U.S. Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release
Remarks to the Press
Secretary Michael R. Pompeo
Press Briefing Room
December 11, 2019
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning, everyone.
QUESTION: Good morning.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thanks for joining me so bright and early today.
QUESTION: Lovely day you picked for – (laughter) —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Beautiful day. Before I begin my formal remarks, two thoughts. I want to acknowledge the Navy personnel who were gunned down last week in Pensacola and extend my personal condolences to their families and to the community around Pensacola. I’ve spoken with both the governor and – I’ve spoken with Senator Scott as well. We’re doing everything we can to make sure we’re taking care of that community and working diligently. The Department of Defense will have some remarks I think sometime today talking about the things that we’re going to do to reduce the risks that something like this can ever happen again.
And second, I want to condemn the – this morning’s coordinated terrorist attack near Bagram Air Force Base in the strongest possible terms. It sounds like more than four dozen civilians were killed. Initial reports show that there were five coalition troops that were at least injured in the attacks as well. The attack seriously damaged a hospital that was being rebuilt for the Afghan people. This is precisely the kind of activity that we’re working to reduce through the efforts that we’re undertaking. The people of Afghanistan deserve an ends to these senseless acts of violence. The United States stands with the Afghan people, their security forces, and their desire to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.
On a happier note, I want to also take a moment to celebrate the release of Xiyue Wang. The Trump administration secured his release from an Iranian jail over the weekend. Bringing home wrongfully detained Americans is one of the very highest priorities of this administration.
Now to current business. As you all know, yesterday, the world marked International Human Rights Day. The administration took a historic number of new actions this week to stand up for oppressed people all around the world and to take action against their oppressors. Since Monday, the U.S. Government has designated an additional 68 individuals and entities in nine countries for corruption and human rights abuses using the Global Magnitsky Act. As you’ll recall, that act authorized the United States Government to call out corruption, human rights offenders, freeze their assets, ban them from entering our great country. The 68 individuals and entities sanctioned this week hail from Burma, from Cambodia, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, from Latvia, Libya, Pakistan, Serbia, Slovakia, and South Sudan.
The human rights abuses that we are attempting to stop include extrajudicial killings, mass executions of unarmed detainees, the murder of an investigative journalist, and the use of rape, murder, and abductions as weapons of war. Notably, we sanctioned four Burmese military leaders responsible for rape, executions, and systemic violence against the innocent Rohingya villagers and other religious and ethnic minorities. We are the first and only country to take public action against the commander-in-chief of the Burmese military forces, Min Aung Hlaing, and his deputy. We call on others to do the same.
Altogether, these designations constitute the most significant set of Global Magnitsky sanctions taken to date.
Yesterday too the State Department designated two individuals for visa ineligibility for gross violation of human rights. These actions are separate from the GloMag sanctions that I spoke of previously. The first individual is a former Saudi diplomat, Mohammed Alotaibi*. He was the consul general in Istanbul in 2018 when Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the consulate. The second individual is a Russian, Aslan Iraskhanov*, head of the ministry of interior affairs for the city of Grozny in the Czechen Republic of the Russian Federation. We believe him to be responsible for the summary execution of 27 human beings.
And finally, I’d like to turn to the Islamic Republic of Iran. As long as its malign behavior continues, so will our campaign of maximum pressure. Today, I’m announcing designation of three Iranian transportation companies that helped Iran import items for its weapons of mass destruction programs. These programs involved the siphoning of funds away from the oppressed Iranian people, and they augment the regime’s campaign of terror and intimidation at home and throughout the world.
The companies designated today are as follows:
The Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines – it’s the shipping line of choice for Iranian proliferators and procurement agents. IRISL’s WMD designation was lifted in January 2016 under the JCPOA, and that was an enormous mistake. Since then, that entity has knowingly engaged in activities and transactions that materially contribute to Iran’s proliferation of WMDs. To allow exporters of humanitarian goods sufficient time to find alternative shipping methods, the designation will become effective 180 days – on June 8th of next year.
Second, we’re designating ESAIL Shipping Company, a firm based in Shanghai. ESAIL knowingly transports illicit materials from Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization, which oversees all of Iran’s missile industry. It has also worked with at least two other Iranian organizations subject to UN sanctions. Similarly to the previous one, this will take place – take effect 180 days from today.
