Secretary Michael R. Pompeo At a Press Availability
Remarks to the Press
Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
Press Briefing Room
July 15, 2020
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning, everyone. I want to start by marking – yeah, good morning. Good to see some new – James, great to see you back.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Welcome. I want to start by marking two anniversaries. First, on July 11th, the United States and Vietnam celebrated the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries. Quite an achievement.
And second, this week marks the anniversaries of two terrorist attacks by Iran-backed Hizballah: the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the 2012 suicide bomb targeting Israeli tourists in Bulgaria.
We continue to exert maximum pressure on Tehran and call on all responsible nations to join us in that.
Now, to the events of the day.
Yesterday President Trump signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act and announced a series of actions through a presidential executive order.
As he said in May, if China treats Hong Kong as one country and a single system, so must we.
General Secretary Xi Jinping made a choice to violate the Chinese Communist Party's promises to Hong Kong in – that were made in a UN-registered treaty. He didn't have to do that; he made that choice.
We have to deal with China as it is, not as we wish it to be.
Other nations are arriving at the same conclusion. Australia and Canada have suspended their extradition treaties with the territory.
I leave on Monday for a quick trip to the United Kingdom and to Denmark, and I'm sure that the Chinese Communist Party and its threat to free peoples around the world will be high on top of that agenda.
We'll certainly take time to discuss the UK's commendable decision to ban Huawei gear from its 5G networks and phase out the equipment from its existing networks. The UK joins the United States and now many other democracies in becoming "Clean Countries" – nations free of untrusted 5G vendors. In the same way, many major telecom companies like Telefonica, Telco Italia, and NTT have become "Clean Carriers."
After my London stop, I'm equally excited to meet with my counterparts from the Kingdom of Denmark. It'll be a wonderful trip.
And the United States has a Huawei announcement of our own today.
The State Department will impose visa restrictions on certain employees of the Chinese – of Chinese technology companies like Huawei that provide material support to regimes engaging in human rights violations and abuses globally.
Last note on China: On Monday, for the first time, we made our policy on the South China Sea crystal clear. It's not China's maritime empire. If Beijing violates the international law and free nations do nothing, then history shows that the CCP will simply take more territory. That happened in the last administration.
Our statement gives significant support to ASEAN leaders who have declared that the South China Sea disputes must be resolved through international law, not "might makes right."
What the CCP does to the Chinese people is bad enough, but the free world shouldn't tolerate Beijing's abuses as well.
Moving on. Today the Department of State is updating the public guidance for CAATSA authorities to include Nord Stream 2 and the second line of TurkStream 2.
This action puts investments or other activities that are related to these Russian energy export pipelines at risk of U.S. sanctions. It's a clear warning to companies aiding and abetting Russia's malign influence projects will not be tolerated. Get out now, or risk the consequences.
Let me be clear: These aren't commercial projects.
They are Kremlin's key tools to exploit and expand European dependence on Russian energy supplies, tools that undermine Ukraine by cutting off gas transiting that critical democracy, a tool that ultimately undermines transatlantic security.
The United States is always ready to help our European friends meet their energy needs. Today I have with me Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Energy Resources Frank Fannon, who will take questions here when I'm complete with respect to this action.
A second Russia-related matter: I want to express the United States' deep sadness at the reported killing yesterday of a Ukrainian military medic.
We join the people of Ukraine in condemning the ongoing, brutal aggression of Russia-led forces in the Donbas and pay tribute to Ukrainians killed and wounded fighting for their democracy.
The United States and Kenya launched the first round of negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement on July 8th. Our vision is to conclude a comprehensive, very high-standard agreement with Kenya that can serve as a model for the entire continent.
In the Caucasus region, the United States is deeply concerned about the recent deadly violence along the Armenia-Azerbaijan international border. We offer our condolences to all of the victims. We urge the sides to de-escalate immediately and re-establish a meaningful dialogue and a ceasefire to resume substantive negotiations with the Minsk Group as co-chairs.
