Secretary Michael R. Pompeo And Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio At a Press Availability

MODERATOR:  Welcome, everybody.

(Via interpreter) Good morning, and welcome to this joint press conference.  We’ll be having some brief statements by Minister Di Maio and followed by Secretary Pompeo, and then we’ll be taking two questions from the Italian press and two from the U.S. press.

(In English.) (Inaudible) brief statements, and then we’ll take questions by two Italian journalists first, and then by two U.S. journalists.  Minister Di Maio.

FOREIGN MINISTER DI MAIO:  (Via interpreter)  Thank you, Giovanni.  Thank you, everybody, for being here.  A very warm welcome to Mr. Secretary of State Pompeo.  Thank you very much for being here.  Welcome to Villa Madama.  Thank you for your visit, and thank you for having chosen to travel to Abruzzo following these institutional meetings.  Thank you for deciding to go for the first time to the town your ancestors came from.

I am very happy to have had this opportunity to meet.  And as I reiterated to Secretary Pompeo, Italy is an ally of the United States.  We are part of the Atlantic alliance, and we wish to be protagonists within the Atlantic alliance.  We want to be protagonists within NATO.  We want to be protagonists and stimulating our age-old alliance towards new challenges, new diplomatic challenges – challenges which, of course, have to do with our country’s stability, growth, and economic and social growth.

It was a real pleasure for me to be able to discuss some important issues with you, issues which are at the very core of our concerns, of course; issues such as the crisis in the Mediterranean, with a special focus on Libya.  We talked about the stability of Libya, which is an essential dossier as far as we’re concerned.  And it isn’t just linked to our concerns of migration.  It’s also linked to our concerns with a possible terrorist risk.  You all know that Libya is very close to Italy.  Its territorial waters are waters in which sometimes our fishing boats go into, and therefore it is a region which is very close to us, to Sicily, to our borders.  And I think it will be – it’ll be very important to be able to meet at the Berlin conference.  That’s a conference we’re already working on.  And the role of the United States will be very important in the work we can do together as a way of stimulating all of the players involved in Libya to move towards a ceasefire without fostering any kind of tension, without any kind of escalation.  In fact, we wish to work towards a de-escalation of things.

And as I was mentioning to Secretary Pompeo, I am also very much concerned about the topic of tariffs.  We’re concerned because we have a number of companies in Italy which survive thanks to their exports.  They’re the ones which export the very best in wine and agri-food, and in handmade products.  That’s what our companies live off of.

And as I was explaining to Secretary Pompeo, in the past we used to export our industrial plants, whereas nowadays we want to focus on exporting our products while keeping our plants here and our jobs here.  That’s very important.  In a moment in time in which the European economy’s slowing down, our companies need to have certainties.  And of course, one such certainty is our relationship with the U.S.  It is a fundamental relationship.  It isn’t just one based on trade; it is one based on friendship, on our economies.  And sometimes it’s a relationship in which our products are destined to the U.S.

And of course, we as a government will do whatever we can to try to defend made-in-Italy products and our exports globally.  We want to defend our products of excellence, and we want to do everything we can so that we can increase our export capacity without reducing it.  We want to make sure that our companies can export even more, because they do so much for our economy.  And I’m referring to our entrepreneurs in the north, central, and southern Italy, and on our islands.

And as a way of concluding before I leave the floor to the Secretary of State, Mr. Pompeo, obviously, currently we wish to deal with all of the international challenges within the framework of our Atlantic alliance, and we wish to deal with these challenges with the very best of the diplomatic spirit that have always – has always characterized us.  Any solution to a crisis has to be diplomatic, it has to be peaceful, and that is something we will always work on together so that we can continue to bring about economic and social growth in our respective countries.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Thank you, Foreign Minister Di Maio.  Grazie.  You have been a most gracious host.  I had wonderful meetings with President Mattarella and Prime Minister Conte yesterday, truly excellent hospitality in the finest Italian tradition.  I look forward to showing your president Italian-American hospitality when he comes to Washington in just a couple of weeks.

The – we’re both smiling because the deep and abiding ties between the United States and Italy are very personal for me.  As the foreign minister said, I’m one of 20 million Americans who proudly claim Italian heritage, and the first one ever to serve as Secretary of State.  Tomorrow I’ll get a chance to go visit my ancestral home in Abruzzo, and I’m looking forward to meeting all my cousins.  (Laughter.)  And I hear the food is worth meeting as well.

