Remarks to Traveling Press

Remarks
Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State
King Khalid International Airport
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
January 14, 2019


SECRETARY POMPEO: So good afternoon, everyone. I had a brief but very productive trip. I had a chance to meet with the Saudi foreign minister, with King Salman, and then, ultimately, with Crown Prince Salman; discussed the issues that relate to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States as they pertain to what I was trying to accomplish on this trip, right.

The context for this conversation was the efforts that the Trump administration is making to create a stable and peaceful region here in the Middle East. So our conversations spanned a wide range of those set of objectives. We certainly talked about our effort to counter Iranian malign influence, but we spoke about all the issues in the region, ranging from the continued efforts of Hizballah; we talked about the fact that the – the work that was done in Sweden on Yemen was good, but we need both sides to honor those commitments. To date, the Iranian-backed Houthis have chosen not to do that.

We spoke about human rights issues here in Saudi Arabia – women activists. We spoke about the accountability that – and the expectations that we have. The Saudis are friends, and when friends have conversations, you tell them what your expectations are. And I think the Trump administration has made clear our expectation that all of those involved in the murder of Khashoggi will be held accountable.

So we spent time talking about human rights issues, the Khashoggi case in particular, and we also talked about Syria and the President’s decision to withdraw our 2,000 uniformed personnel from Syria and what that means and how we will continue the campaign against ISIS/Daesh, and the other important interests that the United States has in the region and that the Saudis share as our partner in those efforts.

With that, I’m happy to take any questions.

MR PALLADINO: Let’s start with Nick.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary --

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, Nick.

QUESTION: -- in the President’s tweets this morning about Turkey, he referenced the idea of a 20-mile safe zone but didn’t say much beyond that. Could you elaborate a little bit on what he meant? That tweet’s caused some confusion.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Only to say that we continue to have conversations with all the players involved in our goal. Remember the objective is to create a political process that will lead to the Saudi[1] people having the opportunity to create a nation for themselves – a unified Syria where the people of Syria have the opportunity to create a good outcome for themselves. So it’s in that context that we address all of the various issues there, whether it’s the Iranian influence there, the Russians’ activities. And in – with respect to those tweets, the issues along the Syrian-Turkey border in the north, we continue to have conversations. I spoke with my foreign minister counterpart yesterday to have conversations about what that will look like. The President’s aim there, I think, is the one that we have been talking about for some time, which is that we want to make sure that the folks who fought with us to take down the caliphate in ISIS have security, and also that terrorists acting out of Syria aren’t able to attack Turkey. Those are the twin aims.

And so the precise methodology which by we will achieve that – that security for both of those elements along that border – is something we’re still working on. And so if we can get a space – call it a buffer zone, others might have a different name for it – if we can get the space and the security arrangements right, this will be a good thing for everyone in the region.

MR PALLADINO: Andrea.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary --

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: -- thank you very much for doing this. Can you elaborate on what your expectations are regarding Khashoggi and what the crown prince responded and whether you believe it’s credible that this plot could have been hatched and carried out without his knowledge?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Our expectations have been clear from early on: Every single person who has responsibility for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi needs to be held accountable. And the crown prince – I spoke about this with King Salman as well – they both acknowledged that that accountability needed to take place. They talked about the process that’s occurring inside of the country, both the investigative process and the judicial process that’s taking place, and they reiterated – it’s not new – they reiterated their commitment to achieve the objective, the expectations that we have set for them.

QUESTION: Did he still describe it as a rogue operation?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m not going to talk about the details of the conversations. They – the expectations that we’ve set for them are very clear. We’ve spoken about this a great deal and their continued commitment to continue to pursue all those connected is something that they have not wavered from since the first time we’ve had conversations with them.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PALLADINO: Okay. Barbara. Barbara next, actually. Let’s go to Barbara.

QUESTION: Sir, in terms of the discussions you’re having about the arrangement along the Turkey-Syria border, there have been some rumors that that might involve an Arab force that’s acceptable to both sides. That’s one of the things on the table. Can you say anything about that? And also, can you say anything about the women activists in jail? Did you get any commitments about whether they might be released or how they’ve been treated or what the situation is with that?

