QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for having us.  I want to start with this ministerial you’re having here, second year.  This is a groundbreaking effort on behalf of the State Department.  What did it tangibly accomplish last year that you’re hoping to renew or extend this year?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Perfect question.  So we – boy, the list is long.  There were great outcomes.  We had a religious gathering in the United Arab Emirates with people from all different faiths.  Taiwan advanced religious freedom in important ways.  But the list is really long.  Importantly, I think even more than any specific thing that took place, what you saw is a renewed focus, a renewed understanding about the importance of religious freedom as the first right for every human being.

And so I think lots of countries came here, didn’t know frankly the first time what to expect, and walked away from it with an understanding that this isn’t political, this isn’t about American power.  This is about the fundamental obligation of every government to provide their people with the right to practice their conscience, to exercise their religious freedom in the way that they choose.

QUESTION:  A couple of weeks ago you announced a groundbreaking effort, another one here: an unalienable rights commission headed by Mary Ann Glendon, someone very familiar to our audience.  In the material I read about this commission, you all talk about human rights being hijacked – that terminology, being hijacked by some countries.  What concerns you the most?  What did you mean by that?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So there are many examples.  But to come back to first principles and a grounding in the fundamental rights is what we’re asking the commission to do.  Mary Ann, Professor Glendon will do great work on that.  I am confident of that.  When you travel or you read about things that are happening in other countries, they will take actions that you and I would find unconscionable, but they will mask it under the idea of this rights.  And when you see that language being —

QUESTION:  Like what?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  — being abused in that way – oh, you’ll – here’s a good example.


SECRETARY POMPEO:  The UN Human Rights Council had sitting on it countries that you know treat women poorly, treat people different because of their faith or because of their race or because of their sexual orientation, things that we know governments ought not do.  And so we want to bring it back.  The attempt is to reground that so that the United States Department of State at very least is back to first principles on what these human rights are, and clean up that language.  We saw – we have lots of documents.  We have our founding documents, there’s the 1948 declaration.

QUESTION:  Yeah, on human rights, yeah.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  And so we’re going to go revisit those and come up with something that I think will bring us forward in ways that hadn’t been done for a couple decades.  So we think a very important mission.

QUESTION:  You mentioned the United Nations.  For the third year in a row, you made the announcement the other day that we are withholding funds – 32 million-plus – to the UN Population Fund.  Why are you doing that?  They claim they are not involved in coercive abortions abroad, supporting China and countries and like it.  You would say what?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  President Trump’s been very clear:  We are not going to permit U.S. taxpayer dollars to be used in any way that is connected to ending human life, to abortion.  So the analysis that we’ve conducted here concluded that this would be an inappropriate use of U.S. taxpayer dollars.  We still want to make sure we protect women’s access to health care.  We’ll never diminish – indeed, this administration is spending more money on that important purpose.  But whether it’s our Mexico City policy, or U.S. taxpayer dollars spent at the United Nations, President Trump has made clear that we want to respect every human life.

QUESTION:  You have said vis-a-vis religious liberty, “America’s commitment to religious freedom will never waver.”  Given that commitment, why have we not heard so much about religious and human rights in the conversation with China?  And why not tie those rights, as previous administrations have, to trade?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So I think we’ve done that more than perhaps the administration’s been given credit for.  Whether it was our consul general in Hong Kong or the statements that have been made by various officials, including me, about the —

QUESTION:  Now, you’ve been very outspoken on this issue.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  — about the denial of fundamental human rights to the Uighurs, the Muslim Uighurs and Kazakhs that are being detained in Xinjiang, we’ve talked about that.  It’s the case – and your viewers should know – complicated – we have multiple priorities in many countries, and so it’s not always the case that this is the only thing that we have to consider in our foreign policy.  But I’m very proud of what this administration has done in terms of raising human rights as an important issue not only in China, but all around the world.

QUESTION:  Let’s talk about North Korea for a moment.  You were with the President on that recent trip where he made history, crossed the DMZ, went into North Korea.  It seems Kim doesn’t really want to negotiate with anybody but the President directly.  Is that the case, and do you think these new talks are going to restart soon?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So I hope so.  Chairman Kim made a commitment that they would.  He said that in several weeks he would put his working-level team back together; we’re ready to go.  I hope so.  I hope so not so that we can negotiate; I hope so because we can make life better for the North Korean people.  If we get this right, we can reduce risk to the world, we can create an opportunity for real peace, we can denuclearize North Korea in a way that we can verify and the world can get comfortable that that’s really taken place, and then there’s real opportunity for the North Korean people to live a better, brighter future.

