October 21, 2021

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Secretary Michael R. Pompeo Briefing with the Traveling Press

21 min read

Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State

En Route to Shannon, Ireland

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Greetings, everyone.

QUESTION:  Hello.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  How are you all?

QUESTION:  Hello.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Well, that was a – I thought it was a great trip.  We accomplished just about everything we were hoping to do.  We were back in Europe leading from the front this time, talking about staying connected, making sure they lean into their connections to the West.  We all know we have these shared values.

We have watched whether it’s a ship we’re going to port in Greece or the religious freedom effort or the conversations we had about the risks of the Chinese Communist Party – I think in every place that I went, if you compare it to where we were three and a half years ago, I think we have deeper, stronger, better set of relationships and increased economic ties too.  So I’m happy with what we accomplished, and I’m looking forward to getting back home too.  So I’m happy to take a handful of questions.

QUESTION:  You called back to Washington after your meetings today.  What did they tell you and are you proceeding with your trip this weekend to Florida as well as Asia?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I spoke to the Vice President just a little bit ago.  He’s fine.  He’s engaged.  We’re still planning on making the trips, but we’re going to take a look at them.  We’ll see which one – see which or some parts of those trips make sense and which may not, and we’ll continue to on an hour-by-hour basis take a look at it.

But it’s no different than any other time.  We’re always – I always try to make – keep everybody safe in everything that we do.  And if we can’t – if have to postpone a trip or cancel something, we’ll figure out how to get it back on the schedule.  But I’m hopeful we can at least make sure we get to Asia for sure – some important things, but we’ll see.  If the medical situation doesn’t permit it, we won’t do that.  We won’t put anybody at risk.

MR BROWN:  All right.  Tracy.

QUESTION:  Oh, you’re calling on me.

MR BROWN:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Well, so you’ve talked about sharing the values – getting them to lean into the West, et cetera – but it sounded like the prime minister of Croatia was talking a lot about China.  He wasn’t exactly rejecting China.  So how did you feel that that message is getting through to him?  He mentioned that both Greece and Croatia were part of the China Plus.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Just go look at what the European countries are saying today compared to what they were saying two and a half years ago, and then go look at their actions.  It’s not remotely close.  The tide has turned.  Everyone understands this threat.  This isn’t about United States versus China.  It’s about tyranny.

The Chinese Government unleashed a virus on the world.  We see the impacts of today.  You all are standing here wearing masks because they decided that they were going to let people travel out of Wuhan when they knew – and they disappeared doctors.  You all know the story too well, right?  They deceived the world and they covered up.  And you’re all wearing masks as a direct result of what the Chinese Communist Party did.

And so they all get it.  This is about freedom.  This is about liberty.  They know the threat.  They know the risk.  You’ve seen the changes in what the United Kingdom is doing with their 5G network.  I’m confident that many more European countries now, frankly because of just sharing information with them, they’re going to make their own sovereign decision that says no, we don’t want our citizens’ data in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.  I think every European country now understands this, is increasingly aware of it.  And you’ll see them start to take actions consistent with that, including in Croatia.

MR BROWN:  All right.  Carol.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, today is the second anniversary of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.  Will the world ever know who ordered and orchestrated his killing?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I’m sorry (inaudible).

QUESTION:    Will the world ever know who ordered and orchestrated his killing?  And maybe you can give us an idea of what’s it like being a diplomat —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  (Inaudible.)

QUESTION:  Maybe you can give us an idea of what it’s like doing diplomacy, being a diplomat in a time of COVID.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Oh, goodness.  With respect to the Khashoggi murder, I don’t have much to update.  The Saudis have now prosecuted a handful of folks.  We continue to press them to make sure we get as much as we can, that everyone who was responsible be held accountable.  There’s not much of an update from where we were two months or four months ago.

It’s been a little harder to travel around the world as a diplomat and see people.  It always matters how you can have private conversations that are harder to have on the phone, but at the same time, we’ve all adapted just as your businesses have – just – excuse me – just as every company and every family has had to do.  It’s given us an opportunity to evaluate too our systems and processes inside the State Department.  We’ll be leaner and better and more efficient than we were when we came into this.  I’m confident.

