Remarks by Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo With Traveling Press

Office of the Spokesperson

For Immediate Release                                February 28, 2019


Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo With Traveling Press

February 28, 2019

ERT Manila, Philippines

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So the President gave a pretty good description of the summit, how it ended, the progress that we made, and progress we didn’t make.  I thought I’d talk about two other things.

One, we were and continue to be very engaged with the issue between India and Pakistan.  I spent a good deal of time on the phone last night talking to leaders in both countries, making sure there was good information exchanged, encouraging each country to not take any action that would escalate and create increased risk.  I had good conversations, and I am hopeful that we can take down the tension there, at least for the time being, so they can begin to have conversations that don’t portend risk of escalation to either of the two countries.  So we’re working hard on that.

We are still deeply involved in the project in Venezuela, supporting the Venezuelan people, making sure that we get humanitarian aid in and delivered to the Venezuelan people so that the food, the medicine, the hygiene kits that we have put in front of them can actually get to the people who need them.  We’re working on plans to do that.  We’re hopeful that over the next couple weeks we can really begin to make a dent in that problem.  It’s a big problem.  It’s a problem that took a long time to get at.  It’s an important part of making sure that the Venezuelan people’s voices are ultimately heard and that they can live in conditions that are not those that have been foisted upon them by Maduro.

And so with that, happy to take a question or two.

QUESTION:  Sir, I have two questions, just related —


QUESTION:  One, what gave you, the White House, the administration, the confidence to announce on Wednesday night that there would be a joint agreement signed on Thursday afternoon?  Did you think you would reach an agreement?  And what does this summit show about the pluses and minuses of trying to resolve fundamental issues at the leader level instead of trying to clear away the brushwork in advance of the meeting?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, we – we’re coming at it from both ways, right, saw it on both ends of the train.  We cleared away a lot of brush over the past, apparently, 60, 90 days at the working level, then we were hoping we could take another big swing when the two leaders got together.  I think we did.  We made some progress, but we didn’t get as far as we would have hoped to have gotten.  And when you’re dealing with a country that is the nature of North Korea, it is often the case that the most senior leaders have the capacity to make those important decisions.  We got some of them on this trip, but you don’t know which ones you’re actually going to get until the two leaders actually have a chance to get together.  So there was a lot of preparatory work.  We were prepared for the potentiality of this outcome as well, and tomorrow we’ll get right back at it.

QUESTION:  But going back to what happened overnight, because you guys did announce that there was going to be a signing ceremony, so —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, you all shouldn’t get hung up on things like that.  You all – a lot of process.  I watched predictions overnight from the media, people who acted like they knew what was going on.  You should go back and look.  And if any of you did that and said things that turned out to be wrong – I saw an NBC report that said oh, we’d given up on a declaration – you should all go back and correct your reporting.  That’d be really important.  I think that’d give you a lot more credibility to the world than going out and saying silly things that you know nothing about and speculating.

QUESTION:  Secretary —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  No, but I’m just – this is important because I saw some of it.  I read some of it.  It was radically uninformed and now I think can be proven incorrect, and so you ought to go fix it.  And so we were continuing to work.  We worked through the night.  We were very hopeful we’d make enough progress that it would justify a signing statement at the ultimate concluding, and we didn’t.  The President made that decision.

QUESTION:  But Secretary, to be clear, that was the White House public schedule.  That wasn’t —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah.  No, it’s a schedule.  Yeah, we were scheduled to leave seven minutes earlier than we did too.  Yeah.  The world has a way of having an impact.  And so, but we were hopeful even this morning.  We all went back and tried to shore up our vessels and see if we couldn’t get a little further, and we actually did.  But still, look, it’s a long ways.  We’ve known it was a long ways.  There’s still a lot of work to do.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary?


QUESTION:  Thank you so much for coming back.  How did you leave it with Kim Jong-un, Kim Yong-chol, in terms of when the next working-level meeting will occur?  Days from now or —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, we haven’t set a date.  We haven’t set a date.

QUESTION:  What’s your sense?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  My sense is it’ll take a little while.  We’ll each need to regroup a little bit.  But we’re hopeful that Special Representative Biegun and that team will get together before too long.  But we’ll see.  Look, there has to be a reason for the conversations.  There has to be a theory of the case about how to move forward.  I’m confident that there is one.  I’ve seen enough congruence between what the two sides are trying to accomplish.  I saw the goodwill between the two leaders.  So I hope we can come up with that.

Chairman Kim reiterated on his trip he is fully prepared to denuclearize.  He recommitted that they will not conduct missile tests, that he will not conduct nuclear tests.  Those are good things.  Those remain as a pillar, as a foundation.   You heard the President say that he is committed still not to conduct the major exercises.  So there’s still a basis for believing that we can move forward to solve what’s been now a problem going on for an awfully long time.

QUESTION:  Do you think the pressure on him back on Pyongyang might be just too great for him to move at the speed that we have the patience for?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I try to do less psychoanalysis —

QUESTION:  I’m talking about internal political pressure from military elites who don’t want to give up nuclear weapons.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah.  I just – I know what they’ve told us.  I know the things we’re working on.  I know the things where they’ve said, hey, this is really important to them, their priority set.  I think we do understand that better than we did even just a few weeks ago, so I think I know where there’s real room today.  But as time goes on, the economic sanctions remain in place.  This has been the President’s policy since the beginning.  You’ve heard him reiterate maintaining those sanctions.  And I think – so as time goes on, I think we’ll continue to see that we can make some progress.

QUESTION:  Were there last-minute changes to what they were willing to commit to?  I mean, I know that you said you couldn’t quite get them where you wanted to be.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  No.  It’s been a steady stream of progress towards getting to where we want to be.  We just didn’t get far enough.

