Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
QUESTION: Secretary of State, welcome to Croatia and welcome to our program.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s wonderful to be here with you. Thanks for having me on.
QUESTION: First things first: How is President Trump?
SECRETARY POMPEO: He’s good. We’re praying for he and Melania to recover quickly. I understand he’s doing well, and we hope them for a – we pray for them to have a very speedy recovery.
QUESTION: Do you believe it will have any influence, any effect on the elections, this situation?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think the American people have a very stark set of choices to make. I think they’ll understand the right thing to do.
QUESTION: Okay, so now back to Croatia. What took you so long? It’s been almost a decade since a secretary of state of the United States came to Croatia. Have you neglected this part of the world?
SECRETARY POMPEO: This administration has re-engaged in this part of the world in ways the previous administration simply refused to do, whether that’s – and I was in Cyprus, I was in Greece. I’ve been to the Balkans on a number of occasions. This is an important place. They’re good partners. The Croatian people are especially good and important partners. I regret that there hasn’t been a secretary of state here for I think it’s eight years now, but we’re here today. We served together in the military; I’ve seen great Croatian soldiers fighting alongside Americans as part of NATO. I’ve seen the good work we do together when we tour. We come have fun in each other’s countries, and I hope we have continued economic expansion between our two investments. Between our two countries we’ll continue to tighten and increase the bonds. Good things will happen between the American and Croatian people.
QUESTION: But it seems that a gap has appeared. Fifty miles from here there’s the Peljesac Bridge being built by Chinese companies. It’s hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of (inaudible) and it’s being built by Chinese companies, not by U.S. companies. How do you explain that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. Well, that’s a sovereign decision that was made here. Our view has been pretty consistent with respect to how we should treat the Chinese Communist Party all across the world. When they show up, when they’re straight up, economic transaction that’s fair, transparent, and they treat the people of a country reciprocally, right; if the Croatian people can invest in China the same way the Chinese can come contract here inside of Croatia —
QUESTION: You don’t feel that there’s been a space that China is filling in here?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We have to – each country has to get this right. We need to understand the risk connected to what the Chinese Communist Party does when it engages in this activity. I don’t know the particular deal, but almost every occasion when I’ve looked in, these countries are state-owned – that is, these are subsidized by the Chinese Government. That’s not how the West rolls. It’s not how Europe, it’s not how the transatlantic relationship operates. We treat each other fairly. When our businesses come, we support them; when there’s a dispute, we resolve the claims. We don’t degrade the environment in those countries. I want every country, including Croatia, to make sure they have their eyes wide open when they’re engaged in commercial activity with the Chinese Communist Party, because we have found that their predatory activities have certainly benefited them but too often don’t then benefit the people of the country in which they’re commercially active.
QUESTION: You’re meeting the prime minister of Croatia, but the president of Croatia said it’s a bit too late. In two months time, it’s the elections. Will it be possible to have a huge impact, that this visit will have a huge impact on Croatian-American relations, or is it too late? Is it part of your election campaign?
SECRETARY POMPEO: This is a long relationship. It’s gone back a long ways. I’m looking forward to the meeting with the prime minister here in just a little bit. I had a great meeting with the foreign minister and many of the other senior leaders here.
We’re doing great work together, whether it’s to finish the – and bring across the finish line the visa waiver program which is so important to the people of Croatia, the good work we’ve done on the double taxation, all things that frankly previous administrations on both – in both of our countries were unable to accomplish. Our two administrations have worked diligently on these, and we’ll make life better for each of our two peoples and improve the relationship along the way.
QUESTION: You were recently supposed to meet Pope Francis, but that didn’t happen. How did you feel that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ve met Pope Francis a year ago when I traveled to Italy. I had a chance to meet with Cardinal Parolin, and my counterpart, Archbishop Gallagher. I had a great conversation. There are important things that the Vatican – the Holy See can do in the world that are so important. Their moral witness matters.
And there’s issues about human rights violations as take place today in Western China. The Vatican has an important role. And I wanted to be there to urge them to work on that and then all the other great places that we work with the Catholic Church in the world. They do great works. They are lovers of peace just like the United States is, and I wanted to be there to meet with them, to share with them how America thought we could generate peace, prosperity and freedom, and basic human rights for every citizen of the world.
QUESTION: Well, one of the issues now, very hot – hot topic for Croatia is buying of military aircraft. One of the possible options is F-16. Are you going to lobby for that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I hope you’ll make the best choice for your country.
QUESTION: Is it F-16?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I always think American products are fantastic. And I know there are other competitors. They’ll show up. I want Croatia to get what’s the best value for them. We’ll always make sure that we make clear what our products can do, and we’ll show up with assistance and financing every place that we can to make sure that we’re offering an attractive proposition. But in the end, this’ll be a decision for the sovereign people of Croatia to make.
QUESTION: My final question: You last visited – you recently visited Slovenia and you discussed about the nuclear power plant Krsko, which has been – which was built together by Croatia and Slovenia. It was built by American company, General Electrics. Are there any interests in expanding the nuclear power plant? And will you be discussing that with the prime minister as well?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I don’t know if that’ll come up today, but more broadly you raise a really important point. The energy issues between our two countries – we want this region – that we want the Balkans, we want Southern Europe, frankly Eastern Europe as well to have energy choices so they’re not dependent solely on Russian gas or other malign actors who want to influence their sovereignty in a way no NATO ally, no European friend, no transatlantic partner would ever do. So we’re excited about what’s happening on Krk Island. We’re excited about some of the things that I – I just had a chance to see in Greece on my visit in (inaudible). Good stuff is happening. We will reduce European reliance on Russian gas and that’ll create more stability, more freedom, more prosperity for the people of Croatia.
QUESTION: And just last quick thought: What do you expect from Croatia when it comes to 5G?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I expect them to make a good decision for the people’s data that lives here. Every Croatian wants to make sure that when their data is put on a system, on a network that is secure and safe. I am confident one thing they do not want is that data on a system that ends up in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party national security apparatus. And when you put a Huawei system or a Chinese system, you are dealing with the state of China, and that’s never good for the privacy and protection of the people of any country.
QUESTION: Secretary of State, thank you so much for this conversation.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, sir.
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