U.S. Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson
Excerpts of Remarks
May 14, 2019
SECRETARY POMPEO: Sergey, thank you. Good afternoon. I want to first of all say that I appreciate President Putin and Prime* Minister Lavrov for hosting me today. Thank you, sir. We had a frank discussion about many issues, including many places where we disagree. The United States stands ready to find common ground with Russia, as long as the two of us can engage seriously on those issues.
We discussed, as Foreign Minister Lavrov said, many important topics. We talked about terrorism. We talked about Afghanistan. President Trump has made clear that his expectation is that we will have an improved relationship between our two countries. This will benefit each of our peoples, and I think that our talks here today were a good step in that direction.
A few subjects that we talked about. Foreign Minister Lavrov mentioned that we spoke about Syria. We both want to move forward on the political track to bring the suffering of the Syrian people to an end, and we want to do so in a way that ensures that Syria will never again be a haven for Islamist terrorist groups. I also raised our concern about the escalazation* of the situation around Idlib in the northwest of Syria.
We also discussed North Korea and its nuclear program. The United States and Russia agree on the goal of the denuclearization, and we’ll continue to discuss it. I underscored that we must maintain full implementation of the UN sanctions until the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea is achieved. And our two teams have been working very closely together on this in a very productive fashion.
On Venezuela, we have disagreement. I urged my Russian colleagues to support the Venezuelan people as they return democracy to their country. The United States and more than 50 other nations agree that the time has come for Nicolas Maduro to go. He has brought nothing but misery to the Venezuelan people, and we hope that the Russians’ support for Maduro will end. But despite our disagreements, we’ll keep talking. I hope we can find a way forward that ends with the humanitarian and political crisis that is happening. On this we both agree.
We also discussed the situation in Ukraine. The Trump administration has been clear that we do not recognize Russia’s attempted annexation in Crimea, and we hope that we can continue to move forward. Our sanctions have remained in place. I urged Russia to reach out to Ukraine’s new president to demonstrate leadership by taking a step towards breaking the stalemate. We would, in particular, welcome the release of the Ukrainian crewmen detained near the Kerch Strait last year, and we talked about implementation and how we might move forward in obtaining a ceasefire in the Donbas region.
We spoke a bit about the activities that are taking place in the Middle East today, with particular focus on the actions that Iran is taking. I made clear that the United States will continue to apply pressure to the regime in Tehran until its leadership is prepared to return to the ranks of responsible nations that do not threaten their neighbors or spread instability or terror.
As Foreign Minister Lavrov alluded to, very much on President Trump’s mind is arms control. Our actions on the INF Treaty have demonstrated that we’re committed to effective arms control that advances U.S. allied and partner security that is verifiable and enforceable. The President has charged his national security team to think more broadly about arms control, to include countries beyond our traditional U.S.-Russia framework and a broader range of weapon systems. The President wants serious arms control that delivers real security to the American people. And we know – and I think we agree on this – to achieve these goals, we’ll have to work together, and that it would be important that, if it’s possible, we get China involved as well. We’ll have a more extensive set of conversations, both about arms control and a opportunity to discuss all broad strategic security issues between our two countries in the weeks ahead.
I also raised the issue of U.S. citizens who have been detained in Russia, making sure that our citizens are not unjustly held abroad. It is one of President Trump’s highest priorities.
And we spoke, too, about the question of interference in our domestic affairs. I conveyed that there are things that Russia can do to demonstrate that these types of activities are a thing of the past and I hope that Russia will take advantage of those opportunities.
Finally, I wanted to emphasize the American friendship with the Russian people. Our two nations share proud histories and respect for one another’s cultures. We seek a better relationship with Russia and we urge that it work alongside us to change the trajectory of the relationship, which will benefit each of our peoples. Thank you, Sergey.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Dear colleagues, we are moving on to Q&A. Kommersant newspaper, please. You have the floor.
QUESTION: (Via interepreter) Vladimir Solovyov*, Kommersant newspaper. You mentioned the New START Treaty, which is expiring in 2021, but it is still unclear whether it will be surely prolonged. Therefore, the question to Secretary Pompeo: Is Washington prepared to extend New START Treaty for five years, as Moscow is proposing? Whether U.S. is prepared to discuss concerns of Russia of that conversion of launchers and heavy bombers as well?