We had an excellent discussion today about the close cooperation that lies ahead for the United States and the new Italian Government.  That cooperation will be well served by President Trump’s already strong relationship with President Mattarella and Prime Minister Conte.  But our true bonds come from the central shared value set, a commitment to the same principles of democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human dignity.

I was pleased to affirm America’s commitment in particular to religious freedom earlier this morning at a conference that was held at the Vatican.  Our principles together have produced a security partnership that has helped underpin peace and stability in the West for decades.  We’re very grateful for what Italy has done and its active leadership in Libya and in North Africa, as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And I’m also grateful that 30,000 men and women of the United States military, DOD civilians, and their family members can call Italy their temporary home.  You are wonderful hosts for them, and we appreciate that.

I know too that we can do more together.  We should keep using the U.S.-Italy Strategic Dialogue to find ways to improve stability on Europe’s southern frontier and grow our security cooperation in the Mediterranean.  And we should continue to stand united against Iranian aggression.  European nations have begun to wake up to the fact that Iran is the aggressor, not the aggrieved, and the fact is also clear from Italy’s decision not to renew Mahan Air’s access to Italy, and we’re very grateful for that.

I’ve asked for Italy’s support too, and we talked about today the necessary task of confronting Nicolas Maduro for his repression and the socialist mismanagement that has taken place in Venezuela.  EU sanctions should be enforced against Russia until such time that the situation changes materially.

And finally, Italy is a friend and a sovereign nation with a right to make its own choices, but as I have done in Budapest and Bangkok, I urge my Italian friends to see how China uses its economic power to cultivate political influence and erode sovereignty.  I raise concerns about China’s zero-sum predatory approach to trade and investment, and what it could mean throughout Europe and Africa and the world at large.  These are complicated issues with no easy answers, but my obligation is to speak the truth about these threats, a set of common threats which will continue to create confidence in our two peoples, that our partnership between our two countries will remain strong and enduring.

Thank you for having us.

FOREIGN MINISTER DI MAIO:  Thank you very much.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) We’ll begin with the Italian journalist, Francesca Sforza, La Stampa.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) Minister Di Maio, Secretary Pompeo, as far as the Berlin conference on Libya is concerned, and given the violence by the – by General Haftar’s troops in – over the past few hours and days, how does the U.S. intend to support Italy’s approach when it comes to ending the violence and to promote a ceasefire?  With which interlocutors do you intend to work with, and how?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So we had extensive discussions today – we had them with President Mattarella and Prime Minister Conte as well – about Libya.  Our mission set is very similar.  We recognize that the first and most important thing we need to do is take down the level of violence, achieve a ceasefire, to convince all the relevant parties that are on the ground there, as well as those that have been supporting them from the outside, that a political solution is the only one that provides any real opportunity to create an outcome in Libya that is remotely adequate for Italy, but most importantly, for the people of Libya as well.

So our mission set, alongside our Italian partners, is to convince all of the relevant parties that the political process must move forward.  And I’m hopeful that, whether it’s the Berlin conference or some of the other work that’s going to take place over the coming weeks, that we can achieve that outcome.

FOREIGN MINISTER DI MAIO:  (Via interpreter) This topic was obviously one which was discussed during all the talks we had last week in New York during the UNGA.  And we agree on the principle that in order for there to be a ceasefire, there should be no countries which stimulate this conflict on the one side and on the other.  And the moral suasion that a country like Italy can have is very important on some of the players involved in the conflict, be they Libyan players or non-Libyan players.  But of course, the role, the moral suasion that a world power like the U.S. can exercise is just as important.

And we believe that the Berlin conference, if prepared adequately, and by involving the players in the conflict as much as possible, we feel that this can lead to a further step forward.  Of course, the step forward has to lead to a ceasefire, and has to lead towards a political process that can lead to the stabilization of Libya.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Vincenzo Nigro, la Repubblica.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) Good morning.  I’d like to ask both of you to discuss the Iran issue in greater detail.

Secretary Pompeo, do you think that returning to a negotiation, be it a direct or indirect negotiation – we all read about the alleged phone call between President Trump and President Rouhani at the UN.  But does the Department of State favor a renewal in talks?  And is it willing to reduce this maximum sanctions policy against Iran?