A little closer to home. Today, I'm announcing visa restrictions on individuals responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Guyana. Immediate family members of such persons may also be subject to restrictions. The Granger government must respect the results of democratic elections and step aside.
A few weeks back, I think right here, I called out the Pan-American Health Organization for failing to disclose details of the Mais Medicos program that used Cuba's slave trade in doctors to rake in more than $1 billion. Today I welcome that organization – PAHO's decision to initiate an independent review.
Regarding Venezuela, the UN has found yet more harrowing evidence of gross human rights violations by the illegitimate Maduro regime, citing more than 1,300 extrajudicial executions for political reasons in 2020 alone. International pressure on Maduro must continue until the Venezuelan people can reclaim their democracy.
A final item on the Western Hemisphere this morning: The United States officially assumed the chair of the Summit of Americas process on Friday of this week past. We're looking forward to hosting the ninth Summit of Americas in 2021.
Since I last spoke to you, the department has notified Congress of almost $25 billion more in potential foreign military sales, including a proposed sale to Japan of 105 F-35 Lightning fighter jets valued at up to $23 billion. It's the second-largest sale – single sale notification in U.S. history. This sale and others accompanying it continue to demonstrate the robust global demand for American defense partnerships.
We're helping the world in other ways too. Today we're providing an additional $208 million to the most vulnerable nations to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing our total now to more than $1.5 billion since the outbreak began. Pretty remarkable charity from the United States people.
But no American export, no amount of money is as important as our principles. Tomorrow I'll be at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. I'll present the public report of the State Department's Commission on Unalienable Rights.
As I explained at the Claremont Institute last year and again at Kansas State University during the Landon Lecture, this administration grounds our practice of foreign policy in America's founding principles. There is nothing more fundamental to who we are than our reverence for unalienable rights, the basic God-given rights that every human being possesses.
Whether defending the American people from threats, supporting international religious freedom, or encouraging countries to secure property rights by upholding the rule of law, America defends rights and does good in the world. And tomorrow you get to hear some of my thoughts on the commission's fine recommendations that are encompassed in the report that they've been working on now so diligently and for so long.
Happy to take a handful of questions.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay, we're going to attempt to give Matt Lee the first question from AP. Matt, go ahead. Are you on the line?
QUESTION: Hello. Can you hear me?
MS ORTAGUS: We can hear you. Voice of (inaudible).
QUESTION: Aha, well, good morning and greetings from my basement. Mr. Secretary, it's been a long time. I'm sure you've missed me as much as I've missed you.
Can I ask (inaudible) things really quickly? One, on the Nord Stream and TurkStream sanctions, you're saying, if I get this correctly, that any company that is involved in this, even those who had been previously grandfathered in with sanctions exemptions, are now subject to those sanctions. Is that correct, number one?
And then secondly, on Iran, you guys had talked about the idea of bringing the arms embargo extension resolution to the Security Council as early as this week, and that doesn't look like it's happening now. And I'm just wondering, are you hoping to staunch some of the opposition that you're seeing to the resolution from the Europeans and others with a little bit more time for diplomacy? Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Matt. It's good to hear your voice. On the first one, so what State Department's action today is is we're going to revise the guidance, and you'll see that. I'll let Frank Fannon talk to you about the details of its implementation and its execution. But make – I think we should be very clear: Our expectation is that those who participate in the continued project will be subject to review for potential consequences related to that activity.
As for Iran and timing, you suggested that we've delayed because of opposition. In fact, virtually everyone agrees that the arms embargo should be extended. Our European counterparts too are very concerned about what will happen if the arms embargo itself expires on October 18th of this year. And so there's enormous consensus around the objective. How to achieve that objective, there's different views on. We've made clear to – both publicly and in private to all the members of the Security Council – we intend to ensure that this arms embargo continues. We hope that this can be done by a UN Security Council resolution that all of the permanent members sign up for, and indeed every member of the larger UN Security Council.
