Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release
Remarks by Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
March 25, 2020
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning, everyone. Before I recap today’s ministerial, I want to address the ISIS-K claimed attack in Afghanistan. The United States condemns the horrific ISIS-K claimed attack on a Sikh temple and community center in Kabul this morning which took the lives of more than two dozen innocent people. The Afghan people deserve a future free from ISIS-K and other terrorist activity. Despite the country’s political challenges, the ongoing Afghan peace process remains the primary opportunity for Afghans to come together to negotiate a political settlement and build a unified front against the menace of ISIS-K. We encourage all Afghans to embrace this opportunity.
Now turning to the meeting today.
Today’s Virtual G7 Ministerial wasn’t the format we’d envisioned for the meeting when we drew it up, but I’m glad we had the chance to meet, if only by teleconference.
I want to thank the people in Pittsburgh for their support and assistance in planning the in-person event that we unfortunately had to cancel. Certainly, the most pressing agenda item today was the Wuhan virus – something we’re all committed to fighting with transparency, as is necessary all around the world.
I made it clear to our G7 partners – especially to our friends in Italy and the rest of Europe – that the United States remains committed to assisting them in all ways possible. This past Saturday, the United States Air Force sent a C-130 filled with medical supplies to Italy. The U.S. military is also finalizing plans to make some of its excess medical equipment deployed there available to our Italian friends.
In addition, our private businesses, scientific community, NGOs, and religious organizations are answering the call to help. Samaritan’s Purse, a private U.S. charity, set up a 68-bed field hospital in Cremona, a particularly hard-hit city in northern Italy. This is the American people’s famous generosity at its finest.
Even as we spent substantial time on working to figure out how we would fight this virus together, we’re still keeping our eye on the ball on the other great challenges around the world, which I’ve grouped into categories:
First, we spent a substantial amount of time on threats posed by authoritarian states. The Chinese Communist Party poses a substantial threat to our health and way of life, as the Wuhan virus outbreak clearly has demonstrated. The CCP also threatens to undermine the free and open order that has underpinned our mutual prosperity and safety in the G7 countries.
I urged every one of the countries to work together to protect the UN and other organizations from its malign influence and authoritarianism. We G7 countries must promote our shared values of freedom, sovereignty, good governance, transparency, and accountability, and push the UN to uphold these principles as well.
The group also spoke a great deal about Russia and holding it accountable for its aggression in Ukraine. Real progress on eastern Ukraine must begin with Russia honoring its commitments under the Minsk agreements. I also reiterated the simple truth: Crimea is Ukraine. The United States will never recognize Russia’s attempted annexation.
We spent time, too, talking about another group of challenges posed by unlawful proliferation.
On Iran, I thanked countries for the regime – holding the regime accountable for the malign activity through actions like banning Mahan Air and designating all of Hizballah and other Iran-backed terror groups as terrorist organizations.
Our pressure campaign remains designed to induce Iran to act like a normal country. I urged our G7 partners to go further in joining us – and they should especially stand with the U.S. in ensuring that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon.
Similarly, the G7, and all nations, must remain united in calling on North Korea to return to negotiations, and stay committed to applying diplomatic and economic pressure over its illegal nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Another task before us that we discussed at length was to resolve longstanding conflicts:
On Afghanistan, we discussed the peace process. I updated them on my recent visit, and how we can make intra-Afghan negotiations truly successful.
We also spent time discussing Syria, where Russia, the Iranian regime, Hizballah, and the Assad regime are threatening Europe with a humanitarian disaster and preventing a political solution in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
We spoke on Libya. Leaders there must exercise restraint, de-escalate, and reject toxic foreign interference, and engage seriously in UN-mediated discussions to determine Libya’s future.
And on Burma, the group was united – united in support of Burma’s democratic transition, economic reforms, and efforts to resist malign influences.
Burma must resolve the Rakhine State’s crisis, ensuring and including justice for victims of atrocities and accountability for those responsible – including senior military leaders.
