan.” And then on Sunday, you said there’s enormous evidence the virus came from inside the lab.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Those are both true.
QUESTION: So did the intelligence change over the weekend?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Those statements are both true. They’re entirely consistent. We – they’re entirely consistent.
QUESTION: So then —
QUESTION: Why are you highlighting one and not the other?
MS ORTAGUS: Wait, wait. Let’s not – it’s not (inaudible).
SECRETARY POMPEO: This entire – I’ve now answered this question – I think it’s the 13th time. Happy to try to answer it again. I’m not sure what it is that – about the grammar that you can’t get. We don’t have certainty, and there is significant evidence that this came from the laboratory. Those statements can both be true. I’ve made them both. Administration officials have made them. They’re all true.
QUESTION: But then why —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Focus on the most important piece here. The most important piece here is that the American people remain at risk. The American people remain at risk because we do not know – to your point, we don’t have certainty about whether it began in the lab or whether it began someplace else. There’s an easy way to find out the answer to that: transparency, openness, the kinds of things that nations do when they really want to be part of solving a global pandemic, when they really want to participate in the things that keep human beings safe and get economies going back again.
We’ll continue to work on that, we’ll continue to get more certainty, and I hope – I hope we get an answer. Where did patient zero begin, where precisely did this start? I hope we get even more evidence about where it came from, and when we do, we’ll certainly make that clear as well. So thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Is there a reason you (inaudible)?
MS ORTAGUS: Just to correct the record, the Secretary’s done over 90 interviews in the past month, so – and he just did one with ABC, so – and he briefs here every week. So just want to correct what Christina said. Thank you.