Secretary Pompeo’s remarks including on Venezuela, repatriation of American citizens, Honduras, COVID-19 humanitarian assistance followed by Q&A.
MICHAEL R. POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE
Press Briefing Room
March 31, 2020
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, good morning, everyone. It’s great to see you all. I hope everybody’s keeping safe, healthy. I want to talk about two important topics today. The first is the new framework, our pathway for democracy that we’re rolling out today with respect to the conflict, the crisis in Venezuela. And then second, I want to talk about the really amazing, historic work the State Department is doing in mounting an effort to repatriate Americans from all across the world in response to the pandemic. It’s in the finest traditions of what the State Department has always done.
First, Venezuela. I don’t want to go into every detail; I’ve got Elliot Abrams here with me, too. He’ll – happy to help me take questions here at the end. But I wanted to set up the framework for this pathway to democracy. Broadly speaking, it would put the elected members of the National Assembly, representing both sides, would create an acceptable council of state to serve as the transitional government until presidential and National Assembly elections could be held – we hope within six to twelve months.
The president of the transitional government would not be able to run for president in those elections. Both Nicolas Maduro and Juan Guaido would accept the council of state as the sole executive during this transitional period. If the conditions of the framework are met, including the departure of foreign security forces and elections deemed free and fair by international observers, then all remaining U.S. sanctions would be lifted.
We’ve got the full text; you can see the agreement on our website. We hope that every Venezuelan will consider this framework carefully, thoughtfully, and seriously. We think it presents an opportunity for the Venezuelan people.
Now turning to the State Department’s truly heroic efforts to repatriate Americans. It was Superbowl Sunday, February 2nd, when we all still had live sports on TV. Our team was working that day to arrange two flights to bring home Americans from Wuhan, China. One of our medical team’s leaders wrote an email to his colleagues. I want to read part of it to you.
The colleague wrote, quote: “While the whole country enjoys the game in the comfort of home or a pub, most will have no idea that a small group heads into the heart of the global outbreak with the singular focus of bringing their fellow countrymen out of hellacious conditions. No matter how it turns out, we happy few have dared greatly and given ourselves over to this worthy cause.” End of quote.
That mission was completed, bringing home more than 800 people from Wuhan, and it was the beginning of one of the most important and unprecedented missions in the history of the State Department. As of today we have repatriated over 20 – I think it’s 6, or 27,000 U.S. citizens from more than 50 countries. The stories of our team’s heart and character and commitment to excellence are truly amazing. Let me give you just a couple of examples.
In Bhutan, no easy place to get to, an American was critically ill from the virus, intubated on a ventilator, and frankly expected to die in a country located in one of the most remote corners of the world. But we came to the rescue. Our team arranged a biocontainment transport from Bhutan to an intensive care unit in Baltimore, Maryland, a distance of nearly 8,000 miles. To fly through Kathmandu, there’s about 12 pilots that can make that flight. It was one of the most complex medical evacuations in history, and the State Department pulled it off.
In Honduras, a double lung transplant recipient was running out of medications which aren’t available there. An intrepid young consular officer figured out a way to get safe passage. Got him a letter, got him to the airport. It was a city that was in complete and total lockdown. We got him home on the next flight. That man later told our team that we saved his life.
The good news is, too, State Department’s doing great, but we’re not doing this alone. We’re coordinating closely with other agencies in the federal government. My deputy, Steve Biegun; Brian Bulatao, the Under Secretary for Management; Keith Krach, the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs; the 24/7 repatriation team are performing these duties amazingly.
Never in the department’s 230-year history have we led a worldwide evacuation of such enormous geographic complexity and such geographic scale. We have no higher duty to the American people than to pull this off. I’ve never been more proud of how the team’s done than I am today. The 24/7 repatriation task force will continue to bring home thousands more Americans in the coming days and weeks.
