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Secretary Pompeo at a Press Briefing on Current U.S. Foreign Policy
July 10, 2020


Office of the Spokesperson

For Immediate Release


July 9, 2020

Secretary Michael R. Pompeo at a Press Briefing on Current U.S. Foreign Policy

July 9, 2020

Via Teleconference with the Foreign Press Center

MS ORTAGUS:  Great.  Thank you and good morning, everyone.  It’s great to be with the Foreign Press Center today.  This is my first briefing with all of you, actually, and the Secretary, of course, was with you a few years ago, so we are delighted to be back with all of the foreign press represented here in Washington and New York.

I’m the State Department spokesperson, of course.  Thank you for joining this briefing with Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo.  As a reminder, today’s briefing is on the record, but it is embargoed until the end of the call, please. 

The Secretary is with us this morning to discuss current U.S. foreign policy priorities.  We will begin with the Secretary providing a few brief remarks.  After these remarks, the Secretary looks forward to taking your questions. 

We’d ask all questioners to please identify themselves and the outlets – and their outlets before they ask the question.  I will, of course, be calling on all of you, and we will dial 1 and then 0 again to get into the queue.

Okay, sir, over to you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thank you.  Look, I’ll be very brief because I want to take as many questions as I can.  Thank you all for joining me on the call today.  I know there’s – be a wide range of questions that will span the entire security situation all across the globe.  I thought I’d highlight just a couple things. 

First, the challenge that is presented to the people of Hong Kong who have been denied the central commitments that the Chinese Communist Party had made to them now some 23 years ago or something.  We’re spending significant time on defending the Hong Kong people in the face of communist tyranny.  I’m happy to talk about that more.

We’ve also seen this stain of the century in western China that rivals any that we’ve seen across the globe.  We talk about this a lot, but we are beginning to take actions that respond to and address it.  We hope the whole world will unite in protecting religious freedom and ensuring that the actions taking place there are put to an end.

And then the final thought for this morning is that next week, in fact a week from today, I will introduce a report that the State Department Commission on Unalienable Rights has been working on for now just a little over a year.  It’s an important restatement of how the United States thinks about human rights and our unalienable rights and our role, the United States role, in the world in preserving those rights for all people who are made in the image of God.  And these unalienable rights are important.  They extend across the world.  And while we have a rights tradition here in the United States that is unique, we think much of that rights tradition extends to places beyond our borders as well.  And I’d welcome you all paying attention to that next week when we introduce the report and seeing the work that the commission has performed.

With that, Morgan, I’m happy to take questions.

MS ORTAGUS:  Great.  Thank you very much, sir.  I’m going to turn it over to the line of Carla Angola.

QUESTION:  Hello, good morning.

MS ORTAGUS:  We can hear you.  Go ahead. 

QUESTION:  (No response.)

MS ORTAGUS:  Carla?  Carla Angola, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yes, I’m here.  Can you hear me?

MS ORTAGUS:  Yes, we can.  You may ask the Secretary a question.

QUESTION:  Yes, of course.  Good morning.  Mr. Secretary, thank you for this opportunity.  There is an international consensus – even the Venezuelan opposition is united – in the certainty that Maduro definitely closed the electoral route.  The great concern of Venezuelans is that the United States wants to bet indefinitely on an internal break within the regime itself, no matter how long it may take to happen, and in fear that it will be – that it will never happen.

Is there a waiting – a deadline for internal and external pressure to work and then consider another – options that will precipitate Maduro’s departure?  Thank you very much.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Well, thanks for the question.  Our team spends a great deal of time thinking about the set of issues that you describe.  In the end, what the United States is trying to achieve is restoring democracy, and the Venezuelan people will be the ones who will ultimately restore that democracy.  It is indeed Venezuelan people who choose to serve in the Venezuelan military. 

And so we believe we will do all the things that we can do, which includes not only the economic pressure that has been brought to bear on the Maduro regime and the pressure that’s been brought to bear on Cuba to withdraw their security forces from Venezuela, but we have also, importantly, built out a global coalition to try and help the Venezuelan people achieve their objectives.  So there are various groupings, but we see South American countries as part of the Lima Group.  We now have some 60 countries that have recognized that Maduro’s days as a governor are done and that, in fact, Juan Guaido is the duly elected leader, as spoken to by the Venezuelan people.  This is the process that we intend to continue to support what the Venezuelan people want.

You mentioned – and I’ll try to end quickly.  You mentioned the upcoming elections.  We’ve watched Maduro’s corrupt court system; we’ve watched him now try and take over political parties.  And we remain convinced that the Venezuelan people see this for what it is and that they will respond in a way that reflects their deep desire to restore order and democracy to their own nation. 

