Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release
Remarks to the Press by Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
September 16, 2020
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning, everyone. It’s a pleasure to be with you again, Dom, Foreign Secretary Raab, back here in – to have you back here in Washington. Our Special Relationship, now a couple hundred years old, is stronger than ever. And I hope you feel right here at home, as I do when I travel to visit you in the United Kingdom.
We had good conversations back in July in London, and then had the chance to see you on a quick pass through Jerusalem as well. And today’s meetings were just as productive.
I’m particularly pleased with the status of the U.S.-UK free trade negotiations. Dominic and I are cheering everyone on and driving these to what I anticipate to be a successful conclusion before too long. The fourth round started now a little over a week ago, and I think our teams are working diligently to make good progress on that important mission.
We also discussed the challenges presented to the world by the Chinese Communist Party, and the challenges that that same party presents to the people of China.
We’re all overcoming the virus that the CCP allowed out of Wuhan. But while we’re all recovering, the party’s aggression abroad and abuses at home have gotten even worse.
We appreciate the steps that the British Government has taken to face the China challenge in recent months. That includes remarkable work speaking up for the people of Hong Kong and offering many of them refuge, calling out repression in Xinjiang, and banning Huawei while working to phase out untrusted equipment.
The United Kingdom and the United States I know will always stand together in the defense of freedom.
Turning to Russia, we had a chance to chat. We stand together in condemning the confirmed poisoning of Alexei Navalny. Any use of chemical weapons is unacceptable under any circumstances. That was true two years ago after the attack with a chemical nerve agent in Salisbury, and it’s true today in this instance as well. Foreign Secretary Raab and I joined our G7 counterparts to call on Russia to be fully transparent, and we reiterate that call now.
We also discussed the need for every nation – especially Russia – to respect the sovereignty of Belarus. The Belarusians protesting what were falsified election results are truly inspiring to all of us. The brutality against them must stop. And the authorities should release – indeed, they must release U.S. citizen Vitali Shkliarov, who has been wrongly detained.
We’re coordinating, too, with the United Kingdom on our – and our European allies on sanctions and on ensuring the spotlight remains on the legitimate aspirations of the Belarusian people.
We also had the chance to speak about the United States principled refusal to allow the Islamic Republic of Iran to have access to weapons on October 19th, just a month from now. They remain the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, and we don’t believe that them being able to trade in weapons of war with impunity is remotely acceptable.
We will return to the United Nations to reimpose sanctions so that the arms embargo will become permanent next week. We believe deeply that this is good for the peoples of all nations.
Look, the arms embargo is just one example of how we’re working in the Middle East and how the Trump administration has approached this. It was a great day yesterday. I thank you for your kind words about that, Dominic. It was very special to watch those three nations together normalize their relationships.
These historic events show what’s possible when people of goodwill work towards achieving peace.
That’s the essence of our relationship as well, and I know that it always will be.
Thank you, Mr. Foreign Secretary. I invite you to make your remarks.
FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB: Well, good afternoon, everyone. And can I just thank you, Secretary of State. It’s always a pleasure, Mike, to be back in Washington, and there’s a lot going on, from Hong Kong to Libya. I always come away from these meetings with a really reinforced sense of just the length and breadth of the work that we’re doing together, and our two countries and administrations are doing together, both in terms of the scale and range, but also the value that it adds as a force for good in the world.
No two countries do more together to further the peace – cause of peace and security, to advance democracy, or indeed, to alleviate poverty. And at a time when the world faces the huge challenge of a global pandemic, Mike and I are always looking with our teams to find new ways to work closely together for all of the shared values and interests that we prize so highly.
Mike and I had a good discussion today on a range of issues. I also was very pleased to meet with USAID officials following the UK merger of our Department for Development with the Foreign Office, the new Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office. So we’re keen to work even closer with you right across the foreign policy board, and I look in particular in that regard to working more closely with the U.S. in Africa, given the challenges there.
Mike and I discussed, as he’s already said, the poisoning of Alexei Navalny. That remains a major concern. We welcome the progress towards his recovery and our thoughts remain very much with him and his family.