At the same time, I want to deliver a message to Americans who are still abroad. We remain steadfast and committed to getting you all back. We do not know in some countries how long the continued commercial flights in your country may continue to operate. We can’t guarantee the U.S. Government’s ability to arrange chartered flights indefinitely where commercial options no longer exist. I urge Americans to register with their nearest embassy at step.state.gov and work your way back here. Americans abroad who wish to return home should do so immediately and make arrangements to accomplish that.
Look, I’m just as proud of the work we’re doing on repatriation as I am about the health and humanitarian assistance that the State Department’s providing around the world, too. It’s a topic that deserves more attention; we don’t talk about it all that often. In America, we provide aid because we’re a generous and noble people. We also do it because we know, from prior experiences, that we don’t have good data, full transparency, and all that effort to fight pandemics that can harm Americans back home too. For both of these reasons, the United States was one of the first nations to step forward and offer help.
In early February – it seems like a long time ago – in early February, we transported nearly 18 tons of medical supplies provided by Samaritan’s Purse, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and others to Wuhan. That same month, we pledged $100 million in assistance to countries to fight what would become a pandemic, including an offer of assistance to China.
Our response, so far, surpasses that initial pledge significantly. We’ve now made available a total number $274 million in funding to as many as 64 countries. That money will go to some of the world’s most at-risk peoples. You can go to state.gov to find a fact sheet. We’ll talk about what we’re doing country by country. It’ll give the breakdown. We put that up at the end of last week.
We’ve been at this a long time. We know how to help people around the world. Since 2009, American taxpayers have generously funded more than 100 billion in health assistance and nearly 70 billion in humanitarian assistance. That’s billion with a B.
But our help is much more than money. The CDC has six staffers on the ground working with Namibia’s health ministry. The FDA, as an example, is cochairing a virtual international conference on developing a COVID-19 vaccine. Americans from all across the Trump administration are working diligently to put this crisis back in the box.
Another example. We’re working constantly with NGOs to deliver medicines, medical supplies, and food to those in need in Syria, including in regime-held areas. This is a humanitarian crisis. Two, we’ll continue helping UN agencies and NGOs build more water, sanitation, and health facilities in camps and informal IDP settings all across northern Syria to help prevent the spread of the virus in that difficult place.
And as I referenced earlier, it isn’t just our government helping around the world. American businesses, private charities have given $1.5 billion to the world to fight this pandemic. This is truly American exceptionalism at its finest.
Our generosity, our pragmatism aimed at saving American lives now and in the future is also exemplified through our work with multilateral organizations. It’s another underreported story. We’ve long maintained an unsurpassed commitment to global health and humanitarian assistance. Consider just the top end of this – our financial support for international organizations, never mind all the scientists and technical people and other expertise that we bring around the world.
The United States remains by far the largest contributor to the World Health Organization, as we’ve been since 1948. Our contribution exceeded $400 million last year, 10 times that of China. The U.S. contributed nearly $1.7 billion to the UN Refugee Agency, which is helping those least able to mitigate their exposure to the virus. This compares to 1.9 million from China.
UNICEF is engaged in emergency actions in dozens of countries all across the globe, including in China and in Iran. In 2019, the U.S. supported UNICEF with more than $700 million. China gave just a mere fraction of that.
The World Food Program, headed by America’s own David Beasley, has sent more than 85 shipments of food and personal protection equipment to 74 countries to help them battle the virus. And we’ve provided $8 billion in resources just last year, 42 percent of that organization’s budget. 
Look, you all get the idea. We don’t talk about assistance much, but the American people should be aware of and proud of our vast commitments to these important institutions. They not only help citizens around the world, but they protect Americans and keep us safe here as well.
And with that, I’m happy to take a handful of questions this morning.
MS ORTAGUS: We’ll try to get to everybody, so let’s start with Christina.
QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hi. Good morning.
QUESTION: Just a quick question from a colleague who’s not allowed to come. And then I have my own, so —
SECRETARY POMPEO: He wasn’t allowed to come – or she – because?
QUESTION: We’re working from home and —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Great. Wasn’t because of the State Department. All right.