And then I think too – I think this has shown the face of the Chinese Communist Party and the risk that happened when authoritarian regimes that are designed for the purposes of hiding information around the world – I think the world can now see the impact and the risks associated with that.  And I think the private sector has seen these risks too.  And you’ll watch their decisions in the coming weeks and months about how they’re thinking about their investments inside of China.

MR BROWN:  All right.  Lara.

QUESTION:  I wanted to follow up on Tracy’s question and Abbie’s at the press conference.  Given this – how often you – given how often you’ve been traveling to the region in recent days and in recent weeks, I’m just wondering what the grander strategy is, and I’m wondering if there is some kind of move or thought to work more often with Eastern and Southern European partners that, as you have said, have not been – engages with the United States in prior administrations, as opposed to more traditional allies like the EU – I’m sorry, Britain as it Brexits, Germany, France.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah.  Yeah.  It’s not either-or.  I just happen to be heading to these places.  I spend a fair amount of time in Germany.  I spend a lot of time in the United Kingdom.  We still count them as great partners as well.  NATO is – obviously encompasses all of those nations.  And there will be $400 billion more inside of NATO as a result of President Trump’s actions.  That’s powerful – $400 billion, more secure, a stronger NATO.  I know you all write all the time how President Trump is destroying NATO.  NATO’s stronger today.

QUESTION:  But can you talk about —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Infinitely stronger.

QUESTION:  Can you talk about the grand – is there a grander strategy for this region that you’ve been traveling to so much?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah.  Look, it’s very important.  You see what’s happened in the Eastern Mediterranean, you see these energy issues that we’ve been working on for three and a half years now.  You start to see – whether it’s Krk Island, you see what’s happened in northern Greece.  You start to see these energy projects.  This will make Russia weaker, it will diversify the energy.  We do that alongside the work we’re doing against Nord Stream 2.  It will make Europe stronger as well.  And that’s not just Southern Europe; that’ll also flow into Central Europe, these pipelines and the liquid natural gas that’ll move – will move all across Europe.  This will make Europe a healthier, stronger, more economically prosperous place.

So I just happened to travel this – these last two trips, I was in Cyprus, then Greece, Italy, and then on to Croatia.  Just happened to be traveling in the southern part of the region.  They’re all important because of big – two big economies in France and Germany, the United Kingdom now moving its way through exiting the European Union.  These are (inaudible), just as close to them as we ever were and continue to work to build on their security as well.

MR BROWN:  Last one.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, thanks for coming back.  I saw a report – I believe it was French President Macron who said that fighters in Syria moved through southern Turkey into Azerbaijan and that Azerbaijan instigated this conflict there.  Why would Erdogan do that or allow that to happen, especially at this time when tensions were easing in the Eastern Med?  And is there any risk, do you think, of Turkey colliding with Russia in that space?  That’s – they’ve certainly got relationships on both sides.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So I’ve seen the reporting.  You’re referring to the reporting that said that he brought Syrian fighters to Azerbaijan.  I’ve seen that reporting too.  That’s all I can really say at this point.  I hope it’s not the case, right.  We saw Syrian fighters taken from the battlefields in Syria to Libya.  That created more instability, more turbulence, more conflict, more fighting, less peace.  I think it would do the same thing in the conflict in and around Nagorno-Karabakh as well.  So I hope that reporting proves inaccurate.

You’ll have to ask President Erdogan why he would make that decision, but our view has been pretty consistent.  When there’s – when there are rubs, when there are political ethnic tensions and they rise – this is a longstanding conflict in this border space – when those tensions rise, internationalizing this – right – third parties bringing ammunitions, weapon systems, even just advisors and allies joining, you increase the complexity, you increase the risk of loss of lives, you decrease the capacity for peace.

So we’ve urged – just like we have in Libya, we’ve urged everyone to just stay out of this other than to urge that there be a ceasefire and that dialogue be the methodology by which order is restored, peace is restored.  At least we hope that’s the case.  We’ve certainly communicated that to both the Azerbaijanis and Armenian leaders, and to the Turks as well.  I read the message that came out of the EU, and the prime minister in Croatia told me the same thing.  That was the message that the European Union had for the Turks in their meeting yesterday – I guess it was yesterday and this morning as well.

MR BROWN:  Thank you, sir.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  All right.  Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.

QUESTION:  Thank you, sir.

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