Europe and Eurasia: Press Availability With British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt

Press Availability

Michael R. Pompeo

Secretary of State

U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office
London, United Kingdom
May 8, 2019

FOREIGN SECRETARY HUNT: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I’m delighted to welcome Secretary Mike Pompeo to the foreign office for his first bilateral visit to Britain, and it is a privilege to reaffirm the strength of the friendship between our two countries. The Anglo-American alliance was forged in the greatest struggle against tyranny the world has ever known. We’ll soon commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings when Britain and America joined forces with our allies to begin the liberation of Europe. We look forward to welcoming President Trump to mark that occasion, and it’s fitting that Secretary Pompeo should be our guest on V-E Day.

I’m proud to say that in defense and security, Britain and America cooperate more closely than any two countries in the world. We keep our peoples safe, we entrust one another with intelligence that saves lives on both sides of the Atlantic. Just last year when the Russian state used a chemical weapon in Salisbury, America responded by expelling 60 Russian officials, more than any other country, an act of friendship for which I repeat my thanks.

We stand together in defense of the values upon which our nations were founded. Today, Secretary Pompeo and I met faith leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, to discuss how we can better protect freedom of religion in a world where people of all faiths, including 245 million Christians, face persecution for practicing their beliefs. This is an issue close to both our hearts. The recent atrocities in New Zealand and Sri Lanka remind us just why.

And I’m thankful that today we have a glimmer of light with the news that Asia Bibi will be able to embark on a new chapter of her life. I welcome the Government of Pakistan’s commitment to uphold the rule of law following the decision of its supreme court to confirm her acquittal. Britain’s primary concern has always been the safety of Asia Bibi and her family, and we’ve been in contact with our partners to help ensure she gets the freedom and security she deserves.

Today, the prime minister and I have had excellent discussions with Secretary Pompeo on a range of global challenges including China and the situations in Yemen and Iran. Let me focus on two of those.

First, Iran: The UK and U.S. work incredibly closely on Iran, including to counter Iran’s destabilizing activity in the Middle East. Whilst we both agree that Iran must never be able to acquire a nuclear weapon, it’s no secret that we have a different approach on how best to achieve that. The UK has continued to support the nuclear deal, which is a key achievement of the global nonproliferation architecture, because we believe it’s in our shared security interests.

But today’s announcement from Tehran about its commitments under the deal is an unwelcome step. I urge Iran not to take further escalatory steps and to stand by its commitments. Sanctions were lifted in exchange for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. Should Iran cease to observe its nuclear commitments, there would, of course, be consequences. For as long as Iran keeps its commitments, then so too will the United Kingdom.

Turning to Venezuela, I’m deeply concerned by the plight of the Venezuelan people, who have suffered so much at the hands of Maduro, and we must intensify pressure on the regime, including through potential further sanctions and condemn those who are propping up Maduro, particularly Russia, whose deployment of military personnel in Caracas will achieve nothing except prolong the suffering of the Venezuelan people. So that’s why earlier today, the foreign office expressed our deep concern about the Kremlin’s actions to the Russian charge d’affaires.

As we respond to these challenges, Britain and America are united by the values that have always been at the heart of our alliance. Our countries cherish the same beliefs in liberty, democracy, and the rule of law. The anniversary of D-Day reminds us how the valor and sacrifice of a previous generation saved those values from tyranny, and our duty is to follow humbly in that great tradition.

So let me close by repeating my welcome to Mike, who is a great friend of the UK. We are proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States to defend our common values.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. Thank you, Foreign Secretary Hunt. This is my first trip to the United Kingdom as Secretary of State, but Jeremy and I have met many times at many different places in the world, and we talk frequently by phone. You’ve truly become a great friend and I know that you’re a great partner to our collective desire to keep our two countries safe.

It was my privilege to meet with you and with Prime Minister May. President Trump is very much looking forward to his visit here next month and commemorating D-Day with our great allies.

It was evident in my conversations both with Jeremy and with Prime Minister May that the Special Relationship doesn’t simply endure; it’s thriving, despite what you might read in the papers, and we’re ready to meet new challenges and face them together and seize on new opportunities together as well.

Brexit has obviously been a hot topic here. I reiterated to the prime minister as well as to Foreign Secretary Hunt that it’s the United Kingdom’s sovereign and democratic choice on how it will proceed, but also that no matter what happens, the United States will continue our strong relationship with both the United Kingdom and the EU. Our great hope is that Brexit can be resolved soon because President Trump is eager to strike a bilateral trade agreement that expands on our number-one trade relationship.

I’ve had the privilege as both CIA director and now as the Secretary of State to observe how the UK has been amongst our most reliable partners on a broad range of security issues. We are grateful for your support of our diplomacy and pressure against North Korea, your eagerness to contribute to the strength of the NATO alliance, and your leadership to resolve crises in Syria and in Yemen. The United Kingdom also has contributed mightily to the Coalition to Defeat ISIS and, as the attacks in Sri Lanka showed, we need to keep up that fight against radical Islamic terrorism. A key part of that fight is that every coalition member must take back terrorist fighters captured on the battlefield.

