SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, I know you all got briefings of the substance of this trip, what we’re trying to accomplish in each of the places we’re going. We’re going to start with some meetings tomorrow, and then a set of remarks in the morning on Saturday morning in Munich, where we’ll talk about the West and the West’s role in the world.
Then we’ll hop on and we’ll head off to Africa for some really good visits, some great things on American commerce. Three countries in various stages of development in their transition to democracy and their stability, and I think we can be a force for helping them get it in a better direction. And then to the Middle East for all the things that you all know so well, including a lot of talk about the continued challenge from the Islamic Republic of Iran.
So with that, I’m happy to take a handful of questions.
MS ORTAGUS: Why don’t we just go around the queue and let everybody go, please.
SECRETARY POMPEO: That sounds great. Adam, how are you?
MS ORTAGUS: Does anybody have anything?
QUESTION: Yes. I’m wondering, we’re hearing that Sudan has said that it’s going to – wants to get off of this terrorism list, and that they are going – there’s some kind of agreement for the families of the victims of the Cole. Have you heard anything about that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So we’ve been looking at whether to lift the designation of the state sponsor of terror on Sudan for quite some time. One of the elements of that is there are a series of claims for victims of the Cole. We’re trying – we’re doing our best to address those as part of this. It may not end up that they move together, but we’re looking at – no decision’s been made with respect to that.
I was actually with the Sudanese yesterday. They were working with the Ethiopians and the Egyptians on the issues around the water, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Secretary Mnuchin and our team have been working on this. And so I went over and saw the Sudanese and the Egyptians and the Ethiopians yesterday to encourage them to make progress on that, to make sure that everyone’s got the water that they need. And the Sudanese reminded me that they would love to get off that list, and we always measure twice and cut once before we remove someone from a list like that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Katie.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, good to see you. Thank you for talking to us on the plane. Can you give us an update on the peace talks with the Taliban? I know that you’re going to be addressing that in Munich with foreign leaders.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t have much to add yet, other than we have made real progress over the last handful of days, and the President gave us the authority to continue to have the conversations where we hope we can get to the place where we can get a significant reduction in violence – not only on a piece of paper, but demonstrated in the capability to actually deliver a serious reduction of violence in Afghanistan. And if we can get there and we can hold that posture for a while, we may well be able to begin the real serious discussion, which is all the Afghans sitting at a table, finding a true reconciliation path forward – a difficult set of conversations, but one that’s long overdue. It would also give us the opportunity to reduce the footprint not only for America’s forces there, but for all of the forces, the Resolute Support Mission more broadly.
It’s complicated. We’re not there yet, but I – I’ll be working on it. As soon as I head back up there, I’ll have a phone call. We’re actively engaged in those conversations and we had something we consider a pretty important breakthrough over the last few days.
MS ORTAGUS: Abbie.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hi, Abbie.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, hello. There’s been some concern expressed about the ability of Africa to handle the coronavirus, given the health structure that’s set up there. The budget that was put forward suggested a cut to some of the WHO funding. Is there any sort of assistance that you might be offering African countries confronting that right now?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So we’ll – as for the budget, there’ll be a lot of conversations over the coming months. We are concerned there are places without adequate infrastructure. So I was in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, places with long borders with China, who also don’t have the capability to handle any kind of scaled threat from something like coronavirus. We have CDC folks on the ground there as well. So we’re going to do everything that we can do. We’ve now provided up to $100 million in assistance; there could be more. That assistance will certainly go to China to help them, but it will also be used in other places around the world to try and make sure that we get the global response right, in the right places, in a timely manner, which is really the central piece of this.
So yes, you – I’m confident. We’ve got teams on the ground all across the world, including in Africa, trying to help them both at the front end of this, and to the extent it takes hold or becomes a true problem in some of these places, to help them manage their way through a crisis from the coronavirus in their own countries or their own region.
MS ORTAGUS: Courtney.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Courtney, hi.