But in the event that that's not the case, we are still going to do everything in our power to achieve that, and we think we'll be successful ultimately in doing that. The precise timing of that, we're going to keep to ourselves until such time as we're ready to move to the UN Security Council and introduce the resolution. We're not that far away from doing that, Matt.
MS ORTAGUS: James, go ahead.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, two questions, if I may, on China.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Yesterday in his lengthy remarks, President Trump indicated that it's been quite some time since he last spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping. This suggests that there is effectively no engagement between our two countries at top levels. It seems that just about every day, or several times a week, one or the both of you announce some incremental new measure aimed at punishing the Chinese regime, but I don't think as you stand there right now that you can tell us that over the several months this has been going on without this form of engagement that there's been any discernable change in China's conduct. So are you essentially tilting at windmills with these various incremental steps? And then I have a follow up.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Why don't you ask your second one and I'll take them both, James?
QUESTION: If you don't mind, I'd prefer to ask it – they're very separate.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I do mind. If you'll ask the second one, I'll get to it.
QUESTION: In our interview a little over a year ago, Mr. Secretary, I asked you if you considered Iran to be an evil regime, and you said quite simply, "Yes." I'm wondering if, as a member of the Trump administration, as a seasoned student of and practitioner of international relations, or simply as a devout Christian, you regard China as an evil regime.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So let me take the first one. You began by saying that, as the President said yesterday, he hasn't talked to Xi Jinping in quite some time. I think the call was in March, if I remember correctly, but I'll defer to the White House on the last time they've spoken. But there has been high-level conversation. I traveled to Hawaii – now, it seems like a little while ago, but it was just a few weeks back where I met with Yang Jiechi. We continue to have a dialogue and conversations at every level within the State Department. It's happening in other agencies across the U.S. Government too, so there's a significant amount of conversation between the two countries.
What's important, James, is that conversation has changed. That conversation is different than we've had, frankly, for decades between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party. It is no – and I think the – I think Chinese leadership understand it is no longer the case that it's going to be acceptable that the United States is simply going to allow the important commercial relationships that we have between our two countries to put the American people at risk, and that's what had happened.
This isn't political. This is multiple administrations across both of the major political parties, where for an awful long time our policy simply reflected allowing China to engage in behavior that was radically un-reciprocal, enormously unfair to the American people, and frankly, put America's national security at risk. And so we have begun to turn that around. There is still real work that needs to be done, but you can see in each of the policies that the administration's undertaken in the last two and a half years a marked reversal.
In terms of Chinese behavior, how have they responded? You've seen the language that they use. You can see that we're having a real impact and we will continue to do the things we need to do to make sure that the American people are safe and secure and that we have a set of fair and reciprocal relationships. That's the end state desire. We want good things for the people of China. We have a Chinese Communist Party that is putting freedom and democracy at risk by their expansionist, imperialist, authoritarian behavior. That's the behavior that we're trying to see changed.
We've still got work to do. This is a regime that failed to disclose information they had about a virus that's now killed over 100,000 Americans, hundreds of thousands across the world, cost the global economy trillions and trillions of dollars, and now is allowing the World Health Organization to go in to conduct what I am confident will be a completely, completely whitewashed investigation. I – the reason – I hope I'm wrong. I hope it's a thorough investigation that gets fully to the bottom of it. I've watched the Chinese Communist Party's behavior with respect to the virus that emanated from Wuhan, and they have simply refused. They have destroyed samples; they've taken journalists and doctors who were prepared to talk about this and not permitted them to do what nations that want to play on a truly global scale and global stage ought to do: be transparent and open and communicate and cooperate.
And the Chinese use that word – the Chinese Communist Party talks about win-win and cooperation. Cooperation isn't about nice language or summits, or meetings between foreign ministers. It's about actions. And that's the expectation that we are setting for the Chinese Communist Party. We need to see fair, reciprocal responses. We're hopeful that they'll complete their requirements under the Phase One trade deal and we're hopeful that we'll see changes in their behavior across the entire spectrum where they have unfairly treated America for far too long.