We’re also designated Mahan Air and three of its sales agents effective immediately. You’ll note Mahan Air was previously designated under counterterrorism authorities back in October of 2011 for providing support to the IRGC forces. But today’s designation recognizes the specific role Mahan Air plays in WMD proliferation through its shipments of UN-restricted missile and nuclear items to Iran, including controlled graphite and T700 carbon fiber.
In addition, the United States is sanctioning an Iranian shipping network that helps smuggle weapons into Iran – oh, excuse me, from Iran to Yemen – to support the IRGC Qods Force fighters. Today’s designations put the world on notice: Those who engage in illicit transactions with these companies will risk exposure to sanctions themselves.
I also want to remind Americans and people of all nationalities about the massive risks associated with travel to Iran. The State Department has previously issued a Level 4 travel advisory for that country. It’s our highest threat level. Americans and particularly dual-national Iranian Americans traveling to Iran face a very high risk of kidnapping, arrest, and detention.
All of the actions taken this week get to the heart of what makes America unique. We’re a nation that not only believes in unalienable rights of all people, but was founded on protecting those rights. We don’t just talk about them; we take action in support of them. We defend them around the world because it’s our duty to do so. It’s who we are. We are, for instance, watching the trial in Cambodia of opposition leader Kem Sokha*. We’re keeping an eye on all of the activity in the new government of Sri Lanka and much more.
With that, I’ll take a handful of questions.
MS ORTAGUS: Matt.
QUESTION: Thank you. Good morning, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hello, Matt.
QUESTION: I am wondering if you have gotten any indication from Iran that the release of Mr. Wang could herald a much broader dialogue on the issue of detainees, hostages.
And then secondly, I’m wondering if you can clarify something from yesterday. You were fairly explicit – or very explicit in the press conference with Foreign Minister Lavrov that you had raised election meddling and warned Russia against it, and the White House – you went to the White House. The White House statement said that the President had raised the same issue, but then later, Foreign Minister Lavrov suggested that the only way it came up in the White House meeting with President Trump was when he complained to the President about you bringing up the subject in your meeting earlier.
Can you – did the President make it clear to Foreign Minister Lavrov that you wouldn’t stand for election meddling, or is he just playing games here?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So, first question first: I do hope that the exchange that took place will lead to a broader discussion on consular affairs. We still have Americans held in Iran, too many for sure. We are working to try and develop that, to expand that, to use this as an opportunity to continue that effort. You know that National Security Advisor, Former SPEHA O’Brien, our team here at the State Department, both the professionals working on this as well as our Iran team, are very focused on getting every one of these Americans back. And so I hope that it portends well for this. We’ve had some indication that that may be the case, but I don’t want to overstate that. I don’t want to give false optimism about that pathway.
The American people should just know we’re serious about this, we’re intent on it, we will follow every even tiny opening we see to deliver and get these people back. We’ll do so in a way that’s very consistent with what the administration has done. We don’t send pallets of cash, send bags of money. We don’t change our policy. You see today we’re still announcing continuation of our maximum pressure campaign. But if we can find an opening to deliver these people back to their families and back to America, we will certainly do that.
With respect to the discussion of Russian meddling, it happened in every meeting I was in. I think I was in three here at the State Department and then over at the White House. I will leave to the White House to give the details of what is said. I never talk about what the President says in those private settings, but I can tell you that Foreign Minister Lavrov’s statement is not accurately a reflection of my recollection of that meeting. And there is no mistake that President Trump made clear in the meeting that he had with Foreign Minister Lavrov and the rest of the Russian team that was there that President Trump personally, and America, finds their meddling in our elections unacceptable in the very same way that I had said it earlier to Foreign Minister Lavrov.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Right here. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, thanks. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. On Iraq, activists in Iraq have been targeted, assassinated, and kidnapped by militia under the eyes of the security forces. How do you view these actions? And on Lebanon, the international support group for Lebanon is meeting today in France. Is the international community ready to provide financial aids to Lebanon at this time?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So your second question, with respect to financial assistance, I know there are meetings taking place. We’re working on it. We know that the financial situation there is very serious, that the central bank is under real pressure, and that the Lebanese people are challenged. They don’t have access to their accounts in a way that is full and sufficient and adequate. We need to continue to work on that. But the responsibility lies with the Lebanese people. The responsibility for how the Government of Lebanon will be formed and shaped falls to the Lebanese people to demand Lebanese sovereignty, Lebanese prosperity, Lebanese freedom from influence, from outside entities.
