Press Briefing Room
MS NAUERT: Hi, everybody. How are you today?
QUESTION: Well —
MS NAUERT: I brought in a special guest with me, our 70th Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is going to give you a quick briefing out of his meetings at the White House today. I know some of you may have questions following on the Secretary’s Iran speech yesterday. He has just a few minutes to take some of your questions, and then I’ll take over from there and handle the rest of the briefing.
Secretary Pompeo, welcome. This is our press briefing room. Great to have you here.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thanks, thanks. Good afternoon, everyone. I actually want to start by talking – it’s almost exactly one month since I’ve been here, and I made a handful of commitments at the beginning, not the least of which was that I would put the team back on the field. And we’ve taken significant steps to date in working towards that direction. There still remains a great deal of work to do, but you should know I am committed to that, and we will get there.
We’ve lifted the hiring freeze. We can now hire the most talented person, including family members, here – both things that weren’t possible when I arrived. We’ve made substantial progress on some of our senior level processes so that we get our ambassadors and senior level persons working here in the building. Nothing to report just yet, but as I committed when I gave testimony at my confirmation hearing, we’re going to flood the zone. We’re going to work on this diligently. It’s one of my highest priorities to make sure that we’ve got the right people in the right places every place in the world, and here in main State as well, so we can accomplish our diplomatic mission. I hope in the coming week or two to have several significant announcements about who some of the new senior leaders will be.
Second, I left the White House. I was in the bilateral meetings with the South Koreans. They were constructive. I think Sanders has already given a press conference about this, so I’m happy just to take questions about it. But suffice it to say we are continuing to prepare both our team and the White House so that in the event that the summit takes place on June 12th we are fully prepared, with the mission statement having not changed at all. We are committed to achieving denuclearization and creating conditions such that the North Korean regime no longer threatens the world.
A final thought. I gave some remarks yesterday on the President’s strategy with respect to the Islamic Republic of Iran, and I think it’s important that I re-emphasize that the tasks that Iran needs to undertake aren’t that difficult. I’ve seen reports that these are a fantasy and they can’t happen, but we ask for things that are really fairly simple that, frankly, most nations in the world engage in. We ask them to stop firing missiles into Riyadh. This is not – it’s not a fantasy to imagine the Iranians making a decision not to fire missiles into another nation and threatening American lives that travel through that airport. It’s not a fantasy to ask them to cease engaging in terror. These were all a set of demands, the demands we put on the rest of the world.
If it was the case that some other country in the Middle East desired to build a nuclear weapons system, we would work to stop them too. These are a set of simple requirements that the Iranian regime could quite easily comply with, and it would benefit the Iranian people to an enormous extent. And so, frankly, what we laid out seemed like a pretty straightforward set of requirements that we would put on any country in the world – to stop malign behavior that threatens other of its neighbors and other parts of the world.
And with that, Heather, I’m happy to take a couple questions.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Just a few minutes for questions. Matt Lee. You met Matt on our last trip. So Matt.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes. Matt, good to see you —
QUESTION: Good to see you, sir.
SECRETARY POMPEO: — in Washington. (Laughter.) Had to think about where I was for a second.
QUESTION: Well, certainly not Pyongyang, that’s for sure. Just on North Korea and the meetings today, we don’t met – we have just met, so I don’t know if you’re a betting man. But if you were a betting man, what would you say the odds are for this meeting actually coming off and at the date and venue that’s been set? And if it – are you prepared to go back or to meet again, wherever, with Kim Jong-un, if that is decided – if that’s necessary to actually fully prepare for a summit?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll take your second question first. The second one is we will do what it takes to make sure that this is a successful meeting, whether that’s meeting with the North Koreans in some third country or whatever it may take. We are prepared. The President will ask us to ensure that we’ve done all we can to make sure that we have the real opportunity to have this historic successful outcome.
And I’m not a betting man – (laughter) – so I wouldn’t care to predict whether it will happen, only to predict that we’ll be ready in the event that it does.