QUESTION: No. Correct. Sorry. (Laughter.) Shaun Tandon from AFP wanted to ask on Venezuela: What future do you see for Guaido? Is this new framework a recognition that he hasn’t caught fire? Will the U.S. for now support him as the rightful president of Venezuela? And is he able to run for president under this new framework that you’re introducing?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So the answer to the last question is absolutely yes. I think he’s the most popular politician in Venezuela. I think if there were an election held today, I think he’d do incredibly well. But more importantly, we continue to support him. When we put together this pathway to democracy, we worked closely with him. He was aware of how it is were presenting this. We all – Juan Guaido and his entire team – understand that Nicolas Maduro must go. We must get this democracy started. We have now introduced this pathway to achieve that. We continue to remain enormously supportive of the work that the rightful president of the Venezuelan people, Juan Guaido, is engaged in.
QUESTION: Thank you. And then in light of this global pandemic, there’s been a lot of renewed calls from the UN, from the Europeans, from others for sanctions relief. And I know what you’re going to say, we’ve talked about it in this room, that any shortfalls in their healthcare systems are the fault of these regimes themselves. But I’m wondering, if people are dying and sanctions relief would help, regardless of whether or not it empowers the regime, would it ever come to a point where you would reconsider your position? Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, of course, we evaluate all of our policies constantly. So the answer is would we ever rethink it – of course, we’re constantly trying to make sure we have our policies right. When it comes to humanitarian assistance, medical devices, equipment, pharmaceuticals, things that people need in these difficult times, those are not sanctioned anywhere at any time that I’m aware of. I mean, just read that whether it’s – it’s not always an American sanction. In North Korea there are UN Security Council resolutions. In other places they are, in fact, American provisions. But in each of those, if you read them, it’s quite on its face that these items aren’t sanctioned. There’s no prohibition on moving humanitarian assistance into these difficult and challenging places.
You rightfully point out some of these countries continue to build bombs and missiles and nuclear capability, all the while their people are starving. So when they make the claim that, boy, they just don’t have the money to feed their people, these are decisions that these people, leaders have often made, not in the best interest of those peoples. It’s, indeed, quite sad to see those governments make those decisions which harm their own people.
The last thing I’ll say is not only do we not sanction any of those, nor does any global entity sanction humanitarian assistance, the United States has worked in every one of those places to provide assistance. We’ve worked to try and get assistance into North Korea. We’ve made offers of assistance to Iran. You’ll recall when we first began we’ve worked diligently in Venezuela to get humanitarian assistance to the Venezuelan people well.
No, the United States understands this is a humanitarian challenge, a humanitarian crisis, and we are deeply committed to ensuring that humanitarian assistance gets to the people of those countries. We care more often about the people in those countries than their own leaders do. That’s sad. That’s a reflection of those regimes too often. It’s the reason, in fact, that we’re working to help those people raise up in their countries, so that they can get a better outcome for themselves as well.
MS ORTAGUS: Michel.
QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I have three questions. The attacks —
SECRETARY POMPEO: All right. You’re testing my patience now. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I know that you are busy.
SECRETARY POMPEO: No worries.
QUESTION: The attacks on the military bases on Iraq have escalated lately. Will the U.S. have any reaction soon?
Second, what’s your reaction to the Houthis’ attack, missile attack, on Saudi Arabia? And how the U.S. is confronting the misinformation war against the U.S. during this war against COVID-19?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, so let me try and take each of those three. So we have seen attacks on Americans, attempted efforts in some cases as well inside of Iraq conducted by Shia militias. Our response has been very consistent. Two things: One, we will always respond to protect and defend Americans. Whether it’s our diplomats in our embassies and consulates inside of Iraq, or Department of Defense people who are serving or there are civilians who are contractors, we’ll always do everything we can to defend and protect them. We will respond if they are threatened.
