QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. Secretary. There are reports this morning – I want to talk about North Korea first, before we get to China – that shots were fired from North Korea into a South Korean guard tower on the DMZ and that the South fired back after a warning. What can you tell us about that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Martha, thanks for having me on this morning. I’ve seen that reporting, too. I’ve seen some of our internal information as well. We can confirm at least the initial reports are that you’ve described are just about right – a handful of shots that came across from the North. We think those were accidental. The South Koreans did return fire. So far as we can tell, there was no loss of life on either side.
QUESTION: And we saw images of Kim Jong-un for the first time in three weeks, the President tweeting he was glad to see him back and well. But before those images emerged, President Trump said that he had a very good idea about Kim’s condition but could not talk about it at the time. What do you think Kim had been doing during this period, even missing that major celebration for his late grandfather?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Martha, there’s not much that I can share with you about what we knew about Chairman Kim’s activities during that time. We don’t know why he chose to miss that moment. We know there have been other extended periods of time where Chairman Kim has been out of public view as well, so it’s not unprecedented. So there’s not much I can share with you, other than we’ve seen the same images from yesterday that the world saw. It looks like Chairman Kim is alive and well.
Regardless of any of that, our mission is to remain the same: to convince the North Koreans to give up their nuclear weapons, to verify the same, and to then create a brighter future for the North Korean people. That’s been something President Trump has been focused on since the beginning of his time in office and something we’ll continue to work on.
QUESTION: And I know you can’t share much information about Chairman Kim, but was he ever, in your opinion, gravely ill during this period?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Martha, I just can’t say anything about that.
QUESTION: Can you rule out that it was COVID or that there was a cardiovascular problem?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Martha, I appreciate you continuing to try. I just can’t offer you anything further here this morning.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks on that. I want to turn to China, with intelligence officials, as we mentioned, saying that the Chinese Government intentionally concealed the severity of COVID-19 from the international community in early January while it stockpiled medical supplies. In terms of international concealing, I assume you think they did that intentionally to keep as many masks for themselves as possible. Will there be some sort of retaliation?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So, Martha, you’ve got the facts just about right. We can confirm that the Chinese Communist Party did all that it could to make sure that the world didn’t learn in a timely fashion about what was taking place. There’s lots of evidence of that. Some of it you can see in public, right? We’ve seen announcements. We’ve seen the fact that they kicked journalists out. We saw the fact that those who were trying to report on this – medical professionals inside of China – were silenced. They shut down reporting. All the kind of things that authoritarian regimes do. It’s the way the Communist Party has operated. This is classic communist disinformation effort.
That created enormous risk, and now you can see hundreds of thousands of people around the world, tens of thousands in the United States, have been harmed. President Trump is very clear: We’re going to hold those responsible accountable and we’ll do so on a timeline that is our own.
QUESTION: And as for the origins of COVID-19, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a statement this week saying the virus did originate in China but concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified, the statement going on to say that they will continue to examine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident in a laboratory in Wuhan.
Later, the President was asked if he had seen anything that gave him high confidence that the Wuhan lab was the origin of the virus. Let’s listen:
QUESTION: “Have you seen anything at this point that gives you a high degree of confidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the origin of this virus?”
PRESIDENT TRUMP: “Yes, I have. Yes, I have.”
QUESTION: “What gives you a high degree of confidence that this originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology?”
PRESIDENT TRUMP: “I can’t tell you that. I’m not allowed to tell you that.”
And Mr. Secretary, have you seen anything that gives you high confidence that it originated in that Wuhan lab?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Martha, there is enormous evidence that that’s where this began. We’ve said from the beginning that this was a virus that originated in Wuhan, China. We took a lot of grief for that from the outside, but I think the whole world can see now. Remember, China has a history of infecting the world and they have a history of running substandard laboratories. These are not the first times that we’ve had a world exposed to viruses as a result of failures in a Chinese lab. And so while the Intelligence Community continues to do its work, they should continue to do that and verify so that we are certain, I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan.
QUESTION: Do you believe it was man-made or genetically modified?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, the best experts so far seem to think it was man-made. I have no reason to disbelieve that at this point.
QUESTION: Your Office of the DNI says the consensus, the scientific consensus, was not man-made or genetically modified.
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s right. I agree with that. Yeah, I’ve seen their analysis. I’ve seen the summary that you saw that was released publicly. I have no reason to doubt that that is accurate at this point.
QUESTION: Okay. So just to be clear, you do not think it was man-made or genetically modified?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ve seen what the Intelligence Community has said. I have no reason to believe that they’ve got it wrong. But you have to put this in context. Here’s what’s important, Martha. Here’s what’s important. The Chinese Communist Party had the opportunity to prevent all of the calamity that has befallen the world, and here we find ourselves today – you and I were talking about we haven’t seen each other physically for a long time. That’s true of people all across the world.
This is an enormous crisis created by the fact that the Chinese Communist Party reverted to form, reverted to the kinds of disinformation, the kinds of concealment, that authoritarian regimes do. Had those scientists been operating in America, they would have put this out, there would have been the exchange of ideas, and we would have quickly identified the kinds of things that needed to be done in response.
Instead, China behaved like authoritarian regimes do. It attempted to conceal and hide and confuse. It employed the World Health Organization as a tool to do the same. These are the kind of things that have now presented this enormous crisis, an enormous loss of life, and tremendous economic cost all across the globe. The Australians agree with that. You hear the Europeans beginning to say the same thing. I think the whole world is united in understanding that China brought this virus to the world.
QUESTION: And just very quickly, if we can, Mr. Secretary – we’re running out of time – do you think they intentionally released that virus, or it was an accident in the lab?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t have anything to say about that. I think there’s a lot to know. But I can say this: We’ve done our best to try and answer all of those questions. We tried to get a team in there. The World Health Organization tried to get a team in there. And they have failed. No one has been allowed to go to this lab or any of the other laboratories. There are many labs inside of China, Martha.
This risk remains. This is an ongoing challenge. We still need to get in there. We still don’t have the virus samples we need. This is an ongoing threat, an ongoing pandemic, and the Chinese Communist Party continues to block access to the Western world, the world’s best scientists, to figure out exactly what happened. So I can’t answer your question about that because the Chinese Communist Party has refused to cooperate with world health experts.
QUESTION: Thanks very much for joining us, Mr. Secretary. We appreciate your time.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Martha. You have a great day. Thank you, ma’am.