And then I’d also like to ask Minister Di Maio:  In your introductory speech, you said that Italy continues to prefer a diplomatic and political discussion to most serious crises in the world.  And as far as the Mediterranean is concerned, of course, the most serious crisis is the Iranian one.  Secretary Pompeo also mentioned Mahan Air, an Iranian airline company.  I didn’t understand if Italy will be willing to sanction that airline, too.

And one final remark:  Today, I think, is – marks the anniversary of the killing of the Saudi journalist, Mr. Khashoggi.  Do you think that that murder will have an influence on the way in which our governments looks towards the main players in the Middle Eastern region?

FOREIGN MINISTER DI MAIO:  (Via interpreter) Let me start answering by saying that it’s obvious, it’s clear that we agree on the fact that as far as the Italian Government is concerned, but more generally speaking, the approach to any crisis has to be one which tends towards a de-escalation of things.  Of course, that doesn’t mean being neutral towards a region in which certain tensions exist, and Italy is concerned about these tensions.

As far as the Mahan Air dossier is concerned, in the next few days, I imagine the authorities which deal with air routes will be delivering (inaudible) decisions.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Our policy has been consistent for the now two and a half years of the Trump administration.  The Islamic Republic of Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror and the primary destabilizing force throughout the Middle East.  Our strategy has been to deny them the wealth and resources that they have used for 40 years now to conduct assassination campaigns right here in Europe; to engage with militias all around the world; to disrupt and gain political influence; to conduct terror campaigns around the world, and, as we’ve seen in the last half-dozen months, take European ships off the water in the Straits of Hormuz; to conducting attacks into Saudi Arabia; taking over 5 percent of the world’s energy supply off the market.  This is the Iran that the world confronts, and the United States and Iran confront it – excuse me, the United States and Italy confront it together.

Our theory is working.  Hizballah has fewer resources today than it did before.  The Iranian leadership is having to make difficult decisions about resource allocation inside of their own country.  And we remain hopeful that there will be an opportunity to discuss with the Iranians the path forward.  We – President Trump has said repeatedly we are working every day to deter, with the maritime initiative that we have in the Strait of Hormuz, to de-escalate and to create opportunities for diplomacy.  That’s the approach that we have taken.  It’s the one that we’ll continue to take.

MODERATOR:  Morgan, your turn.

MS ORTAGUS:  Matt Lee, Associated Press.

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you.  Mr. Secretary, sorry, this is going to be the second time in a week I have to ask you about something that’s going on in Washington while we’re not in Washington.  This relates to the Ukraine situation and what’s going on on the Hill.

First of all, is it correct that you were on the phone call that President Trump had with President Zelensky on July 25th?  And if so, are the accounts that we have all seen of it, including the transcript or partial transcript released by the White House, accurate and complete?  And if you were on the call, did you hear anything on that in the conversation that raised a red flag, anything inappropriate or anything that gave you any concerns?

And then secondly, you told – you said last week that you – as far as you knew, everyone at the State Department had acted appropriately in regards to Ukraine, including yourself.  And so I’m – is that still the case?  Is that still your belief?  If it is, why object to the demand for deposition from the House committees on the Hill?  And then do you have any concerns at all about what the State Department inspector general is going to be briefing to Hill staffers later today?  Thank you very much.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thanks, Matt.  I’ll try to answer questions four through seven first, and then one through three after that.

Back to first principles.  Your – the predicate of your final question about objecting to what the folks on Capitol Hill have asked is fundamentally not true.  What we objected to was the demands that were put that are – deeply violate fundamental principles of separation of powers.  They contacted State Department employees directly, told them not to contact legal counsel at the State Department.  That’s been reported to us.  They said that the State Department wouldn’t be able to be present.  There are important constitutional prerogatives that the Executive Branch has to be present so that we can protect the important information so our partners, countries like Italy, have – can have confidence that the information that they provide to the State Department will continue to be protected.

And so the response that I’ve provided to them was one that acknowledged that we will of course do our constitutional duty to cooperate with this co-equal branch, but we are going to do so in a way that is consistent with the fundamental values of the American system, and we won’t tolerate folks on Capitol Hill bullying, intimidating State Department employees.  That’s unacceptable and it’s not something that I’m going to permit to happen.

