Secretary Michael R. Pompeo At a Press Availability, April 29, 2020

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Well, good morning, everyone.  How are you all doing today?  You’re all safe, healthy, good?  I want to send my condolences first of all to the Americans and people all around the world who have suffered from the loss of loved ones because of this horrible virus.

Many Americans too are hurting because of the economic challenges.  They want to get back to work.  I was talking to some friends back in Kansas this week.  They’re all anxious to get back to the lives they had back in November, December, and I’m confident that we will be able to get them back just as quickly as we can.

I want to talk about what we’re doing here at the State Department.  We’re working, fighting hard against the virus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China, and we’re working day and night to continue to bring our people home.  The count is now some 72,000 Americans from 129 countries that we have returned home to their lives and their families.

But as we battle the pandemic, the administration – President Trump wants to make sure we execute our foreign policy mission.  We are very focused on that even when the virus challenge confronts us all.  That’s what I’ll spend my time talking to you about today.

First, our help to stabilize some of the world’s most unstable places.  In Venezuela, I’m pleased to report that the multilateral effort to restore democracy is continuing to build momentum.  I’ve asked my team to update our plans to reopen the U.S. Embassy in Caracas so that we are ready to go.  As soon as Maduro steps aside, I am confident that we will raise that flag again in Caracas.

I also want to update the world on the Maduro regime’s connection to the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Over the last few days, multiple aircraft belonging to Mahan Air have transferred unknown support to the Maduro regime.  Birds of a feather.  This is the same terrorist airline that Iran uses to move weapons and fighters around the Middle East.  These flights must stop, and countries should do their part to deny overflights, just as many have already denied landing rights to this sanctioned airline.

Also focused on Yemen.  I commend Saudi Arabia for extending its unilateral ceasefire there now for a month.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Yemeni Government have answered the special envoy’s call to lay down their weapons to stop fighting, focus on defending the pandemic – defeating the pandemic; ask the Iran-backed Houthis to simply do the same.  It’s what’s required.

All parties must facilitate humanitarian access, and the Yemeni Government and Yemeni Government institutions, and observe the unity and territorial integrity of Yemen.

In Iraq, we’re watching closely as Prime Minister-designate Mustafa Kadhami enters the third week of trying to form his government.

The Iraqi people need and deserve a government that frees the country from external intimidation, puts the prosperity of the Iraqi people first, and tackles the major challenges that continue to face Iraq.  Iraqi leaders must put aside the sectarian quota system and make compromises that lead to government formation for the good of the Iraqi people, and for the partnership between the United States and Iraq.

The Iraqi government, too, must heed the call from many elements of Iraqi society to bring all armed groups under state control, and we welcome steps that have been taken in the past days in that direction.

Moving to a second category, our mission to protect human rights and freedom around the world.

I talked about this a little bit last week.  We continue to monitor with growing concern Beijing’s increasing efforts to interfere with Hong Kong’s governance.  The erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms is inconsistent with the promises that the Chinese Communist Party itself made under One Country, Two Systems.  Any effort to impose draconian national security legislation on Hong Kong would be inconsistent with Beijing’s promises, and would impact American interests there.

Coming back to our hemisphere, we’ve noticed how the regime in Havana has taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to continue its exploitation of Cuban medical workers.  We applaud leaders in Brazil and in Ecuador and Bolivia and other countries which have refused to turn a blind eye to these abuses by the Cuban regime, and ask all countries to do the same, including places like South Africa and Qatar.

We must protect our medical workers now more than ever.  Governments accepting Cuban doctors must pay them directly.  Otherwise, when they pay the regime, they are helping the Cuban Government turn a profit on human trafficking.

In a third line of effort, we continue to defend American interests in domains of growing importance.

I am pleased to announce we will reopen our consulate in Nuuk, Greenland, this summer for the first time since 1953.  Its reopening will boost the shared prosperity and security of our friends in Greenland and Denmark, and strengthen our partnership with our Arctic allies.  It’s a statement of America’s commitment to the Arctic, as non-Arctic states look to exploit the region for their own interests – as I warned of back at the Arctic Council just last year.

I mentioned too last week that we’re well underway in implementing the provisions of the 2019 NDAA on the 5G Clean Path.  I raise this issue again of Clean Path so that Americans know that just as the Trump Administration has taken unprecedented action to defend our physical borders, so too are we defending America on cyber frontiers.

Simply put, in upcoming 5G networks, mobile data traffic entering American diplomatic systems will be subject to new, stringent requirements if it has transited Huawei equipment.  The objective is that untrusted IT vendors will have no access to U.S. State Department systems.  We will follow the letter of the law to ensure that we have a clean path for all 5G network traffic coming into all of our facilities, period.  We will keep doing all we can to keep our critical data and our networks safe from the Chinese Communist Party.

