US Department of State News: Remarks to Traveling Press on Plane

WASHINGTON (STL.News) – The US Department of State released the following transcript:

SECRETARY POMPEO: Have we got everybody?  Good, hello.

QUESTION: Hi, Secretary.  It’s good to be on travel with you.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Nice to see you too.

QUESTION: Yes.

SECRETARY POMPEO: How are you?  Good to see you.  Welcome, everyone. Matt, how are you?  Good?

So, by the way, Senator Murkowski is here on the trip, joining us on the trip.  So she thought she’d come back and watch this little gathering.  I thought I’d start off with three things and then I’m happy to take a few questions.

First, we wanted to express our condolences for those that perished in the fire in the airplane that landed in Moscow.  It sounds – it looks like there were several dozen, and we want to make sure that the Russians know too we’ll do all that we can to help them, provide any assistance we can, and express our condolences for the loss of life that took place there at Sheremetyevo Airport.

Second, I’m really looking forward to our first stop.  It’s my first opportunity to be in an Arctic Council meeting.  Lots of important issues to discuss there.  The security to make sure that this remains a peaceful place is incredibly important, and the United States has very significant interests there, as you can see from Senator Murkowski.  She knows this issue well.  She’s dealt with this a long time.  And America’s committed to committing to make sure that we have rule of law and we can keep a peaceful situation in the Arctic region.

And then finally, you all would have seen the statement that came out from the White House just within the last half hour, something we’ve been working on for a little while.  It is absolutely the case that we’ve seen escalatory action from the Iranians, and it is equally the case that we will hold the Iranians accountable for attacks on American interests, and the fact that that – those actions take place, if they do, by some third-party proxy, whether that’s a Shia militia group or the Houthis or Hizballah, we will hold the Iranians – Iranian leadership directly accountable for that.

With that, I’m happy to take questions.

QUESTION: Can you be just a little bit – well, can you be any bit more explicit about what escalatory actions you’re talking about?  I mean —

SECRETARY POMPEO: No, I can’t.

QUESTION: Is it something that we – that we would have seen but might not have interpreted as an escalatory action?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t want to – I don’t want to talk about what underlays it, but make no mistake.  We have good reason to want to communicate clearly about how the Iranians should understand how we will respond to actions that they may take.

QUESTION: And this action is separate from the situation with Gaza?  That’s not what it is?

SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s correct.  It is separate from that, Matt.

QUESTION: How long is the carrier expected to be out there, and when will it arrive, when abouts?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll leave the details of the carrier’s travels to Department of Defense.

QUESTION: Okay.

SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m sure they’ll be willing to provide that information.

QUESTION: Okay. What determines how long it will be out there in the gulf?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Again, I’ll just – I don’t want to talk about military operations.  I’ll let the Secretary of Defense communicate that.

QUESTION: On the Finland stop – sorry – you’re planning to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and I know he met his Venezuelan counterpart from the Maduro regime.  What is – what do you make of this?  Are they sort of coordinating?  Is that your sense of this?  Or —

SECRETARY POMPEO: So, look, I’m looking at the whole trip.  You talked about the meeting with Lavrov, but I’ll also be meeting with German officials and with Prime Minister May as well.  All of those are important conversations.

With respect to Lavrov’s conversation, look, he actually didn’t meet with a Venezuelan official.  He met with someone who’s connected to Maduro, who is the renegade, who is not the leader of Venezuela.  So I’m not exactly sure who it was he met with in terms of his connection to the Venezuelan Government, legitimately elected by the Venezuelan people.  I’ll speak with Lavrov, I’m sure I’ll hear from him what the Venezuelan person told him, and we’ll have a conversation about trying to make sure the Venezuelan people ultimately get the democracy they deserve.  That’s our mission set.  We’ve talked clearly about the fact that that means all of the parties that are in the region must leave.  That’s also what the Venezuelan people want and what the OAS, the Lima Group, and the United States stand ready to assist with.

MS MARTIN: We have time for two more questions and then we’ll —

QUESTION: So has the U.S. communicated to the Iranians in any way this message other than the move today, either directly or through another party?

