Secretary Michael R. Pompeo At a Press Availability

07/08/2020 12:50 PM EDT

Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

Press Briefing Room

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Good morning, everyone.  Hope everybody had a great 4th of July celebrating the founding of this great country, and a week from today I’ll be in Philadelphia talking about the work of the Unalienable Rights Commission.  I’m looking forward to that.

A belated happy birthday to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who celebrated his 85th birthday on Monday of this week.

And a big welcome to Mexico’s President Lopez Obrador, who is in Washington today to celebrate the landmark USMCA trade deal coming into force alongside President Trump.  I spoke with the foreign minister yesterday.  I’m looking forward to seeing him here in just a little bit as well.  I think we’ll have a great set of meetings over at the White House later on today.

On Monday, Egypt released U.S. citizen Mohamed Amashah, who had been detained since March of 2019.

Mohamed is one of many Americans President Trump’s administration has worked tirelessly to get back home, and we thank Egypt for securing his release and his repatriation.

But at the same time, we urge Egyptian officials to stop unwarranted harassment of U.S. citizens and their families who remain there.

I want to start today with the Chinese Communist Party.

As with all unelected, communist regimes, Beijing fears its own people’s free thinking more than any foreign foe.

We were deeply troubled to learn this week that the CCP detained Xu Zhangrun for criticizing General Secretary Xi Jinping’s repressive regime and the CCP’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.  He should be released.  He was simply telling the truth.  He should be released as soon as possible.

I’ll repeat a theme I’ve been talking about for months:  The CCP has an enormous credibility problem.  They failed to tell the world the truth about this virus, and now hundreds of thousands of peoples all across the world are dead.  We need the truth; we still need the truth.  We need to open up.  We need to engage in a serious way with scientists around the world.  And they now say they’re going to allow the WHO to come in.  That’s great, but the WHO needs to be free to do its real work.  We need to make sure the right people are there to engage in this investigation, and we need real answers, not a perfunctory political solution.  This is about science, not politics, and the Chinese Communist Party needs to come clean with the world about this virus.

Beijing claimed for months that it reported the outbreak of the virus to the WHO.  Now we know that’s not true, too.  We know that the WHO’s Country Office in China reported the outbreak only after it picked up a media statement from the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission.

Again, Beijing describes Xinjiang’s internment camps as vocational training camps.  New reports of forced abortions and sterilizations add to a body of evidence that contradicts that.

And Beijing said that for 50 years they’d give the people of Hong Kong “a high degree of autonomy.”  And you all have seen what’s happened after only 23 years – empty promises made to the people of Hong Kong and to the world.

I want to give kudos to Google, Facebook, and Twitter for refusing to surrender user data to the Hong Kong government – other companies should follow them and do the same.

And a shoutout to our Canadian friends as well.  Canada has been strong in its response to Beijing’s crackdown.  We think that’s the right course for the entire world to take.

We’re heartened to see too the United Kingdom have their vigorous debate now on the risk presented to the British people from Huawei technology being in their systems.  As FBI Director Wray said yesterday, Huawei is, quote, “a serial intellectual property thief, with a pattern and practice of disregarding both the rule of law and the rights of its victims.”

I commend to you Director Wray’s entire speech yesterday.  It is worth the time to watch.  Attorney General Barr will deliver a set of remarks in the coming days, and then I’ll give what will be the fourth in a series of remarks.

I want to direct everyone also to a letter that Under Secretary Keith Krach drafted to CEOs, boards of directors, trade groups, commercial investment firms alerting them to the CCP’s use of slave labor in Xinjiang, and providing them with a set of governance recommendations for how they should ensure that they are not part and parcel of this terrible practice.

Last China item:  The CCP recently filed a boundary dispute with Bhutan at a meeting of the Global Environment Facility.

From the mountain ranges of the Himalayas to the waters of Vietnam’s Exclusive Zone, to the Senkaku Islands, and beyond, Beijing has a pattern of instigating territorial disputes.  The world shouldn’t allow this bullying to take place, nor should it permit it to continue.

To the Middle East:

On Monday, Iraq tragically lost a patriot, prominent scholar, and journalist when Hisham al-Hashimi was brutally assassinated in front of his home in Baghdad.

Dr. Hashimi had devoted his life to a free and sovereign Iraq, and gave voice to the aspirations of the Iraqi people.  In the days leading up to his death, he was repeatedly threatened by Iran-backed armed groups.