MS NAUERT: Nick from Bloomberg.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: — thanks very much. There were reports that when you met with Kim Jong-un you were looking out at a sunset, and he allegedly said, “Wouldn’t it be great if there were American hotels lining this scene?” Do you believe that he’s open to the idea of American investment in North Korea? And can you also give us your thoughts on what would explain the change in tone from North Korea? The President said he thought China had something to do with this.
SECRETARY POMPEO: You mean the tone this past week, as opposed to —
QUESTION: In the last week, correct.
SECRETARY POMPEO: — the trajectory. No, I’m not going to talk about that, speculate about that. We’re preparing. We’re continuing to do our work and lay the foundation for a successful meeting. I’m confident we’ll get there.
With respect to Chairman Kim, I haven’t spoken publicly about the conversations we’ve had. They were between he and I. But I do have a real sense that he would find American investment, American technology, American know-how of real value to his people, and it’s something that he and I had a chance to speak about generally. And I do think it’s something that, if we get this right and we get the denuclearization right, that America would be quite capable of delivering them with lots of things that would make life better for the North Korean people.
MS NAUERT: Rich Edson from Fox News.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hi, Rich.
QUESTION: The South Korean Government today put the chances at – we’re not talking specific numbers here, but they did put it at 99 percent.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I heard that. I heard they said 99.
QUESTION: Is there something that gave President Trump pause in direct conversations that this government has had with the North Koreans? And how would you describe, since you’ve left Pyongyang, what kind of communication the United States has had with the Government of North Korea?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I won’t characterize that. I don’t think there’s anything that’s given us pause. Chairman Kim asked for this meeting. President Trump agreed to undertake it. We worked to find a date and location. We got those set. And since then, we’re driving on.
It is clear we are working to make sure that there’s a common understanding about the contents of what will be discussed, but I’m optimistic. But again, it could – this could be something that comes right to the end and it doesn’t happen. As the President said, we’ll see. And I think that’s the place that we find ourselves.
MS NAUERT: Francesco from AFP.
QUESTION: Yes. So the President said —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. The President said that the summit might be delayed. Are you discussing now the – a possible new date or it being delayed with the North Koreans? And what are the issues that would prevent it to be on June 12th? Are – they’re logistical or on the things that you want to discuss with them?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re still working towards June 12th.
QUESTION: But you’re discussing this with them?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re working towards June 12th.
MS NAUERT: Conor Finnegan from ABC.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. If I could turn to Iran, in your speech yesterday, you talked about this unprecedented financial pressure that you want to bear on Iran. I think your critics, when they bring up the idea of a fantasy, they say that it’s because the Europeans won’t go along with you on these sanctions, and that therefore you can’t recreate this tremendous financial pressure. How do you – what do you say to those critics? How do you get the Europeans to go along, and then others like China or Russia, who continue to abide by the agreement?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s really straightforward. This is a global challenge. This is a global challenge. I mentioned in my remarks yesterday, right, Qods Force assassinations in European countries. This is a shared threat across the world. And I am confident that we can collectively develop a diplomatic response that achieves the simple outcomes that we put forward. We wouldn’t tolerate Iceland doing what the Iranians are doing.
QUESTION: Why —
SECRETARY POMPEO: We wouldn’t tolerate Chad doing what the – I mean, I could just pick a number. I’m sort of tripping through the alphabet, right? We wouldn’t tolerate another nation behaving with terrorist activity by putting proxy forces that threaten Americans in Iraq. Just the list is long. We wouldn’t tolerate that, right?
If somebody else created an equivalent of Hizballah, would we sit by? We wouldn’t. Neither would the Europeans. Neither will the other Arab countries. Russia and China don’t see that as a positive impact around the world either. So I am confident that there is a shed of – set of overlapping values and interests here that will drive us to the same conclusion about the need to respond to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s threats to the world.
