MODERATOR: Hi. Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you so much. We have a lot of people that have dialed into today’s call on Secretary Pompeo’s upcoming travel within the Western Hemisphere and, of course, his first stop in Germany.
For your reference only, this is – excuse me, for your reference, this is background, not for reporting, and we are joined today by [Senior State Department Official One] who is on hand to answer questions that you might have about our stop in Germany. [Senior State Department Official Two] is also here, and he will talk about our objectives in Latin America and on the – and the U.S. stops as well. And finally, joining us today also is [Senior State Department Official Three]. Our speakers will be referred to from this point forward as Senior State Department Officials One, Two, and Three respectively.
We are able to take a limited number of questions today, so for efficiency purposes, we ask that you press 1 then 0 now rather than at the end of the opening statements to queue up these questions. Again, this call is on background; the contents are embargoed until the conclusion of this call.
I will now turn it over to Senior State Department Official One, who will begin our call with opening remarks, and after a brief pause we’ll move on to Senior State Department Official Two, Three, and then your questions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Good afternoon. Thanks, [Moderator]. Secretary Pompeo is traveling to Berlin at the beginning of this trip. While he’s there, he’ll attend a jointly hosted German-UN international dialogue on Libya. It’s more commonly referred to simply as the Berlin conference. This conference is part of the three-point plan that UN Special Representative to Libya Ghassan Salame outlined to the UN Security Council last summer, specifically in July of 2019.
In Berlin, the Secretary will engage with world leaders, and he’s going to advocate for three things: one, the continuation of a ceasefire in Libya; two, the withdrawal of all external forces; and three, a return to a UN-facilitated, Libyan-led political process. The Secretary’s attendance at this event reflects the U.S. priority. The United States will continue to support Libyan parties in achieving a long-term cessation of hostilities and a political settlement that will enable all Libyans to enjoy a more peaceful future. Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Good afternoon, everyone. It’s a pleasure to be with you all today on behalf of the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs to preview Secretary Pompeo’s travel to a region of critical importance to the administration.
Briefly, before I start, I want to say something about the reports of gunfire attacks against members of the Venezuelan National Assembly yesterday. While these reported attacks are not surprising given Maduro’s continued descent into violent dictatorship, it does continue to be horrifying every time we see the continued violent assault on democracy and democratic institutions. Free and fair elections under a transitional government are the only way out of this crisis. We call on all international partners to take immediate steps to isolate and pressure Maduro to that end.
Now, on to the trip. On January 20 through 23rd, I will accompany Secretary Pompeo as he visits Bogota, Colombia; San Jose, Costa Rica; Kingston, Jamaica; and a domestic visit to Florida. The four-day trip, the Secretary’s ninth to the region since assuming office, underscores the importance that this administration places on our new day of relations in our hemisphere. This specific visit will advance key shared priorities in fighting terrorism, strengthening democracy in our hemisphere of freedom, expanding prosperity for our people, and working closer to ensure security.
The Secretary will begin his visit in Bogota. While in Colombia, the Secretary will participate in the Counterterrorism Ministerial, which will continue momentum for increased regional collaboration to combat terrorism, particularly on cutting off funding and illicit activities of regional and global terrorist organizations like Hizballah. The Secretary will meet with Colombian President Duque and Foreign Minister Blum to underscore U.S. support for Colombia’s efforts to secure a just and lasting peace, security, and opportunity for its people, and to commend the Colombian people and government for hosting more than 1.63 million Venezuelan refugees fleeing the corruption, repression, and disastrous policies of Maduro and his associates.
While in Bogota, the Secretary will also meet with Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo to highlight our close partnership in the global fight against terrorism and to reaffirm U.S. support for Brazil’s accession to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD.
Finally, in Colombia, the Secretary will meet with Bolivian Foreign Minister Longaric to underscore the U.S. Government’s strong support for free, fair, transparent, and inclusive new elections in Bolivia on May 3rd. He will highlight areas for U.S. and international cooperation to support them.
From Bogota, the Secretary will travel to San Jose, Costa Rica, which will be the first visit to Costa Rica by a secretary of state in a decade. The Secretary will meet with President Carlos Alvarado and Foreign Minister Manuel Ventura, reinforce our commitment to one of our strongest partners in Central America, and thank Costa Rica for promoting democracy in the region through its leadership in the Organization of American States on the Nicaraguan crisis. He will also thank Costa Rica for welcoming Nicaraguans fleeing the Ortega’s regime’s repression and for its steady condemnation of the abuses of both that regime and the former Maduro regime in Venezuela.