QUESTION:  So that – the demand that Kim gave to you about full sanctions relief in exchange for Yongbyon, was that something that they had made clear throughout the process but you felt that this was the summit where you could – the President could come in and crack that, or was that something that they sprung on you at the last minute and it was a surprise?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, I don’t want to get into the details.  I’ve always not talked about the details or the in and outs of the negotiations.  There have been lots of ideas proffered over the course of the last months, some by us, some by them, what might be a reasonable – set a path forward, right, a roadmap for what might be forward.  And I will say we haven’t been surprised by much of anything.  The team did really good work.

QUESTION:  But did you feel that there – I mean, obviously, you didn’t – that there was a lot of speculation beforehand?  This gets to your earlier point about the possibility of liaison offices, a peace declaration.


QUESTION:  Did you feel that there was – why did you feel there wasn’t room to sort of pin down those, a possible agreement there, and call the whole thing off?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I don’t understand your question.

QUESTION:  But why not make – come to an agreement on those other issues, perhaps as a sort of basis for future discussions, rather than call the whole thing off?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah.  You should not assume that we didn’t come to agreement on a whole number of issues.  But we’ll all go back and continue to work on that.  There have been lots of things that we’ve moved forward on, and I think we have a set of shared common understandings.

But look, the big issue here, right, is achieving the denuclearization.  That’s the objective of the conversations and in turn to provide peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and a brighter future for the North Korean people.  On those things there’s still a lot of work.

MR PALLADINO:  One more, sir?


QUESTION:  Can I ask about the Philippines?


MR PALLADINO:  You had a question, Bill?


QUESTION:  Yes.  My question is when you were CIA director you talked about —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Oh, now you’re testing my memory.  Okay.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Well, you famously said the threat was just a handful of months away.  And now we’re more than —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  That’s not what I said, actually.

QUESTION:  What did you say?  Months away.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  That’s not what I said.

QUESTION:  What did you say?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I didn’t say the threat was months away.

QUESTION:  Well, now it’s been more than a year.  Is the position that the testing means that it was frozen?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I don’t understand your question.

QUESTION:  Has the threat receded?  When you were saying that it was just months away —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  The reason we’re having these conversations is because we’re concerned about the threat to the world.  It’s the reason the UN Security Council placed the sanctions that are in place, right.  The whole world voted for these sanctions there because of the risk, the concern that the North Koreans will act in a way that presents real risk to the world.  That’s the reason we’re after this.  It’s the reason we continue on this project.

MR PALLADINO:  We’ll stop it there.

QUESTION:  Did you —

QUESTION:  Philippines.  Philippines.

MR PALLADINO:  Do you want to do one Philippines?  One Philippines?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Sure.  We’ll do a Philippines question.

MR PALLADINO:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  I just wonder if you can tell us a little bit about – I know it’s your first time visiting as Secretary.


QUESTION:  And the timing of it, at a moment when the Chinese and Chinese state-backed companies seem to be getting deeper and deeper into buying up some assets up in Subic Bay, Olongapo, is there a sort of counter message that you’re bringing to Manila now to the Duterte administration that the United States is countering China; we would like to be closer?  Obviously, we’re a treaty ally.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Sure.  We’re a treaty —

QUESTION:  Is there a message behind that?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  We’re a treaty ally.  The reason for the timing is it’s almost on the way back – not quite exactly, but almost.  But it made good timing.  It was a good time when the president was there and available to spend some time with me (inaudible).  We will go reinforce all the good work that we have done together.  We’ve had – you know the story, right – a longstanding defense security cooperation with them, a deep love by the Philippine people of the United States.  I think the number is 4 million Philippines living in the U.S.  There’s a longstanding, deep relationship between our countries, and I hope to go build on that with my counterpart Teddy Locsin and President Duterte as well.  So I’m looking forward to it.  It should be a good conversation.

QUESTION:  Are you concerned about Chinese influence?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Absolutely.  We have an Indo-Pacific strategy that’s very plain and a National Security Strategy that sits underneath that.  Yeah, we’re worried that the Chinese are using their power in ways that will deny freedom of navigation in the region.  And that’s important to every country in Asia, Philippines included.  So I’m sure we’ll have a chance to talk about that as well.

MR PALLADINO:  Great.  Thank —

QUESTION:  Can I just ask a clarifying question?


QUESTION:  So you cited the reporting being incorrect about not asking for the full list of their nuclear program.


QUESTION:  So did you, in fact, ask for that?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  We’ve been working on that since almost a year ago, when I made my first trip, when I was in a different role.  Yeah.

QUESTION:  But it was a formal ask?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I don’t know what “formal” means.  What does “formal” mean to you?

QUESTION:  You ask Kim Jong-un can you – can we have a full accounting of your nuclear program.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yes.  And that is not a new request from us.  But it’s important to have that kind of understanding.  You can’t figure out when you’re done until you know what complete looks like.  So yes, we’ve had this conversation now for an extended period of time.

QUESTION:  You repeated that request at this summit?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yes.  Yes, I’ll repeat it again.  Yes, we repeated it at this summit as well.  So if you’ll get NBC to take that story down, that’d be useful.

QUESTION:  Not our story.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, it’d be good.

MR PALLADINO:  All right.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  By the way, you should all check your own stuff too, make sure you all had it right.  It’s important.  Your reporting matters.  I count you among the most important things we do in America, the freedom of the press.  You should use that tool wisely and accurately and carefully.  It’s a good thing.  It’s good for all of us.

All right.  Thanks everybody.

MR PALLADINO:  Okay.  Thanks, guys.  Thank you, sir.

QUESTION:  Thank you.