Interview With Zoe Daniel of Australian Broadcast Corporation
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for joining us.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Zoe, it’s great to be with you.
QUESTION: Australia’s foreign minister has raised concerns that the administration’s engagement with Russia could give it a chance to escape responsibility for past behavior. What assurances did you give her on that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, there’s no chance that’s going to happen. This administration has been consistent. America has been incredibly supportive of the Joint Investigative Team. We understand what happened with MH17. We are committed to making sure those responsible are held accountable. I told Foreign Minister Bishop that, but more importantly, I’m happy to share with the Australian people – America has the full support. I know the tragedy that that was for so many Australians and their families.
QUESTION: Are you privy to what was said between President Trump and Vladimir Putin and the agreements, as they’ve been described, that were made?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. I wasn’t in the room, but I’ve had a number of conversations with President Trump. I’ve spoken with Foreign Minister Lavrov. I think I have a very good understanding of what took place between the two leaders. It was an incredibly constructive engagement for President Trump and President Putin, an important one for the world. These are two nuclear superpowers. They ought to be engaged in conversations, and they covered a wide range of topics. They disagreed on many things but also set forward some constructive paths on important topics that can be followed up by those who work for President Trump, myself and others, as well as in a subsequent meeting between the two leaders.
QUESTION: Such as?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, they range from business executives getting together to find places where commerce can be promoted throughout the world. They talked about the important challenges in Syria. We still have over 6 million displaced persons there. How we might find a way to work together in that space to take down the violence level for those families, the incredible strain on Jordan and Lebanon of those – and Turkey for that matter – for those displaced persons, not to mention the tragedy for those human lives. They spoke about Ukraine. They didn’t find much place to agree there. The President was strong in making sure that the world understood that the Minsk path is the right path forward. I could go on. There were many topics across a broad range of places that the United States and Russia encounter each other, and it was very important that the two leaders discussed them.
QUESTION: President Trump’s approach is unorthodox, to say the least.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, that’s your word. That’s your word.
QUESTION: And it’s been used by many. I mean, his approach is unusual. You have to admit that.
SECRETARY POMPEO: President Trump is determined to make sure that every day we do the right thing for America’s citizens, and we believe deeply that through that the world will be a far better place. And it is the case that where America has been engaged in the world, citizens in every country have benefitted from that participation, and President Trump is determined to make sure that continues to happen.
QUESTION: Back to MH17 for a moment, dozens of Australians were killed on that plane, three children from one family and their grandpa. What do you say to that family specifically about this approach to reach out to Russia?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, it was a real tragedy. What the Russians did there is deeply immoral. There ought to be accountability, and the United States is prepared to support the Joint Investigative Team such that that accountability takes place.
QUESTION: Tangentially --
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve been at the front of that. We’ve worked diligently on it. We care deeply about it. The previous administration did, too. I give them full credit for that. And we’ll continue to be so.
QUESTION: On Russia, the President’s been highly critical of U.S. intelligence agencies during the Russia investigation. Why should Five Eyes nations like Australia trust U.S. intelligence if the President doesn’t?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. So I ran one of those organizations for a significant part of this administration. Let’s make no mistake: President Trump values the work that the Central Intelligence Agency does and all of America’s intelligence agencies. He turns to it --
QUESTION: But he’s been so very critical of the FBI.
SECRETARY POMPEO: -- he relies on it, he depends on it, he values it, he loves the people that work for those intelligence agencies, and I can assure you, when I met with our Five Eye partners, they relied on American intelligence as well, and I expect they will continue to do so. They are great, important partners, and the Five Eyes relationships have saved countless lives in Australia.
QUESTION: On North Korea, I was at the Singapore summit, as you were. It was a huge event. How confident are you that Kim Jong-un is still willing to denuclearize, and is there progress still being made?
SECRETARY POMPEO: He made a commitment. Chairman Kim promised. He did so in writing, he did so to the President privately as I understand it, but I also heard him do so in a larger gathering, the third time I’d had the chance to meet Chairman Kim. In each case, he has made clear his intent to denuclearize. Until such time, the world continues to demand that he gets rid of those weapons. They are a threat to the people of North Korea. President Trump’s made very clear that there is a brighter future for the North Korean people. The simple task is to honor the commitment that Chairman Kim made and denuclearize. And we’ll keep enforcing sanctions until that happens. We’ll continue to negotiate. We will try to find the right path forward, but I’m confident that that is the world’s expectation and I’m very hopeful we can deliver on Chairman Kim’s commitment.
QUESTION: On China, what’s the plan for U.S.-Australian collaboration, both in relation to the South China Sea and also to meddling in the South Pacific? Did you specifically discuss any strategic moves on those fronts?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We did. We had long conversations about a free and open Indo-Pacific. Foreign Minister Bishop, Defense Minister Payne, Secretary Mattis, and myself all understand that that is an incredibly important thing not only for countries in the region, the Pacific Island countries, Southeast Asia, Australia itself, but for the United States as well. And we have developed – you’ll see – we’ll put together a document that we will share with the world that talks about the concrete actions we’re going to take to ensure that the free and open Indo-Pacific materializes and continues to be free and open.
QUESTION: And you plan to build up troop numbers in Darwin?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So Secretary Mattis said just a bit ago that the agreed-upon number, 2,500 United States Marines in Darwin, are prepared to go and the timeline for their arrival in Australia will be when the Australian Government says this is the time, this is the sequence, this is the right place, and we have the right missions for them. So yes, we will continue to do that. It’s an important mission for the United States and we know it’s an important mission for not only Australia but the region as well.
QUESTION: You need to go. Very quick, finally, when are we getting an ambassador, and is the President coming to Australia after APEC in November?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So with respect to the ambassador, soon, and --
QUESTION: Soon? What sort of timeframe is that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Soon. That’s all I can say at this point, but I know it’s important to the United States. I know it’s important to Australia as well. I’ve put it as a real commitment, and we’ll have ambassador – U.S. ambassador to Australia soon.
The President intends to come. His schedule’s not quite set yet, but I’m very hopeful that that will work into his schedule. It’s very important for all of us to do our best to be physically present. It won’t change – when we’re not physically present, it doesn’t change our commitment, but I know the President would like to be there as well.
QUESTION: Just to wrap up, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has said that the global order is being challenged on multiple fronts and that the U.S. under President Trump is seen as less predictable and less committed to the international order that it pioneered. Is that true?
SECRETARY POMPEO: No.
QUESTION: What is the truth, then?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The truth is the United States remains committed to ensuring that the global order succeeds, that the world continues to flourish. America is the primary example of what democracy and freedom and the respect for every single individual, the human dignity of every individual – there’s no country that we take a backseat to with respect to that. President Trump is committed to exporting that concept around the world.
QUESTION: And Australia’s still a mate?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Always.
QUESTION: Sir, thank you very much.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Zoe. It’s great to be with you.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.