We’ve also made clear that in Iraq in particular we know that those Shia militias who have attacked the Americans are trained, equipped, underwritten, by the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and it’s been President Trump’s policy consistently that says that we will respond against all of those who facilitated, trained, equipped, and enabled those attacks on America. That holds as true today as it did two weeks, four weeks, or back in the beginning of January, when we took a strike against Qasem Soleimani.
The second question is about the missiles that were fired from Yemen by the Iranian-backed Houthis. The good news is it looks like the damage that was done by those was very minor, but nonetheless there’d been a lot of work to reduce conflict, to take down the levels of violence that were there, and we’d had some success. The Saudis had been leading that effort, and it broke down that day.
The Saudis have now responded, and I’m hopeful they can get back on the right path. We are hopeful that we can find a path forward with the UN Security Council resolution in Yemen to find a path to peace there. It’d be in the best interest of every participant in the region. Sadly, it appears that the Iranians don’t share our vision for peace in Yemen and in Saudi Arabia.
And lastly, you asked a question about disinformation in the moment here with the COVID-19 challenge. I see it every day. Every morning I get up and I read the data set from across the world, not only the tragedy that’s taking place here. We’ve had a State Department official pass away as a result of this virus, one of our team members. We now have 3,000 Americans who have been killed. This is tragic. My prayers go out to every American and every American family impacted by this.
This data set matters. The ability to trust the data that you’re getting so that our scientists and doctors and experts at the World Health Organization and all across the world who are trying to figure out how to remediate this, how to find therapies, how to find – identify a solution which will ultimately be a vaccine, to determine whether the actions that we’re taking – the social distancing, all the things that we’re doing, limiting transportation, all those things we’re doing – to figure out if they’re working so that we can save lives depends on the ability to have confidence and information about what has actually transpired.
This is the reason disinformation is dangerous. It’s not because it’s bad politics. It is because it puts lives at risk if we don’t have confidence in the information that’s coming from every country. So I would urge every nation: Do your best to collect the data. Do your best to share that information. We’re doing that. We’re collecting, we’re sharing, and we’re making sure that we have good, sound basis upon which to make decisions about how to fight this infectious disease. That’s the risk that comes when countries choose to engage in campaigns of disinformation across the world.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, sir.
MS ORTAGUS: Go ahead, Kim.
QUESTION: Hi. Kim Dozier with Time.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hi, Kim.
QUESTION: Two questions: Venezuela and Afghanistan. On Venezuela, what is your message or perhaps Envoy Abrams’ message to the families of the Citgo 6, the American citizens being held since 2017 in a prison that now has cases of COVID-19? And I understand Citgo has decided not to pay them their salaries anymore, so their families are relying on church aid to survive.
And in Afghanistan, Dr. Abdullah has now endorsed President Ghani’s peace negotiating team, so could that lead to you yielding on giving them back some of the $1 billion that you’ve taken away for this year, especially since they’re facing this COVID-19 crisis? Because this might have a knock-on effect.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. Kim, both excellent questions. I’ll give a little bit on the Citgo 6 and then Elliott’s going to come up and take a couple questions too. He can perhaps elaborate on that. We spend a lot of time and energy trying to get those folks back, just as we do with every American who’s wrongfully detained. We’ve been unsuccessful at that so far. My message to those families: Know that Elliott, our entire team is never far from thinking about them. With respect to the issues in the prison, we’ve seen that too. We’ve made clear to the Venezuelans that that creates increased risk. They should be let out not only because it’s the right thing to do because they’re wrongfully detained, but now there’s a health risk on top of that as well. And as we’ve said for the detainees in Iran, now is the most appropriate moment to use this humanitarian challenge as a reason to allow these people to return to their families and their loved ones. State Department’s working hard to get them back.
The second question was about Afghanistan. Since I traveled there, now, goodness, a week ago almost exactly, we had some progress on the political front, the reason that I traveled there. So that’s good news. We’ve seen a team identified. Looks like it’s pretty inclusive, pretty broad. We’re happy about that. We’ve begun to see some work done on prisoner releases as well, all elements that have to come together so we can get to the intra-Afghan negotiations, which will ultimately prove to be the only mechanism that has any hope of delivering peace and reconciliation to the people of Afghanistan.