And the United States joins partner nations in strongly condemning his assassination, and call for the Government of Iraq to bring to justice the perpetrators of this terrible crime and bring them swiftly to justice.

In Syria, the actions of the Assad regime, Russia, and China to constrict the flow of lifesaving supplies, medicine, and food have exacerbated an already terrible humanitarian situation on the ground.

Just yesterday, Russia and China once again vetoed action at the UN Security Council that would have maintained humanitarian access to desperate Syrian communities.

Over the last several months, Russia and the People’s Republic of China have repeatedly abused their veto powers in the council to support the Assad regime strategy of starving its own people.

Their calculus is clear.  They believe there is no price to pay for their actions to the Security Council.  They believe their partnership with the Assad regime will render political and economic benefits that outweigh any cost of conscience or moral obligation.

It’s our job, the responsible nations of the world, to increase those costs, document the human impact of these decisions, and use this example to remind the world of what these two regimes stand for.

I also want to address the deteriorating and immobile oil storage vessel, the Safer, that’s floating off in the Red Sea.  Some of you will remember I have spoken about this before, I think.

The tanker contains four times the oil spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster.

If it ruptures, it will devastate the Red Sea ecosystem and disrupt key shipping lanes in the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb.  A disaster like that could prevent desperately needed food aid from reaching a Yemeni population already in terrible, dire conditions.

The Houthis have blocked UN officials who need to board the vessel and to do – in order that they may do the work necessary to prevent massive environmental damage throughout the region.  The Houthis must grant access before this ticking time bomb explodes.

And speaking of the Houthis, and bombs:

Last week, a United Nations report confirmed that the weapons shipments the United States interdicted back in November of 2019 and then again in February of this year were of Iranian origin.  You’ll recall that when we said that, the Iranians denied it.  The UN has now confirmed this.  Iran is not abiding by the UN arms embargo restrictions that are due to expire in less than four months now.

Now, we have interdicted another shipment of weapons heading to the Houthis.

On June 28th, U.S. and partner forces interdicted a vessel off the coast of Yemen with illicit cargo including 200 RPGs, more than 1,700 AK rifles, 21 – 21 surface-to-air and land-attack missiles, several anti-tank missiles, and other advanced weapons and missiles.

The Security Council must extend the arms embargo on Iran to prevent further conflict in the region.  No serious person can possibly believe Iran would use any weapon it receives for peaceful ends.

Contrast the Islamic Republic of Iran’s illegal gun running with America’s work to help our allies and partners defend themselves:

On Monday – on Monday we notified Congress of $7.5 billion worth of defense sales.  From new rotorcraft capabilities for countries like Lithuania and Indonesia, to new ISR platforms for NATO ally France, to increased infantry mobility in the Stryker platform for Argentina, the United States is meeting the high demand for our allies and partners for American gear to defend their nations.

We are strengthening our security partnerships, building capacity, and supporting the American manufacturing base.

And now turning to Africa:

We’re making progress in helping Sudan’s transition to a more democratic and peaceful way of life.

At the Sudan Partnership Conference back on June 25th, the United States announced it will provide $356.2 million to support the Sudan democratic transition, including more than $85 million in development and COVID-19 assistance.

And finally – I’ll close here – as one of our expanding security relationship with the Republic of Cyprus, for the first time, the Department of State intends to provide International Military Education and Training funding to that country, contingent on congressional appropriations and our notification of Congress.

This is part of our efforts to enhance relationships with key regional partners to promote stability in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Happy to take some questions.

MS ORTAGUS:  Nadia, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Good morning, Mr. Secretary.


QUESTION:  You oppose the release of Mr. Kassim Tajideen although you said that you abide by the court decision.  Does this hinder your effort to go after high-target violence here of Hizballah, like Mr. Tajideen?  And what does it say to the people who oppose Hizballah and the people who are trying to give them – support them financially?  And in that regard, for the first time we hear Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the group, yesterday saying that he welcomes U.S. assistance to the Lebanese Government.  Do you see that – although he said U.S. is an enemy.  But do you see this as a way of trying to open some kind of dialogue with the U.S., considering that they release this person, Mr. Tajideen?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah.  So we do everything we can to enforce the sanctions that we have put in place against terrorist figures, including those who have been designated under Hizballah designations.  We’ve urged other countries to designate Hizballah terrorist organization as well.  We continue to believe that they present an enormous risk, and their behavior indicates that they are in fact a terrorist organization that is intent on causing harm to the West, and most in particular to our partner and ally in the region, Israel.

