QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you for visiting Kazakhstan. Let’s start with the first question: Xinjiang. The U.S. Government has banned a number of companies and officials tied to abuses in there. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan and other countries whose very ethnic minorities are trapped in Xinjiang say that these are internal issues of China. Are you concerned with that? How – what are you telling President Tokayev about problems in Xinjiang?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, thanks for having me on your show today. I appreciate that. The United States has been very clear: Wherever we go, we ask for every human being to be treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve. As for what’s taking place in Xinjiang, we’ve made clear to both the Chinese Government and in my visit today we’ve made clear to the government here in Kazakhstan our expectation that everyone will be treated properly and appropriately, and that what’s taking place there is certainly not that. And so the Kazakhstani Government has done good work; it hasn’t repatriated people back to China that the Chinese Government had asked them to, and we’re happy about that. But we know this is a problem that’s got to be taken care of. These basic, fundamental human rights are important.
QUESTION: Kazakhstan had its first election since Nursultan Nazarbayev stepped aside last year. Thousands were detained during and after those elections. Human rights organizations clearly criticize Kazakhstan’s record. What is the U.S. commitment towards improving human rights in Kazakhstan?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Just as I said before, we’re committed to that everywhere and always, all around the world. We talk about that. We’ve seen real improvement here in Kazakhstan. We’ve seen the new government make real changes. It has the prospect of real reforms. You can see that. You can see that when more American businesses come. They come as a result of the fact that the conditions here are improving, that real reforms are being made. It’s very obvious: American companies won’t come be part of countries that don’t have the rule of law, respect for people, all the things that countries that respect human rights do. And so as we see American businesses make decisions to come here, you can actually see and I think the Kazakhstani people can see that there is a real transformation underway. The Kazakhstani people must demand it, they must require it, and they need to continue to talk about it. We hope these improvements will continue.
QUESTION: But what exactly are you planning to do in terms of improving human rights in Kazakhstan?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I’m here today and we’re working on it. In the end, every nation has to get this right for itself. The people of the country have to work towards this end. We’ll do our part. We’ll provide technical assistance. We’ve got many programs here. As a journalist, I’m sure you know the good work the State Department does to train journalists in press freedoms – all of those things that build out civil society inside of countries are things we’re deeply committed to. We’re here, we’re here to help, and we’ll continue to do that.
QUESTION: Okay, let’s turn to the question about rights and press freedom. Last year RFE-RL journalists were physically attacked while doing their jobs, multiple times, and authorities have made no progress to try to find those responsible. Before you departed to this trip you had a confrontational interview with a National Public Radio reporter, and after that trip your department removed another NPR reporter from the press pool. Did you retaliate against NPR? What kind of message does it send to countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Belarus, whose governments routinely suppress press freedom?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I didn’t have a confrontational interview with an NPR reporter any more than I have confrontational interviews all the time. In America that’s the greatness of our nation: Reporters like yourself get to ask me any question and all questions. We take hundreds and hundreds of questions. We talk openly. We express our view; they ask their questions. That’s how we proceed in America. And with respect to who travels with me, I always bring a big press contingent, but we ask for certain sets of behaviors, and that’s simply telling the truth and being honest. And when they’ll do that, they get to participate, and if they don’t, it’s just not appropriate – frankly, it’s not fair to the rest of the journalists who are participating alongside of them.
QUESTION: But what kind of message will it send?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It sends a message – it’s a perfect message. It’s a perfect message about press freedoms. They’re free to ask questions. There were – there’s a reporter from that very business who was at a press conference just yesterday. It’s wide open in America. I love it. I hope the rest of the world will follow our press freedoms and the great things we do in the United States.
QUESTION: Okay. And the last question I have about U.S. priorities in Central Asia.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What are the current priorities in Central Asia? Is it peace and cooperation in Afghanistan or is it religious radicalism or something else?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So it’s all of those. It’s – or each of those too, but there’s so much more than that. We want Central Asia to prosper. We want each of the nations in Central Asia to be independent and sovereign, not – not a supplicant or a vassal state of any other country in the region. We want them to develop a unique culture that is all their own and their nations to be independent and have the capability to deliver good outcomes for all of their people. And so we work alongside of them to achieve that. We provide true American resources to do that, and we’ll continue to be here.
QUESTION: And the last question about C5+1 platform. What is the future of this platform under current administration?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I think it’s already proven that it’s important. We appreciate Kazakhstan’s central role in making that successful. We’ll gather tomorrow and we’ll talk about a range of issues, many of the same ones we’ve already discussed. We’ll talk about security matters for sure, but we’ll talk about economic integration amongst those countries, and we’ll talk about how each of those nations can transform their own countries so that the conditions – conditions for better human rights, conditions for better economic conditions, conditions for more political freedoms – can all be achieved together.
QUESTION: And one more question I forgot to ask: In your December press statement, you said that human rights will be actually one of the topics of discussions with the Kazakhstan political elite. Can you share some of the details that you’ve talked about on human rights in Kazakhstan?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I never talk about actual conversations that are had, but as I said when we held a press conference earlier today, we certainly talked about all of the human rights conditions not only here in Kazakhstan but in the region, and we made sure – made clear to them that America is here to help make sure that that transformation continues.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you very much.