Your second question was about China and how we use language. I'll leave – I'll leave my comments about China precisely where I just left them, and previous –
QUESTION: It's a simple question. Are they –
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah.
QUESTION: – an evil regime?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I appreciate your question. I'm going to leave my comments for today precisely where it is. I will tell you, the things that are happening on a human rights scale, I've described it as the stain of the century. I stand by those remarks.
MS ORTAGUS: Nike, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Morgan. Good morning, Mr. Secretary. How are you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I'm good, Nike. How are you today?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good.
QUESTION: Two questions, if I may. The first one is on China and Iran. The second one is on China and Taiwan. I would like to – what is your assessment of the prospective trade and military partnership between Iran and China, and how would you respond to criticism that the U.S. sanctions have further strengthened the alliance between the two countries?
And separately, if I may, on Taiwan and China. What is – what is your comment on China's threats to impose sanctions on American company Lockheed Martin over U.S. arms sale to Taiwan? What is the calculation of the State Department when it approved the arms sale to Taiwan? And should U.S. companies be punished when the U.S. Government is implementing the Taiwan Relations Act? Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. So your second question is easy – no, of course not. We had an American company conducting business that was consistent with American foreign policy, the policy of the arms sales that we made to Taiwan. I regret that the Chinese Communist Party chose to make that threat against Lockheed Martin. It's not the first time they've chosen to do that to an American contractor who was working on a program that was between the United States and Taiwan, so I regret that. I hope they'll reconsider that and not follow through on the remarks that were made yesterday or the day before when they made them.
Your first question was about Iran and China. I mean, we all, a little history is in order, right? Think about a long time ago – Persia. And the relationship, this is not brand-new. But I think what you saw in the reporting there, and something we've been following, is evidence of a couple simple things. First, the need to extend the arms embargo, right? Now we have a reporting that suggests that not only when the arms embargo will expire does the Secretary of State of the United States believe that China will sell weapons systems to Iran, but the Iranians believe that China will sell systems to Iran. And indeed, they have been working on it, waiting for this day, waiting for midnight on October 18th for this arms embargo to expire. I think Europeans should stare at that and realize that the risk of this is real and that the work between Iran and the Chinese Communist Party may well commence rapidly and robustly on October 19th if we're not successful at extending the UN arms embargo.
As for the larger picture, we have a set of sanctions related to any company or country that engages in activity with Iran. The sanctions are clear. We have been unambiguous about enforcing them against our companies from allies, countries from all across the world. We would certainly do that with respect to activity between Iran and China as well.
MS ORTAGUS: Sarah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. Secretary. Two questions, if I may. First, on –
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, that seems to be the rule today, so yes.
QUESTION: Yeah. (Laughter.)
From Channel 4 News in the UK. You know you've – I know you've commended the U.K.'s decision on Huawei. The decision is very much based on U.S. sanctions and the policy may change if the U.S. sanctions change. Is there any idea for a review on those sanctions?
And secondly, with the coronavirus, of course there's been restrictions on visas for UK citizens entering the U.S. Both governments pride themselves on a very special relationship. Is there any notice that those restrictions being relieved at all?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I hope so. We are working closely not only with the United Kingdom but with countries all across the Schengen zone and across Europe more broadly, and indeed, countries in Asia as well, to do our best to get the science and health right, to get international travel back open. It's a complicated process. Each country has got a set of different conditions, as you can see in many countries. Even regionally they have different conditions on the ground. We're trying to get that right and we certainly hope that we can get this going with the United Kingdom just as quickly as possible. I had an update – I think it was two days ago now. We're getting closer to a common set of understandings about how we'll do that, not only that we'll do it but the procedures that we would use so that we could execute that safely.