So it’s good news. We will constantly re-evaluate our posture with respect to Afghanistan, not only the security assistance and humanitarian aid and assistance we provide to them. In addition to the decision we made last week on the billion dollars, we also announced that we were providing assistance to them to combat COVID. I think the number was 15 million. I’ll get you the actual data. But we’re going to do everything we can to help Afghanistan battle the coronavirus issue as well. So we’ll relook it. We’ll constantly evaluate it. We want to see progress on every element.
It’s worth noting too – it’s been overlooked – I stopped and met with the Taliban on my way out of Afghanistan. I met them in Doha. They need to reduce violence as well. They have made real commitments about the level of violence, the nature of what will take place, what they will do as we proceed towards the path where intra-Afghan negotiations begin. We have every expectation that the Taliban will hold up their end of the agreements that were put in place, goodness, now coming up on, what is it, two months ago, I guess, back at the end of January. Yes.
MS ORTAGUS: Rich, Kylie, can we make it quick? Go ahead.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Sure.
QUESTION: Thanks, Mr. Secretary. With oil prices as low as they’ve gone over the past month, do you see this as an opportunity to ratchet up sanctions more so than perhaps the administration otherwise would have done in Venezuela? And with the Maduro regime seemingly not receptive to previous proposals, why would you think that this proposal might be accepted? And also, understanding that there are sensitivities surrounding it, if you could give any more information about the State Department official who passed away because of COVID.
SECRETARY POMPEO: If I could, with respect to that last point, let me get the team to give you all that we’re able to release at this point. I’ll make sure we do our best to get the information as it’s appropriate to release about all of that, the full status. We’ve had other members of the team come down with COVID-19 as well. I think we’re now up to four or five dozen people who have tested positively inside the State – this includes our locally employed staff, the full State Department team, and we’re happy to provide that data to you as well.
I think your first question was about Venezuela sanctions. The answer’s no. We don’t see this as an opportunity. We – the policy that’s been laid out that the State Department and the United States Government are executing with respect to how to deliver democracy to the Venezuelan people hasn’t changed. Oil prices will go up; they’ll go down. Our mission set remains unchanged: to deliver an opportunity for democracy. You saw – was it last week – Nicolas Maduro was indicted by the United States Department of Justice. I hope as we now have laid out this clear pathway to peace that the Venezuelan people will demand that every leader inside of Venezuela – not just Maduro and his team, but every leader inside of Venezuela – will look at this seriously and say that is a path which we can see our way forward which will deliver this hope for democracy in Venezuela. That’s the mission set that we had when we laid out this – charting this new pathway.
Did I get it? Did I get both your questions?
QUESTION: The final question was Nicolas Maduro has rejected proposals in the past. Is there something about this proposal that you think he might be – might be attractive to him?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, just we hope he’ll take it seriously and consider it, just as we have. We’ve made clear all along that Nicolas Maduro will never again govern Venezuela and that hasn’t changed.
Hi, Kylie. Yes ma’am.
QUESTION: Hi. I want to go back to you – what you just said about data sets mattering, and yesterday you spoke about the necessity to have numbers from China and Italy and Iran on coronavirus. But the numbers coming out of China right now indicate that the new cases of coronavirus are going down. So does the Trump administration believe that those are accurate new numbers or are those manipulated disinformation numbers?
And then I have a quick question on the sanctions front as well.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Go ahead, give me the second one. I’ll try and take them both. Go ahead.
QUESTION: The second one is: Christina asked you about sanctions relief, but is there any point at which this pandemic could grow worldwide that the U.S. would consider sanctions relief, or is it just a no-go right now?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think I answered that question. We re-evaluate all of our policy, including our sanctions policy, constantly. If we conclude that it’s in the best interests of American people to alter any of those policies, we’ll certainly do that.
