Secretary’s Remarks: Remarks to the Press

Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State
Press Briefing Room
Washington, DC
October 23, 2018

SECRETARY POMPEO: Good afternoon, everyone. I want to start off by offering a somber commemoration. Thirty-five years ago today, a Hizballah terrorist, trained by the Iranian regime, drove a truck packed with explosives into the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 Marines, sailors, and soldiers. We will never forget that cowardly act of terrorism or the heroes who came in peace and gave their lives that day.

The President just spoke, as many of you know. I have five topics I want to address today that will add color to some of the things that the President said.

First, we’re encouraged by the high voter turnout in the Afghan parliamentary elections this past weekend. We commend the Afghan security and defense forces in their efforts to facilitate credible elections. There were some technical issues, but despite that we remain committed to assisting the election commissions, especially in their work for the presidential election that will come in April of 2019.

Second, the migrant caravan is violating Mexico’s sovereignty, laws, and immigration procedures. President Trump will not stand for this to happen to the United States. To those who say this is a hardhearted stance, let’s not forget that the United States is a historically generous nation when it comes to immigration.

Over one million people per year are granted permanent legal status here in the United States. Over 33 million people total are currently here who have immigrated to this country legally. To those who want to come here: Come here legally. Legal immigration is the surest way to obtain the better life you are looking for here in the United States of America.

From a security standpoint, there is no proper accounting of who these individuals in the caravan are, and this poses an unacceptable security risk to the United States. Moreover, many of these people are ripe targets for human traffickers and others who would exploit them. We don’t want that to happen.

I’ve spoken twice in the last two days to my counterpart, Foreign Secretary Videgaray. We trust that Mexico’s leaders know what the best steps are to resolve this situation, and we urge timely action on their part. The United States also has a message for those who are currently part of this caravan or any caravan which follows: You will not be successful at getting into the United States illegally, no matter what. I repeat: The caravan will not cross our southern border illegally under any circumstances.

If you seek to come here, go through the normal refugee process. If you apply for refugee status, a permanent solution is possible in Mexico or in a third country. But I can tell you with certainty we are determined that illegal entry into the United States from this caravan will not be possible.

Third, the State Department will continue to seek all relevant facts, consult with Congress, and work with other nations, and work to hold accountable those responsible for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. The administration is also taking appropriate actions now, given the information currently available to the United States.

We have identified at least some of the individuals responsible, including those in the intelligence services, the Royal Court, the foreign ministry, and other Saudi ministries who we suspect to have been involved in Mr. Khashoggi’s death. We are taking appropriate actions, which include revoking visas, entering visa lookouts, and other measures. We are also working with the Treasury Department to review the applicability of Global Magnitsky sanctions to those individuals.

These penalties will not be the last word on this matter from the United States. We will continue to explore additional measures to hold those responsible accountable. We’re making very clear that the United States does not tolerate this kind of ruthless action to silence Mr. Khashoggi, a journalist, through violence. We continue to maintain a strong partnership with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Neither the President nor I am happy with this situation.

Our shared strategic interests with Saudi Arabia remain. We continue to view as achievable the twin imperatives of protecting America and holding accountable those responsible for the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.

Fourth, last week, a delegation of Cuban diplomats threw a childish temper tantrum at a UN-sponsored gathering at the UN. It was a meeting highlighting the Cuban regime’s intolerance of political opposition and the plight of political prisoners. In response, I have written a letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres requesting to know what measures the UN will take to respond to these actions and make sure that they do not happen again.

And finally, it’s my honor to tell you that Ambassador Dan Smith will become the new director of the Foreign Service Institute, something which I intend to devote a significant piece of my time and attention to as the Secretary of State. This is a very important institution here for our Foreign Service officers. Dan will lead the State Department institution responsible for all of our team’s initial training and their continued professional development. Dan shares my vision – I knew him when he was head of INR and I was in my previous role. Dan shares my vision of having the best-trained and most professional diplomatic corps in the world. He is impeccably qualified for this role, and I look forward to him taking the helm at FSI.

I’m now happy to take a few questions.

MS NAUERT: Okay. We just have a few minutes for questions today. We’re running late for another meeting. Our apologies. Matt, we’ll start with you.

QUESTION: Thanks, Heather. Thanks, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Hi there, sir.

QUESTION: The President, as – I don’t know if you could add color to the President’s comments. He just called the – what the Saudi operation or the attempt to conceal the worst cover-up in the history of cover-ups. And I’m wondering, one, if you agree with that characterization; and then second, if you could be a little bit more specific about the actions that you’re taking with regard to the visa revocations. How many, roughly, are we talking about, people here?

And then on the migrants, what will you say to people who say – who would criticize your comments just now as being a bit disingenuous by telling them to apply for refugee status when this administration has slashed the number of refugee – the number of refugees it will admit?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I said I’d take a few questions. You just asked three. I assume everyone in the room would be very disappointed in you for having taken all the questions.

QUESTION: I hope not.

SECRETARY POMPEO: So let me take the last one first. This is a nation that is historically generous with respect to accepting refugees and persons from all around the world. There is no mistaking that; it will continue to be so. And so those who want to come here legally have every means available to do that. People can also file to be refugees in other countries other than the United States of America. And so what we know is this: We’re a nation built on laws. We have an obligation – the President has an obligation – to protect American sovereignty and to secure our borders. To make sure that we know who’s coming in and out of country is not only appropriate, but it is a duty of the United States government. We’ll continue to make sure that we execute that with great energy and vigor and professionalism.