Your first question about the British decision with respect to Huawei yesterday. We were happy about it. Faster is always better to get this equipment out of their system. It's a security risk. This isn't about commercial interests, this is about protecting the information – in this case, of the United Kingdom's people. You suggested they did this because of U.S. sanctions. I don't actually think that's true. I actually think they did this because their security teams came to the same conclusion that ours have, is that you can't protect this information. This information that transits across these untrusted networks that are of Chinese origin will almost certainly end up in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party. And so I think they did this for the right reasons. I think they did this to protect and preserve and secure the freedoms of the people of the United Kingdom, and I'm confident they'll continue in that policy.
I think Prime Minister Johnson got the complete right end of the stick on this one. I'm pleased to see that and I'm pleased to see this is happening all across the world. The tide is turning. I remember questions from you all a year and a half ago that said, oh my goodness, it's just the United States. I think – I think the work that's been done and the work that we've enabled to be done all across the world is now making clear to everyone, and that it is a real security risk. Now every nation is simply asking the question: how do you do it? What are the commercial impacts? How quickly can you move in that direction? And how do we ensure that we have available cost-effective solutions that don't subject our people to the risk that comes from having this infrastructure inside of the countries? I think in fact the tide has turned there and you'll see this continue in countries all across the world.
And you see the world's biggest telecom providers sharing this same concern. I listed a few today; I listed a few the last time I was up here, or maybe it was the time before. You're seeing private telco providers understand the risk that their companies bear from putting these untrusted vendors in their networks as well.
MS ORTAGUS: Michel, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I have two questions too. You were disappointed by Turkey's – Turkish decision to turn Hagia Sophia back into a mosque. Are you considering any sanctions on Turkey?
And on Lebanon, news reports say that Hizballah and the government are waiting for the U.S. presidential election's outcome to decide what to do. Do you have any advice for them?
SECRETARY POMPEO: (Laughter.) So with respect to the Hagia Sophia, we were disappointed. We regret the decision that the Turkish Government made. I don't have anything else to add to that.
As for Lebanon – I just don't have anything else to add this morning. As for Lebanon, the Lebanese people have a simple set of demands. It's really very straightforward. They don't want corruption. They want a government that's responsive to the people. They want a government that is not subject to influence from the designated terrorist group Hizballah. They want what people all across the world want. That's what they're in the streets marching and asking for. They want basic economic activity restored. They want taxes to be collected in a fair way. These are the things that the people of Lebanon are demanding. They should continue to demand them.
And when a government shows up that will do that well and do that right, I am very confident that countries from all across the world and the IMF will show up to provide them with the financing they need to execute a reform plan that is worthy of the people of Lebanon. And I think that'll happen whether in this administration or the next one. I think the United States position here has been pretty clear and is bipartisan.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Nirmal, go ahead. Yes.
QUESTION: Thanks, Morgan. Mr. Secretary –
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: – just one question. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: With two parts, right?
QUESTION: No, and what should we infer from your statement on the South China Sea? I mean, the fait accompli that China has created in the South China Sea, they remain in place; they remain a fait accompli. The fishing fleet, the maritime militia, they continue to operate in waters considered disputed. What are your expectations? What should we infer are your expectations of China following this strengthened U.S. position?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. So after extensive legal review, the State Department for the first time made clear what we believe the law reflects. This is how the United States operates all across the world. And so we set down very clearly the markers that says these are the – these are the legal requirements. So we will then go use the tools that we have available, and we will support countries all across the world who recognize that China has violated their legal territorial claims as well – or maritime claims as well, and we'll go provide them the assistance we can, whether that's in multilateral bodies, whether that's in ASEAN, whether that's through legal responses. We use all the tools we can.
You used the term "fait accompli." I think things have shifted dramatically in the region. I think you're seeing countries all throughout Asia, and indeed in Southeast Asia and in the Pacific, recognizing that the United States is prepared to do the things necessary to assist them in protecting their valid legal claims.