We have a designated terrorist organization there, Hizballah, and the – I know that the people of Lebanon understand the risk that that presents to their freedom, their capacity to deliver for themselves. This is not an American proposition; it is the – a proposition of the Lebanese people. And we do stand ready to do the things that the world can do to assist the Lebanese people of getting their economy righted, getting their government righted. And we’re very hopeful that the Lebanese people will be successful in that.
As for Iraq, we’ve watched the protests there. We’ve watched Iraqi Shias take action in Karbala and Najaf. They too – much like we just talked about in Lebanon, the Iraqi people want a sovereign, independent Iraq. That’s what the United States has supported for an awfully long time now, at great risk and cost to the United States of America. We’re continuing our counterterrorism campaign in Iraq, and stand ready as the Iraqi Government asks us to, to support the Iraqi people in ensuring that the influence from those who don’t want a sovereign, free, and independent Iraq don’t have their way inside of that country.
MS ORTAGUS: Nike.
QUESTION: Thank you, Morgan. Good morning, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, ma’am. Good morning.
QUESTION: One of the sanctions company that you just announced is a Chinese company based in Shanghai. As you know, China is one of the signatories of JCPOA, and China has been opposing the U.S. withdrawal from JCPOA. If I may, what is the U.S. message to China regarding Iran-related issues? Does the U.S. still believe in a dialogue with China to handle such global security issues? The reason I ask is for the first time in recent years, the annual high-level bilateral dialogue between U.S. and China to talk about diplomatic and security issues did not happen this year, or at least there’s no sign to take place this year. Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I actually spoke with my Chinese counterpart over this past weekend. One of the issues we discussed was closely related to this. Substantively, this is part of our Iranian maximum pressure campaign. We are working to make sure that every nation complies with this, with this set of U.S. requirements, and China’s no exception, and so we’ve talked to them about this. We’ve asked them not to take Iranian crude oil, and we will continue to impose our sanctions regime on those countries that are violating, especially when the violations relate to their WMD programs.
That’s important for the Middle East. It’s important for our friend and ally, Israel. It’s important for the United States and for the whole world. And so these sanctions are aimed not at China, not at the Iranian people, but at the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran that is engaged in activity that poses threats around the world. And we’re – we will continue to build out this effort to seek to convince the Iranian leadership to conform their actions to be a normal nation. That’s what this is about. We will continue to work with all the nations that are impacted by this, including China.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay, last question. Humeyra.
QUESTION: Hello, thank you, Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hi. Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. Yesterday, at your joint presser with Mr. Lavrov, you mentioned that you’re looking to cooperate more on Libya as well. There was an American drone downed by the Russians, and we’ve reported that U.S. is looking to get back the remains of it. Did this come up? Have you discussed this? And U.S. and Russia are sort of at the opposite odds of the conflict in Libya. How are you going to cooperate?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I will leave to the Department of Defense to talk about the specific issue there with respect to the incident that you’re referring. But more broadly, on Libya, our efforts are very clear. There is a political process – I think you heard Foreign Minister Lavrov say yesterday – if he didn’t say it in the public meeting, he has said it before – there is a deep recognition that a political resolution is the only way to take the level of violence down and create security for the people of Libya. There’s no military solution to this. There’s no – there’s no capacity for any of the forces that are competing there to resolve this in a way that they can create victory on the battlefield that leads to a political resolution that has stability. It’s just – there’s no one that I’ve spoken to in Europe, in Russia, in the Middle East that believes that that’s possible.
So we want to work with the Russians to get to the negotiating table, have a series of conversations that ultimately lead to a disposition that creates what the UN has been trying to do for an awfully long time. Foreign Minister Lavrov told me directly yesterday he is prepared to be part of that, to continue it. I reminded him that there is a weapons embargo that is still in place in Libya, and that no nation ought to be providing incremental materiel inside of Libya, and that we have reached out not only to the Russians but to others who are providing weapon systems there and saying it’s not in the best interest. If we’re going to get to a political resolution, that is not the appropriate path forward. It only creates more risk, more violence, and moves us further away from the political resolution that Libya so desperately needs and that will ultimately be the pathway to getting a Libya with a governing coalition that gets the outcome right there.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you all very much. Have a great day.
QUESTION: Thank you.