And finally, we agreed to keep fighting vigorously against terrorism. Terrorist attacks by ISIS – like the one I opened my conversation with today – and al-Qaida are increasing in the Sahel. The region needs better governance and burden sharing from our partners – both in the region and globally – to restore peace and stability. Signatories to the Algiers Accord for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali must fully implement that agreement.
Even when we are unable to meet in person, we had a successful visit. And the Trump administration remains devoted to our allies and partners, and working with them in these kinds of productive multilateral formats.
And with that, I’m happy to take a few questions.
MR BROWN: Shaun.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Following up on your comments today about the G7 – I’m looking ahead to the G20 talks virtually tomorrow, that the Saudis are hosting. What is your message on China? Is it time to cooperate with them, perhaps, on the virus, or to confront them? You mentioned that the United States is committed to assisting its G7 partners. What about China? They’re giving lots of aid in terms of masks, et cetera, around the world. Do you see that as a positive? Do you see that as something that we should be wary of? And would the U.S. itself be willing, perhaps, to accept assistance? Peter Navarro said perhaps we would be.
And if I could just follow up on one point on that. The German magazine Der Spiegel was saying that at the G7 that you wanted them to use the term “Wuhan virus,” and that perhaps caused some rift among the partners. Is that the case, and do you believe that the nomenclature is that important that it needs to be in an international document? Thanks.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So let me take the first question to begin with. We’ve wanted to work with the Chinese Communist Party throughout this crisis – this crisis that began in Wuhan, China. We tried – you’ll remember – from the opening days to get our scientists, our experts on the ground there so that we could begin to assist in the global response to what began there in China, but we weren’t able to do that. The Chinese Communist Party wouldn’t permit that to happen.
You’ll recall, too, at the beginning of this, when it was clear that this was an issue, China knew about it, they were the first country to know about the risk to the world from this virus, and they repeatedly delayed sharing that information with the globe.
So yes, we desperately want to work with every country around the world. This is a global pandemic; this is something the United States wants to work with every country, including China, to figure out how to resolve to keep as many people alive, as many people as healthy, and then to restore our economies that have been decimated by the Wuhan virus.
So we are – we are prepared to work with them, we’re prepared to assist them. We want good things for the Chinese people as well. This activity resulted in the deaths of lots of people in China as well. It’s not just been something that is extraterritorial to China. But it’s really important that we make sure we get this right. There was a lot of discussion today amongst the G7 about the intentional disinformation campaign that China has been and continues to be engaged in. You see it. You see it in the social media. You see it in remarks from senior people inside the Chinese Communist Party talking about whether this was a U.S. – U.S. brought to China. I mean, this is crazy talk. And every member of the G7 today saw that – this disinformation campaign. China now making small sales of product around the world and claiming that they are now the white hat in what has taken place here. This isn’t a time for blame; this is a time to solve this global problem. We are focused on that today. It’s where the G7 members spent all of their time. But every one of the nations that was at that meeting this morning was deeply aware of the disinformation campaign that the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in to try and deflect from what has really taken place here.
And with respect to the statement, I always think about these meetings the right answer is to make sure we have the same message coming out of it. I am confident that when you hear the other six foreign ministers speak, they will have a common understanding of what we talked about today and we will talk about the things that we have agreement on, and I’m sure they’ll express a handful of places – like the JCPOA – where we have tactical differences about – to achieve our strategic outcomes. Make no mistake about it, everyone in that meeting this morning was very focused on making sure that we not only solve the health crisis associated with the Wuhan virus but also the economic challenges that face the globe as we confront it as well.
