Secretary’s Remarks: Interview With Greta Van Susteren of Voice of America

10/19/2018 04:42 PM EDT

Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State
Sheraton Hotel
Mexico City, Mexico
October 19, 2018

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, nice to see you, sir.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Greta, it’s great to be with you.

QUESTION: This is your second trip to Mexico, but why are you here now in Mexico?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So as the new government makes this transition beginning on December 1st, we’re working diligently to make sure we have a solid foreign policy relationship with them. So we certainly are working with the existing government. I’ll see President Pena Nieto in just a few minutes, was with Foreign Secretary Videgaray this morning, but also working with my new counterpart, Marcelo Ebrard, to make sure that the United States and Mexico are coordinated across a broad array of issues – security, trade, and of course migration as well.

QUESTION: All right, with trade the United States just negotiated a new deal with Mexico and Canada. Let me turn to the issue of the migration – the caravan that is coming up from Guatemala headed to Mexico and then presumably, maybe, someplace else, maybe the United States. What does Mexico say about that?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Mexico agrees that it’s not constructive to have unlawful migration transit from these Northern Triangle countries through Mexico into the United States, and so part of my mission here today is to coordinate with them in a way that takes these folks, who are often victims – coyotes taking money from these people to transit them through a very difficult transit – kids, children, who are put in really bad places – to work with the Mexican Government to accomplish President Trump’s mission, which is to make sure that we have American sovereignty and a secure border.

QUESTION: What is Mexico’s strategy to stop the caravan?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So we’re working with the current government. It’s their strategy, and we recognize Mexican sovereignty, their right to make the decisions the way they want. Just yesterday they spoke with the UN, and so they’re going to use all the resources at their disposal to make sure that they treat these people with the dignity and respect that they deserve, but at the same time create a situation where they understand that it is not fruitful to transit through Mexico into the United States. There are multiple components to this, and we work with the incoming government too to make sure this is a sustainable model once we achieve our goal.

QUESTION: I imagine one of the things we have to worry about, the root reason why they’re migrating. What is being done by either by the United States or Mexico, if anything, to sort of deal with the root reason why they’re leaving their home countries?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So the new Mexican Government has a vision for how they will work to create jobs and wealth in the southern part of their country, and we all have a mission to try and create opportunity in Honduras and El Salvador and Guatemala, in the Northern Triangle countries as well. Most all of these people are leaving because of economic opportunity; they just don’t have any. And we need to do our best to create an environment where they don’t need to transit not only to the United States but to Mexico or anyplace else.

QUESTION: President Trump has said, and I’m sure – I mean, I suspect the Mexican authorities brought it up with you – is that if they come up to the United States is that two things: One is he’ll close the border and consider sending military to the border. Did they bring that up with you?

SECRETARY POMPEO: We talked about a whole wide range of alternatives, alternatives that the Mexican Government could take, that the Northern Triangle countries could take, and certainly ones that the United States can take. We are optimistic. We are watching what’s taking place with these caravans – which, by the way, are not organic, are being created by outside forces and supported by them – and working diligently to make sure that these people understand that it is not in their best interest to try and make this trip up to the United States southern border.

QUESTION: Who are the outside forces? What groups?

SECRETARY POMPEO: There are political opponents of the Honduran leadership that are underwriting this. If you take a look at what’s going on down there, this is not just a group of people who happen to have wandered together into a big group.

QUESTION: Before you came to Mexico, you were in Panama. Why did you stop in Panama?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Longtime partner of the United States on security, on counternarcotics. I’ve known President Varela for some time and wanted to go back to talk to them about several issues where there’s more work to be done between our two countries, including some concerns we have about Chinese investment throughout Central America and Panama and in South America, and make sure that we understood each other with respect to the wide range of issues where Panama and the United States work together. We have important economic relationships with them as well, and I wanted to make sure he understood we welcome investment from them and we were looking to build U.S. investment in his country as well.

QUESTION: Are you suspicious of the motive of the Chinese investment in Panama?


QUESTION: In what way?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, we’ve watched this all around the world. Panama is fortunate; they’re a sophisticated country with a real economy and a growing GDP, so they’re in a pretty good place relative to some other countries. But we watched Chinese predatory activity in countries around the world, where they show up with a bunch of money and then put strings on it, which put the people of that country in a terrible position two, and five, and ten years down the road.

And we think it’s very important that if the Chinese want to invest that’s great, but it needs to be done in a way that is transparent and open and in the best interests of the people of the country in which they’re investing, and not tethered to some constraint that the Chinese would place on that country in the event that country is unable to repay the debts that they are incurring.