Finally, before I take a handful of questions, an update on our health and humanitarian aid to assist in countries who are working to fight the virus in their nation.  Our team recently crunched some data from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the philanthropy called Candid.

They found that Americans have devoted nearly $6.5 billion in government and nongovernment contributions to help countries fight COVID-19 — $6.5 billion.  This is by far the largest country total in the world, and more than 12 times that of China’s combined contributions.

I’m especially proud of the work that we’ve done in the Indo-Pacific region.  The United States Government has provided more than $32 million in funding to support the COVID-19 response in Pacific island countries.  And we’re working with the Burmese Government, United Nations, NGOs, and others to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Burma, including among vulnerable populations.  And we’re working with our friends in Australia, in India, in Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, and Vietnam to share information and best practices as we begin to move the global economy forward.

Our conversations certainly involve global supply chains, keeping them running smoothly, and getting our economies back to full strength, thinking about how we restructure these supply chains to prevent something like this from ever happening again.  One example of our work together is with India.  It’s lifted export bans on critical medical supplies, including pharmaceuticals used to treat some COVID-19 patients.

And a few days ago, I spoke with David Beasley of the World Food Bank[i].  He’s executive director.  He reminded me that the American people, in their unmatched generosity, supply 42 percent of the World Food Programme’s annual resources, which feed nearly 100 million people around the world.  We’ll continue to help meet the world’s food needs as the COVID-19 outbreak disrupts global supply chains around the world.

One message I want to make sure and repeat today:  If you are wrongfully detaining Americans during this time, and they become infected and die of coronavirus, we will hold your government strictly responsible.  All wrongfully detained Americans should be released immediately.

Morgan, now I’m happy to take a few questions.

MS ORTAGUS:  Go ahead, Christina.

QUESTION:  Good morning, Mr. Secretary.


QUESTION:  Speaking of that foreign policy mission, North Korea, I’d like to ask you what you know about Kim Jong-un’s health, but I don’t think we’ll get much out of you there.  So —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So you’re going to ask something different, yeah.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Unless you’d like to prove me wrong; I’m happy to take whatever you know.  But I’d like to ask you, as somebody who has a lot of knowledge of both the leader and the country North Korea, I’m wondering if you think North Korea would be safer or more dangerous with or without Kim Jong-un in charge.  And I’m also wondering, is the U.S. making plans for what would happen if he dies or is no longer in place as the president of that country?  Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah.  So I don’t have anything to add to the status of Chairman Kim.  I think the President commented on it yesterday.  We did have a chance to interact with a number of North Koreans on our various trips, the ones that I took along with my team and then when the President traveled there for – to meet with Chairman Kim and his team as well.  So we’ve had a chance to meet Chairman Kim’s sister and some of the other leaders there as well.

Our mission is the same.  Regardless of what transpires inside of North Korea with respect to their leadership, our mission remains the same.  It’s to deliver on the agreement that Chairman Kim made with President Trump back in Singapore, and that’s the fully denuclearized, verified denuclearization of North Korea.  We are still hopeful that we’ll find a path to negotiate that solution, to get the outcome that is good for the American people, good for the North Korean people, and the whole world.  Our mission simply won’t change no matter what should transpire there.

QUESTION:  But does that mission get harder if he’s no longer there?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Well, there’s a lot of work to do on it.  We’re going to continue to focus on it.  Thank you.

MS ORTAGUS:  Francesco.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yes, Francesco.  Good morning, sir.

QUESTION:  Good morning.  I wanted to ask you on Iran.  You’re asking the UN Security Council to renew the arms embargo on Iran.  Can the U.S. make the argument that it is still a state participant to the – in the JCPOA after it scratched it in 2018?  And do you think this can work?  And if I can add one on the COVID-19 crisis.  As governments and states are reopening, or start planning reopening their economies, do you see a prospect or a date for lifting the travel bans and reopening the borders as well?  I remember when the President announced the travel ban from Europe, he said for 30 days, and it – this was mid-March.  Do you see anything on this?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah.  So let me take the second question first.  We’re starting, as part of the process that the Vice President’s team is leading, to think not only there’s a lot of talk about how America’s going to reopen, how states will do it, are particular parts of states going to reopen as they become safe, as we develop operational theories about how to make sure we get the economy going while we protect our citizens from the virus.  We’re doing the same thing with our partners around the world.  The State Department, DHS, Department of Transportation, are all working on the elements that will be required to get international air travel back going, not only to get the flights back in place but to do so in a way that will give confidence to those who want to travel, that they can do so and do so safely.  And we’re – we’ve made quite a bit of progress in thinking about how to do that.

