Remarks to Traveling Press by Secretary Pompeo


Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State
Santa Claus Hotel
Rovaniemi, Finland
May 6, 2019

SECRETARY POMPEO: So I thought I’d do two things. One, I thought I’d give you a little bit of a summary of the meeting that I had with my foreign minister counterpart from Russia, Sergey Lavrov. I was just with him again at the event tonight.

It was a good conversation. We covered a wide range of issues and I think on every one have charted a way that we can begin to have positive conversations forward; that we have interests that are definitely different, and there will be places where we run into hard stops pretty quickly, but there is no doubt there was a desire to begin to try and find paths where we can make real progress on places where we have overlapping interests, as narrow as they may be. And I hope we can achieve that. I hope we can follow up and continue to do that. I’ll see him again tomorrow for a little while, and then I am sure I’ll see him again before too long as well.

Second, some of you were asking – again, I spoke last night about what’s going on today and what our concerns are about the Islamic Republic of Iran. We have continued to see activity that leads us to believe that there is escalation that may be taking place, and so we’re taking all the appropriate actions both from a security perspective and well as our ability to make sure that the President has a wide range of options in the event that something should actually take place.

With that, I am happy to take questions.

MODERATOR: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary.


QUESTION: You spoke about your conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov. Just, if you could give us a little bit more insight into the Venezuela portion of that conversation, how far apart you are on that, and whether that is one of the areas where you may have an opportunity to work together.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I don’t want to say too much other than I made clear our view that the Venezuelans deserve a democracy that is – doesn’t have any foreign party running their country or involved in their country on a consistent basis in a military way. Right? So we want the Cubans out, we want the Iranians out, Russia’s military out. We’ve – we had that conversation, and we started to talk about how our interests might be able to find a way forward. I don’t know that we’ll get to the right place, but we’ll have further conversations.

QUESTION: Can you speak at all about – maybe you have seen the Iranians are suggesting that on Wednesday they may pull out of parts of the JCPOA. Do you have any thoughts about that? I mean, there are a lot of people in Washington, elsewhere, who think that this is what you guys have been trying to do, to get them to pull out so that you get to another negotiation.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. What we’ve been trying to do is to get Iran to behave like a normal nation. We laid out 12 elements of that. Every single one of those elements is consistent with what we ask every other country in the world to do. So these are not Iran-specific, things like not conducting assassination campaigns around the world, not sponsoring terror organizations that inflict missile attacks on Israel now 600-plus, not building missile systems in Yemen.

These are things we ask every county to do. That’s our objective. That’s been our goal from the beginning. I’ve been working on this since I was a member of Congress. Our objective is to get the Islamic Republic of Iran to behave like a normal nation. When they do that, we will welcome them back. If part of – the President said we’re happy at the right time– if there’s a negotiation that needs to take place, we’re happy to engage in that as well.

QUESTION: Right. But do you have any specific reaction to the suggestion that they might withdraw? Does that – do you care if they are in or out?

SECRETARY POMPEO: They’ve threatened many things over the last two years.

QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Secretary. I have a multi-part question. Your speech this morning was very tough on China and Russia. I wanted to know what was the response to your speech, especially from Minister Lavrov? And we also spoke to the head of the Chinese delegation. They insist they are a near-Arctic country, so I wanted to get your view on that. And also, what is the message on China that you will be discussing with other counterparts throughout this trip?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So I have no earthly idea what they mean when they say they’re a near-Arctic country. Perhaps they can provide a definition. What we know is there are eight countries that form the Arctic Council that have the vested interest in things that we’re working on here on this trip. All the other nations are non-Arctic countries. But I haven’t seen the Chinese response.

As for Foreign Minister Lavrov’s response, he understood what we described as factual, right? So you say I was tough. I was laying down a data set and also urging all those nations that truly want free and open navigation, who want market systems to work, who want the private sector to dominate and create success and wealth and security and free passage in the Arctic, all those nations who are prepared to come together and work on that, we welcome. Those that choose another route, we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that they don’t prevent what it is we’ve laid out as our objectives and the objectives of the seven other council members as well, at least as they have spoken with me tonight.

QUESTION: And one more. Can you confirm that the carrier deployment is related to potential threats against U.S. troops in Iraq?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m going to leave talking about deployments to the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: Okay. Are we facing any threats from Iran or proxy forces on U.S. forces in Iraq?

SECRETARY POMPEO: As Secretary of State I have a responsibility to keep the officers that work for me safe each and every day all around the world. That includes in Erbil and Baghdad, in our facilities in Amman, all around the Middle East. And so any time we receive threat reporting, things that raise concerns, we do everything we can both to – do all that we can to make sure that those planned or contemplated attacks don’t take place, and to make sure that we’ve got the right security posture. The American people should know we’ve done that.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the leader of the Chinese delegation today described the Belt and Road Initiative in the Arctic as making friends and challenged the U.S. competition as making friends. What is your reaction to that?

SECRETARY POMPEO: The Chinese effort to the Belt and Road activities are about using government power to achieve national security objectives. We’ve said all along we have a huge economic interest in China’s success and vice versa. We want that and we are prepared to allow every country to compete.

But it’s got to be transparent. It’s got to be on a free and open basis. It can’t be with the idea that you’re going to loan a country money and then foreclose on that facility so that you can then build yourself a port or take that land and real estate. That’s not appropriate. We’ve discouraged that. We’ve educated other countries around the world on that set of issues.

And so where there are elements of the Belt and Road that are truly building a bridge and it’s a commercial transaction – it was – there was a tender, there was a – right? – there was a bid process, they didn’t buy the guy who was making the decision so there was no corruption involved in it either – we welcome China participating in those. But where we see China behaving in ways that are truly not commercial but rather designed to further gain them either access entree for national security purposes, we don’t think that’s what those countries are really buying.


SECRETARY POMPEO: Go ahead, ma’am.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary, did you speak with Foreign Minister Lavrov about any concerns the U.S. has over interference in upcoming elections?


QUESTION: Can you speak a little bit about what it is that you shared with him?

SECRETARY POMPEO: The same thing I’ve shared with him each time we’ve had a chance to cover that particular topic, which is that it’s not appropriate and that we’re going to do everything we can to deter it.

QUESTION: This is your second one-on-one with him, or third?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m not sure. We’ll have to go and check the records. I’ve spoken to him on the phone a handful of times as well.

QUESTION: Right. No, I mean, but in a – face-to-face.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, did you speak to him about the context surrounding the Russians convincing Maduro to stay when the U.S. says that he was ready to leave?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I don’t want to get into the details of any of the conversations, particularly with things that we’re hoping to find a path forward on.

MODERATOR: Okay. Thanks, guys.