QUESTION: Thanks. Hi, how are you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: You’re a glutton for punishment. You always come on the long —
QUESTION: On the long ones, I know. So could you elaborate a little bit about the message you’re carrying both in Munich, in your speech? You talked a little bit about the role of the West in the world, whether that’s as a counterweight to China or Russia or others. And then also, as you talk about the countries we’re going to in sub-Saharan Africa, the message you’re carrying, not just of the willingness to bring and support U.S. business but also steps they need to take?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. So the second question – these are places the American presence matters, so we’ll do some events that are around human rights, rule of law. Those are deeply connected also to their economies. It is our fundamental belief that when you get those things right – a good example – we’ll do some – we did the Women’s GDP event yesterday. When you let women work, you have – your economy flourishes and grows. So these aren’t two separate stovepipes; they are – they’re interconnected. So we’ll be working with them on all the elements.
They’ll always – these leaders around the world will always ask, hey, we need more American businesses, Mike. How do we get more American business? And I remind them our companies go where they can get a good return on investment and where there are markets that Americans are allowed to access. They need to have comfort that if they enter into a contract they have the capacity to enforce it, right. You need court systems and the rule of law and all that goes with that. And we’ll be talking to each of those places, and they are at varying points in their political lives of achieving those goals. So we want to talk to them about that.
And then we often provide technical assistance to help them get there, and we’ll see – we’ll try and identify the places where we can get a lot of bang for the American dollar. And then there’s other programs too, right. We have – in Africa we have PEPFAR. We have all the global assistance programs that have lifted lots of people in Africa out of truly desperate situations and improve the health and lifespan for Africans, and those are really great programs. And we want to make sure they know we’re committed to those as well.
MS ORTAGUS: Adam.
QUESTION: Yeah. In Saudi —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Adam, welcome.
QUESTION: How are you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good.
QUESTION: It’s good to be here. In Saudi, I’m curious what you expect the Iran conversation to be like. What’s coming up for that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The max pressure campaign continues, and its impact – that is, its impact in terms of denying the resources to the regime to launch missiles into places like we’re going to be – we’re going to go visit the Saudi Aramco facility – is reduced. It’s not zero. There are still – they still have resources. But they’re having to make more difficult choices about whether to underwrite Hizballah, to support the Shia militias in Iraq, their efforts in Iran. All those things become more difficult choices as their resources (inaudible). There’ll come a day when the Iranians will conclude that the right thing to do is to reach out to America and find the solution to what the President has as the highest priority, which is to ensure that they don’t have a nuclear weapon today, next year, or ever.
And so I’m sure that’s what we’ll talk about. We’ll spend a little bit of time talking about our force posture there as well, and then some of the things that we hope the Saudis will continue to do to execute the crown prince’s Vision 2030 about improving human rights in Saudi Arabia as well.
MS ORTAGUS: Nick, last question.
QUESTION: Secretary, two quick ones. One, do you anticipate any progress on the Gulf dispute? When you’re in Saudi Arabia, do you think that will come up? There’s been some suggestion there’s a little bit of softening of positions and we might actually see some progress on that. And the other is on the China piece. Are you tracking the fact that a Chinese national is running for the head of the World Intellectual Property Organization? Is that a concern of yours and something that the State Department’s going to fight against?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. Yes, we’re tracking the World Intellectual Property Organization election, director general election, very, very closely. The Chinese have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars of intellectual property from the United States of America. We are going to make sure that whoever runs that organization understands the importance of enforcing intellectual property rights across nations and across boundaries. Perhaps I’ll leave it at that. The election is in March. You should know that we’re engaged in lots of conversations to make sure that whoever is ultimately selected has respect for property rights and the rule of law in the context of intellectual property rights.
First question about the Gulf rift – it’ll certainly come up. We’re hopeful we can move forward. It’s been going on too long. We’ve been pretty consistent about the fact that we hope that they will find a way through this together. We’ll certainly have a conversation about it; I hope we can make some progress. But it’s been a long-running challenge, and we’ll see if we can make any progress.
MS ORTAGUS: All right.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thanks, everybody.