MS ORTAGUS:  Great.  Thank you, Carla.  I’m now going to turn it over to Tuan Nguyen.

QUESTION:  Mr. Pompeo, thank you for the briefing.  My name is Tuan Nguyen from Zing News, a news website in Vietnam.  I was wondering if you could comment on the future of Vietnam and U.S. relation on the anniversary – on the 25th anniversary of our bilateral relations.  What should we expecting to see in five years? 

And my second question is:  Can you provide a little bit more specifics on the next steps in the Indo-Pacific initiative?  What should be – what should we be expecting on that?  Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thank you.  I appreciate the question.  I’ve traveled to Vietnam twice as Secretary of State.  I was there in my previous role, and then I had been there before in my previous time as well.  The relationship between our two countries is important.  It is based on a fundamental set of shared understandings about a common path forward – that’s an economic path forward; that is trade between the two nations – and then the very serious challenges that are posed by the Chinese Communist Party to Southeast Asia and a free and open Indo-Pacific. 

So with respect to our relationship, Ambassador Kritenbrink has done good work alongside – with his team and alongside our Vietnamese partners there to create opportunities for the Vietnamese people to grow and prosper and to get United States foreign direct investment inside of Vietnam.  We think there’s some great opportunities that will flow to Vietnam as a result of decisions to move supply chains out of China that are a direct result of political unrest inside of China itself and decisions that business leaders will make that says this is a place that’s simply too risky to continue to produce and manufacture for supply chains to deliver products around the world.  We think good parts of Southeast Asia are likely to benefit from that.

And then respect – with respect to our Indo-Pacific strategy, this administration has taken seriously two components of this that previous administrations simply had not.  First is the fundamental recognition of the challenge that is presented to the Indo-Pacific from the Chinese Communist Party.  It’s in every dimension.  It’s diplomatically, it’s economically, it’s militarily.

And then second, the response.  It’s communications infrastructure.  I mean, the list – cyber, the theft of intellectual property, not just here from patent holders here in the United States but from people all around the world who have put their shoulder to the grindstone to invent things and create and to prosper.  The threat of intellectual property theft is incredibly real.

The second thing we have done is we recognize that this will take a true global coalition of people who understand this challenge.  So whether that’s the work that we did – just yesterday, I was on a meeting with the Five Eyes counterparts – our G7 partners, our partners in ASEAN, the Quad.  All of these various tools to develop multilateral understandings about how to protect free and open transportation, shipping, commerce, rule of law, all the things that authoritarian regimes that – like the one that exists inside of China today can’t tolerate because it’s inconsistent with their model – those are the things that will create prosperity for the Vietnamese people, prosperity for people throughout Southeast Asia, and a global system that is built on trust, the rule of law, and transparency. 

We have too many efforts underway to list them all in their entirety, but know that the United States as a Pacific nation is committed to this.

MS ORTAGUS:  Great.  Thank you.  We’re now going to have Jesper Steinmetz.  You’ll be up next, Jesper. 

QUESTION:  Yes, hi.  This is Jesper Steinmetz from TV2 Denmark.  Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for doing this.  I am, like all my colleagues and all Europeans I think, interested in getting an update on the travel ban, I mean the European travel ban to the U.S.  What’s the status?  Do you consider doing it in phases so that you would allow certain visa categories from Europe into the U.S. before you actually allow tourists and Visa Waiver Program tourists into the U.S.?  And does reciprocity play a role here?  I mean, is it dependent on the EU opening up for American tourists?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Jesper, thanks for the question.  I don’t have much to add, other than what we’ve said publicly.  I made a comment about this yesterday I think, perhaps it was the day before.  We are in complex conversations.  It’s not negotiations.  It’s – those are political.  We are in complex conversations around how to get the science and the epidemiology of this right and how to make sure that we reduce risk.

And we know there is a deep need and desire to get the global economy back going, and that involves people hopping on airplanes, traveling all across Europe and across the Atlantic, and indeed all around the world.  So we are engaged – both in our Department of Transportation, Department of Homeland Security, the State Department – in conversations with our counterparts to try and deliver a set of outcomes that will both deliver the economic and commercial needs of travel and then frankly, for that matter, tourist travel as well – an important economic component for many European countries too – to make sure we get that right.

So whether – my guess is what you’ll see is you’ll see – it won’t be on and off.  There’ll be components of this which gets turned – get turned back on first that we think can be done securely, and ultimately leading to a full restoration of travel.  We want to do that just as quickly and as safely as we can. 

MS ORTAGUS:  Great.  Thank you, Jesper.  Let’s go to Pearl Matibe.  Pearl.