So I think it was really important. The statement we made on Monday, I think, was very, very important in not only demarcating the United States position, but making clear that we'll support other nations of the region that do a similar thing with respect to protecting their capacity to preserve the maritime boundaries that their people are entitled to.
And I've got time for one more.
MS ORTAGUS: Ebony, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, I have two questions if you'll indulge me.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: You spoke earlier about how much the U.S. relationship with China has changed over the last few decades. I'm wondering if you consider India an increasingly important trade and military partner, and if those conversations are happening at a higher level.
And secondly, I would like to know if there's been any development in the negotiations with European officials on the travel ban, and as our cases continue to spike, if it's possible that the region will remain off limits to U.S. travelers for the rest of the year.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. I'll leave to the White House task force the details, but yeah, we've been working with the Europeans. Everyone's trying to get it right. We're just trying to do the analysis. We know this: We know there is a way to safely travel to make sure people come here. They – we don't create risk for them when Americans travel to their country and they don't create increased risk when they travel here. We know there's a way to achieve that and we're going to do it, and we're going to do it as quickly as possible.
Your first question was about India, and you started with the predicate of our relationship with China has changed. I think it's worth noting the reason for that change is the Chinese Communist Party's behavior. That's important. I listen to some of the narrative that flows out of China, some of the disinformation, and we – people use language like "tit for tat." This is – these aren't tit-for-tat exchanges. This is America standing up for its own people, and the world now coming to understand the threat that the Chinese Communist Party – so to the extent there's been a change in relationship, it is a direct result of the behavior of the Chinese Communist Party. And so when that stops, we'll do that.
India has been a great partner. I'm going to speak to the U.S.-India Business Council here in a couple of hours, I think, or maybe it's this afternoon now. They are an important partner of ours. We – I have a great relationship with my foreign minister counterpart. We talk frequently about a broad range of issues. We talked about the conflict they had along their border with China. We've talked about the risk that emanates to China from Chinese telecommunications infrastructure there. You saw the decision they made to ban some several dozen Chinese software firms from operating inside of their country or on the phones of people operating inside of India. I think the whole world is coalescing around the challenge that we face and the democracies, the free nations of the world, will push back on these challenges together. I'm very confident of that.
Thanks, everybody. Thanks for joining me today.
MS ORTAGUS: Frank, go ahead.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Frank's going to answer some questions for you on the revised language to our CAATSA guidance. Thanks, everybody.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FANNON: Good morning. Thank you to Secretary Pompeo for his leadership on this important issue. I'm also joined by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Russia Chris Robinson, who is available to answer any questions about Russia in the context of the Secretary's announcement.
As the Secretary indicated, the Department of State is taking new action against Russia, against the Kremlin, to demonstrate our continuing opposition to its Nord Stream 2 pipeline and others like it.
The United States has been clear in its support for the rights of our European allies and partners to have reliable choices for energy, choices that are not conditioned on political and military pressure from the Kremlin. We've been hard at work assisting and promoting more energy options for Europe. These options include successes in Belarus, Croatia, and Lithuania, among many others.
In contrast, the Kremlin has continued to push Nord Stream 2 in its effort to exploit and expand European dependence on Russian energy. Ukraine's energy infrastructure serves as a deterrent to Russian aggression, yet the Kremlin now seeks to undermine Ukraine by making that infrastructure obsolete. The action Secretary Pompeo announced today is intended to counter Russian malign influence. Our action sends a clear signal about this administration's determination to use the tools we have. We aim to support transatlantic energy security goals.
The administration's deep and longstanding concerns are shared by a strong bipartisan majority in Congress. That includes concerns about Nord Stream 2 and the second line of TurkStream, another Kremlin-backed pipeline project in Southern Europe.
The Department of State is issuing updated public guidance for section 232 of CAATSA, the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, in order to expand implementation of the act. This includes investments or other activities related to a broader scope of Russian energy export pipelines for Nord Stream 2 as well as the second line of TurkStream.