Secretary Pompeo will also make a visit to the Joint Operations Center. The United States provided approximately $40 million of security assistance in each of the past two years to curb the flow of illicit drugs destined for the United States and to address crime in Costa Rica. Our assistance helped Costa Rica acquire four helicopters, three 110-foot Island-class cutters, and a marine patrol aircraft in the last two years, greatly enhancing interdiction capabilities.
The Secretary will then make his way to Kingston, Jamaica, where he’ll emphasize the deepening of our relationship with the Caribbean to advance our common interests in security, prosperity, development cooperation, and the promotion of democracy and human rights, and to commemorate our strong relationship with Jamaica as a partner and ally. Secretary Pompeo will hold bilateral meetings with Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson-Smith and will participate in a roundtable discussion with Foreign Minister Johnson-Smith and the foreign ministers from the Bahamas, Belize, Dominican Republic, Haiti, St. Kitts, and St. Lucia. He will also emphasize the importance of the U.S.-Caribbean relationship. He will highlight our support for democracy, human rights, development, and security cooperation in the Western Hemisphere consistent with the values and principles at the core of our hemispheric union.
Finally, the Secretary will stop in Florida to meet with Governor DeSantis and speak on U.S. support for a peaceful, democratic transition in Venezuela. He will then go to Bushnell, Florida to speak on President Trump’s foreign policy.
I’ll stop here with the summary and we’ll take your questions after our next speaker engages.
MODERATOR: Just one more thing before our next speaker. I just want to remind the journalists on the line to go ahead now and press 1 and then 0 to queue up for questions.
Okay, Senior State Department Official Number Three.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Thanks, [Moderator], and thanks, everyone, for joining the call today. I’m happy to preview Secretary Pompeo’s participation in the Third Western Hemisphere Counterterrorism Ministerial in Bogota, Colombia on Monday. This is another important step to encourage hemispheric cooperation in combatting terrorism in our region.
This ministerial is being held on the one-year anniversary of a deadly ELN attack on a police barracks in Bogota, where 22 cadets were killed and 87 others were injured. This attack truly hit home for the United States, as several of the victims were participating in that program as part of a U.S.-sponsored program.
The ministerial will also focus on Hizballah. Iran’s top terrorist proxy isn’t just a threat in the Middle East. It’s also a threat here in our own hemisphere. At the last counterterrorism ministerial in Buenos Aires in June, we commemorated Hizballah’s 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish Center. That threat persists to this day. The FBI has arrested multiple Hizballah operatives in the past several years who were surveilling sites in the United States and elsewhere. We’ve also seen Hizballah-linked arrests in Paraguay, Brazil, and Peru.
Let me preview a few specific issues the Secretary will address at the ministerial.
First, Venezuela. We remain deeply concerned that Maduro’s Venezuela has extended safe harbor to the ELN, to FARC dissidents, and to Hizballah supporters and sympathizers. This is simply unacceptable. The U.S. Government has taken steps to register our concerns, including annually certifying Venezuela as not fully cooperating with U.S. antiterrorism efforts each year since 2006. In addition, we’ve called out the former Maduro regime’s bad behavior in our Annual Country Reports on Terrorism.
Second, terrorism designations and sanctions. We appreciate the region’s dramatic progress on this issue over the past several years. Argentina and Paraguay have adopted designations regimes and have sanctioned Hizballah as well as other terrorist groups. Honduras and Guatemala have likewise stated their intent to designate Hizballah. We applaud this progress and encourage all of our neighbors in the hemisphere to follow these examples.
I look forward to joining the Secretary in Bogota next week and speaking with my counterparts on the critical issue of increasing counterterrorism cooperation in our hemisphere. Thank you for participating. I look forward to taking your questions.
MODERATOR: Okay. Great. Again, you can still queue up by pressing 1 and then 0 if you’d like to ask a question. The first journalist that we’re going to go to is Jessica Donati of The Wall Street Journal.
OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please, go ahead.
Jessica, please check your mute button on your phone.
QUESTION: Hi. Sorry. Thank you. Thanks for doing this. I wanted to ask what you – would you say will be a successful outcome of the Berlin conference in Libya? Are you expecting there to be a finalized declaration, a ceasefire perhaps, and an arms embargo?
MODERATOR: Go ahead.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So the successful outcome would be the – number one, the primary issue there is the ceasefire. So other things, of course, would be nice to have and, in fact, they’re important. I don’t want to downplay them, but the imperative would be the continuation of a ceasefire.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you. Now we’ll turn it over to Nick Wadhams from Bloomberg.