Second, I didn’t see the remarks that you described from Nasrallah.  I did see him say that they should take Iranian oil.  That I saw.  That would be unacceptable for them to do that.  It would be sanctioned product for sure, and we’ll do everything we can to make sure that Iran cannot continue to sell crude oil anywhere, including to Hizballah in the region so that the resources that fund and underwrite the world’s largest state sponsor of terror won’t be made available to them because they were able to sell some crude oil product or some petroleum product to Hizballah.

QUESTION:  Sorry, just to follow up quickly.  But many people will see the release of Mr. Tajideen as a victory for Hizballah and he might – they might be using it as that and this is why he said we welcome any U.S. assistance and we don’t mind it.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah.  There can be no mistake what the United States has done and will continue to do to put pressure on Hizballah and also to try and assist the people of Lebanon at building out a successful government.  The other component here of course is Lebanon’s incredible struggle to conduct the reforms that are necessary to make sure that the Lebanese people who have been protesting in the streets, simply demanding a government that’s not corrupt, that is engaged in behavior that benefits the Lebanese people – that’s our mission set.  Hizballah is a terrorist organization and we are supportive of Lebanon as long as they get the reforms right and they are not a proxy state for Iran in Lebanon.  It would be a very bad thing for the people throughout Lebanon and we hope that doesn’t happen in Beirut.

MS ORTAGUS:  Nick Schifrin.

QUESTION:  Good morning, Mr. Secretary.


QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Can we do WHO and Iran, if I could.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Sure.  Give it a shot.

QUESTION:  U.S. law mandates that the administration follow through on the financial pledges to the WHO before the withdrawal next year.  Can you tell us how much the U.S. has paid of that and whether you intend to follow through on the commitments?

And Iran, what’s the message Iranian leaders should draw from the explosion at Natanz?  Do you believe it was accidental or deliberate?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I’m not going to talk about the second question.  With respect to the first one, we provided notice yesterday to Capitol Hill of our intent to withdraw from the World Health Organization, something we had talked about.  We had communicated to Congress, even in the informal process, that this was our intention. The President – we formally did that from the State Department yesterday consistent with the President’s guidance.  We will work with Congress with respect to the appropriated funds.  We’ll get it right.  But the President has made very clear we are not going to underwrite an organization that has historically been incompetent and not performed its fundamental function.

There’s a real focus on the failures that took place around Wuhan and the World Health Organization’s fundamental inability to perform its basic core mission of preventing a global pandemic spread.  But don’t forget the history.  This is an institution that got it wrong on SARS, it got it wrong on Ebola.  The United States had to create its own system, PEPFAR, to do the work to prevent and come up with solutions to the HIV/AIDS problem.  We did that.  The United States did that.

The World Health Organization has a long history of corruption and politicization.  And it’s not that it doesn’t get some pieces of their program right.  That’s certainly true.  But on balance, this is an organization that has not been able to deliver on its core mission for decades.

We tried, Nick, desperately, and we in fact got some reforms through back a handful of years ago.  But the WHO leadership clearly has been unable to execute and implement them in a way that can prevent the kind of global pandemic that has destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives and cost the global economy trillions and trillions of dollars.  That is not an organization that the administration has any intention of underwriting.

MS ORTAGUS:  Marina, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Sir, about Brazil.  Do you think President Jair Bolsonaro should change his approach to the virus now that he has tested positive?  And also, when will U.S. allow people who are traveling from Brazil to enter the country?  Is there a number of cases or deaths that Brazil needs to reach in order to that?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So President Bolsonaro’s perfectly capable of making his own decision about how to proceed with the health situation in his own country.  I spoke with the Foreign Minister Araujo yesterday about that and many other things with respect to our relationship.  They are a great partner and friend of ours.

As for when we can get travel back open between our two countries, the relationship with Brazil’s no different than any other country.  We are putting in place a set of metrics that will determine when it’s appropriate and safe for the American people to allow travel to come from other countries.  We’ll evaluate each country separately and make informed decisions based on science and reason, not politics.  We’re going to get this right.  We’re going to make sure that we do everything we can to get our economy back open just as quickly as we can.  We have a big team here at State.  We have a big team at Department of Transportation and DHS, the Vice President’s task force all looking at this challenge.  We want to get international travel back up and going just as quickly as we can.  That includes with our great friends in South America, including Brazil.

