Secretary of State Pompeo Remarks to the Media

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo remarks to the Media in the Press Briefing Room, December 11, 2019.

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A good morning, everyone. Thanks for joining me so bright and early today.

[Man] A lovely day.

Beautiful day. Before I begin my formal remarks, two thoughts, I wanna acknowledge the Navy personnel who were gunned down last week in Pensacola, I extend my personal condolences to their family, and to the community around Pensacola. I’ve spoken with 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 some time today, talking about things that they were going to do to reduce the risk so something like this can never happen again. And, second, I want to condemn this morning’s coordinated terrorist attack near Bagram Airforce Base in the strongest possible terms. Sounds like more than four dozen civilians were killed. Initial report shows that there were five coalition troops that were at least injured in the attacks, as well. The attack seriously damaged the hospital that was being rebuilt for the Afghan people this is precisely the kind of activity we’re working to reduce through the efforts that were undertaken. The people of Afghanistan deserve an end 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 wanna 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 various priorities of this administration. Now, to current business. As you all know, yesterday that will mark 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 the aggressors. Since Monday, the US government has designated an additional 68 individuals and entities in nine countries for corruption in human rights abuses using the Global Magnitsky Act. As you’ll recall, that act authorizes the US government to call out corruption in human rights offenders, freeze their assets, ban them entering our great country. The 68 individuals that are gonna be 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’re attempting to stop include extrajudicial killings, max executions of unarmed detainees, the murder of an investigative journalist, and use of rape, murder, and abductions as weapon 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 the State Department designated two individuals for Visa ineligibility, for gross violation of human rights. These actions are separate from the Glo-Mag sanctions that I spoke of previously. The first individual is former Saudi diplomat, Mohammed al Otaibi, he was the Consul General in Istanbul in 2018 when Saudi journalists 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 and the Chechen 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, Iran. As long as its blind behavior continues so will our pain 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 their regimes campaign of terror and intimidation home and throughout the world. The companies designated today are as follows, the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, the shipping line of choice for bringing in proliferation and procurement agents. The Brussels WMD designation was lifted in January 2016 under the JCOA, and that was an enormous mistake. Since then, that entity is knowingly engaged in activities and transactions that materially contribute to Iran’s proliferation of WMDs. To allow exporters of humanitarian goods, it fits time to find alternative shipping methods that the nation will become effective 180 days on June 8th of next year. Secondly, we’re designated E-Sail Shipping Company, a firm based in Shanghai. E-Sail knowingly transports illicit materials from Iran’s aerospace industry 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 effect 180 days from today. We’re also designating Mahan Air. And three of its sales agents effective immediately. You’ll note, Mahan Air was previously designated under counter-terrorism authorities back in October of 2011 for providing support to IRGC forces. But, today’s designation recognizes the specific role Mahan Air plays in WMD proliferation. Through which shipments of UN restricted missile and nuclear items to Iran, including controlled graphite and 700 carbon fiber. In addition, the United States is sanctioning an Iranian shipping network that helps smuggle weapons into Iran, from Iran to Yemen to support the IRGC Quds Force fighters. Today’s designations put the world on notice. Those engaged in illicit transactions with these companies will risk exposure, sanctions themselves. I also want to remind Americans and people of all nationalities about the massive risk associated with travel to Iran. The State Department has previously issued a level four travel advisory for that country. It’s the highest threat level. Americans, and particularly, dual nationality Iranian-Americans, traveling to Iran face a very high risk. 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 alienable rights of all people, but was founded on protecting those rights. We don’t just talk about them, we make an action in support of them. We defend them around the world because it’s our duty to do so. We are, for instance, watching the trial of Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha. We’re keeping an eye on all of the activity in the new governor of Sri Lanka, and much more. With that, I’ll take a handful of questions.

[Male Reporter] Good morning, Mister Secretary. I’m wondering if you have gotten any indication from Iran that the release of Mister Wang could herald a much abroad 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. You went to the White House, the White House statement said that the President had raised the same issue. But then later, Mister 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. 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?

The first question, first. I do hope that the exchange that took place will lead to a broader discussion in Council Affairs. We still have Americans held in Iran, too many for sure. We are working trying to develop that, to expand that to use this as an opportunity to continue that effort. You know that National Security Advisor former speaker O’Brien, our team here at the State Department, both professionals working on this, as well as our Iran team, are very focused on getting everyone of these Americans back, so I hope that it approaches well for this. We have some indication that they may be the case, but I don’t want to overstate that. I don’t wanna give false optimism about the 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 is very consistent with what the Administration has done. We don’t send pallets of cash, we don’t 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, deliver these people back to their families, back to America, we will certainly do that. With respect 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 get the details of what I 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 accurate 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 Russia team that was there. President Trump, and every person in America, finds their meddling in our elections unacceptable in the very same way that I had said it earlier to Foreign Minister Lavrov.

[Male Reporter] Thank you, Mister Secretary. On Iraq activists in Iraq that are targeted, assassinated and kidnapped by military 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 that international community ready to provide financial aid to Lebanon at this time?

So your second question whether to ship financial assistance for Lebanon, I know that meeting’s 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. That the Lebanese people are challenged and don’t have access to their accounts today 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 fall to the Lebanese people. To demand a Lebanese sovereignty, Lebanese prosperity, Lebanese freedom from influence, from outside entities, we have a designated terrorist organization, the Hezbollah. I know that the people of Lebanon understand the risk that that presents to their freedom, their capacity deliver for themselves. This is not an American proposition, this is the proposition of the Lebanese people. We do stand ready to do the things that the world can do to assist the Lebanese people in getting their economy right, 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 Shia take action in Karbala and Najaf. They too, much like we just talked about Lebanon, the Iraqi people want a sovereign, independent Iraq. It’s what the United States has supported for an awfully long time now. A great risk and cost to the United States of America. We’re continuing our terrorism campaign in Iraq, and stand ready as the Iraqi government asks us to, to support the Iraqi people. Ensuring that the influx from those who don’t want a sovereign, free, and independent Iraq, don’t have their way inside that country.

[Female Reporter] Good morning, Mister Secretary.

Yes, ma’am, good morning.

[Female Reporter] 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 US to withdraw from JCPOA, if I may, what is the US message to China regarding the Iran related issues? Does the US 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 of bilateral dialogue between US and China to talk about diplomatic and history issues did not happen this year. Or, at least there’s no sign to take place this year. Thank you.

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 US requirements. And, China is 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 friends and allies in 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 imposes a threat around the world. And, 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.

[Female Reporter] Okay, that’s the last question I have. Thank you, Secretary. Thank you for doing this. Yesterday, at your joined presser with Mister 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 US is looking to get back the remains of it, did this come up? Have you discussed this? And, the US and Russia are sort of at the opposite odds of the conflict in Libya, how are you going to cooperate?

I will leave to the Department of Defense to talk about this 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’ve heard Foreign Minister Lavrov say yesterday if he didn’t say it in the public meeting, he has said it before. There’s 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 capacity for any of the forces that are competing there to resolve this in a way that they create victory on the battle field that leads to political resolution that has stability. 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 wanna 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 in place in Libya. And, that no nation ought to be providing incremental material inside of Libya, and that we have reached out not only to the Russians, but to others who are providing weapons systems there and saying it’s not in the best interest. If we’re gonna get to a political resolution, that is not the appropriate path for it. 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. Thank you all very much, have a great day.

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