Our nations have also stood side-by-side in confronting Russian aggression. We jointly held Russia accountable for the chemical weapons attacks in Salisbury of last year, and together we will continue to disrupt the hostile activities of Russian intelligence networks, uphold the prohibition of chemical weapons use, and defend our peoples against all forms of Russian aggression.

The United States and the UK cooperate a great deal on regional security in Asia as well. That cooperation will be all the more necessary as China tries to shift the global balance of power in its favor. As a historic maritime power, Britain has shown leadership in standing up to China’s unlawful behavior in the South China Sea, and we urge the British Government to be equally vigilant and vocal against a host of other Chinese activities that undermine the sovereignty of all nations.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is just one of these problems. China peddles corrupt infrastructure deals in exchange for political influence. Its bribe-fueled debt-trap diplomacy undermines good governance and threatens to upend the free-market economic model on which so many countries depend, and which has lifted up hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. If China can’t conduct BRI with maximum transparency, it shouldn’t do it at all. We hope the UK will insist on the same.

We also discussed at some length the importance of secure 5G networks. I’ll have a little more to say on that this afternoon, but I’m confident that each of our two nations will choose a path which will ensure security of our networks.

Elsewhere in Asia, the United States unequivocally supports UK sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory. Its status as a UK territory is essential to the value of the joint U.S.-UK base on Diego Garcia and our shared security interests.

We also had a forthright conversation on the Islamic Republic of Iran, and as Jeremy said, we share the same perception of the Iranian threat and we are together trying to find new ways to work closely to combat that threat.

Finally, and following up on the roundtable discussion that we had with faith leaders this morning, the foreign secretary and I discussed the importance of religious freedom. This is just one example of the commitment to shared values on which this historic relationship depends. We will continue to cooperate to protect the God-given right of human beings in all parts of the world to believe what they want to believe. We look forward to seeing the UK at the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, which I’ll host in July.

Thank you again, Foreign Secretary Hunt, for your hospitality, and I look forward to continuing to meet the challenges of our time together.

MR HOULSBY: Okay. We have time for a few short questions. First, James Landale from the BBC.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. Foreign Secretary, can the Iran nuclear deal survive? What are you prepared to do to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive? And whose side are you on here, Tehran or Washington?

And Mr. Secretary, if Iran enriches more uranium, what will the United States do? What sanctions are you – further sanctions are you prepared to contemplate? And is there not a danger here that the greater – the more pressure the United States places on Iran ends up not with Iran changing its behavior, but an increasing risk of war? Are you really prepared to contemplate the risk of war in Iran?

FOREIGN SECRETARY HUNT: I’ll go first. On the Iran nuclear deal, it is a very important achievement of Western diplomacy. Despite all the problems that we have in the Middle East today, Iran does not have nuclear weapons and its neighbors have not responded by getting their own nuclear weapons. And Secretary Pompeo and I are at one in agreeing that it will be a massive step back for that region if it became nuclearized.

The JCPOA is a deal, and in return for the lifting of sanctions Iran has agreed to vital compliance measures. If they break that deal, then there will be consequences in terms of how European powers react. So we urge the Iranians to think very long and hard before they break that deal. It is in no one’s interest, it is certainly not in their interest because the moment they go nuclear, their neighbors will as well. And so that’s why this is a very serious moment, and we strongly urge them to reconsider what they said in their letter.

SECRETARY POMPEO: So not far from here are the Churchill War Rooms, where a leader of this great country stared evil in the face and recognized the threat which – that that evil presented to the entire world. We’re working together to push back against that threat. Your question about whose side are you on – this is a parlor game that gets played. We’re on the same side. We’re on the side of values-driven democracy, we’re on the side of freedom, we’re on the side of creating a nation for the Iranian people where they can have religious freedom and they can have a democracy. We’re on the side of Europe so that it can exist without assassination campaigns being conducted in its own capitals. We’re on this side together. We’re on the side of urging a nation not to underwrite Hizballah, which presents risks to Israel.

These are things that Jeremy and I and our two countries share and have in common, and we are each determined to ensure that that outcome is ultimately achieved.

MS ORTAGUS: Courtney McBride, Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION: Thank you both. Mr. Secretary, what does the selective noncompliance announcement from Iran specifically mean for the U.S.? I mean, does it change anything? I mean, are – is – are you concerned that this removes remaining safeguards against nuclear activity?

And for you, Mr. Foreign Secretary, are you ruling out immediate sanctions? You sound as though you’re urging Iran to resume or remain in compliance. Are you ruling out an immediate response from the UK and from Europe more broadly? And beyond that, is there a red line?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So as for the United States, first of all, I’ve seen the reporting, I’ve seen the letter that’s been sent. I think it was intentionally ambiguous. We’ll have to wait to see what Iran’s actions actually are. They’ve made a number of statements about actions they threatened to do in order to get the world to jump. We’ll see what they actually do. The United States will wait to observe that. And when we do, we’ll make good decisions. We’ve – obviously we’ve made a decision different than the United Kingdom has with respect to the JCPOA. And so they – Iran’s decision to depart from the JCPOA for us mostly is about their decision to work on their nuclear program to create pathways which might reduce their breakout time. These are the things that are essential for us to continue to work and to observe, and I am confident that as we watch Iran’s activity that the United Kingdom and our European partners will move forward together to ensure that Iran has no pathway for a nuclear weapon system.