We know Russia's Gazprom is attempting to protect its decades-long near-monopoly for supplying gas to Europe. Today's update to CAATSA goes a long way to buttress our overall diplomatic approach. We're working with our European allies and partners on projects to diversify rather than limit their options. Our ultimate goal is to enhance transatlantic energy security by way of expanded energy suppliers, routes, and types of fuel, including investments in renewables and nuclear energy.
Thank you, and with that, I'm happy to take a few questions.
MS ORTAGUS: Let's try the phone line again. Want to test it out. Do we have Will Mauldin from The Wall Street Journal? Will? No? Okay. What about Lara Jakes, New York Times? Our phone line died? Yeah, I called them both. Not working.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Nick, go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. It's good to see you. On the Nord Stream sanctions, you just mentioned that you want to give European allies more choice for energy security, but it sounds a little like if they make the wrong choice – in other words, continue with Nord Stream 2 – that you're going to threaten sanctions against them. That doesn't seem like much of a choice.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FANNON: Well, in terms of the choices, we've been hard at work at helping the diversification efforts in Europe. Just – the Secretary spoke to a few of these, referenced some of these. I mean, Belarus, for example, has expanded its suppliers of crude oil beyond Russia; Lithuania has an LNG import vessel that brings gas from Norway, among other sources; Poland is expanding LNG terminals and considering floating LNG and sourcing through Norway as well. Many other European countries – Ukraine, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Italy, and Romania – are further diversifying their way away from European energy. So our work is longstanding on terms of the diversification objectives. We're very pleased by the trend line and continue to see that through.
QUESTION: Just to be clear, if Germany does proceed or German companies do proceed with partnership with Russia on Nord Stream, they will face U.S. sanctions under CAATSA. Is that right?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FANNON: We've been clear for two years now that any parties involved in the Russian natural gas export pipeline business faces sanctions risk. We've been clear about that continuing on. What has changed is the continued escalation on the part of the Kremlin on this, and this is a direct response to that in terms of that guidance change.
MR BROWN: Okay. For our next question, let's try the phone lines once again. And could we try the line of Conor Finnegan?
QUESTION: You probably just answered all the questions. (Laughter.)
MR BROWN: Okay, so we'll keep it in the room here. Let's go to Kylie, in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you. I do have a question for Chris, if that's okay.
MR ROBINSON: Yeah.
QUESTION: So I'm just wondering, broadly speaking, how you would characterize U.S.-Russia relations at this moment in time. And yesterday on a phone call between Secretary Pompeo and Foreign Minister Lavrov, they discussed a possible P5 meeting in the near future. I'm wondering if you can provide any more details and why it would be a good idea for President Trump and President Putin to meet at this moment in time.
MR ROBINSON: Sure. So I don't have anything specific on the P5, but I do think it speaks to the broader effort, and that is – and the President's been clear – it would be in our interest to have better relations with Russia. We have a range of dialogues with the Russian Government across a range of different issues. But for that dialogue to improve and for the relationship to improve, Russia needs to end its aggression. Whether it's in Ukraine or whether it's interference in our internal affairs or the affairs and the elections of our friends and allies, Russia needs to cease its aggression for that bilateral relationship to improve.
So we continue to talk to them, but like with the action we're taking today, we're also taking steps so that we can effectively and consistently counter Russian aggression and work with our allies and partners to do so.
QUESTION: And has there been any progress in U.S.-Russia relations, would you say, over the past year?
MR ROBINSON: In some ways there has been. We've begun discussions on arms control and strategic stability, as you've been briefed on in the past. We have resumed a U.S. counterterrorism – U.S.-Russia Counterterrorism Dialogue in order to protect our national interests. We've had very frank conversations about where we disagree, whether it's interference in our affairs, Russia's own treatment of its own citizens. We have a very frank conversation about that, because we have the dialogue channels.
But we've also been effective at countering Russian aggression. And again, the action today helps us reinforce that message so that hopefully over time we can get the relationship on a better footing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR BROWN: Torsten.