QUESTION: So how do you convince Panama to turn down Chinese money? Does the United States have to sort of step up to the plate and do its own investment?

SECRETARY POMPEO: A country like Panama is pretty straightforward. They want to be part of Western society, right? They want to do things by the book, by the rule of law, without corruption. They want to engage in activity that is beneficial to their own people and have the economic capacity to do so. They’re not in a position where the poverty in their country drives them to have to take money even under onerous conditions.

And so you just talk about how you can help make sure that America will be there to provide alternatives, and that other Western countries will be there too to make sure they understand that it’s in their people’s best interest to engage in commercial activity that truly, over the long haul, benefits their own people.

QUESTION: Well, it certainly seems like China is getting a bigger footprint there, especially in light of the fact that about a year ago Panama recognized China and not Taiwan. It seems that China certainly is moving into that area.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, China is intent on that. And again, we don’t have any problem with Chinese commercial investment. That’s their right to go compete in the world. I am convinced that if we compete with them all over the world, we’ll do incredibly well. But what we can’t accept and what we need to make sure every country understands is that when they show up and it looks too good to be true, it almost certainly is.

QUESTION: And have you brought that up with China, about their trading in the Western – about them operating in Panama?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t know that I’ve brought up Panama in particular, but I’ve certainly brought up what we view as commercial practices with their state-owned enterprises that are inconsistent with good behavior around the world.

QUESTION: Venezuela was – is also an issue in this hemisphere. It’s a failed state. President Maduro – it doesn’t look like it’s getting any better. What is – what’s the U.S. strategy, if any, with Venezuela?

SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve been very consistent. We have urged the people of Venezuela to restore democracy to their own country, and you’ve seen the sanctions that we put in place, not only against the country, which sometimes have an adverse impact on the people of Venezuela, but also against the Venezuelan leadership, those people who are oppressing their own citizens. And another reason for my visit to this part of the world is to urge the countries of the OAS and of the region to ensure that we have a coordinated set of policies, a common understanding, and frankly, the Lima Group and other organizations have done really good work to put pressure on the Maduro regime and to try and create opportunity for those in Venezuela who want the restoration of democracy. This is a nation with enormous economic capacity, the ability to have real wealth, and what they need to do that is the rule of law and democracy, and we are continuing to work with the Venezuelan people to assist them in achieving that.

QUESTION: Coincidentally, I was at the border of Venezuela; I was in Colombia a few days ago and it looked pretty bleak. People were parading over the border to —

SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s tough, lots of migration there as well.

QUESTION: And with no hope. I mean, they tell me stories about how the whole – the industry has collapsed to the extent that it hasn’t been – it’s all been nationalized, but they don’t have groceries on the shelves. It’s just getting worse there, and Cuba’s moved in there.

SECRETARY POMPEO: We are searching for a solution which will deliver democracy to Venezuela, and then it can go back to being a country with the things that you described, simple accommodations for their people. It’s the Maduro regime that has inflicted this set of horrible living conditions on the people of Venezuela, and it will ultimately be the people of Venezuela that fix it.

QUESTION: Can, will the U.S., or do you anticipate the U.S. will increase sanctions in Venezuela?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ve been pretty consistent at our pattern of identifying sanctions that we think will deliver on that democratic outcome, and so I – while I don’t want to tell you what we’ll do tomorrow, I’m confident we will find other places where we think we can exert pressure in a way that will convince Maduro that this isn’t going to work, that he’s not going to get to retain power forever, and that oppressing his people in the way that you’ve just described is inhumane and inappropriate and not what real leaders do. And so we’re hoping this transition led by the Venezuelan people will take place, and I’m confident that we will find other places where sanctions will be appropriate.

QUESTION: You used the term “transition.” Is that sort of a – is that a word for a coup? I mean, do you expect Maduro not to be in power?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I expect the Venezuelan people to restore democracy to their country. If they happen to choose Maduro, well, the Venezuelan people get to choose. I – as you’ve described the horrors that Maduro has inflicted on his people, that seems unlikely to me.

QUESTION: Have you followed the litigation with Citgo, which is 90 percent of the income to the government of Venezuela is from their oil from Citgo, and now there’s a question of who’s – what’s going to happen with Citgo, which will only add increased financial pressure on Venezuela. Are you following that at all?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I am. It’s a very complicated issue, but we are – Treasury and State Department are both following this very, very closely, and we’re constantly re-evaluating our approach to all of the economic issues surrounding Venezuela.

