QUESTION:  Welcome to Nashville, first of all.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  It’s good to be here, yeah.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  The – I’m going to start right away with the tough stuff that you’re expecting.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Ask away.

QUESTION:  Right.  This is on Michael McKinley first.  The announcement yesterday, one of your most trusted senior advisors resigned.  He’s adding his voice to a number of career diplomats who’ve expressed frustration over what they see as your failure to stand up for government servants – for servants like Ambassador Yovanovitch who have been caught up in the Ukraine controversy.  Did you do enough to defend the ambassador, privately and publicly, against the smear campaign that was being waged against her, and will you speak to that now?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Well, ma’am, you have some of your facts wrong, so you should be careful about things you assert as facts before you state them.  But more importantly, I’m incredibly proud of the work that I’ve done along with my team, other senior leaders at the State Department, to make sure that this institution was functional, preserved, and delivering on behalf of America.  And I think the results that we’ve achieved – I’ve been the Secretary of State now for about a year and a half – I think the results that we’ve achieved stand on their own.  And the career people who work at the State Department, the civil servants who work at the State Department, the political people who work at the State Department, are all part of one team focused on a singular mission: to deliver on behalf of America.  And I think we have done that, are doing it today, and will continue to do it during my time in leadership.

QUESTION:  Can you speak to Michael McKinley’s resignation?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I don’t talk about personnel matters.

QUESTION:  Did he speak to you personally about it as he resigned?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I don’t talk about personnel matters.  It wouldn’t be appropriate, ma’am, to do that.  You wouldn’t want me to talk about an employee that we terminated or an employee that left, or an employee that had to depart for personal reasons.  You just – you wouldn’t want me to do that.  It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to speak about a personnel matter, and so I have consistently not done that, not only as Secretary of State but in all the previous roles that I’ve had.  And I appreciate your inquiry a great deal, but it just wouldn’t be appropriate.

QUESTION:  Did you appreciate – did you support ambassador – the ambassador being recalled months before her tenure was up?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I’ve supported every mission that the State Department’s been engaged in and will continue to do that.

QUESTION:  Okay.  I want to ask you a question about the Kurdish population.  Here we have very – we have a lot of Kurds here, and this is a question on Syria.  A senior State Department official told reporters yesterday that among the deepest concerns about Turkey’s incursion is indiscriminant firing on civilians, and even ethnic cleansing.  Nashville has a large Kurdish population.  What do you say to the worried families here?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So the United States under President Trump did enormous work to support the Kurds in taking down the caliphate in the predominantly Kurdish regions of Syria.  ISIS had infected their region, they were – you remember the people in cages, heads being cut off – and you watched, under President Trump’s leadership, the support that we provided to the Kurdish people there in the region to take down the caliphate inside of northeast Syria where the majority of these Kurdish people live.  So I’m very proud of what we’ve done in support of the Kurds.  We’re working diligently.  Even as I sit here today, our team is working diligently on the ground to convince President Erdogan it’s not in anyone’s best interest to engaged in behavior that puts civilians at risks – risk inside of Syria.

QUESTION:  And for the Kurds who are here in Nashville, do you see why they’re so worried?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  We’ve been incredibly supportive, and we will continue to support them.  You have to remember – and I’m sure the people in this region would know – the Kurds exist not only in Syria, they exist in many places.  And the United States has been and will continue to be incredibly supportive to protect them.  We’ve made a real centerpiece of the State Department’s work during my time of protecting people all around the world, of marginalized communities, religious minorities, religious freedom, all the things that I know that the Kurdish people that live right here in this region care so deeply about.  We’ll continue to do that.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  In mid-February you were in Warsaw, and so was Rudy Giuliani.  During your time there, did you meet with Giuliani?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I don’t talk about who I meet with.  I went to Warsaw for a particular purpose.  It was an important mission.  We brought together people all across the world to take down the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, the Islamic Republic of Iran.  That’s what I worked on on that mission.

QUESTION:  So you’re not going to say whether you met with him?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So when I was in Warsaw, I had a singular focus.  My focus was singularly on the work that we have done, effective work, to recover from what the Obama administration has done, which is to underwrite the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.  We’ve stopped that, and we’re making real progress.

QUESTION:  It sounds like you’re not going to say.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  When I was in Warsaw, we were working diligently to accomplish the mission to take down the terror regime that’s inside the Islamic Republic of Iran.  That’s what I worked on.  It was the only thing that I engaged in while I was there.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Text messages show that diplomats under your authority told the Ukrainians that a good relationship with President Trump was only possible if they investigated his political opponent and theories about what happened in 2016.  Were you aware that this was happening?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Again, you’ve got your facts wrong.  It sounds like you’re working at least in part for the Democratic National Committee when you phrase a predicate of a question in that way.  It’s unfortunate.  It does a real disservice to the employees and the team at the United States Department of State.  Our team was incredibly focused.  We wanted a good relationship with Ukraine.  We wanted it before the election, when Poroshenko was in charge, and we want it now with Mr. Zelensky in charge.  We have an important set of foreign policy interests in Ukraine.  The threat from Russia is real.  And this administration, unlike the previous one, has taken those responsibilities very seriously.  Part of that, an incredibly important part of that, is making sure that corruption is weeded out at every level inside of Ukraine, and our team, for the entire time I’ve been the Secretary of State, has been working on that project.

QUESTION:  Would you like to wrap it up by saying why you’re here?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Sure.  I came here today to talk to a group of people who care deeply about religious freedom.  It’s something that President Trump has directed our State Department to focus on, whether that’s the Uighurs, Muslims in China who are being held in camps in western Xinjiang province in China, or religious minorities, whether they be Christian or Muslim or Bahai, throughout the Middle East that aren’t being treated appropriately.  I came here today to talk about this incredibly important task that the State Department has in front of it.

QUESTION:  My time is up.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Great.  Thank you.

QUESTION:  So thank you.  Thank you very much.

 

 

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future