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Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele At a Press Availability

Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
Casa Presedencial
San Salvador, El Salvador
July 21, 2019

PRESIDENT BUKELE: Muchos gracias. Thank you very much. I will say my remarks in English so I – so we make our guests feel more comfortable. You have translation? Oh yeah, that's right. Perfect.

So we had a – quite a good conversation with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He was with his team, with the commander of the Southern Command of the United States. Also we had our ambassador – well, the United States Ambassador to El Salvador, Jean Manes. Sorry to have said you're our ambassador like 30 times. We also had Kimberly Breier, which is the secretary for the Western Hemisphere, part of her – part of Secretary Pompeo's team. And I was really happy in that – about that conversation. We talk about ways – long sort of issues concerning counternarcotics, crime, immigration, our bilateral relationship with the United States, and I think it was a very, very fruitful conversation.

We had – I think we have now a new chapter in the relationship with the United States. El Salvador and the United States, as you know, before with the previous government was eroding the relationship with our most important ally. In the United States we have a huge chunk of our population. The majority of our exports go to the United States, the majority of our imports come from the United States; our economy is dollarized. We are so close to the United States. Really, our relationship with the United States is the most important one we have in the world, and before it was eroded by the previous administration, but right now I think it's quite clear that the new administration of El Salvador is willing to work 100 percent with the United States Government and with the United States people.

And we wanted to say that very clearly, for us, this is our most important relationship, and we want to work and we want to strengthen that relationship in all of the areas. We're – not only by creating a better economy, better exports, better imports, but fighting crime together. We talk about fighting the gangs together, we talk about interdicting narcotics together, we talk about reducing immigration together. So I think this was a very, very important meeting. I think that it's a game changer, and from now on we will have a – we'll work like this, because remember, Secretary Pompeo is the top U.S. diplomatic official. So – and our conversation was so good, so nice, and first of all, I really enjoyed it.

So I am very sure that the relationship will be better, will be strengthened, and we'll work together to fix our problems and to fix the common problems that the United States and we have, like fighting gangs. Remember, MS-13 is here, but it's also in the United States, and we'll fight them. Immigration is a problem that we have, but it's a problem that ends at the southern border of the United States, so we have to solve the immigration problem together. And the United States sees El Salvador as a partner and as an ally even though we're a very small country. But they see us as a partner, and they took the time to come. Remember, there was – this was a trip of only four countries out of the United States – Mexico, Argentina, Ecuador, and El Salvador. So we were – they took the time to come here. This is the first time in 10 years that a secretary of state has come to El Salvador.

So I really think that the United States has been clear and showed the signs that they want to work with us, and they have – find here partners that are willing and with open arms to work together to solve the problems that we together face. And, of course, they are also interested in the problems that we faced and trying to help us in those. So we're very thankful for the visit, we're very thankful for the conversation, we're very thankful for the things that we will start working together from starting right now, and we see a bright future in what we will be able to achieve. Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO: President Bukele, thank you so much. I want to thank you for taking the time – Foreign Minister Hill, great to see you. I'm delighted to be here. Thank you for giving so much time to me, especially that I know you're expecting your first child any day now. (Laughter.) Buena suerte.


SECRETARY POMPEO: Look forward to many sleepless nights, yes.

Look, President Bukele made very clear his commitment to be a great partner of the United States, and we've seen that in the first 50 days already, and we are deeply appreciative of that. We want tighter partnerships all throughout the Western Hemisphere. It's why we're redoubling American engagement in the region. A few months ago, I visited Chile and Peru, Colombia, Paraguay. I was in Buenos Aires yesterday. These strong relationships will build out democracies throughout this region, and that's good for all of us who live in the Western Hemisphere.

In the last fiscal year alone, operations launched from this location disrupted more than $4 billion worth of contraband. We should all be very happy about that. Just weeks ago on June 17th, we seized a vessel carrying 7,600 kilograms of cocaine, and I am confident that our good work together will allow this progress to continue, thanks in part to the agreement that we signed today, but more importantly thanks to all the good work that our two teams are doing together.

So too will the work more broadly against the – to combat the deadly gangs like MS-13, which has left a trail of death and destruction throughout El Salvador and spread violence throughout the United States, where it has a presence in over 40 of 50 American states. And since 2017, the State Department and the Government of El Salvador have shared information and collaborated to solve these kind of criminal and gang-related challenges. This impacts our shared security enormously, and each of our two countries and our citizens are better off for that.

The plague of gangs and drug traffickers in the region is a major contributing factor too to another of our shared security concerns, that of illegal immigration. Ending illegal immigration requires lots of hard work strengthening border security at the U.S. southern border and throughout Central America. The Trump administration is determined to achieve this. We are a champion of sovereign rights for every nation, but we've got to address the challenges that cause this migration. We want people to want to stay in their own countries. Gang violence and poverty are two amongst them, and we want to be a good partner to assist you in reducing these causes for this migration.

