Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary Of State
Press Briefing Room
November 26, 2019
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning, everyone. I want to comment this morning on a few terrorism-related matters, a terrorist regime, and a couple other items as well.
Before I begin, though, I want to confirm with a heavy heart that a United States citizen, Anil Raj of California, was killed in a terrorist attack on a UN vehicle in Kabul on November 24th. There were five other civilians who were injured, including staff.
We extend our condolences to the family and friends of the victim following this tragic incident and send our best wishes for a speedy recovery for those who were injured.
Attacks targeting UN personnel working to help the Afghan people are unconscionable, and we condemn this act in the strongest possible terms.
Today also marks the 11th anniversary of the Mumbai terror attack.
We remember the 166 innocent victims, including six Americans. The brutality of the attack shocked the entire world. It is an effort – it is – excuse me – it is an affront – it’s an affront to the victims and their families that those who planned the Mumbai attack still have not been convicted.
Moving on to the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, the Islamic Republic of Iran. President Trump and I have been following closely the protests that have recently broken out across that country.
The Iranian people are, once again, on the streets because of the regime’s poor economic management. And instead of addressing their grievances, Tehran has responded with violence and by blaming those outside of the country.
Last week, the regime shut down the internet to prevent the truth about the protests from getting out. I asked Iranians – I asked Iranians to share their messages with the United States so we could expose and sanction abuses of the Iranian regime.
We have received to date nearly 20,000 messages, videos, pictures, notes of the regime’s abuses through Telegram messaging services. I hope they will continue to be sent to us.
We will continue to sanction Iranian officials who are responsible for these human rights abuses, just like we did last week to Iran’s Minister of Communications.
The Iranian regime also continues to export cruelty outside its own borders. Last week, an Iranian dissident, Massoud Malvi, was assassinated in Istanbul after he defected to Turkey from Iran.
The killing of Mr. Malvi is yet another tragic example in a long string of suspected Iran-backed assassination attempts outside of Iranian soil. The regime’s brutality and amorality know no international boundaries.
To the courageous people of Iran who refuse to stay silent about 40 years of abuse by the ruling regime, I say simply this: The United States hears you. We support you and we will continue to stand with you in your struggle for a brighter future for your people and for your great nation.
As part of our long-standing strategic partnership with Egypt, we continue to raise the fundamental importance of respect for human rights, universal freedoms, and the need for a robust civil society.
We call on the Egyptian Government to respect freedom of the press and to release journalists detained in a raid last weekend.
Turning to the Chinese Communist Party. We’ve all seen the “Xinjiang Papers” released in recent days. They detail the Chinese party’s brutal detention and systematic repression of Uighurs and members of other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang.
These reports are consistent with an overwhelming and growing body of evidence that the Chinese Communist Party is committing human rights violations and abuses against individuals in mass detention.
We call on the Chinese Government to immediately release all those who are arbitrarily detained and to end its draconian policies that have terrorized its own citizens in Xinjiang.
It’s not just Muslims that are the largest – that are the target of the CCP’s hostility. Christians, Tibetans, and other minority groups have also felt the CCP’s heavy hand of repression.
On a different note regarding China, we congratulate the people of Hong Kong on free, fair, and peaceful district council elections on the 24th of November.
The United State continues to support democratic values, fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong as guaranteed by the “one country, two systems” framework, and aspirations of the Hong Kong people.
I also have a short announcement on Cuba.
Today, the United States is taking action to prevent Cubametales from circumventing U.S. sanctions.
Cubametales is a Cuban state-run company and the primary facilitator of illegal oil imports from Venezuela. To further contain their action, we are putting sanctions on another Cuban company, Corporacion Panamericana S.A., pursuant to Executive Order 13850.
Cubametales was sanctioned back on July of 2019. It has since had trouble finding companies willing to conduct business with it.
It has relied on this company to evade sanctions as it carries out the oil for repression scheme between Cuba and Venezuela, a scheme declared illegal by the legitimate government of Venezuela.
The Venezuelan and Cuban people continue to suffer at the hands of despotic actors who put their own interests above the interests of their people.
Today’s action will further squeeze the illegal, profitmaking scheme Cuba carries out to help the illegitimate dictator Nicolas Maduro and his unraveling network of corrupt advisors.
And finally, after the holidays, I’ll be hitting the road for some important diplomatic activities.
First, I’ll head to beautiful Louisville, Kentucky. The University of Louisville will host me for remarks at the McConnell Distinguished Speaker Series. And I’ll share some thoughts on what the Trump Administration is continuing to do here in the Western Hemisphere to protect the American people.
Then I’ll travel to London with the President for a NATO Leaders Meeting, where the President and other allied leaders will talk about a whole host of ways to strengthen the Alliance – which is celebrating its 70th anniversary.
And then I’ll travel on to Morocco. It’s one of our strongest partners in the region. And I’m looking forward to reviewing our countries’ strong economic, security partnership and discussing future areas of cooperation.
And then finally, onto Portugal, to Lisbon. As is the case with so many of our European friends, our robust ties are built on shared values of freedom and democracy. And I look forward to that visit as well.
And with that, I’m happy to take a few questions.