In the UK, as Mike said, we’ve seen firsthand the impact and the consequences of a Novichok attack when the Russian intelligence officers used it in an assassination attempt in Salisbury back in 2018. Needless to say, the use of a banned chemical weapon violates the Chemical Weapons Convention. There must be accountability for it, and we’ll work with all of our allies to that effect, and I think the Russian Government is duty-bound to explain what happened to Mr. Navalny through a full and transparent investigation. I have to say from the UK’s point of view, very difficult to see any plausible alternative explanation to this being carried out by the Russian intelligence services, but certainly the Russian Government has a case to answer.
Mike and I also discussed how we intend to work with our partners to support Germany to ensure justice is done. We need to work within the OPCW on the issues of attribution and accountability. And I can say that the UK will not shrink from that.
We also discussed Iran. I think we absolutely agree that Iran must never be – never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. We also, I think, share the view that the diplomatic door is open to Iran to negotiate a peaceful way forward. That decision, that choice is there for the leadership in Tehran to take.
On the Middle East peace process, we discussed the normalization between Israel and the various Arab states, and a huge tribute to American leadership with the agreements that were celebrated here yesterday. We fully support the agreements between the UAE and Bahrain with Israel, and again, I want to pay particular tribute to Mike’s work and what – Mike’s work and Jared Kushner’s work. These are really important steps towards a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East.
We also believe it’s an opportunity for dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I think that will be ultimately necessary for an enduring two-state solution. So we had a good discussion on all of that.
Mike and I also talked about Belarus, where we, as Mike’s already said, share the view that the excessive violence used by the Belarusian authorities as well as its systematic targeting of opposition leaders is completely unacceptable – completely unacceptable. The UK will be pressing with the U.S. and with our partners for an investigation within the OSCE into both the vote rigging of the election but also the assaults on the freedoms and the human rights abuses perpetrated against the protesters. At the same time, we’re doubling our support to the independent media, the civil society, the human rights organizations active in Belarus, with an extra 1.5 million pounds over the next two years.
We also talked about our shared concerns on Xinjiang and Hong Kong, the people of which are suffering very serious human rights abuses. We urge China to live up to its international obligations, and it is absolutely crucial that the freedoms of the people and the autonomy of Hong Kong are respective – respected in full, and we’ll be watching very carefully not just for the enactment but the application of the national security legislation and how that plays out in the weeks and months ahead. China must also end the egregious human rights violations against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang.
Finally, we discussed progress on our free trade agreement negotiations since we last met and the importance of a clean and resilient economic recovery from COVID-19. Like Mike, we’re willing on the negotiators. I think there’s huge opportunity for a win-win deal and we’re confident that we can – we can get that.
As we prepare for our G7 presidency next year, I just want to thank our American friends for their stewardship so far this year. Under your leadership, Mike, the G7 nations have committed to do whatever is necessary to ensure a strong and coordinated global response to COVID-19. That shared commitment will remain our guiding principle as we prepare to take up the presidency in January. And come what may, I know that the transatlantic alliance will continue to be not just the bedrock of UK foreign policy but also an even stronger force for good in these uncertain times.
So, Mike, thanks very much.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you very much, Dominic.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. We’re going to take a few questions now. We’ll start with Arshad Mohammed from Reuters.
QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, what is the practical effect of insisting that snapback has occurred if virtually no other countries, including Great Britain, concur with your legal interpretation and refuse to implement it. Why is this not a paper victory but a practical defeat, and what, if anything, can the United States do to punish countries that do not re-enact the sanctions that you assert will be restored this weekend? Are you considering secondary sanctions against allies like Great Britain to get them to comply?
And Foreign Secretary Raab, the E3 made very clear in its August 20th statement that it couldn’t support the United States in snapback. One, how are you going to respond when it happens this weekend? Two, do you foresee any significant economic effect on Britain or Europe? And three, what are you going to do if the United States chooses to threaten the UK and Europe with secondary sanctions for a failure to comply with a snapback that you don’t believe has occurred?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So – no, the – you suggested that somehow this was a diplomatic failure. It could be that there was a diplomatic failure. That occurred in 2015 when this agreement was entered into. That’s where – that was the failure. This set a course for a very short time period, five years – and we’re coming up on that now – which would allow the world’s largest state sponsor of terror to once again have arms and traffic in arms and create wealth from the sale of arms.