SECRETARY POMPEO: We spoke in particular – we spoke about a number of human rights issues, certainly including the women’s rights activists. Their commitment was that the process – the lawful, judicial process here would take place, they would do so quickly, and that they would continue down that path. They understand the concerns that some have and they are going to do their best to communicate as appropriate. So – and your first question was about Syria and the Arab forces.

QUESTION: There’s a – one of the things out of the discussions was an Arab force.

SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t – there’s lots of things under discussion. There are lots of possibilities about how we might achieve the end state that I described in my earlier response.

MR PALLADINO: Okay, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, I just wanted – you had mentioned that you talked with the Turkish foreign minister yesterday. You talked to him again, after Saturday, or what was that – you told us --

SECRETARY POMPEO: I spoke with – no, I’ve had one conversation on this trip with him. The day --

QUESTION: Okay, so there wasn’t a second one?

MR PALLADINO: We --

SECRETARY POMPEO: There hasn’t been a second one.

MR PALLADINO: We did the release, so you’ve got the readout of that call, correct?

QUESTION: Yeah, I do, but I just want to make sure there wasn’t a second call.

SECRETARY POMPEO: There’s only been a single call.

QUESTION: Especially because of the threat that appears to be implied in the President’s tweet about devastating Turkey economically if the Kurds are hurt. Can you offer any --

SECRETARY POMPEO: The administration has been very consistent with respect to our requirement that the Turks not go after the Kurds in ways that are inappropriate. If there are terrorists, we’re all about taking down extremists wherever we find them. I think – I think the President’s comments this morning are consistent with that.

QUESTION: What did he mean by economic devastation?

SECRETARY POMPEO: You’d have to ask – you’d have to ask him.

MR PALLADINO: Okay.

SECRETARY POMPEO: I – we’ve applied sanctions in many places around the world. I assume he’s speaking about those kinds of things, but you’d have to ask him.

Yes, please.

MR PALLADINO: Adam.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Two brief ones for you. I was hoping you could elaborate just briefly on how U.S. and Saudi in these talks are specifically working to combat Iran in Yemen and Syria. What do they expect? What are you communicating back? And I was also hoping you could tell us a little bit about the nature of your conversations with the President on the trip. What has he communicated – expectations – and what have you communicated back?

SECRETARY POMPEO: You mean with President Trump?

QUESTION: Yeah.

SECRETARY POMPEO: During the trip we’ve talked about lots of things, many of which have nothing to do with the Middle East. The world goes on while I travel. So we’ve had conversations about --

QUESTION: Has he had specific expectations for this trip specifically?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, yes, we had – yes, but most of those we had conversations about over the weeks that preceded this trip as we were laying out those conversations. So I’ve certainly provided him updates on the conversations I’ve been having on the trip as well, but in terms of the expectations and the things we’re hoping to achieve, it’s been pretty consistent with what all of the United States Government agreed to along with the President in preparation for the trip. What was – your second question was about Iran?

QUESTION: The first was --

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- hoping you could just characterize the conversations you just came from in terms of Iranian action in Yemen and Syria, what the Saudis are expecting, what you’re communicating back.

SECRETARY POMPEO: So this all – step back and this all starts with extremism in whatever form you find it. In this case you have Iranian-backed Houthis, Iranian-backed Hizballah, Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq, Iranian-backed forces in Syria, and in each case the root of the challenge stems from the revolutionary nature of the Islamic regime and their efforts abroad. And so they’re focused on doing the things they can do. I talked to – I shared with the crown prince and with the king, if I recall correctly, my conversations to help Iraq as well. We want an Iraq that is independent, sovereign, and how it is we might do that – there are lots of economic things we can do to assist Iraq in getting back on its feet, which will permit them to be more independent and have more control and be more sovereign. I shared with the crown prince my conversations when I traveled to Iraq.

So we had a chance to have a wide series of conversations about how it is – America’s continued effort on the economic and financial front – to attempt to convince the Iranian people that America is serious about empowering them and creating opportunities for the Iranian people. We talked about each of those things today.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PALLADINO: Let’s go to Tracy.

QUESTION: Hi, yes. Did you come away from your meeting with the crown prince reassured or convinced or more optimistic that they’re really going to get to the bottom of the Khashoggi case? Any kind of assurances? Any kind of change?