You're leading the way here in El Salvador, creating literally hundreds of thousands of jobs. The United States is proud to be a partner of choice in your effort to do this. What we call the Overseas Private Investment Corporation – it's a government entity – committed over $350 million for a liquefied natural gas facility and power plant here in El Salvador as part of the largest foreign investment in your country's history. It's a vote of confidence in your potential, and it happened because of fantastic leadership here in your country.

Eliminating corruption and combating impunity will pave a path for economic success too. When you have responsible democratic governments guided by the rule of law, people want to invest. They like free economies with the rule of law, where they can have confidence that if they do well and they do the right thing, that they can be successful and hire more people.

This risk to the region also exists in Venezuela today. It's important that when our shared values come under attack, likeminded democratic countries stand shoulder-to-shoulder in support of the oppressed. Foreign Minister Hill put El Salvador on the right side of history when she declared at the OAS General Assembly last month that El Salvador does not recognize the corrupt Maduro regime as the legitimate government of Venezuela.

This is all great news, great cooperation, and I am convinced this is just the beginning. El Salvador and its new leadership has made a clear choice to fight corruption, promote justice, and partner with the United States, and together both of our peoples will reap these benefits. Mr. President, I look forward to strengthening our relationship in the days and months and years ahead. Thank you, sir.

PRESIDENT BUKELE: Thank you. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: (In Spanish.)

QUESTION: (In Spanish.)

PRESIDENT BUKELE: Well, I think – I think it's very important that when we focus on a cause, we fight for what we can achieve to better that cause. So what we really – what do we really want to do in El Salvador? We want to get more free money? We want to get more blank checks? No. What we really want is to improve the conditions Salvadorans live here and abroad. So when the U.S. top diplomatic official comes, first we have to make our guests feel at home, not tell him, "Why are they not giving us more free money or handouts?"

Second, we have to acknowledge every penny the United States Government has is their money, not ours. We have our own money. We may be a poor country, but we have our own money, and they have their own money. Whatever aid or program the United States Government wants to do in El Salvador will be, of course, welcome, and they are doing many programs with us and collaborating with us in many of the things we wanted to achieve. But we cannot force them to give us free money.

So I don't think it would be quite – I don't know, it sounds tacky to have the top U.S. official and ask him for free money. What we said is that we want to work together with them in solving the problems that we both have. For example, they have gangs in the U.S. They have MS-13 over there, and we have MS-13 here, so of course, it's of common interest to fight MS-13 and the other gangs. And we will have and we already have the United States help in that, but of course, they might be able to increase that help because we're sharing a common interest and want to work together because we're partners, we're friends.

So we want to reduce migration. We want to – and like the Secretary said, we want to reduce migration also with the – and better the conditions here so that people don't have to migrate, so that people have a decent job, security, and they want – they will prefer to stay at their home with their families in their land, and not crossing three borders, desert, rivers, and look – go into a dangerous path to try to cross into a country with – that is not their country, is not their own country. For us, we want people to stay here. That should be our goal. And they like that goal, and they want to help us in that goal.

So I really think that, like I said – like I said before when some media company asked me, I said immigration – the problem starts with us because we are sending the migrants. People flee El Salvador because we do not have good-paying jobs, because we don't have security. So if you live in fear with no jobs, not being able to sustain your – feed your family, of course you may want to try to migrate to another country that you think you're going to get those things over there.

But our works as a government is to get our people to have those things here, to have security. That is why we're working so hard on security. That's why we're working so hard on getting jobs for our people. And we'll be receiving the help. He just mentioned a project that the United States Government is financing $350 million, but the project is a billion dollars. So – and that is the biggest investment, foreign investment, our country has had in our history, and that will create a lot of jobs and a lot of growth in the economy, and that's not the only project. We're looking in a wide set of projects, including towards and including investment from the U.S. companies.

I said something – I don't know if – may I say something I told you inside? (Laughter.) I said –

SECRETARY POMPEO: You're the president. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT BUKELE: I said to the Secretary – he told me – he told me, "What would you ask from us?" And I said, "I would rather ask for you to put on" – like he just said right here – "is a time to invest in El Salvador, is the time, El Salvador is in the right path." That will cause more benefit for our people because investment will come, because companies that might be doubtful of investing in El Salvador will say, "Hey, the United States Government is saying that it's – El Salvador is in the right path. The United States Government is saying that El Salvador is doing the right things."

So that might create billions of dollars of investment, and I rather prefer that than the U.S. Government sending us a check of a hundred million dollars. I mean, what can we do with a hundred million dollars? The United States have sent us in the last 20 or 30 years, they have sent us over $4 billion in aid, and what did we do with it? We're done with it. I mean, is the country better now?

So the problem is that rather to be looking for handouts, we should be looking for partnership. And I think that we had a long conversation and a very, very nice conversation, and I am sure that it's going to translate into results, and we're committed to translate that into results. So I think that will improve more the life of our people than getting some check with free money.

And also, it's tacky to ask for money when it's their money. But I'm sure that all the things we're going to do together in fighting crime, in fighting corruption, in strengthening our institutions, in countering narcotics, in reducing immigration with – by embettering the conditions of the people here, that's huge, and that's going to – of course, that's going to cost – that's – you have to use resources to do that.

