Remarks to the Traveling Press

Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State
En Route to Shannon, Ireland
September 4, 2018

SECRETARY POMPEO: So just a couple things. So first stop Pakistan, a new leader there. I wanted to get out there at the beginning of his time in an effort to reset the relationship between the two countries. We have worked closely with the Pakistanis in my role as CIA director. Our teams have been working together for a long time. There are lots of challenges between our two nations for sure, but we’re hopeful that with new leadership that we can find common ground and begin to work on some of our shared problems together. They have expressed good-faith intention to do so.

Chairman Dunford and I are heading out there together to have those conversations. We’ll also meet with General Bajwa, who we both know, who I’ve met with a number of times, as well as my counterpart, Foreign Minister Qureshi. So we’ll have three opportunities to walk through the complexity that is this relationship and hopefully begin to make some progress so that we can get back to a set of common understandings. So that’s really the very straightforward objective. I think it’s important to meet the new prime minister, Prime Minister Khan, early on in his time in office.

And then on to India, where we have now twice had to postpone this incredibly important meeting. I regret it was my fault the second time. I had to travel to Pyongyang. But Secretary Mattis and I are both looking forward to this. We have a true strategic partner who, frankly, is our only major defense partner, right, the only designated major defense partner, with whom we have a great relationship and who is very important to our success in our Indo-Pacific strategy – enormous country with incredibly opportunity and capacity for wealth creation. We hope we can find opportunities to continue to expand the relationship not only diplomatic and military-to-military but a good set of business relationships as well.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY POMPEO: That’ll be good. I’ve met all these folks before, but I’m very much looking forward to my time with them on this trip. And it’s important that we get both my counterpart and Secretary Mattis’ counterpart, the four of us working together, because these relationships are so closely intertwined because of the nature of the U.S.-Indian relationship.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY POMPEO: That’ll be good.

QUESTION: So if we could start with Pakistan.


QUESTION: Obviously, the trip comes right after the announcement that 300 million in military aid is being cut. What do you think of that as a start-off point for this new relationship that you’re trying to build? It seems maybe they (inaudible) contrary to (inaudible).

And then also, in lieu of that, do you worry that moves like that could push Pakistan closer to China when they’re in an economic tailspin, if you will, considering IMF returning to China?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. Look, this wasn’t news to the Pakistanis. It made a lot of headlines over the last few days because of the formality (inaudible), but they were told this past summer that they weren’t likely to get that money. And the rationale for them not getting the money is very clear. It’s that we haven’t seen the progress that we need to see from them. And the very reason for this trip is to try and articulate what it is our expectation is, the things that they can do, the things that they expect us to do, and see if we can’t find a path forward together.

So look, I think there’s a new government. This – most of this took place long before the prime minister was in power, and I’m hoping we can turn the page and begin to make progress. But there are real expectations. We need Pakistan to seriously engage to help us get to the reconciliation we need in Afghanistan. Without their assistance, without their help, you’ve heard General Nicholson and General Miller both – the incoming and outgoing commanders – they’ve both talked about this. They are – they have important interests, security interests in Afghanistan to make sure they get the issues at their border right, and we need their help.

And so I’m hopeful we can convince them to provide that assistance because they will acknowledge – and indeed in my conversation with the prime minister – acknowledge peace in Afghanistan is – I think he said they’re the number one or number two advocate for reconciliation in Afghanistan. I said I think we’re number three – all of us wanting that. So we have a shared goal there. I hope we can find a way to achieve it together.

QUESTION: Would that aid be back on the table if you do see measures that meet your --

SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s – I think the answer – I think the answer is probably yes, right? If we get to the place – you have to remember what it was. Some of this was – we use the term “aid” loosely there. It’s more complicated; it’s different sets of resources. But we were providing these resources when they made sense for the United States, when it made sense because the partnership was in a place that the actions of our two countries, it made sense to do that. If that arises again, I am confident we’ll present to the President the rationale for that, and then something like that might make sense.

QUESTION: Was there a sense then that the previous decision made by the State Department to withhold aid, whenever – when was that, about a year ago – that that year has not – was essentially lost time, that they’ve made none of the progress you expected to see from them? Or is this more like delivering the same message to a new set of actors who are now in control?

SECRETARY POMPEO: We certainly haven’t seen the progress that we would hope to have seen, certainly not progress that would be sufficient for us to have advocated for turning back on those – that financial support.

QUESTION: Okay. And we noticed that Ambassador Khalilzad is on the plane. Is he --

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, I have two new folks traveling with us, a new P who’s coming back to the place he served as ambassador just a handful of days ago and Ambassador Khalilzad. Ambassador Khalilzad’s going to join the State Department team to assist us on the reconciliation effort, so he will come on and be the State Department’s lead person for that purpose.

QUESTION: So (inaudible) as like SRAP or the special --

SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t even know what – yes. So I don’t know – I – actually, I want to say no --


SECRETARY POMPEO: -- because I don’t want to – I know that has some history especially. But his task is going to be working with Ambassador Wells and Ambassador Bass and our team to be full-time focused on developing the opportunities to get the Afghans and Taliban to come to a reconciliation. That will be his singular mission statement.