SECRETARY POMPEO: No change. They’ve provided assurances since the beginning.

QUESTION: So nothing has changed? It’s the same line?

SECRETARY POMPEO: They still are working through their fact-finding process. You should know that the United States continues to work through its fact-finding process as well. That is, our efforts to uncover the facts surrounding this. And then, consistent with the President’s commitment to hold everyone accountable, we continue inside the United States Government to do that as well.

MR PALLADINO: Let’s go to Matt.

QUESTION: Are you leaving satisfied --

MR PALLADINO: Matt. Matt.

QUESTION: To follow up on that --

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary --

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes.

MR PALLADINO: Matt. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: -- The Washington Post reported that no detailed records exist within the U.S. Government of President Trump’s meetings with Vladimir Putin. Is that true?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll leave that to the White House. These were presidential conversations. I’ll --

MR PALLADINO: Let’s go to Edward.

SECRETARY POMPEO: -- let the White House respond to that.

MR PALLADINO: Edward.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, two questions. One is: How do you reconcile your calling for full accountability with the CIA’s assessment, which they’ve already made, that the crown prince himself ordered the killing? That’s the first question.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah.

QUESTION: The second one is: What are the specific policy tools you want these countries to exercise in regard to these Iranian-backed militias? Like, are you implying that they should put their own forces in the field or are there other policy tools that you’re (inaudible)?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So, first one first: I don’t talk about CIA assessments. Second one: All of the tools that independent nations exercise to attain their independence and sovereignty, we are hopeful we can collectively – the United States certainly, but countries throughout the Middle East – I spoke with King Abdullah about this; I spoke with – I spoke with President Sisi about this. Each of those countries – I spoke – I spoke with the Emiratis about this. Each of those countries wants to do what it can to build out that independent, sovereign Iraq, to help their government get on its feet and have the Iraqi independence that we’ve been working on, the United States has been working on for now decades. And so all the tools available with regard to their security forces, yes, we want those security forces to be in the control of the Iraqi Government and we want them to have full control over all of their security forces, just in the same way we expect that of every sovereign nation.

QUESTION: But the question is more about the militias throughout – the Iranian-backed militias throughout the region.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Throughout the – that’s the region. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You – but you talked specifically about Iraq.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, that’s certainly the region, but we have – sure, you have Iranian-backed forces in --

QUESTION: Syria.

SECRETARY POMPEO: -- in Syria, you have them in Lebanon, you have them in Yemen. It’s a five-capital strategy, right? This has been the – this is the history of Iran’s efforts: five capitals. And our effort is to make sure that the Iranian people get control of their capital and that it becomes a nation that is normal and isn’t conducting terror campaigns that are unrivaled anyplace else in the world.

MR PALLADINO: Francesco.

QUESTION: With the Khashoggi murder, there was a lot of talk back in D.C. – back in D.C. about, most broadly, the behavior of the crown prince. Do you share the view that his behavior can be a concern for the relation with the United States? Did you ask him to change his behavior, that there might be something around that?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So the United States relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. That’s who – that’s who our partner is; that’s who our strategically shared interest is with. So I had – I spoke with the ruler in Saudi Arabia, the king, and the crown prince, and the foreign minister, and we spoke about a wide range of issues. And where we’re working closely together and being successful we want to redouble our efforts, and where friends think the other one is falling short I was very clear and candid about those things where America is not satisfied, where they’re not meeting our expectations. And they – and they appreciate that.

By the way, you should know they shared places they think America may not be doing everything. I mean, this is – this is how friends engage. You have conversations where you’re not always exactly in the same place, and each tries to ensure that the other understands their position and why it is they’re there, and then you do your best to move forward together.

MR PALLADINO: Conor.

QUESTION: I essentially had the same question, Mr. Secretary. There are a lot of different areas where people think that the crown prince has extended the kingdom too far – in Yemen; the episode with Saad Hariri from Lebanon. He will be around for a long time as a young man and a leader in this kingdom. Do you think that he needs to be chastened at all on his behavior?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll – I don’t even know where to begin to respond to a question like that. Remember what the United States has; it has a deep, longstanding relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And so its leaders are going to act for – in their country’s interest. That’s their obligation, the same way mine is to act in America’s best interests. And so we shared with them places we think that the kingdom isn’t doing what it is we wish that they would do. And when they’re doing the things we’re – that make good sense for partners and friends, we were – we tell them about that and we redouble our efforts there.