MR BROWN: Arshad.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: On Monday, in your written statement, you said that the United States would immediately reduce assistance to Afghanistan by a billion dollars. One, what exactly are you cutting? Two, President Ghani this morning is reported to have issued instructions to his ministers of interior, defense, and finance to cut their security budgets by $1 billion total. It doesn’t seem like he’s too worried about losing U.S. assistance. What’s your response to that? And three, is the United States prepared to proceed with its planned withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan as long as the Taliban honors its agreement not to target U.S. forces and to cut ties, and regardless whether the President Ghani and former Chief Executive Abdullah are able to resolve their disputes over the election?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I traveled to Afghanistan at a time when there’s not much travel taking place for a very specific purpose. I went there to make sure that Afghan leaders understood America’s interest there, the role that all of the Resolute Support Mission has played there over the years, and to urge them to execute on the commitments that they had made in the joint declaration – that is, the Afghan leadership had made a set of commitments, things that they would live up to, and so far they have not executed on that. I went there to talk to them about how we could assist them in delivering on that.
I’ll be honest, it was very frustrating. There – this political crisis that had existed that I went there to try and push forward – to your point and the statements that you just described, I haven’t seen those statements – we need all of the political leadership in Afghanistan to come together: President Ghani, Dr. Abdullah, all of those who have a shared interest in moving Afghanistan forward, in creating peace and reconciliation for the Afghan people, to better the lives for Afghan people, to come up with a team that can sit down and have conversations broadly with all Afghanis, intra-Afghan negotiations to resolve these set of outstanding issues. That is our expectation for the Afghan leadership. It’s why I went there. It’s what I talked about. It’s why we made the announcement when we were unable to achieve that during my meeting. It’s why we made the announcement that said the United States is prepared to reduce security assistance to them. And we will continue to try and convince all the parties, the Taliban included, that it’s time for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
The U.S. force posture there, we’ve made clear to all our partners we are going to continue to evaluate that as we move forward. We have commitments. And as we execute this plan, we will watch the conditions. We’ve talked about this as a conditions-based plan. We will continue to live up to those to make all the parties live up to those conditions as we work our way forward. In the end, everyone understands, and everybody that I met with – I met not only with President Ghani and with Dr. Abdullah, but I met with the security leaders, I met with Mullah Baradar in Doha – every one of them understand that this isn’t going to be resolved on the ground with guns and mortars. This is going to be resolved through a political process, and it is time for that political process to begin with all the Afghans coming together around the table.
I’m still optimistic that we can get there. Time is of the essence.
QUESTION: What’s – and what are you cutting? What’s the (inaudible) that you’re —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Next question, please.
QUESTION: — that you said you were cutting immediately?
MR BROWN: Let’s go to the back to Michel.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: There are talks in Congress to hold China responsible for the coronavirus outbreak because it hid information, and they called on China to pay damages to the U.S. and the world. Are you planning – is the administration planning to sue China or to ask China to compensate? And on Syria, the State Department has asked the regime to release prisoners, U.S. citizens among them. Are you planning to put any pressure on the regime in case they didn’t deliver?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Your second question, we have asked the Syrians to release all those that are wrongfully detained, not only Americans but others as well. We’ve called on the Islamic Republican of Iran to do the same. We think in this time where there is enormous health risk to these individuals that on a purely humanitarian basis – forget the other reasons that it would be – it is – that they are in the first instance wrongfully detained, we think this would be a good opportunity for them to make a humanitarian assistance and allow these Americans to return home to their families.
With respect to the first, I’ll leave to Congress. I’m not doing that anymore. I’ll leave to Congress to decide how they want to proceed. But as I said earlier, today is not the day for recriminations and accountability. We need to make clear that the information that is available to everyone in the world is available. That means full transparency by everyone, including by the Chinese Communist Party. This is a continuing challenge. We still need good information from the Chinese Communist Party about what has taken place there and the level of the virus that continues inside of that country. We need accurate, transparent information just like we’re demanding from every country around the world. But there will be a right time. After we’ve managed to address this crisis, after we’ve managed to get these economies back on their feet, there’ll be a time for the world to evaluate responsibility for what took place.
Thank you all very much. Have a great day.