QUESTION: Yeah. Back to Nord Stream and Germany. And the question is, when you say you're adjusting the guidelines, does it mean that you are not getting the concern from the Europeans like that you were expecting for your cause and in addressing Russia? And if so, why not?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FANNON: Not quite sure I understand the question.
QUESTION: So when you talk to your European partners, and you're saying now you have to adjust the issue of Nord Stream (inaudible) sanctions (inaudible), is it that when you talk to your European partners – Germany, France, et cetera – is it that you don't get the same level of concern about Russia that you have, or – and if so, why?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FANNON: We see a growing concern in Europe for the – Russia's ability to use energy for malign purposes. But in terms of the specific countries, why don't I ask Chris to comment?
MR ROBINSON: Sure. I think you see a growing majority of countries that are concerned about Nord Stream 2 and the impact it would have on European energy security or, as Frank laid out, enabling Russian aggression. And so we are adding our voice to those European voices today that are concerned about Russian aggression and how do we effectively counter that. The tools that we have made available today help reinforce that message.
QUESTION: Sorry, my question is also for Chris, but I do appreciate you being here. It is nice to see you and we do still love you. In the Lavrov call yesterday, I'm wondering if the topic of Russian bounties in Afghanistan came up and if that was addressed.
MR ROBINSON: I can't get into all of our discussions. I think the Secretary's been very clear that we have a frank conversation with Russia with regard to Afghanistan. We have taken steps to address all threats, and we will continue to do so. Whether it's from Russia or Iran or any other actor, we will take the steps necessary.
But I think sort of pivoting back to what we're talking about today, we are consistent about pushing back against Russian aggression. That's what we're doing today with our steps with regard to expanding CAATSA authorities to protect European energy security, and we will be and have been consistent in pushing back on Russian aggression wherever we find it.
QUESTION: You can't say if that specific issue was addressed?
MR ROBINSON: Again, I don't have anything to address on that conversation, but this – Secretary's been very clear about Russia and Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR BROWN: All right. Let's take one last swipe at going to the phone lines. (Laughter.) And let's try Will Mauldin, from The Wall Street Journal.
Okay. Can't say we didn't try. We'll take one or – maybe one or two more. James?
QUESTION: My question is for the assistant secretary. You're familiar with the maxim that war is a continuation of politics by other means. And I wonder how you might assess the view from Russia or from other observers that with these kinds of moves announced today, the United States is simply pursuing energy competition via other means.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FANNON: That's a false narrative, and I suspect you referenced the narratives coming from Russia. And their – it's in their interest to convey that idea. We've been consistent in supporting diversification regardless of where that energy comes from or the type of energy. We've continued to and are very pleased to see the Southern Gas Corridor moving – bringing their gas in over to Western Europe. That's moving forward finally. We're very pleased to see that happen. The Secretary has been a leader in promoting energy development in the Eastern Mediterranean, and so that's another area of, again, non-U.S. gas coming in, but it's for the purposes of improving the diversity and the security of Europe.
We're certainly proud of the U.S. energy as an important component to support the security of friends and allies around the world, but that's not the primary objective here. The primary objective is to improve the resilience and the security of European nations to diversify away from a variety of sources. Some of those are including developing sources like those I mentioned in the Eastern Med.
MR BROWN: Okay. One last question in the back. Tracy.
QUESTION: Thank you. Final point on Russia, sorry, for Chris, or actually, for either of you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FANNON: Would you answer?
QUESTION: Given what you've said about Russia's malign behavior, is it still the plan to invite them to join a G7 meeting, and would you recommend that they be invited?
MR ROBINSON: So the Secretary has answered this before that this is a discussion for the G7 members and the – but it is important to have dialogue with Russia. But we've also been clear and consistent about calling out Russia and holding Russia to account for its malign activities. And so those two elements of our bilateral relationship will continue, and we will continue to do that in partnership with our G7 partners and with all of our NATO and European allies and partners.
QUESTION: Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FANNON: Thanks.
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