SECRETARY POMPEO: The Iranians understand exactly what our view is of the threats that they’re posing to U.S. interests around the world.  I can’t say anything more than that.

MS ORTAGUS: Katie?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, if you could just talk a little bit more about where we are in Venezuela.

SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m having trouble hearing you.  Yes.

MS ORTAGUS: Where we are in Venezuela, and what your message is to Mr. Lavrov on Russian meddling in the country?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, Maduro has to see that this is falling apart on him.  I said earlier today that he still rules, but there’s no way he can govern; the situation on the ground continues to get worse for the Venezuelan people.  This week while Maduro managed to maintain control of the military in some regards, there were many military who left, a senior intelligence officer departed, a very senior official who’d been closely connected to Maduro as well as his predecessor.  He has to see how tenuous this is.  He was, in fact, prepared to leave and then ultimately chose not to.  He understands that time is limited and I think he’s searching for as much leverage as he can get before he ultimately makes his departure.  I don’t know if that’ll be next week or a month from now, but they – the Venezuelan people can see conditions continue to deteriorate and that means he can’t maintain his presence there.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Great, thank you all.

QUESTION: Happy Cinco de Mayo.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Happy Cinco de Mayo to you as well. (Laughter.) Everybody enjoy it.

QUESTION: Well, it’s almost over.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Everybody enjoy Santa Claus town. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: The Santa Claus hotel, apparently?

QUESTION: This is going to be —

SECRETARY POMPEO: You can’t beat that.

QUESTION: They say you haven’t been there before.  Have you?

SECRETARY POMPEO: No, I haven’t. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I haven’t either.

SECRETARY POMPEO: All right.

QUESTION: I’m very excited to stay at the Santa Claus hotel.

SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m really excited.  This is an important meeting.  It really is.  This will be a place that really matters for the United States as we move forward, and I’m thrilled that my schedule permitted me to be here.  We worked and moved heaven and Earth to allow it to happen, and I’m glad Senator Murkowski is going to be there alongside me.

QUESTION: You mentioned this morning on one of the – on one of the shows that the debate that some of you heard about was mainly over whether to acknowledge, mention the Paris accord in the statement. If it is the case – and I know that you’ll say it is – that the U.S. is already doing its part to reduce greenhouse emissions above and beyond what was in the Paris climate —

SECRETARY POMPEO: You’re —

QUESTION: Do you think that —

SECRETARY POMPEO: You’re speaking truth. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, no, no.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Keep going.

QUESTION: No, I’m saying if – if it is that.

SECRETARY POMPEO: I got it.

QUESTION: If it is the case. (Inaudible.) I don’t know, but if it is, how do you make the case to the other people who are there at the table wanting to include the reference to Paris?  That, in fact, it’s actions rather than a piece of paper that – how do you do that and get it to sink in and get them to actually do something?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. No, Matt, your point’s well taken.  This was the central conundrum of the Paris agreements.  There were no triggers.  There were no penalties.  There were no incentives.  There was literally flowery talk.  And you can see now, the Paris agreement is how many years old?  Three years old, four years old?  Right?  You can see its ineffectiveness.  We’re focused on the outcome.  Right?  So we – so we want to make sure that we’re doing things that keep drinking water clean and the air pure.  Those are the things that matter, real actions, and that’s the argument we will continue to make.  And you can actually see that America uses technology, the private sector, to drive these improved outcomes, these healthier conditions for the people in its own country.  We want them to do the same thing and we’re just going to continue to make the case.  And, look, they can choose to have more meetings and sign more agreements, but their citizens won’t live better lives, healthier lives.  You’ve got to take action.  If you live in a government-controlled state, that’ll mean mandates that aren’t fulfilled, with corruption.  If you drive it through the private sector, technology, you’ll see good outcomes.  Right, Israel figures out how to cheaply desalinate water.  It’s no mistake that this happens in a democracy, in a free-market system.

Those are the mechanisms that drive better health conditions broadly, and that includes the very health conditions that the Paris climate agreement purported to improve.  Rather, it just drove cost with no way to actually get those outcomes that I think we all share with each of these countries.  That’s what we’ll talk about.

MS ORTAGUS: Time for meatballs.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO: All right.  Thank you all.  Have a good night, get some sleep.