And a question to Mr. Lavrov: If the U.S. did not alleviate concerns of Russia, will Moscow continue to want to prolong the treaty? Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So Foreign Minister Lavrov raised the issue of concerns about compliance with New START today. We’ll continue to work to allow that treaty to be verified exactly as the verification regime exists. As for its extension, what we’ve agreed that we will do is we will gather together teams that will begin to work not only on New START and its potential extension, but on a broader range of arms control issues that each of our two nations have, I think, in our shared best interest achieving an agreement on.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. I want to follow up on Venezuela. Mr. Secretary, what was the message from the Trump administration specifically in regards to the Russian Government and their continued support of Nicolas Maduro and their active involvement in the Western Hemisphere?
And Mr. Foreign Minister, why is it that the Russian Government persists in supporting Mr. Maduro when virtually every democracy in Latin America has recognized Mr. Guaido as the legitimate interim leader of that country? Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Guy, we talked about this for some time. We made clear the U.S. position. We want every country that’s interfering in Venezuela to cease doing that. We want the Venezuelan people to get their democracy back. We want them to have a fair, free election, elect their own leadership, not in the way that the sham election took place with Mr. Maduro. So whether it’s Iranian forces or Chinese or Cubans, the Trump administration’s position is that they all need to cease having an impact in supporting Maduro and allow the Venezuelan people not only to get their democracy back but give them an opportunity to rebuild this country that has tremendous wealth. There are Russian companies operating there that are successful businesses as well. We want those countries – we want that country to get a chance to rebuild its economy, too, so that it isn’t dependent on humanitarian assistance from anywhere in the world, but rather they can begin to deliver economic outcomes for themselves. And to do that, the central point is that we need free and fair elections there, not interfered by any other nation.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Thank you. Natalia Galetofka*, Russia 24 Channel. Question to both ministers about possible personal meeting between President Putin and President Trump. We see contradictory information there. Could you please clarify whether such a meeting will take place? We hear about Osaka, but is it planned and when and where?
A second question to Secretary Pompeo. You just came back from Brussels, where you discussed with your European colleagues the nuclear deal with Iran. Well, the latest news about possible relocation of troops to the Middle East – that sounds concerning. Does it mean that Washington chose a strategy of force against Iran? Are European leaders on board with you on that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Let me talk about my conversations in Brussels and then more broadly about the United States policy with respect to the Islamic Republic of Iran. So I went to Brussels to share with our European friends the threats and concerns we have about actions that the Iranians are taking or are potentially taking, and we wanted to make sure they understood the risks as we saw them, and I shared that with them in some detail.
As for our policy, it’s been consistent now for the entire Trump administration. And the decision to withdraw from the JCPOA, now just over a year ago, made clear what our objectives are. We laid them out in May of last year. We’re looking for Iran to behave like a normal country, and that’s our ask. And we have applied pressure to the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran to achieve that.
We fundamentally do not seek a war with Iran. We’re looking for the regime to simply stop conducting assassination campaigns throughout Europe, to cease their support of Hizballah that threatens interests all across the Middle East, their support for the Houthis that are launching missiles into areas where there are Russians and Americans traveling. These missiles could easily kill a Russian or an American. We laid them out in some detail. Our position hasn’t changed.
And the movement of troops that you described I’ll leave to the Department of Defense, but we’ve also made clear to the Iranians that if American interests are attacked, we will most certainly respond in an appropriate fashion.
QUESTION: Great. Thank you. Thanks for you time. I wanted to follow up on a couple of statements that you’ve said. First, for Foreign Minister Lavrov, you mentioned that despite the disagreements with Iran that there’s a possibility of certain agreements on Iran going forward. Could you explain what you see in common with the U.S. on Iran, where you can go?
Secretary Pompeo, if I could ask you about the mysterious incidents in the UAE, regarding the oil tankers, have you pinpointed responsibility for that? And if I could follow up on your statement about the election, you said that there are things that Russia could do to show that election interference is a thing of the past. What are those things? What do – what would you like Russia to do? Thank you very much.
SECRETARY POMPEO: You can see we have some disagreements on this issue. I promise not to go back to history from the early ’30s, but I made clear to Foreign Minister Lavrov, as we’ve made clear for the past months, that interference in American elections is unacceptable. If the Russians were to engage in that in 2020, it would put our relationship in an even worse place than it has been, and encourage them not to do that, that we would not tolerate that. We’ve said this not only about the Russians but about other countries as well. Our elections are important and sacred, and they must be kept free and fair and with no outside country interfering in those elections.
Your first question was about what we know about the attacks that took place off of the United Arab Emirates. I don’t have any information that I can share with you yet about the nature of what took place there. We’re working diligently to get answers to what caused those ships to have the problems that they have today.