QUESTION: Okay. And then --

SECRETARY POMPEO: I should say it is starting today, so --

QUESTION: Yeah. Okay. On India, how much of a --

QUESTION: Can I just ask one more thing --

QUESTION: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: -- before we get to India? On Pakistan, have you or do you expect to raise the case of Dr. Afridi on this trip?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I have a long history of raising the case of Dr. Afridi as the CIA director. I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: Do you – do you see the – on the issue of the Indians buying a missile defense system from Russia and then also their reluctance or so far professed reluctance to down to zero on Iran as distractions for this trip or sort of fundamental issues that you plan to discuss?

SECRETARY POMPEO: They’re part of the conversation. They’re part of the relationship. They will certainly come up, but I don’t think they’ll be the primary focus of what it is we’re trying to accomplish here. There’s half a dozen things on the agenda that we’re really intent on making progress on. Those decisions are important, they’re important to the relationship for sure, but I don’t see us resolving those or having even – have intention to resolve those during this set of meetings of the Strategic Dialogue. They’re really about things that are big and strategic and will go on for 20, 40, 50 years. Those are the kinds of topics that Secretary Mattis and I are hoping to address – not that those aren’t important, but they’re not part of the structural relationship between the two countries.

MS NAUERT: We have two minutes left, guys.

QUESTION: Can I ask about Idlib? I mean, the President’s --


QUESTION: The President’s tweet yesterday was pretty clear in what he expects that Russia not to do or the Assad government not to do. Have you had conversations with the Turks or with others about making sure that this does not proceed? And if it does, what is the U.S. response going to be?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So I’ve had conversations with lots of the potential participants. I’ve spoken with Foreign Minister Lavrov about this. I spoke with my Turkish counterpart, Cavusoglu, this morning about it. We have a shared goal there. The Turks have outposts in Idlib, continuing. We are hoping that this can be resolved diplomatically.

I’ve seen the reports of the Russian bombing and the Syrian bombing that’s taking place today, or took place – would have been last night their time. The Russians made a commitment that said this was a deescalation zone and this would be resolved through the Geneva process. I think the President’s tweet was an effort to remind them of the commitment that they made.

MS NAUERT: (Inaudible.) We’ve got to go.

QUESTION: I mean, they do not seem particularly intent on fulfilling that commitment.

SECRETARY POMPEO: The humanitarian crisis that could be here is different in kind, right? Many of the people who fled these other deescalation zones fled to this location. There’s no place for these people to go, and the Russians have the narrative that there are terrorists in Idlib. That is a true statement. We share their concern about terrorism emanating from northern, northwest Syria. We absolutely agree with them there are terrorists in those locations and they need to be taken care of such that they don’t export terror around the world.

It is not the way to do that to put the lives of all these innocent civilians at risk and create a humanitarian crisis, and I think that’s what you saw the President saying last night was we’re happy to work on the terrorism issue in this place, you made an agreement to handle this in a way that is different from what it appears you’re thinking, please take that seriously.

Then of course, too, we’re always concerned they may use chemical weapons in the process of trying to obtain their military objective, and I think – I think the President could not have been more clear over the last year in both word and action about how he feels about the use of chemical weapons.

MS NAUERT: Okay, we’ve got to go, guys.

QUESTION: Is military action on the table?

MS NAUERT: We’ve got to --

QUESTION: Is military action --

MS NAUERT: All right.


MS NAUERT: He’s the Secretary of State. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: So can we – this is on the record.

SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s for – it’s for --


SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re going to leave it with what the President’s statement was for the time being.


SECRETARY POMPEO: (In progress) -- progress the State Department has made to put a qualified candidates before the White House, getting the nominations through the White House, and our efforts to get them in their seats. We really need some of these leaders to execute our mission, and so I want to make sure that we’re clear about what it is that we’ve done and what we’re doing and the quality of the people, both career Foreign Service officers and otherwise, that we’re putting in front of the Senate.

QUESTION: Is it your impression that the Senate – I mean, I think that during the Brian Bulatao hearing Jeff Flake had basically said I’m going to hold these confirmations until I get this answer on Cuba. Sorry. Is it your understanding that that hold has been lifted and that these – because obviously (inaudible) --

SECRETARY POMPEO: It is. Some of this is just – look, some of this is Senate queue, and I accept that. I understand they have their set of priorities. But from where I sit, it is really important. These are some – the DG/HR, the head of WHA, the head of Pol-Mil, the M – these are people who run big organizations at the State Department, and we need leaders in place to help execute the mission that the Senate has asked me to go execute. And so I’m very hopeful that we can here in the month of September get those folks through and working on the mission that I know I share with a bipartisan consensus in the Senate, right? They want an efficiently run State Department. They want someone in that M slot. They want Political-Military to be run well. We just need those people to get them across the line.


SECRETARY POMPEO: Okay. Thank you.