Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo Remarks to Traveling Press En Route to Bangkok, Thailand
SECRETARY POMPEO: So just a couple things, if I may, just to sort of set what caused me to take this trip. So we’ll be gathering with a bunch of countries that we have worked closely with on many different things, and you’ll see that I’ll have a series of bilats. Many of these are like-minded countries who share our vision for what the region should look like and how economic growth will – ought to be achieved. And so I’m looking forward to that. I’ve seen some of them recently, but some of them I haven’t seen for a little bit as well.
We’ll spend a fair amount of time, I’m sure, talking about the opportunities in the Indo-Pacific, the fact that they nearly uniformly share our view that a rules-based, liberal understanding of the economy is the right way to grow theirs as well. So they’re looking to partner with the United States, and so you’ll see – see a bunch of folks – we’ll talk about the Middle East Security Initiative. There’s a – number of these countries have important products that flow through the Straits of Hormuz. We’ll talk to them about that as well.
There is a broad range of topics, not exclusively limited to Asia and Southeast Asia, that we’ll have conversations – and then I’ll come back and I’ll land in the Pacific islands to demonstrate America’s continued commitment to not only Asia and Southeast Asia but to the Pacific islands as well. And of course, we’ll see our Aussie friends, which will be great to reinforce that too just before they’re coming to Washington.
We’re good, so why don’t we take a couple of quick questions.
QUESTION: The news – let me ask you about North Korea. There are reports that the talks are finally going to be started. Do you have anything to say about that – where, when, how?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t. I don’t have anything. We think they’ll be started before too long. I’m very hopeful. Chairman Kim had said when the two leaders met at the DMZ that it could get started in a few weeks. It’s taken a little bit longer than that. There’s been a little bit of preliminary work to be done. But I hope – I never want to set a date. I hope before too long we will have Special Representative Biegun sitting with his – what I think will be a new counterpart from North Korea.
QUESTION: You can’t say when, or there’s no —
SECRETARY POMPEO: No, I can’t say.
QUESTION: There are reports that the North Koreans told the amnesty team in the DMZ last week that the start will resume very soon. Can you confirm that? And will you yourself have some engagement with North Korea during the Bangkok —
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t know. We don’t anticipate that the North Koreans will be at the event in Bangkok, but if they are, I’d look forward to the chance to meet with Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, would be great. We’ll see if they are there, and if they are there, I am confident we’ll meet.
QUESTION: Okay. And just on Hong Kong, what will be your message during all those meetings, and will you be meeting with your Chinese counterpart to – what will you tell him about Hong Kong?
SECRETARY POMPEO: (Inaudible) meeting with my Chinese counterpart. We’ll have a small conference – a small group of us will get together for a little bit – so we’ll talk to him about a whole host of issues. That will be taking place either during or at the tail end of the trade negotiations that Ambassador Lighthizer and Secretary Mnuchin are involved in.
With respect to Hong Kong, these are the people of Hong Kong asking their government to listen to them. So it’s always appropriate for every government to listen to their people.
QUESTION: Sir, we had a Chinese official just saying that the United States – suggesting somehow the United States is behind the protests and that the U.S. needs to provide an explanation for this. Do you have any reaction to that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. I think the protests are solely the responsibility of the people of Hong Kong, and I think they are the ones that are demanding that their government listen to them and hear their voices. It’s – I saw these remarks as well. It’s ludicrous on its face.
QUESTION: What will you tell these ASEAN countries who are starting to turn to China? How will you lure them back to be within the U.S. sphere?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I wouldn’t describe it as “lure back.” We have great relationships. We have huge trading relationships with them. We partner with them on issues across a broad spectrum. So I wouldn’t describe it as that, as if somehow today they were – I think that would be rude to describe them as vassal states —
SECRETARY POMPEO: — of China today that need to be lured out of the clutches of China. It’s just not factual —
QUESTION: Well, they’re not in the clutches, but they are turning to China.
SECRETARY POMPEO: No, it’s just not – it’s not factually accurate. They are looking for partners that are going to help them build out their economies and to take good care of their people. That’s what every one of those governments wants.
And it is true the previous administration claimed they were pivoting to Asia, but I have seen literally no evidence of that having taken place. When I talk to my counterparts in those countries, they would probably be polite, but they would certainly probably indicate that the United States wasn’t engaged, and that U.S. leadership wasn’t as active and involved in the things that they care about – their security, their economies, and all of those things.
QUESTION: And you think you’re pumping up that engagement?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I know that we are. I know that we’re more present. This is my third trip to Asia as Secretary of State. The President was – just this year the President’s been here a couple times, involved in North Korea. We’re working with the Japanese, South Koreans on all kinds of different economic matters.
Our Indo-Pacific strategy is well on its way to bearing fruit for not only them but for the United States, and we have watched these coalitions build out. We’re working hard with the Indian Government to provide them with opportunities to grow their economy as well, so yeah.
MS ORTAGUS: Let’s get Nolan in.
QUESTION: I’ve got a question about Afghanistan.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, sir. Sorry (inaudible).
QUESTION: That’s okay. Could you clarify the U.S.’s game plan in Afghanistan? Are we looking for a total, complete withdrawal by 2020, or will there be some sort of residual advise-and-assist force? And also, are we signaling that we’re looking for short-term wins by saying we want to get out of Afghanistan by 2020 right at the moment when we need to show our long-term resolve to Iran and North Korea?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I saw the reporting on that. I wish reporters had been a little more careful in what they had said. They got it wrong. There’s no deadline for this. The President has been very direct about his expectations that we will reduce our operational footprint on the ground in Afghanistan just as quickly as we can get there, consistent with his other mission set, which is to ensure that we have an adequate risk reduction plan for making sure that there is not terror that’s conducted from Afghanistan as well.
So we have a twin set of missions. Ambassador Khalilzad – I spoke to him two or three hours ago – is engaged with Afghan Government, other elements of the Afghanistan leadership, as well as with the Taliban to try and deliver a peace and reconciliation plan that will permit us to conduct a conditions-based withdrawal from Afghanistan as quickly as we can execute it.
So I saw the comments from yesterday. I hope they’re out not only before the next election but before we land today, right. I hope – our mission set is to do this as quickly and as – in a responsible method as we can achieve, consistent with the work that Ambassador Khalilzad has been engaged in for the last six or seven months.
We’ll do this with our partners in the region. All of the elements of Resolute Support are fully briefed on what we’re doing. We will have an orderly plan for how we’re going to maintain our counterterrorism posture in the region. There’s really not much news here other than as each day goes by, we’re getting closer to getting an understanding from all the parties in Afghanistan about how we would deliver this better outcome not only for the United States and the others who are – who have soldiers and sailors and airmen and marines on the ground and in the air, but for the Afghan people as well. That’s the mission the President’s laid out, and we’re working our way there. I hope in the next handful of weeks we’ll have significant progress we can announce.
QUESTION: On Japan and South Korea will be there in Bangkok as well. Do you plan some kind of mediation in the tension there – there’ve been between them in the last weeks?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I’ll meet with Foreign Minister Kang, I’ll meet with Foreign Minister Kono, and then I’ll meet with the two of them together, and we will encourage them to find a path forward. We think it’s important. They’re both great partners of ours; they’re both working closely with us on our efforts to denuclearize North Korea. So if we can help them find a good place for each of their two countries, we certainly find that important to the United States, indeed, as well as to each of those two countries. So yeah, I hope we’ll have a good conversation and we can help get to a good place.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay, thanks guys.