MS ORTAGUS:  Christian.

QUESTION:  Thanks, Mr. Secretary.  A couple of questions.  First on COVID, curious if we could get some updates on the negotiations to end the travel restrictions with the European Union.

And then secondly, you said yesterday the administration’s looking at banning TikTok.  I’m curious how serious this ban consideration is.  India banned it almost overnight with very little thought.  And how soon can we expect that to go into effect?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So with respect to the conversations with the EU, we’ve actually made some progress thinking about how to do that.  So it’s unlikely to be the case that it will be on and off – that is, we will attempt to put in some procedures and protocols that protect both citizens here in the United States from the spread.  And it’s a global challenge and we want to make sure that the European citizens aren’t impacted adversely by travel from the West as well.  Lots of people not only come from America but transit through America to Europe, so we’ve got to deal with all the complexity that comes with it.

We’ve made some real progress, technical progress, and now we need to draw that to a conclusion.  And then there will be a system, a system to monitor and measure, to make sure that we get the timing right and we get the toggle switches right.  Both sides of the Atlantic want to get this back open.  Both sides understand that our economies depend on it, the deep important relation, the transatlantic relationship matters.  These are two Western democracies that have a lot of good work to do together and getting those travel nodes hooked back up and connected again is an important thing.

With respect to TikTok, I want to put it in the broader context.  We have been engaged in a constant evaluation about ensuring that we protect the privacy of American citizens and their information as it transits, so this doesn’t relate to any one particular business or company but rather to American national security, and we are striving to get that right.  The comments that I made about a particular company earlier this week fall in the context of us evaluating the threat from the Chinese Communist Party.  We’ve talked about it in the context of ZTE, we’ve talked about it in the context of Huawei, and we are now evaluating each instance where we believe that U.S. citizens’ data that they have on their phones or in their system or in their health care records – we want to make sure that the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t have a way to easily access that.

And so what you’ll see the administration do is take actions that preserve and protect that information and deny the Chinese Communist Party access to the private information that belongs to Americans.  We have a – it’s a big project because we’ve got partners all around the world where infrastructure crosses Chinese technology and then comes to the United States, so one should think about this as a project of real scale and real importance.  We must get this right.  The infrastructure of this next hundred years must be a communications infrastructure that’s based on a Western ideal of private property and protection of private citizens’ information in a transparent way.  That is not the model that Chinese Communist Party software and hardware companies are engaged in.

MS ORTAGUS:  Hudson.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.


QUESTION:  Disparate countries —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  You look like you’ve got a great question – just all over your face.  (Laughter.)  I can just see it.

QUESTION:  I try to bring some Midwest optimism to all (inaudible).

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Fantastic.  That’s awesome.  Me too.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Good.  Good.

So disparate countries from Taiwan to Germany have managed to flatten the curve, but the U.S. has the highest number of cases of COVID in the world.  Do you still believe the U.S. is a world leader on the pandemic?

And just to put it directly, was the U.S. involved in any way in the Natanz explosion?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Take your first question – of course the U.S. remains the world leader in the pandemic.  It almost goes without saying, and there are multiple dimensions and I’ve talked about each of them.  Certainly the Vice President’s task force talks about them as well.  But whether that is the technical, scientific solutions both to how to stop the spread; whether that’s therapeutics or vaccines, the world turns its eyes to the best scientists and researchers and practitioners of the sciences that will ultimately bring resolution to this problem.

It’s the United States that the world looks to.  When it comes to countries, small countries, whether that’s in Central Asia or in Africa, their eyes turn to the United States.  It’s not remotely close who has provided the most assistance to these nations to try and solve what are vexing problems in their countries with very little medical infrastructure.  And so yes, there is no doubt that the United States has been and will remain the world’s leader when it comes to not only pandemic response but global health care infrastructure, systems, and processes that take down the very risks that we described.