QUESTION:  Good morning, Secretary Pompeo.  This is Pearl Matibe.  I’m with Open Parliament of Zimbabwe, and I very much appreciate your press availability today.  Thank you very much for doing this.  I’m also glad that I managed and was able to hop onto this call because I feared my sister this morning got arrested in Zimbabwe. 

My question to you this morning is on Russia-China-Africa relationship and the U.S.-Africa relationship.  What foreign policy strategies, implementation, and metrics for impact are you deploying in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, or South Africa, where the “Look East” approach is strengthening ties with China?  Just day before yesterday, the Chinese ambassador in Zimbabwe was hailing the – Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, while they were donating their COVID PPE equipment to the first lady in Zimbabwe.

So I’m wondering – we’re seeing private military as well in Mozambique with this extremist threat.  Do you have any intention to support development of a – perhaps a terrorist action plan to combat Daesh in Mozambique?  And with these things in mind, how are you innovating your diplomatic tools to counter authoritarianism and the Russia-China-Africa relations? 

Thank you very much.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So that’s an incredibly important but incredibly broad and difficult question to answer just in a couple of minutes.  Maybe a couple points.

Under the Trump administration, it’s been very clear.  We wanted to do all that we could to help African countries have economic success, and we wanted them to also be in a position where their security was ensured as well.  So that’s the counterterrorism work that I had a role in when I was in my previous role as CIA director that our Department of Defense undertakes as well, not only in East Africa but in the Sahel as well as the Lake Chad region.  We devote significant resources to that effort. 

It is worth noting – and I think many African leaders appreciate this – it is the United States and the West, the French and others, who provide the resources to assist in the security front.  You see very little assistance coming from others with that respect.  The United States has sacrificed true blood and treasure and American lives in many countries inside of Africa to help the African people establish adequate security situations.  It’s a constant struggle.  It’s not one that – we have not completed, but we remain committed to doing that.

Second, when it comes to economic development, we watch China – and Russia to a lesser degree – but China deploy their economic toolkit.  I think the world’s gotten onto it, frankly.  I think the world’s figured out that when the Chinese show up with PPE, it’s likely not to work, and second, that it comes with strings attached to it.  When the United States shows up with humanitarian assistance, it is indeed just that.  We remain far and away the largest contributor of development assistance throughout the African continent.  We will continue to do that in this administration, and we do it because it’s the right thing to do and we believe it is good policy to help people inside of Africa. 

When the Chinese do it, it’s always in exchange for something.  It is transactional.  It is designed to further the – line the pockets of regime leadership, and it is almost always not consistent with transparency and the rule of law.  And I think many African countries have seen this.  They – it looks good, it looks right at the front end, and what one finds out as time goes on is that they often bribe someone inside of the country.  And second, what the – the commitment that the Chinese Communist Party made to deliver, whether that’s on a road or a bridge or on an infrastructure project like a dam, it turns out that they were often sold a true bill of goods.

We – that makes us unhappy.  We wish those African nations would make different decisions and appreciate the fact that they have true partners – true partners in Europe, true partners with the United States – that can truly provide the assistance that African countries, including countries like Mozambique, need.

MS ORTAGUS:  Thank you.  We’ll now turn the line over to Joyce Karam.

QUESTION:  Oh yes, hi.  Good morning.  Thank (inaudible) —

MS ORTAGUS:  Joyce, I think we might have lost you for a second.  Are you still on the line?  Joyce Karam?

QUESTION:  Yes, yes.  Can you hear me?

MS ORTAGUS:  Yes, we can hear you now.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yes, hi, good morning.  Thanks for doing this.  I have a quick question.  Not sure if you saw the news that Iran is claiming to have built missile cities.  So my question to you, Mr. Secretary:  With the embargo expiring in October, and the missile threat is increasing from Iran, are you holding any discussion with the GCC allies?  Are you planning to boost their defenses given the current reality of things?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Joyce, thanks for the question.  So yes, we remain concerned about missile proliferation – frankly throughout the region, certainly from the Islamic Republic of Iran.  They continue to work on their missile program in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231.  It’s the reason we think it is so important that the world unite to extend the arms embargo that expires just a handful of months from now in the middle of October.  We think that would be tragically dangerous for the region and create instability throughout the Middle East. 

And yes, we’ve been working with our Gulf state partners, not only to get them to assist the United States effort to extend this arms embargo – which is very, very important for them – but second, we’ve provided a great deal of assistance.  You see all kinds of U.S. sales of weapons – those are all public – and things that we can do both publicly and otherwise to help provide security in the face of an increasing capability of the Iranians to fire missiles all throughout the region, and ultimately establish a set of missile capabilities that is robust enough to defeat missile defenses throughout the region, but strike in places that go beyond even just their near neighborhood.