The good news is the one thing that the previous administration got right is they created a provision where under UN Security Council Resolution 2231 any one of the nations identified there had the right to say we want the sanctions that were in place prior to this – that moment to snap back, and that’s what we’ll do. I think the President said it – told the American people in a speech in 2015, he said, look, we don’t need any other country to go along with us. When we conclude this no longer makes sense that these provisions will snap back. There were no conditions, there was nothing else that had to happen, it was just simply the case that any one of those nations had the right to snap back sanctions. That’s what we will do.
As for the actions that we’ll take, we’ll – the UN will take the sanctions that it always does. These will be valid UN Security Council resolutions and the United States will do what it always does, it will do its share as part of the – its responsibilities to enable peace, this time in the Middle East. We’ll do all the things we need to do to ensure that those sanctions are enforced.
I remember when I became Secretary of State when the United States made the decision with respect to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. There were those who said that American sanctions would not be successful. I think anyone who has stared at the state of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s financial situation today – the fact that they can no longer have the resources to underwrite Hizballah and the Shia militias in all of the places that they have spent money for nefarious activities over all of these years – those resources are greatly reduced; their capacity to inflict harm around the world is greatly reduced. I think we’ve been very successful in spite of what the world said would happen if we made the decision the President made rightly back in May of 2018.
FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB: Well look, from the UK’s point of view, we share the U.S. concerns about Iran and the Iranian threat both on the nuclear side of things but also the wider destabilizing activities in the region. I think the UK’s position on the JCPOA is well known and the reasons for that are well known. But we’ve always welcomed U.S. and indeed other efforts to broaden it. We don’t think the JCPOA is perfect by any stretch of the imagination. It should be broadened. Our ambition for a broader rapprochement, a more comprehensive deal is I think in exactly the same place as the U.S. And frankly all of the other issues, the means by which we get there, there may be shades of difference, but we always manage them as constructively as we have to this point.
MR SWIFT: Can we have Ron Brown of the BBC, please.
QUESTION: Hello. Ron Brown, BBC News. Secretary of State, what was your reaction when you heard the UK’s Northern Ireland secretary tell MPs at Westminster that the UK’s – the UK Government’s actions to lay the groundwork to break its agreement with the European Union, quote, “does break international law?” Do you still trust the UK or does this reduce the chances, do you think, of a trade deal with the U.S.? And would the U.S. administration ever seek to bypass Congress if it stands in the way of any deal?
And to the UK Foreign Secretary, if I may, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress have been very outspoken in their criticism of the UK Government’s decision to reopen the Brexit withdrawal agreement. Do you think, Mr. Raab, you’ve jeopardized the chances of striking a trade deal with the U.S.? Why should anyone trust the UK now? And how much damage have you done to the UK’s reputation both here and around the world? Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’d rather take that question than the first one. Look, yes, we trust the United Kingdom. They’ll – I am confident they’ll get it right. We’ve made clear the – our view of the importance of the Good Friday Agreements. We know the complexity of the situation. We’ve done what we can to provide assistance where we can. In the end, this will be a set of decisions with respect to this that the United Kingdom makes, and I’m – have great confidence that they will get this right in a way that treats everyone fairly and gets a good outcome for what it was the people of the United Kingdom voted for now several years back.
FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB: Thanks. Look, from the UK’s point of view, I’ve had very positive discussions not just with Mike and the administration but also with congressmen and women from both sides of the political aisle, if I can put it that way. We continue to discuss and I’ll see Nancy Pelosi later. I think it’s a great opportunity for me to be clear that the threat to the Good Friday Agreement in the – as it’s reflected in the Northern Ireland Protocol has come from the EU’s politicization of the issue and to be clear on how that’s happened and why that’s happened. Our commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and to avoid any extra infrastructure at the border between the north and the south is absolute. We’ve made that and I’ve had conversations well before the issue of the internal market bill has come up on the Hill with Senate and House leaders and figures.
And just to be absolutely clear – I think this comes across from the further safeguards that have been prepared in relation to the bill – the UK action here is defensive in relation to what the EU is doing. It is precautionary; we haven’t done any of this yet. And it is proportionate. But what we can’t have is – and this is contrary to the Northern Ireland Protocol and of course a risk to the Good Friday Agreement – what we cannot have is the EU seeking to erect a regulatory border down the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Britain. And I’ve had really good conversations and I think it’s helpful to be able to explain that point of view.
MS ORTAGUS: Thank you, everyone.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. Thank you, Dominic. Great to see you.
FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB: Great to see you.