But let's focus first on what we want to achieve, and then that will probably have a price tag, but I felt that the most important thing were – was to bind together our goals and what we want to achieve, and if we have a partner as big and as powerful and as important to us and to the world as the United States, of course, the end result will be great for us.

Thank you.

MS ORTAGUS: We'll have Cindy Spang from Voice of America.

QUESTION: Thank you. I was going to ask a tacky free money question, but I think I'll ask something else. (Laughter.)

First of all for President Bukele, it is clear that this issue of both countries want to stem the flow of migration and it's a regional issue with your other neighboring countries. Did you discuss the issue of safe third-country status and the whole – as a regional issue?

PRESIDENT BUKELE: No, no, we didn't discuss that exact issue. But we focused on – that's why I'm really happy about this meeting for several reasons. First because the meeting took place, right? That's very important. But not only that, also we – everything that we spoke in the whole meeting, the whole time we were on the same page, the whole time. And that says tons of what we can achieve, because in every topic we were on the same page. I think probably and also – subconsciously we didn't raise issues that will probably erode the conversation, because we are trying to seek a partnership and a friendship here, and we're trying to strengthen our ties with our ally.

So we focused more on what we can achieve together, and rather in things that might – we might not be 100 percent – 100 percent on the same page. So the whole meeting was things that were 100 percent on the same page, so I think, like I said before, if you focus on the results and what we can achieve, we want to reduce migration – both of us. We want to reduce migration. We want is people not to die in the deserts or being kidnapped for their – selling their organs or little girls being kidnapped to sell – being sold as sex slaves. I mean, we want to end this. And the United States is willing to help us to end this, and we want to counter narcotics, and the United States is willing to help us, and the United States wants us to combat narcotics, and we are willing to help them in that. We want to combat illegal smuggling of people and contraband, and we're working that together. We want to embetter the conditions here so people don't have to flee their homes and their country because they are afraid the gangs will kill them or because they cannot find a job. We both want to promote investment in El Salvador and creating jobs and economic growth.

So there is so much things we think 100 percent alike that I think probably subconsciously we tried to keep the meeting in trying to focus on those things. And at the end of the time – I mean, I'm not here to posture. I mean, I'm not here to – like some people have asked me, "Why do you posture in that, and this and that?" I say, "Look, I don't – if you want to posture, fine," I said to those people – to those people. I really don't want to posture. I really want to do the best for my people, and Secretary Pompeo wants to do the best for his people. And if we can put those interests – align and put those interests together, we can achieve a couple of things, several of things, and in this case many things. That's a huge – it's a huge success. And why don't we just keep the success and be happy that we would achieve a lot of things for our people and will embetter all of the conditions that create all those problems in the first place.

QUESTION: Thank you. And Mr. Secretary, as you know, the 45-day deadline for a decision on tariffs for Mexico is Monday. Has Mexico done enough to take that issue off the table? And one quick follow-up, if I could, on Iran. Another deadline is approaching to renew a 90-day waiver on Iran's civilian nuclear program. What are your thoughts on whether this should be renewed at this time in light of the recent activity from Iran? Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO: So I'm going to take the question you didn't ask first. I just want to add to what President Bukele said. This is a country that can be a model on immigration, that we can really get it right, and we can get it right in multiple dimensions. We'll do enforcement. We'll do criminal gang activity. We'll invite private American investment to come down here and be part of the fiber of El Salvador. The people of El Salvador made an important decision when they changed the nature of the government. It's now a government that wants to work alongside the United States and shares our objective. It's why I wanted to travel here today to thank the people of El Salvador for having headed in the right direction. And now it requires hard work by the leadership team here and hard work by our team to make sure we stay the course and get this right. When we do that, I am confident that we can deliver the American objective, which is protecting our southern border and having sovereignty for our country along that southern border.

Look, I spoke to Foreign Minister Ebrard just before I came here. We talked about the progress we've made on migration with them too. It's been good. We're now day 44, day 45. They've made real progress. Importantly, they've made a real commitment towards that progress. So the numbers are good. You can see the data. It's public data. There are fewer apprehensions taking place today along our southern border, but we've got a long way to go yet. There is still much more work to do.

I wanted to talk today about the tools that we have available and how we can achieve getting to a place where each of our two countries understands the requirements and we can get to the right place. As for the next set of actions, I'll talk with the President and the teams back in Washington, and we'll decide exactly which tools and exactly how to proceed so that we can get to the shared mutual goal between President Obrador and President Trump, which is reducing the illegal migrant flow across our southern border. They have made real progress in ways that they were not prepared to do or weren't capable of doing before, and we're very pleased at the commitment they have made since June 7th since we signed that agreement.

And I appreciate the question on waivers with respect to Iran. I never get out in front of sanctions or sanctions decisions before we're prepared to make the announcement. We're just a few days away from that 90-day time limit, and I'm confident that on day 90 you'll know the answer.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: (In Spanish.)

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