It’s good we have friends and partners in this too.  The Western democracies – that model is the one that is most likely to prevail and prevent this kind of thing from happening again.  What we found in China is the Chinese Communist Party was simply incapable – and you see it with the arrest that I referred to in my remarks – they’re incapable of being transparent, of accepting criticism, of allowing reporters to ask them questions that they find uncomfortable that elicit the truth and the facts.  We still have significant questions about who patient zero was.  We’re now six months on at least from when this began and the Chinese Communist Party – that authoritarian model – simply can’t prevent the kind of inquiry or has to prevent that kind of inquiry because they’re afraid.  They’re afraid that the truth will be something that will not shine a happy light on what took place, and so instead they chose to hide and obfuscate and deny basic truth, basic scientific truths about what took place.  This is the – this is a fundamental and fatal flaw for authoritarian regimes and it’s why the Chinese Communist Party has to be held accountable.

And your second question was about the explosion in Natanz.  I don’t have anything to add.

QUESTION:  Do you think the Israelis were involved?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I just don’t have any comment.  Thanks.

MS ORTAGUS:  Victor, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Now, on the visit of the Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the Mexican delegation has been clear that they want to (inaudible) coronavirus, but I’d like to know if you will put on the table issues like the human rights or human trafficking, your concerns on freedom of the press, for example.  And if I may, I’d like to know the status of the Merida Initiative and the need to upgrade or review the cooperation on antinarcotics or security, especially after the attack to a Mexican official in Mexico City.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah.  So it’s the President’s meeting.  He’ll put on the table precisely what he chooses to, and I’m sure President Obrador will do that as well, but I’m confident the meeting will talk about the full range of issues that we work on with the Mexican Government, certainly the economic issues.  We want to talk about our border, how we make sure that we keep that border, that commercial traffic up and successful, very important to American supply chains, Canadian supply chains that you can see come into full force under the USMCA.  We’ve got to make sure we get that right, and so I know they’ll talk about that.

I’m confident that the full range of issues – I’m sure we’ll talk about issues that aren’t – that expand beyond bilateral as well, things in the hemisphere, right: what’s taking place in Venezuela today, challenges that we find to narcotics trafficking on – in both the Pacific and the Atlantic, places where Mexico can help.  So I’m confident that the full range of issues you asked – you mentioned several others.  I’m very confident that the discussion will be complete and comprehensive.  I expect we’ll have a good set of meetings with him today in the afternoon and then again this evening at the working dinner as well.

With that, I’ve got time for one more.

MS ORTAGUS:  Lalit, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Secretary.  Following up on your remarks about Beijing’s pattern of instigating boundary dispute, you know what has happened with – to India, China’s aggression, behavior against India in Leh, in Ladakh.  What is the – what is the assessment of the situation between India and China right now?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So I’ve spoken with Foreign Minister Jaishankar a number of times about this.  The Chinese took incredibly aggressive action.  The Indians have done their best to respond to that.  I’d put this in the context of General Secretary Xi Jinping and his behavior throughout the region, and indeed, throughout the world.  It’s – I don’t think it’s possible to look at that particular instance of Chinese Communist Party aggression in isolation.  I think you need to put it in the larger context.

When I was up here once before, we talked about the number of both maritime and boundary disputes that the Chinese Communist Party has engaged in.  I think it’s unequaled anyplace else in the world.  There aren’t many neighbors that could satisfactorily say that they know where their sovereignty ends and that the Chinese Communist Party will respect that sovereignty.  That’s certainly true now for the people of Bhutan as well.

This is what the world must come together to respond to.  This increasing revisionist effort that the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in is something that President Trump has taken incredibly seriously.  The United States hadn’t done that in previous administrations.  We will respond to this in a way that we think is appropriate, and we have attempted to communicate to the Chinese leadership that we are serious about this.  When I say “we,” it’s not just the United States.  We will start very shortly a dialogue with our EU friends on how we collectively can respond to this challenge from the Chinese Communist Party.

And I am confident, I’m confident that this – I think what’s happened with the spread of this virus from Wuhan, China – I think the world has seen the true colors of the Chinese Communist Party, and I am convinced more than ever that the free peoples of the world will come to understand the threat that’s presented not only internally inside of China, but importantly, that the impact that General Secretary Xi has on the world is not good for free peoples and democracy-loving peoples, and the world will come together to respond to that in a way that is powerful and important and will preserve sovereign nations operating under the rule of law in the way that we have all come accustomed to and benefits people all across the world.


QUESTION:  May I do a follow-up on —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thank you.  I’m sorry, I’m going to have to take off.  Thanks, everybody.  Have a good day.