And as for when we will – the State Department will reconsider its travel warnings, we’ll do what we always do.  We apply the same rubric, the same systems to evaluate how our travel warnings should go in place, and those are connected to how we’ll think about reopening travel to these places, how the government limitations there will be put in place.

So we have – there are two pieces of this.  There’s a DHS piece and a State Department piece, as well as the travel bans.  And we’re working to work with countries all around the world to not only make sure that we lift those bans, that we create the conditions where people will travel, that business will go there, the people who want to go see beautiful beaches and travel on vacation or take mission trips around the world will be able to do so, and we hope that we can get those back open as each country is ready to do that and as we’re confident that people who travel in from those countries won’t create a tremendous increased risk to the United States as well.

QUESTION:  Before the summer?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I’ll let the Vice President talk about elements of that.  I – we’re going to do it as fast as we can and do so safely.

Your first question was about Iran’s ability to purchase conventional weapons systems starting on October 23rd of this year in the absence of action.  We’re not going to let that happen.  The failures of the Iran nuclear deal are legion.  One of them is now upon us.  It’s now just several months out where China, Russia, other countries from around the world can all sell significant conventional weapons systems to the Iranians in October of this year.  This isn’t far off.  This isn’t some fantasy by conservatives.  This is a reality.  Does anybody think that the nation that today is conducting terror campaigns by Lebanese Hizballah or Iraqi Shia movements or firing military missiles into the air ought to be permitted to purchase conventional weapons systems in just a few months?  I think the world realizes that’s a mistake.  We’re urging our E3 partners to take action, which is within their capacity to do.  We’ll go – we’ll work with the UN Security Council to extend that prohibition on those arms sales.  And then in the event we can’t get anyone else to act, the United States is evaluating every possibility about how we might do that.  And I’m not trying to be too clever by half.  Your question was about us as a participant.

The UN Security Council Resolution 2231 is very clear:  We don’t have to – we don’t have to declare ourselves a participant.  UN Security Council Resolution 2231 is unambiguous where the United States is a participant in the UN Security – it’s just there in the language.  There’s nothing magic about this.  There’s no fancy – I – someone suggested this is fancy lawyering.  It’s just reading.  (Laughter.)  It’s unambiguous and the rights that accrue to participants in the UN Security Council resolution are fully available to all those participants.  We’re going to – we are going to make sure that come October of this year, the Iranians aren’t able to buy conventional weapon that they would be given what President Obama and Vice President Biden delivered to the world in that terrible deal.


QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for doing this.  A question about China and – the WHO.  So on China, we’ve heard a similar talking point, as you know, from CGTN to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs podium that the U.S. had months of warning that it squandered.  We noticed a new tweet from MOFA that suggests the U.S. is engaged in a conspiracy.  So could you tell us, is the rhetorical ceasefire, as we’ve been talking about, that the President declared over?

And on WHO, you’ve been criticized on the freeze.  Number two funder of WHO Bill Gates has criticized it.  China, as you know, has inserted more money.  WHO does things that no one else does around the world, as you know – measles campaigns, for example.  Are you concerned at all that the freeze will reduce influence over the WHO and reduce your ability to conduct the reforms that you’re looking for?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So your first question, what we do is speak the truth about risks to the American people.  Our mission set at the State Department is to protect the American people from threats around the world.  So the information we provide about where this virus began in Wuhan is just data.  You suggested that the MF – the Chinese MFA and CGTN and other Chinese media outlets are saying the same thing.  I’ll leave it at that.  Suffice it to say is that when countries engage in disinformation it creates risk.  We – the Chinese Communist Party tells us they want to be our partner, they want to be transparent.  We need partners we can rely on that when they tell us something, it is accurate and that we don’t think they’re hiding anything.

Look, we still haven’t gained access – the world hasn’t gained access to the WIV, the virology institute there.  We don’t know precisely where this virus originated from.  There are multiple labs that are continuing to conduct work, we think – continue on contagious pathogens inside of China today and we don’t know if they are operating at a level of security to prevent this from happening again.  Remember, this isn’t the first time that we’ve had a virus come out of China.  And so there is a continuing obligation on the part of reliable partners to share this information (inaudible) the world, and we talk about this in the context of nuclear assurance all the time where countries permit others to come in and see their systems to make sure that the locks and keys are right, that the security levels are right, that the technological capability is right, that the checks are right so that you can prevent an accidental nuclear release.  We need the same kinds of processes for biosystems and biolaboratories as well.