MR PALLADINO: Two more questions.

SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s the ninth – about the ninth question that’s been the same question, so if there’s – if there’s anything anybody else might like to talk about, I’m --

QUESTION: I have a very different – I have a very different one.

MR PALLADINO: Let’s go to Courtney.

SECRETARY POMPEO: -- I’m happy to take a shot at something a little bit different, perhaps. It’s been a very productive trip and we’ve talked about lots of really important things, and we ought to talk about those here this afternoon.

QUESTION: A different question. Mr. Secretary, how did – how did the Saudi leaders react to your comments in Doha yesterday talking about trying to resolve the Gulf dispute and the – and improving the prospects for (inaudible)?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I had – yeah, actually we spent more time talking about the remarks in Cairo, which they thought were well placed and consistent with both America’s policy and what it is they hope we’ll continue to do. That is, they think we have the right understanding of the challenges that are here in the Middle East, that this administration does. But we did talk about how we might put the Gulf back in a better place. I think they’d like to see that too. It’s a matter of us all figuring out how to do it together, but mostly, those countries figuring out how they can put it back together. We’ll --

QUESTION: How --

SECRETARY POMPEO: We can certainly – we can certainly provide assistance and support, but at the end of the day, those countries have to get back together. My conversation with them was to share places where it diminishes our capacity to all work together, and I, for that reason, have a keen interest and America has a keen interest in putting those countries back in a better place together.

MR PALLADINO: Lesley, go ahead.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, first of all, condolences. I’m sorry for your loss.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Second of all, I just want to be clear about the President’s tweet and how it’s affected the relationship with Turkey given that the lira has been very hard-hit today. Do you think that, in any way, this could compromise your plans for a withdrawal and that Turkey would continue to go ahead with this plan for it to step in?

SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s a fair question. So I haven’t had a chance to have any conversations with the Turks as of yet, since the President’s tweets went out, but I will. I’m sure I’ll talk to them before too long. I don’t think it changes the President’s decision for our 2,000 uniformed personnel to depart Syria. I don’t think it’ll change that. I think in some ways it sets – it just demarks the importance that we place on this, the importance that we – we want a secured border for all of the parties, not even just the Turks and the Kurds; there are Arabs, there are Christians in the region that we want – we want that to be a place where there isn’t violence as there’s been over these past years. We want – and a good part of that region, there are still – depending on how you define the region, there are still millions of displaced persons in that region too. We want to take that violence level down so that we can begin to return the displaced persons to that region as well. I actually think the President’s remarks are pretty clear about what America hopes to achieve in these conversations with all of the parties, the Turks certainly included amongst them.

MR PALLADINO: Last question, Michele.

QUESTION: Yeah. When you talked in Cairo about rejecting false overtures from enemies, which I assume is Iran, does that rule out the possibility of humanitarian dialogue about prisoners? There’s a new – another American that we’ve learned of since you’ve been on this trip. And then, real quickly, did you raise the April Corley case in Egypt?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes on the April Corley case, and with respect to conversations about prisoners, there are few things that occupy more of my mind than getting Americans back from everyplace, and the Iranian regime has been particularly brutal with respect to the unlawful detention of Americans. I mean, Bob Levinson goes back now years. I don’t want to say more than to say that we are very focused. We have the whole team, certainly at the State Department but across the entire United States Government, that night and day tirelessly is working to return Americans wherever they’re wrongfully detained. And that certainly includes folks that are held inside the Islamic Republic of Iran as well. I’ll take one – I’ll take one more.

QUESTION: Can Oman be helpful on that?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, they have – they have – Oman has historically been helpful on that. I’m sure this will be part of my conversation in what I guess is now my final stop. So, yeah.

Anyway, all right. Well, thank you all very much. Thanks. Thanks for your time.

MR PALLADINO: Okay, thank you, all. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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[1] Syrian