QUESTION: All right. This is not your first trip this week. You were also over in the Middle East. You were in Saudi Arabia and Turkey. How do you describe currently the importance – the U.S. – the importance of Saudi Arabia to the United States?

SECRETARY POMPEO: They have been a strategic ally of ours since the early 1930s and recently have been even more important. They have assisted us in pushing back against the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, the Islamic Republic of Iran. They’ve been a great counterterrorism partner during our administration. We have economic ties with them that are deep and important. A broad spectrum of strategic relationships between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: If the investigation turns out – and the investigation is ongoing – that the crown prince or the king had deeper involvement that’s being suspected or people are saying in the media, that it’s determined to be that, what can the United States do or what should it do in light of the fact of its strategic importance?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, the President has said that it – there’ll have to be some response in the event that the facts turn out the way that you hypothesized that they will turn out. I’m not going to get into what those responses might be. We’ll certainly consider a wide range of potential responses. But I think the important thing to do is that the facts come out. When I traveled to Saudi Arabia I met with the king, I met with the crown prince at great length, I met with Foreign Minister Jubeir, and I made very clear to them that the United States takes this matter very seriously, that we don’t approve of extrajudicial killings, that we don’t approve of that kind of activity, that it is – it’s not something consistent with American values, and that it is their responsibility – as this incident happened in their consulate, it is their responsibility to get to the bottom of this, to put the facts out clearly, accurately, completely, transparently, in a way that the whole world could see, and once we have identified the fact set, then they have the responsibility in the first instance to hold accountable those inside their country that may have been involved in any wrongdoing.

QUESTION: All right. Turkey has been at odds with Saudi Arabia. This certainly has put them at greater odds in light of what’s happened. What’s the strategic importance of Turkey to the United States?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So my second stop this week was in Ankara. I met with President Erdogan and my counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu. We have deep relationships. They’re a NATO ally. We have had challenges with them. They had held Pastor Brunson; they still continue to detain three locally employed people who were at our embassy there. So there are still many challenges in this relationship. But they sit at an incredibly important place and they always will – the bridge between Europe and the Middle East. And as a member of NATO, we need to work to continue to improve that relationship so that we can work together to achieve the ends of NATO and ends – in places where Turkey and the United States have overlapping interests, including the challenges that are in Syria today. I think there are real places where we can work with Turkey in Syria to get better outcomes for the Syrian people.

QUESTION: It’s incredibly complicated, isn’t it?

SECRETARY POMPEO: It is. It is complicated.

QUESTION: Indeed, complicated. All right, North Korea. You were recently over in that region and it was announced that some military exercises with South Korea are going to be postponed, the ones that were scheduled for December. Do you anticipate a meeting between Kim Jong-un and President Trump in the very near future?


QUESTION: How do you define very near future?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I – (laughter) – so I’m not prepared to tell you when it’s going to be as the date has not yet been set. But the President is committed to doing that. We’re working on finding dates and times and places that will work for each of the two leaders. I’m very hopeful we’ll have senior leader meetings here in the next week and a half or so between myself and my counterpart to continue this discussion so that when the two of them get together there is real opportunity to make another big step forward on denuclearization. Chairman Kim reiterated when I was with him now I guess it’s two weeks ago, his commitment to that – that he stands by the commitment he made to President Trump in Singapore on June 12th, and we intend to do everything we can to make sure that he delivers on that so that we can come to the day where the people of North Korea will indeed have a brighter future. President Trump is determined to have North Korea achieve that.

QUESTION: What surprised you the most about the negotiations with Kim Jong-un?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Goodness, I’m not sure much has surprised me in the sense of, this is very difficult. For decades, North Korea has depended on their nuclear arsenal or the promise thereof as their lynchpin for their security. And so to make that transition, to make the strategic decision that Chairman Kim tells us he has made that says we no longer need our nuclear arsenal for our country to be successful, is a very difficult challenge for a North Korean leader. I’m very happy that he’s made this decision, but to execute on that is complex and will take time. And so long as we can continue to make process – progress and not have missiles being fired and nuclear tests being conducted, allowing them to prefect their program even further, then I think it’s all to the good.

QUESTION: One last question: What’s a better job? Director of the CIA or Secretary of State?

SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s the only question I’m not going to answer, Greta. They are both great jobs and —

QUESTION: Wait, which one do you get more sleep with?

SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s an incredible privilege to have the chance to do each of those two.

QUESTION: Which do you get more sleep with?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I think I got a little more sleep in the previous one.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Greta.