As for was I on the phone call?  I was on the phone call.  The phone call was in the context of – now, I guess I’ve been the Secretary of State for coming on a year and a half – I know precisely what the American policy is with respect to Ukraine.  It’s been remarkably consistent, and we will continue to try to drive those set of outcomes.  It’s what our team, including Ambassador Volker, we’re focused on – was taking down the threat that Russia poses there in Ukraine.  It was about helping the Ukrainians to get graft out and corruption outside of their government, and to help now this new government in the Ukraine build a successful, thriving economy.  It’s what the State Department officials that I’ve had the privilege to lead have been engaged in, and it’s what we will continue to do, even while all this noise is going on.

MS ORTAGUS:  Okay.  Chris O’Dea, National Review.

QUESTION:  Thank you both for being here.  I’d like to, I guess, address the question to both of you.  You can kind of take it in whichever order, whoever wants to kind of go first.  Primarily oriented towards, I guess, what is conveniently termed kind of the Belt and Road these days, but in a – on a somewhat broader basis, not just with Huawei, but does the U.S. have any specific plans in terms of how to counter China’s investment in these major critical infrastructure assets?  And I ask that here because it seems like there is a very wide degree of those assets that are financed or operated in Italy by Chinese companies, and particularly in Port San Vito, obviously, and Trieste under the new BRI memorandum that was signed – bridges, roads, and highways as well.

So it seems like a great deal of Italy’s economic infrastructure is kind of moving in a direction of sort of Chinese influence and the, I guess, underlying point is those types of things tend to require the Chinese companies to work very closely with Italian Government and financial institutions and get more deeply embedded in the way decisions are made and the way budget and resources are allocated.

MS ORTAGUS:  Okay.  Thanks, Chris.  Thanks.

FOREIGN MINISTER DI MAIO:  (Via interpreter)  Well, I’m happy to answer, and of course, thank you very much for your question.  In recent days, we have absorbed all of the department for foreign trade into the ministry for foreign affairs.  I said this at the beginning, and I want to reiterate this in the presence of Secretary Pompeo:  We are allies of the United States, and we share their concerns on certain strategic infrastructure, such as 5G for instance.  And the concerns our allies have, and the information and the concerns of our authorities have led to new legislation here in Italy, making us one of the most advanced countries in terms of 5G security compared to the rest of Europe.

We have created a new golden power as far as 5G is concerned.  We have recently approved a new decree which has immediately come into force, allowing us to define the cybersecurity framework as far as our country is concerned.  And at the same time, we also have a committee which we have set up which will be assessing the accurate functioning of all of the systems being installed within our strategic infrastructure.

Now, I want to say this because I want to make a clear distinction between our commercial MOUs, our trade MOUs, from our political concerns and our concerns vis-a-vis strategic infrastructure.  And hopefully in the future we will be able to increasingly strengthen the relations and the agreements between the U.S. and Italy to secure our strategic infrastructure.  We have no intention of signing trade agreements that can endanger our state’s sovereignty.  We are very careful whenever we sign trade agreements.  We make sure that we include any possible guarantee so that European legislation is complied with, and so that the European principles are complied with, the principles with which we regulate our trade relations with other non-EU countries.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I’d just add – we talked about this quite a bit, both yesterday and today – when China or Chinese companies show up and are prepared to compete on a fair, reciprocal basis, Italian companies, American companies will compete and will be incredibly successful.  And we brook no ill towards those opportunities.  It’s when the Chinese Communist Party shows up under the guise of a commercial endeavor with an aim to really make an investment that is aimed – a political outcome, to gain political influence, to gain political power, or to threaten the nation’s national security.

Those are the things that every sovereign nation must protect against, and it’s the kind of projects that I’m confident that I know the Italians will evaluate carefully and every European country will.  They want to protect their people.  They want to protect their citizens’ data going across their systems from the Chinese Communist Party having access to that information.  These are a set of shared threats, shared concerns not only with the United States and Italy, but the United States and all European nations.

What President Trump has asked on the trade front is simply that China compete on a fair, reciprocal basis, that we get a set of trade agreements that permit that, that we get protections for basic private property rights, we can prevent China from stealing intellectual property.  We don’t – we no more want them to steal Italian intellectual property than we do American intellectual property.  And I’m very confident that our two countries will work closely together to get those same set of outcomes that I know every Italian citizen and every American citizen wants as well.  Thanks.

FOREIGN MINISTER DI MAIO:  Thank you very much.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thank you.  It was great to be with you.

So long, everyone.