And so we would urge every country, all of our partners, to demand that we get answers for what happened here, but also that we continue to have – we get the transparency, that the world gets the transparency it needs to make sure that those who are conducting scientific research on complex viruses and pathogens are doing so in a way that doesn’t create the risk that we get precisely the economic devastation and the enormous loss of life that we have all suffered as a result of this virus that came out of Wuhan, China.


SECRETARY POMPEO:  WHO?  So with the WHO, we’re going to get this right.  We’re the biggest contributor to the World Health Organization.  It failed in its mission here, and so we’re conducting a review to figure out how best to use American taxpayer money to deliver real outcomes.  The Trump administration’s been clear.  I’ve given speeches about this.  We engage in multilateral work all across the world.  We’re doing so.  Even this morning I was on the phone talking about our work with countries around the world on Venezuela.  We built out a defeat ISIS coalition of 90-plus countries.  We’re happy to work with countries around the world to deliver real outcomes that deliver security for the American people.

We shouldn’t pretend that because some organization has “health” in its title that it’s actually capable of delivering the outcomes that we need.  I think about this in the context of the ICC, the International Criminal Court.  It is a politicized organization, not a court.  We want to make sure that we’re getting it right so that we can deliver outcomes for the American people, and the same holds true here.  We’ll conduct our review, we’ll evaluate this.  If there is a function that only the WHO can do and we think it is important for American national security or because we are good humanitarian partners around the world, I’m confident we’ll find a way to deliver that outcome.

So I’d just urge everyone – there’s private donors who contribute to the WHO – always ask, is this the best model?  Is this really the right outcome?  When you see the influence that the Chinese Communist Party had as they were debating how to handle this virus in January of this year, when you think about those things and the risks that those pose to the world, it is an obligation to reconsider whether that vehicle is the right one to deliver pandemic response systems for the world.

MS ORTAGUS:  Okay, last question, Kylie.

QUESTION:  I’m just wondering, given —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Good morning, Kylie.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Given the reliance on China when it comes to medical supplies and that supply chain, which obviously those supplies are desperately needed in the U.S. right now, does the Trump administration have to wait until this health care crisis in the United States is over before you can actually talk about the specifics of inflicting a price on China as you have repeatedly said this administration will do?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Our first priority, unambiguously, is to address the crisis in which we find ourselves as a direct result of this virus that came out of Wuhan, China.  That’s been the Vice President’s task force focus, it’s been our State Department’s focus on both the side of doing our best to understand what happened there as well as getting the American people back.  This is a moment.  We’ve got to get it right.  We’ve then got to get the economy cranked back up.  There’ll be ample time to evaluate how it is we hold accountable those responsible for loss of what is now tens of thousands of American lives and enormous amount of wealth – not only American wealth, but the global economy’s devastation as a result of this virus.

There’ll be a time for this.  We’ll get that timing right.  And as President Trump said when he took office, we’re no longer going to tolerate a non-reciprocal behavior from the Chinese Government.  We saw it first in trade.  We said we want it free, we want it abundant, and we want it reciprocal.  He drove towards that, he got a phase one trade deal.  We were hopeful we could move out on the second part of that as well.  And that’ll ultimately be the decision of the Chinese Communist Party:  Are they prepared to engage in trade in a way that is fair and reciprocal?

The last thing I’ll say is overnight.  I saw comments from the Chinese foreign ministry talking about coercive activity with respect to Australia, who had the temerity to ask for an investigation.  Who in the world wouldn’t want an investigation of how this happened to the world?  I assume the people of China – they’re good people.  There are doctors, scientists there.  Imagine if those scientists and doctors were working in our system, in a free system where you put a hypothesis forward and it was challenged but you had the freedom to talk and publish papers and others could comment and – this is what democracies do best.

The solution to this crisis will come from freedom-loving people around the world.  I am very confident of that.  Authoritarian regimes are poorly designed to deal with the kind of crisis that this pandemic has engendered.  Democracies, where we’re free to critique and comment and you can ask the Secretary of State a hard question – these are the kinds of places where scientists and freedom and thought and journalists can all operate freely.  These are the societies that will deliver the right outcome, will deliver the therapeutics, will deliver the vaccines, will get the right outcome to get our economies back going again.  I am highly confident of that.  This is where we see the true benefit of freedom and liberty, and in the days and weeks and months ahead I am confident that the world will see that as well.

QUESTION:  Can I ask you one question about the Chinese labs?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thanks, everybody.  Thanks for being with me this morning.  Have – everybody have a good day.