I’ll give you an example.  We watch as they continue to try and build out their space launch vehicle program.  They would, of course, claim this is for a civilian purpose, to put commercial satellites up.  I think the world’s smarter than that.  I think the world recognizes that program as being deeply connected to their desire to have longer and longer range missile systems that they can use to hold hostage the world.

MS ORTAGUS:  Great.  Thank you, Joyce.  We’ll now go to Haye-ah Lee.

QUESTION:  Good morning.  (Inaudible.)

MS ORTAGUS:  We hear you, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Good morning.  Morning, Mr. Secretary.  This is Haye-ah Lee with Yonhap News Agency of South Korea.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Good morning.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) Kim Jong-un if you thought it was going to be helpful.  At the same time the North Koreans have repeatedly said recently that they have no intention to sit face-to-face with the United States.  Do you think another summit will be possible before the U.S. presidential election in November?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I don’t want to comment on the ongoing conversations that we are having with our counterparty, but I think it’s worth noting, with respect to North Korea, the Trump administration has taken an approach of engagement to have serious conversations about the strategic threat that North Korea presents in – to not only its near neighbors like South Korea and China, but more broadly than that, certainly throughout the region.  So we took seriously this obligation to reduce proliferation and to try and convince the North Koreans to make the fundamental shift that says that those weapon systems actually create risk for it rather than creating the security blanket that they have historically believed that it did. 

We continue to work to establish dialogue and have substantive conversations about how we might deliver this really good outcome, this outcome of delivering peace and stability to the entire peninsula.  We laid it out in Singapore.  There were four major elements of this.  And we’re very hopeful that we can continue to have this conversation, whether that’s at a – of the levels beneath the summit, or if it’s appropriate and there is a useful activity to take place, to have senior leaders get back together as well.  As for who and how and timing, I just don’t want to talk about that today.

MS ORTAGUS:  Thank you.  Stacy Hsu, you’re up next.

QUESTION:  Hello.  Thank you for doing this.  I’m Stacy Hsu from Taiwan Central News Agency.  I just have a question about – Secretary Pompeo, you have spoken in support of Taiwan’s bid to join and to participate in the WHA on multiple occasions.  But with U.S. formal withdrawal from the WHO, which is expected to take effect next July, how would that U.S. support change in the future? Thank you so much.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Each time we participate in a multilateral institution, President Trump has said let’s think about a couple things.  Does the institution perform its fundamental function for which it was originally intended?  And if it does, great, and if that intentional – that original intention still makes sense in light of the world events, then we should continue to support it and underwrite it. 

The World Health Organization has demonstrated time and time again that it has suffered from deficiencies that don’t permit it to accomplish its fundamental mission set, which is to alert the world and prevent the world from suffering global pandemics.  This – we’ve been very factual in our statements about what the WHO has failed – and when I say has failed that’s present tense, continues to fail to do with respect to this pandemic.  The World Health Organization still can’t get the Chinese Communist Party to help us identify patient zero or determine precisely how it’s the case that the Chinese Communist Party chose to close down travel inside of their country but allow the virus to continue to spread around the world.  We don’t know the answers to those things.  The WHO has a responsibility to get to the bottom of it, and the WHO then has a responsibility too to hold accountable nations that don’t comply with the WHO’s own internal regulations, and the Chinese clearly did not do that in this case.  The WHO has not yet manifested its capacity to do that, to hold China accountable for its failures to report and its obligations under the World Health Organization, rules that we helped put in place the last time that the WHO failed and there were significant reforms at the WHO. 

We have been engaged in reform at the WHO for an awfully long time, and whether it was Ebola that the United States ultimately had to grab a hold of; create PEPFAR, and go around, work outside of the WHO channels to ultimately deliver glorious outcomes for Africa; or whether it was the failure of the WHO during the previous times with SARS, again from China.  One – the institution is incapable of delivering on its core mission set, and you have tried mightily to reform it and fix it from within. 

The United States has a responsibility.  We spend almost half a billion dollars a year on global pandemics.  We need to find an institution and the capacity in a way to deliver those global health – on those global health and global security needs, and the WHO has not demonstrated its ability to do it.  We tried to do the simple thing, to get Taiwan to be able to participate as an observer, and the Chinese Communist Party influence prevented that from happening.  I think that’s very telling. 

MS ORTAGUS:  Well unfortunately we are at 10 o’clock, so we are at the end of our time.  Would love to thank everybody from the Foreign Press Center who dialed in.  We’d love to be with all of you again soon, and thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Great, thank you all.  Thanks for joining me today.  So long.