QUESTION:  Kim has said if we run these military operations with South Korea, he will resume testing.  A concern?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I saw those comments.  I think we’re doing exactly what President Trump promised Chairman Kim we would do with respect to those exercises.  I think we’re going to – we’ll get that right.  I’m confident that these conversations are going to continue.

QUESTION:  I want to talk about Iran for a moment.  The European Union is attempting to keep the nuclear deal in place.  They claim the United States, by pulling out of that deal, has destabilized everything, and now Iran has already exceeded its uranium stockpiles.  Were we wrong to pull out of that deal, and is there another way to at least get them back to the table?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So President Trump made the right decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.  That deal guaranteed a pathway for nuclear weapons for Iran, and that’s just unacceptable.  It’s unacceptable for Americans; it’s unacceptable for the Europeans as well.  They’ve chosen a different path.

We’ve said this:  Until such time as you behave like a normal nation – right, this is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.  You talk about human rights violations; there are Americans detained there today sitting in prisons that are just completely unacceptable.  We’ve watched them commit acts of terror all throughout the Middle East – indeed, assassination campaigns in Europe.  These are the hallmarks of a regime that is headed down the wrong path.  We are trying to draw them back into that.

The President said we’re prepared to negotiate with no preconditions and sit down and talk about the terror activity, the missile program, the nuclear program as well.  I hope that the Islamic Republic of Iran leadership, the ayatollah in particular, will take this opportunity to solve this in a way that is diplomatic.

QUESTION:  You’re on your way to Mexico, South America, Central America, Puerto Rico.  There are reports that the Mexican economy is teetering here, about to fall into recession if it hasn’t already.  Are you concerned that the lack of momentum in Congress to pass the new North American free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, that that could further destabilize Mexico and perhaps increase the problems we’re seeing at the border?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  There’s a real risk of that.  I think the USMCA is important.  I hope that Congress will take it up, I hope that Speaker Pelosi will choose to move forward and round up enough Democrat votes to support it.  It’s important not only for the Mexican economy, for the American economy, and the Canadian economy as well; it’s the right thing to do for American business and American workers, and I hope that we can get that done.  There is an immigration element to it as well.  A successful Mexican economy reduces the magnet that is this amazing economy that we’re experiencing here in the United States today.

QUESTION:  What’s going to be your message to our partners there, and particularly Puerto Rico?  And Puerto Rico, obviously, is American territory.  There is some instability, a lot of protests now against the current governor.  What’s going to be your message there?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Oh, goodness.  I don’t know that I have the – my message in Puerto Rico will be – it’s our own territory.

QUESTION:  It’s our own territory, yeah.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  But the message more broadly to the foreign countries to which I’m headed is:  America is your partner.  We will be your best friend.  We’ll do – we’ll trade with you.  We abide by the rule of law.  We’re transparent and we’re a democracy.  We are stable.  We’ll be with you for the long haul.  You should be a good partner for us.  And we’ve seen this transformation throughout South America of democratic countries – this is fantastic, and we hope Venezuela is added to that list before too long as well.

QUESTION:  Before I let you go, this ministerial this week on religious freedom, I know this is personal to you.  Tell people why this is so personal and where this comes from.  I mean, you’re the man who initiated this.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So this was generated because it’s the right thing to do for America.  Religious freedom is our first freedom here in the United States.  But it is special for me personally.  I am an Evangelical Christian.  My faith informs my behavior.  I hope I can get it right most days.  It is special in that it’s not about promoting Christianity.  It’s everyone having this chance.  I live in this amazing country that permits me to practice my faith as I see fit.  I was a Sunday school teacher.  I was a deacon at the church.  We were permitted to do those things.  I want every human being to have those same kind of opportunities.

QUESTION:  Yeah, that’s a real human right.


QUESTION:  Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Great to be with you.

QUESTION:  Pleasure to be with you and safe travels.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thank you, sir.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future