Second, I’ll get you the numbers. We have them, but I want to make sure I get them to you right. I’ll make sure everybody gets a chance to see the numbers. There’s not a lot more that I can say about – other than to say that this is certainly not the last step that we will take, that we will continue to do our own efforts, our own fact finding, to make sure the decision that the United States makes are based on real facts and real data that we can confirm ourselves. We’ll certainly take information that comes from other sources, the Turkish intelligence services, the Saudis.

We will evaluate that information, validate that information, and form our own judgments about the facts and then hold those responsible accountable based on the facts that we determine are appropriate.

We will work with Congress. I’ve spoken to our allies around the world. We want to make sure that everyone understands that the United States doesn’t believe that the killing of Jamal Khashoggi was anything other than a horrific act. And we hope that we can work together, both with Congress and our allies, to hold those responsible accountable.

MS NAUERT: Let’s go to Nazira. Nazira’s from Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Heather. Mr. Secretary, thank you very much to talk about Afghanistan election. It was really unique. Thanks. We are very happy for that, but unfortunately, Pakistan still do something wrong. As you know, incident that General Raziq has been killed. Some reports said Pakistan was behind of that action. Do you think that if Pakistan doesn’t change their policy, what will be the next action of United States to Pakistan to change their policy toward Afghanistan?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So I had a chance to travel and meet the new leader of Pakistan not too many weeks ago now. We had made clear that the U.S. policy with respect to South Central Asia has not changed, that our expectation is that Pakistan will not provide safe harbor to terrorists on their western border – we couldn’t have made that message any more clear – and that Pakistan will be held to account if they don’t achieve that, if they’re not sincere in that effort.

We don’t believe we can get to the place that everyone wants, right. Everyone wants a reconciliation in Afghanistan, and to achieve that, you can’t have a safe harbor for Taliban, for Haqqani, and for others inside of Pakistan. The Pakistani government knows that that’s our view and this administration has already made significant efforts to hold them accountable, and we hope that they’ll achieve the goal that we’ve set out for them.

MS NAUERT: Reuters.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. Given the President’s comment about the “worst cover-up ever,” does the Trump administration still have trust and confidence in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a reliable security partner of the United States, or is there a belief that he might have been part of the cover-up and should temporarily step aside until it can be independently established whether he’d played a role of any kind in the killing of Mr. Khashoggi?

SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re learning the facts and as facts unfold, as we continue to develop our understanding of the individuals that were responsible for this, who not only executed it but led and were involved and were connected to it, the world should know that we intend to hold those individuals accountable when we develop that fact set. And we – literally, we hope to continue to learn facts. We’ve learned a lot over the last few days. We hope to learn a lot in the next 48 and 72 hours as well, a great deal more in the next 48 or 72 hours as well.

MS NAUERT: Last question, Andrea.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary —


QUESTION: — following up – thank you. President Erdogan said today that this was a savage and premeditated murder. You say you’re learning the facts. The President says it’s the worst cover-up. The Saudis are now telling us that this was an attempt to hold Khashoggi in a Turkish safe house for two days. Do you accept that explanation? You personally were told one story and it has evolved over the days. So do you think that the Saudis are still covering this up, and do you feel misled by them? You said you’re not happy, the President is not happy. Do you feel personally misled by the crown prince and do you accept what President Erdogan has said today?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So I don’t think I’ve said what it is the crown prince told me. I don’t talk about those discussions, and still do not —

QUESTION: I’m just asking whether you accept what he said to you?

SECRETARY POMPEO: — and still do not intend to. We’re going to accept what America learns. We’re going to accept the data set that we’re able to develop. We’ve got people working all across the world to figure out what we can know, what’s knowable, to figure out which facts we can determine to put our own understanding together. Because things like – I talked about the work that we’ve asked Treasury to help the State Department with on Global Magnitsky. That’s got to be our work. We have to develop our own data set on which we have reliable evidence in order to base such a judgment to find someone as having violated U.S. law.

So it will be our work to do. We will – as always in my former role, all sorts of intelligence, so we’ll take in all the data set but we will validate it, we will verify it, we will learn the facts for ourselves, and then we’ll —

QUESTION: Has Turkey cooperated? Are they giving you what you need to know?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, the Turks have been very cooperative with us and the Turks have told us that the Saudis have cooperated with them as well.

QUESTION: Has any U.S. official heard an audio tape or seen evidence from the Turks?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t have – I don’t have anything more to share with you about particular data sets. As we do, I assure you we will continue to keep you informed. As we learn, we will share those facts. And more importantly, you will see the United States hold the persons that we believe should be held accountable – hold them accountable. You can rest assured that President Trump is committed to that.

I’ll take one more, Heather.

QUESTION: (Off-mike)

SECRETARY POMPEO: One more. What do you got?

QUESTION: So the Senate and the House, they signed a new bill called HIFPA now, too.


QUESTION: So it’s now on the desk of the President. Is the administration expected to sign this bill soon, or before the midterm election or after?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t know the timing on when the President intends to sign that.

QUESTION: (Off-mike)

MS NAUERT: Okay. Thank you, everybody. The Secretary has to go; he’s late for a meeting.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Great. Thank you all. Have a good afternoon.

QUESTION: Thank you.