Europe and Eurasia: Remarks to Traveling Press


Michael R. Pompeo

Secretary of State

Bocharov Ruchey
Sochi, Russia
May 14, 2019

SECRETARY POMPEO: So we had – I don’t know – an hour-and-a-half, almost two-hour meeting. President Putin was there, Foreign Minister Lavrov was there, a couple others in attendance as well. And we talked about nearly every issue facing our two countries, all the challenges and all the opportunities between us as well. We had a very productive conversation on pathways forward in Syria, things that we can do together where we have a shared set of interests, how to move the political process forward. So I’m very excited about that part of the conversation.

And we were also able to make some, I think, truly constructive process points with respect to how Afghanistan might roll out. We each have histories – Russia has a history in Afghanistan; we now have been there for 17 years – how we can move forward on that.

And then we talked – we spent a fair amount of time thinking about North Korea, how we might unlock the denuclearization. I think we share the same objective, and I hope we can find ways that we can work together on that. He understands that the U.S. is going to be in the lead, but I think there’s places we can work together.

Then we spent a lot of time talking about the strategic dialogue and arms control and how we would move that process forward too.

Happy to take a couple questions before we all head on the plane.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you talked a little bit about this during the briefing, but on Iran, did you – do you see any link between Iran and the events in the last couple days? Do you have any evidence to suggest that Iran was in some way responsible for that?

And then second, on Ukraine, do you still believe that it is a precondition for a meeting between the two presidents that Russia release the Ukrainian sailors from the Kerch Strait?

SECRETARY POMPEO: With respect to your second question, I’ll leave that answer to the White House. With respect to the first question, I don’t have anything to add concrete about the connection between the actions and Iran. I think in the coming hours and days we’ll know the answer to that, but I don’t have anything this evening.

QUESTION: Could I ask you a broader question about how you found President Putin? You’ve had sharp words for him before, even at the Claremont Institute the other day. Do you fundamentally see him in a different way after today, or do you still have the same view on the behavior and how his government acts?

SECRETARY POMPEO: This is about the relationship with the United States and Russia and how we move forward together. It’s not about personalities. It’s not about people. It’s about how do you take the interests of our two countries. We’re going to protect our interests doggedly. They are going to do their best to protect their interests in that same way.

So no, we had a good conversation. He was fully engaged. He obviously knows these issues very, very well, and so we were able to have – quickly get down into the context and concrete components of the various elements of the relationship. So in that sense, it was really – really very productive.

QUESTION: A similar question to that. There’s a lot of folks who back home don’t think it’s time to move on in the relationship, still holding on to what happened in the 2016 election. Do you think that the U.S. is ready to move past that and begin repairing the relationship, as you said?

And then secondly, you’ve made clear and Sergey Lavrov made clear that you don’t share an understanding of what happened in 2016. Do you think that the message got through, though, on 2020? Do you think they understand that there would be real repercussions?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I said it as clearly as I could, so yes, I think so. By the way, we have another election in the middle of that. We had one in 2018, where we had some good success at making sure that we kept our election safe and secure and free from interference. So we have another data point after 2016 that we can turn to to gain even more confidence. We’ll continue to do the things we need to do to protect our elections in 2020, and I don’t think you could be mistaken about America finding that Russian interference is unacceptable in the 2020 election.

What was your first question, Guy? Your first question was about – oh, is it time to move on.


SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s not about – I don’t see it as moving on. It’s the case that we have places where we just have very different views. You mentioned Ukraine. Look, we have different views on how Ukraine ought to proceed. So it’s not about moving on; it’s about trying to find solutions, compromises, places where there are overlapping interest so you can make progress at unlocking some of the most difficult problems that are facing us.

And so you try to keep the process on high ground, and you try and keep the relationships on the high ground. That’s important. President Trump has made very clear that he wants us all to do that, and we – I strove to do that today with Foreign Minister Lavrov and President Putin. But each of us was very clear about the places we were prepared to go and the things we weren’t prepared to do, and we’ll keep working on each of those.

QUESTION: You mentioned some shared interest in Syria. Were there any concrete steps taken on that front?

SECRETARY POMPEO: There were, but nothing that I can really share with you. But there were. There were some things that I think we can both go do. I guess I can talk about one of them.

So there’s the political process associated with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 that has been hung up, and I think we mutually now can begin to work together in a way to unlock that, to get that process to at least take the first step of forming that committee. It’s not done. It’s not – I’m not sure we have all the capacity of that, but I think we now have a common understanding of the places we were hung up, which I think we can work our way through.