OPERATOR: Nick, your line is open. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Could you explain a little bit what led to the U.S. decision to put Argentina’s candidacy for the OECD on the back burner and push more for Brazil’s candidacy? Is this a sign of disapproval for the direction in which the new Argentinian Government is headed? Thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No, it’s not a sign of disapproval. The Argentinian Government I think has put the priority on refinancing their debt rather than their OECD accession. And at the same time, Brazil really wanted to move forward on that, so we have strongly supported their candidacy. But it’s two independent actions.
MODERATOR: Great. Thanks. Next we have – I apologize; I think I’m going to butcher your name. But we have a journalist from Antenna TV, looks like a Greek name. Thanasis Tsitsas. Sorry, I probably mispronounced your name.
MODERATOR: Wonderful. Thank you.
QUESTION: Do you hear me?
MODERATOR: Yes. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you hear me? Yes. Thank you for doing this. Germany is going to hold a summit aimed at plotting a path to peace in Libya on January 19th. Greece wanted to be included in the UN-sponsored talks in Berlin but was not given permission to do so. Do you think that Greece has right to participate? Would you like to comment on this, please? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I would prefer not to speculate. This was a conference that was organized jointly by the Germans and the United Nations.
MODERATOR: Great. Okay. Next we’re going to go to Nike Ching of Voice of America.
OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please go ahead. Please check your mute mutton on your phone.
MODERATOR: Go ahead, Nike. We can hear you.
QUESTION: Sure. So Colombia and Costa Rica are among those signed a statement to provide support for Juan Guaido after he was re-elected as leader of National Assembly. As the United States imposed new sanctions against seven Venezuelan politicians earlier this week, is the U.S. asking countries in this hemisphere, including Colombia and Costa Rica, to block assets of lawmakers or take similar measures? What does the U.S. ask from neighboring countries amid the ongoing crisis in Venezuela? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Okay. Thank you for the question. We have been working with neighbors throughout the hemisphere. Everybody’s got slightly different regimes for doing sanctions, or travel restrictions is another important restriction that can be imposed. I think the greatest sign of unity on this has been the actions taken pursuant to the Rio Treaty, which last month sanctioned or imposed travel restrictions on 29 officials of the Maduro regime. That work is continuing, and I think you’ll see more of it. But it’s – there’s now sort of an institutionalized means of trying to coordinate efforts. But the bottom line is, yes, we’d like to see as many people as possible take action or as many countries as possible take action against people who engage in – particularly in this case, in either human rights violations or massive corruption or destruction of democratic institutions. So that’s been the basis for the sanctions and travel restrictions, and it’s continuing.
MODERATOR: Okay. And the last person that we have in the queue is Carol Morello of The Washington Post.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for doing this. I was wondering if you could give us some sort of a sense that when the Secretary talks about President Trump’s foreign policy, what will be the focus? Will it be Iran, or is there – are there any two or three things that will be particularly singled out for discussion, if you can just give us an idea on what he will be talking about? Thank you.
MODERATOR: Carol, are you talking about on a particular leg of the trip?
QUESTION: I think you said on the very last stop in Florida he’s going to be talking about President Trump’s foreign policy. He’ll be giving a speech specifically addressing that. I was wondering what the focus of that would be.
MODERATOR: Got it. Go ahead. No?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No, you go ahead. Because —
MODERATOR: Yeah, I haven’t read his speech yet, Carol. I’m sorry. I will get back to you on that, though.
MODERATOR: Good question. You just reminded me to read the speech.
Okay, it looks like we had one more person dial in: Cami McCormick from CBS.
QUESTION: Yes. Hi. Can you hear me?
MODERATOR: Hi. Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you so much. I had a question about the Libya conference and the foreign backing of the various factions in Libya. First of all, how concerned is the U.S. about Turkey announcing that it’s sending troops into Libya, a NATO ally? And secondly – I don’t know if you’re – if you know or not – are there U.S. forces still in Libya? I know several months ago there was an announcement that Special Forces were coming out because of the situation there on the ground was too unstable, but does the U.S. still have forces in Libya?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So on the question of U.S. forces, I must refer you to DOD on that front. In terms of the external actors that you’ve just named, we are very keen to see that there are no external or foreign interventions. We do not want the conflict widened beyond what it has already become, and this is a situation now where their interventions, the foreign interventions, are only exacerbating humanitarian crises in the country.
MODERATOR: Great. So I want to thank everybody for dialing in. That’s the end of our – we don’t have any more questions in the queue, so thank you so much for dialing in. Please, as always, let me know if you need anything. And we look forward to seeing some of you on the trip. Thank you.