FOREIGN SECRETARY HUNT: According to the letter that we’ve received this morning, there is a 60-day window before Iran plans to do anything, and they need to be very clear that if they don’t comply with the JCPOA, there will be consequences. And I’m sure that I’m speaking for my European colleagues in that respect as well. This is a very big moment for Iran. Their economy is in a state of severe distress; it’s the last thing they should be doing for the Iranian people, to be investing money in re-nuclearizing, and it will make them less secure, not more secure.

MR HOULSBY: Larissa Brown from the Daily Mail.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. If Britain gives partial access to Huawei to its 5G network, will that affect your special relationship with Britain, and how concerned are you? If I may, are you frustrated by Britain’s reluctance to take back its foreign fighters from Syria? And Secretary of State, is this Huawei deal worth risking Britain’s special relationship with America? Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO: So I have great confidence that the United Kingdom will never take an action that will break the special relationship, just so you should know upfront more broadly. With respect to 5G, we’re continuing to have technical discussions. We’re making our views very well known. From America’s perspective, each country has a sovereign right to make its own decision about how to deal with the challenge.

The United States has an obligation to ensure that places where we will operate, places where American information is, places where we have our national security at risk, that they operate inside trusted networks, and we will – that’s what we’ll do.

With respect to the foreign fighters, yes, we have an expectation that every country will work to take back their foreign fighters and continue to hold those foreign fighters, and we think that’s essential. There are challenges that even go beyond that today. There are some 70,000 people at a camp there, some women and children. We’ve got to sort through that. There’s very real risk.

When I was in Baghdad last night, I spent a great deal of time talking with the Iraqi leadership about this and how we can all move forward together to ensure that our children and our grandchildren never have to fight these same terrorists again. We’ve rounded them up. They are now detained, and they need to continue to be detained so they cannot present additional risk to anyone anywhere in the world.

FOREIGN SECRETARY HUNT: All right. Just on that last issue, this is obviously a very important issue that we’re working through very closely. We have to keep an eye on both the security of the United Kingdom, but also make sure there is due process, and we are looking at all the options available to us in this situation.

With respect to Huawei and 5G, we have not made our final decision as a government. We are considering the evidence very carefully, but we would never take a decision that compromised our ability to share intelligence with our Five Eyes colleagues or particularly with the United States. And we are absolutely clear that the security relationship that we have with the United States is what has underpinned the international order since 1945 and has led to unparalleled peace and prosperity, and the preservation of that is our number one foreign policy priority.

MS ORTAGUS: Katie Pavlich, Townhall.

QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, what is your reaction to the European countries that remain in the JCPOA setting up special financial channels for Iran to continue doing business while avoiding the triggering of U.S. sanctions especially given Iran’s threats today of noncompliance with that deal? And Foreign Minister Hunt, where does the UK stand on Nicolas Maduro and the current crisis in Venezuela? Is the UK willing to go beyond condemnation and sanctioning if Maduro decides to stay? And I’d like to get your reaction to the endorsement of Maduro’s dictatorship by labor leader Jeremy Corbyn.

SECRETARY POMPEO: I’d actually rather answer your second question. (Laughter.) Yeah, I will. I’m happy to address the question you put to me. Look, we’ve talked with the UK, Germany, and France about INSTEX. There are provisions in the sanctions we put in place that allow humanitarian aid and certain products to get into the country. We’ve said so long as that is the vehicle – that is a vehicle being used for that limited purpose, that non-sanctioned purpose, it’s, of course, unobjectionable. When transactions move beyond that, it doesn’t matter what vehicle’s out there, if the transaction is sanctionable, we will evaluate it, review it, and if appropriate, levy sanctions against those that were involved in that transaction. It’s very straightforward.

As for your second question, it is disgusting to see leaders in not only the United Kingdom, but in the United States as well, who continue to support the murderous dictator Maduro. And it is not in either of our country’s best interest for those leaders to continue to advocate on their behalf – the Venezuela people have spoken through their constitutional mechanism. They have put Juan Guaido as their interim president, and he is the duly elected leader there, and Maduro is on borrowed time. And to see American leaders or leaders from this country continue to provide support and comfort to a regime that has created so much devastation, so much destruction – I was in Colombia, I saw those families who had to make choices about whether to feed their children on even days or odd days. That is a direct result of Nicolas Maduro. And no leader in a country with Western democratic values ought to stand behind them.

FOREIGN SECRETARY HUNT: This is a country where 3 million people have fled the country. GDP’s gone down by 40 percent in the last four years. People can’t access basic meds, and people are rifling through rubbish bags to get food in the streets. And John McDonnell describes this as socialism in action, and I think people need to draw their own conclusions about what his own plans might be for the UK.

MR HOULSBY: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got time for today. Thank you.