MS ORTAGUS: Matt.
QUESTION: Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Happy Thanksgiving, Matt.
QUESTION: And thank you for coming down. This is twice in two weeks. It’s a good tradition to get into.
I just want to ask you very briefly about the – Hong Kong and the Xinjiang papers. The President is kind of – I don’t want to say waffling, but he hasn’t made up his mind about this legislation that came out of Congress on this. Is this – it would involve sanctions. And I’m just wondering, is this something that you are personally supportive of, those sanctions? And are you willing to take action, sanctions or otherwise, in relation to the Uighurs?
And then if I could – and I’ll accept that you will not like this question or think that it’s irrelevant or unimportant, sort of stipulate your annoyance, I expect – last Friday, this department released call – telephone call logs and some correspondence that show that you had two brief conversations with Rudy Giuliani in late March. This has led to speculation in reports that you were actually involved in the campaign to get – to recall Ambassador Yovanovitch from Ukraine. Wondering, did you discuss Ambassador Yovanovitch in those calls with Mayor Giuliani? And did the State Department then mislead or misinform Congress as to the circumstances of her departure in the two letters that were sent to Steny Hoyer and Eliot Engel? Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: As for Hong Kong, I think the administration has been pretty clear about our expectations about how Beijing will treat people throughout their country. We have human rights standards that we apply all across the world, and Hong Kong is no different. In addition, in Hong Kong we have the commitments that the Chinese Government made as part of their obligations to maintain one country and two systems. That’s what we’re continuing to work towards.
Congress has now taken action. Since it’s before the President, I won’t get out in front of what he will do before too long. But suffice to say, I think the administration’s policies have been pretty unambiguous, and our support for the Chinese Communist Party’s continued commitment to the promises that they made remains unwavering. And I think you saw that from the people of Hong Kong this past week. That’s what they’re asking for, too, the continued maintenance of the understandings that were committed to under international law.
I don’t have much to say with respect to the Ukraine investigation, other than this. We’ve continued to comply with all the legal requirements. You saw we released documents – I guess it was last week now. We’ll continue to do that as required by law and as appropriate, so that appropriate oversight can be conducted.
But with respect to the larger set of issues, we had a very clear policy with respect to Ukraine, and we executed it successfully. There are still many challenges. Still have Russians in the Donbas. We still have a president in Ukraine working to make sure that we move through the challenges that the country’s had with its corruption for an awfully long time now. The State Department’s been working on that for my now year and a half plus here, and we’ll continue to work on it. And every action that I took and have taken will continue to be driven towards that objective.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Voice of America.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary —
MS ORTAGUS: Go ahead. No, Voice of America. Thank you.
QUESTION: Hi. I’m with the Voice of America. So Reporters Without Border strongly condemned today the Iranian intelligence threats against journalists working for the international media like Voice of America, BBC, Radio Free Europe, Manoto. With intimidation on social media and relatives in Iran summoned for interrogation, what’s your take on it?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I’ve seen those reports, and I’ve certainly seen the Iranians engage in activity that is fundamentally at odds with the central understandings we have here in America about how the press ought to be treated.
So I don’t know that I have much more to add other than the entirety of how the President has thought about the Middle East and the malevolent activity of the Islamic Republic of Iran drives towards working to eradicate what you’ve just described. What we’ve advocated for inside of the Islamic Republic of Iran is a change in the behavior of the regime: Behave like a normal nation which permits its people to engage in commerce, to take care of their families, that would have normal press freedoms. Those are the very, very objectives that are policy has been aimed at for the entire time of the Trump administration. We’ll keep working on it. When I see those reports, it reminds me that our work is certainly not yet complete.
MS ORTAGUS: Nick.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, two questions.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: One on Turkey. Now that Turkey is testing the S-400, it looks to be on F16s, is that cause for concern? And will the U.S. take any action in response, possibly levying sanctions?
And the other – just going back to Ukraine – do you believe that the U.S. and Ukraine should investigate the theory that it was Ukraine and not Russia that hacked the DNC emails in 2016?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I’ll take your second question first. Any time there is information that indicates that any country has messed with American elections, we not only have a right but a duty to make sure we chase that down. And I served as the CIA director for the first year and a half of this administration. I can assure you there were many countries that were actively engaged in trying to undermine American democracy, our rule of law, the fundamental understandings we have here in the United States. And you should know we were diligently, diligently working to make sure that we addressed each of them with every tool of American power that we had.
And so whomever it is – by the way, it’s not just – I said nations, I think. It’s not just state actors. There are non-state actors too who are out there acting in ways that are deeply inconsistent with what we’re trying to do to protect our elections. America should leave no stone unturned. So whatever nation it is that we have information that so much as suggests that there might have been interference or an effort to interfere in our elections, we have an obligation to make sure that the American people get to go to the ballot box, cast their ballots in a way that is unimpacted by these malevolent actors trying to undermine our Western democratic values.
Your first question about Turkey and the S-400 – yeah, it’s concerning. We are hopeful. We’re still talking to the Turks. We’re still trying to figure our way through this thing. I don’t want to get out in front of what the President may or may not do, but we have made very clear to the Turkish Government our desire to see them move away from the – putting into full operationalization the S-400 weapon system.