QUESTION: I’m sure you saw some of the responses —
MS NAUERT: Conor, we have to move along.
MS NAUERT: Kylie, go ahead, from CBS News.
QUESTION: If we could just go back to the President’s comments today discussing China. And he was – he caused some alarm when he spoke about Xi’s second meeting with Kim Jong-un. Do you know any more about that meeting and why he is so hesitant to say that the Chinese were helpful in that meeting?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t have anything to add to what the President said there.
QUESTION: Okay. Are the Chinese helping push forward the U.S.-Kim Jong-un summit? Can you talk about their role?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The Chinese have offered historic assistance in the pressure campaign – literally historic assistance. President Trump has made clear and I’ve made clear too that it’s incredibly central that that pressure remain in place and that China continue to participate in that pressure campaign. And we have every reason to expect that they will continue to do so.
MS NAUERT: Carol Morello from The Washington Post.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hi.
MS NAUERT: And you’ve met Carol before.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Say, President Rouhani said yesterday that he questioned, who are you to tell another nation what to do in its foreign policy. So who are you to tell them what to do? What response do you have to him?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I didn’t see those remarks. The Iranian people get to choose. The Iranian people get to choose for themselves the kind of leadership they want, the kind of government that they want. They get to choose the individuals who lead their country and then they get to live with the choices that those leaders make. I wasn’t describing what Mr. Rouhani should do or what Mr. Zarif should do. I was only articulating what America intends to do.
MS NAUERT: And last question, Nike Ching from VOA.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. So my question is on the Iranian hostage. Yesterday you mentioned that the government is working very hard to bring the American hostage home. Could you please give us a update and elaborate what efforts are underway, given the frosty relations between the two? Thanks.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes. I suppose one might have two months ago described the relationship of the United States and the DPRK as frosty, and we returned three Americans. We almost always have our citizens detained by countries that aren’t friendly to us. We work to find mechanisms that deliver these important outcomes. I have talked to many family members, and I know how central that is. You can rest assured that not only is the State Department but the entire United States Government working diligently to bring each – I mentioned a handful of names yesterday; there are more around the world I didn’t identify in yesterday’s remarks. You should know we are working diligently along every avenue that we can develop to get these folks to return back home, back to their families.
Yeah, I’ll take one more, Heather. Yeah.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Michelle Kosinski from CNN.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks. I’m trying to make this worth our time. On Iran —
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’d be useful. That’d be good, yeah.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Since it’s our last question. The demands, or whatever you want to call them, that you laid out for Iran yesterday – it seems like there – partially because you’ve laid them all out and partially because of what they are, there’s not going to be much room for negotiation, if any, on any of those. Would you agree with that? And because of the way that was put out there, what makes you think that Iran is going to be willing to work with the U.S. on this? If it’s sanctions, wouldn’t that take a very long time at this point?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t know which of those demands – should we allow them to be terrorists? Is that one we should compromise on?
QUESTION: But that’s what I’m saying. There is no room for compromise —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Should we – how many missiles are they allowed to fire? I mean, I’m —
QUESTION: Right. So where is the room for negotiation?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The answer is we – the benchmark – the benchmark I set forward yesterday is a very low standard. It’s the standard behavior we expect from countries all around the world. There is – there aren’t a special set of rules that we set forward yesterday for Iran. We simply asked them to behave the way normal, non-belligerent nations behave. That’s it. It’s simple. We didn’t – there’s not a special category of people who are permitted to fire missiles into Riyadh. We just asked them to behave like a normal nation.
And so I have every reason to think that the Iranian people want that for their country as well. This is a rich country with a deep civilization and a wonderful history, and I’m convinced – I’m convinced that the people of Iran, when they can see a path forward which will lead their country to stop behaving in this way, will choose that path.
Thank you all. I look forward to seeing you down here.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Everybody have a good day.
QUESTION: See you again soon.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I can’t promise soon, but see you again. (Laughter.)
MS NAUERT: Thanks, sir.