MS ORTAGUS: Nike.
QUESTION: Thank you, Morgan.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: Happy Thanksgiving to you, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving to you as well.
QUESTION: On Hong Kong, a quick follow-up. Would you recommend President Trump to endorse the bipartisan legislation on the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act? The reason I ask is because if it’s enacted, it will require secretary of state to certify if Hong Kong retains enough autonomy for favorable trading terms.
And separately, if I may, on Xinjiang, as you just mentioned, the new leak of documents published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists – ICIJ – revealed the strategy behind a campaign of re-education of Muslim minority groups. Would you say the U.S. pressures have had any effect on China’s actions in Xinjiang, and does the new document allow more concrete actions to take against China? Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. So your first question is – I can’t really answer it because you point out quite correctly in the second part of that question that that issue will come to me if this were to become law, if the President signs it or it becomes law. That will come to me; I’ll have to make this determination. I don’t want to prejudge that. I want to make sure that the process here can be run in a fair, neutral way and no one thinks that the secretary of state got out in front of the analysis that will be tasked annually to do under that statute to evaluate whether the requirements there can be certified too.
So we’re aware of it. Our teams already have a lot of the foundational activity in place that we can perform, I think, a pretty thorough analysis pretty quickly to see if that certification could be made if, in fact, this becomes law. And when we do, we’ll make that – that will be a published certification. We’ll send it to Capitol Hill as required by statute.
Your second question is about – really about what’s the effects of these – this newly released information. I think there are really a couple. First, I think it confirms what we’ve been saying here at the State Department and the United States Government for some time now about what’s taking place there – the very significant human rights abuses. I think it confirms it, shows that it’s not random and it is intentional and that it is ongoing. And so I think those papers simply confirm that. I think the world can see that, which leads me to the second point.
I think it’s the case now that you’ll see many more countries around the world acknowledging what’s taking place there and working alongside of the United States to create space and improve human rights conditions for the people of Xinjiang. I’m hopeful that those papers – the release of those papers will encourage others to join in what we view as a very important outcome that we’re trying to achieve.
MS ORTAGUS: Go ahead, Gillian.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: — do you have a comment for the department on the new numbers reports coming out of Xinjiang? There’s new information out there that the Communist Party has detained over time up to a million Uighurs. Does State Department have anything on that number?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So our best analysis that the number of a million is a reasonable number to think about the number of persons that have been over the extended period of time held or detained or wrongfully denied their fundamental human rights. I think – we think that number is about right.
QUESTION: So it’s – and just a quick follow-up, sir. The President tweeted just a short while ago that he’d encourage you, essentially, to testify in the impeachment investigation. Is that something you’re considering?
SECRETARY POMPEO: When the time is right, all good things happen. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Is that a good thing?
MS ORTAGUS: Let’s end with Michel.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Iraq is cracking down on protestors with the live ammunitions, and the Lebanon clashes between Hizballah, Amal, and the demonstrators. What steps are you considering to help peaceful demonstrations in both countries? And on Lebanon, any updates on the military aids to the Lebanese Army? One more on Iran. Will the U.S. be able to provide internet access to the Iranian people soon?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So let’s see. As for internet access, it’s come back on just a bit. We’ve encouraged the leadership of the Islamic Republic regime to turn it back on so people can communicate. It’s worth noting that while that was done to tamp down the protests that took place and, frankly, deny the world access to see some of it, it’s not working. Indeed, it’s working at cross-purposes. I talked about the 20,000 messages we’ve received, which we believe all came from inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. We expect we’ll get thousands and thousands more over the coming days as well. So there is the capacity for Iranians to communicate outside of the country.
The second piece is it shouldn’t surprise anyone that when you turn your internet off, the little bit of commercial activity that is already taking place inside of Iran is diminished. Lots of commerce all around the world takes place through electronic communications, and the inability to speak there will further decrease the Iranian economy, which will further deny them to have the resources to conduct terror campaigns around the world.
The second question – the first question was about Iraq.
QUESTION: Iraq and Lebanon demonstrations.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. I don’t have anything to say on the Lebanon funding issue today. But as for Iraq, we’ve been in contact with all the various elements inside of Iraq that we have deal with. Our mission there is largely a counterterrorism mission and that’s what our troops are on the ground for. That’s who the Vice President went to visit this week. He went to the Kurdistan region as well – all in an effort to try and help the Iraqi people stand up a free and independent and sovereign Iraq. That’s our goal for the Iraqi people, and we’re prepared to work with the Iraqi leadership – Prime Minister al-Mahdi, President Barham Salih, Speaker Halbousi – all of the Iraqi leadership to try and deliver that on behalf of the Iraqis.
We’ve made no – we have no qualms in talking about the fact that we think the Iranian presence there is harmful to that, decreases the risk that the Iraqi people can have the sovereignty that they so richly deserve, and we’re confident that the Iraqi leadership wants the same thing that we’re helping them work towards.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Great. Thanks, everybody. Have a —
QUESTION: No questions about Louisville with Senator McConnell. Any significance to that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone. (Laughter.)