You just – I have to reiterate – the goods that are needed for each of these countries to resolve the coronavirus problem in their nations are not sanctioned. They were not sanctioned, they are not sanctioned, and they will not be sanctioned. Indeed, the United States has gone beyond that. It’s not just that they’re not sanctioned, they’re not – it’s not simply that they’re prohibited. The United States, the American people are working diligently in each of these countries that you’re thinking of as sanctioned nations to try and assist getting humanitarian assistance into those countries not only from the United States but to help other countries deliver that humanitarian assistance to the people of those nations. This policy is deeply consistent with the finest traditions of the United States of America.
Your first question was – remind me.
QUESTION: So the data sets. The data set coming out of —
SECRETARY POMPEO: The data sets. I’ll leave that to the medical professionals who are evaluating the data that’s coming in from these countries. It’s not in the first instance a State Department issue, so I’ll leave that to HHS and CDC and the others who are trying to put these data sets together to make evaluations. So that’s a question probably more properly lodged with them.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Great. Thank you all very much. Have a good day.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: If you guys want – does anyone have questions for Elliott?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good. Thanks, everybody. Have a good day.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay, yeah, we can —
MR ABRAMS: Can I just —
MS ORTAGUS: There’s only four of you, so fire away. (Laughter.)
MR ABRAMS: Why wait for a question? Can I just – I just wanted to add to Kim’s question. We work on this all the time, the question of the Citgo 6. The special envoy who handles prisoner affairs, Roger Carstens, is brand new, has been in touch with the families. I was in touch with a potential intermediary this week who may be able to help with the regime in Venezuela who, for obvious reasons, I won’t name, but we work on it all the time. And we do think that the spread of COVID-19 in Venezuela should lead the regime to rethink their cases and to let them out.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering – the families, who a lot of us are in communication with, have been kind of on the same page until recently when we’re starting to see a lot of open anger, saying that they think that the U.S. has abandoned their relatives. Is there any reason for that other than the fact that things are so dire and they’re so nervous? Are they starting to lose hope? Can you give us any kind of context as to the frustration?
MR ABRAMS: I think it’s difficult for any of us to put ourselves in their shoes. Think about what they’re going through and now made worse by the possibility of disease spreading to their brothers, fathers, husbands. So I don’t think it’s surprising that they would speak out in great anguish, which we completely understand. We have been trying; we continue to try. The problem obviously is this regime which has unlawfully imprisoned these men, and which, at least until now, won’t let them go. And we will continue to try every possibility to get them out.
QUESTION: Is their frustration justified or do you think you’re doing everything you can?
MR ABRAMS: I think we’re doing everything we can, but I think if I were in their shoes, I would be frustrated, I would be anguished, and I’d be speaking out too.
MS ORTAGUS: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. Does the Trump administration still view Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela —
MR ABRAMS: Absolutely.
QUESTION: — at this moment in time?
MR ABRAMS: He is the legitimate interim president of Venezuela. He is also the president of the National Assembly and will be until – unless some other legitimate arrangement is made, and if it is, then he can start running for president.
QUESTION: But aren’t you asking both Guaido and Maduro to step aside in order to catapult this process?
MR ABRAMS: Well, last year, when the negotiations took place in Barbados, the Norwegian-led round, this proposal for a council of state was actually made by the democratic opposition forces, by Juan Guaido’s team. That’s where we got the idea. And he has said – in fact, he said Sunday night, I think, of course, if it’s part of a plan to restore democracy and in the interest of the Venezuelan people to establish a transitional government, would he step aside, sure.
And in our proposal, we think it’s very important that whoever is serving as the interim president in this transitional government not be a candidate for president, because then, in their fragile system, you’ve got somebody who’s holding power and saying, “But I’m going to run a free election.” You saw what happened when Nicolas Maduro stole an election in 2018. We want Guaido to be free to run for president, and under our plan, he is. And according to the polls I’ve seen, he’s very likely to win.
QUESTION: So you guys have been pushing, though, for Guaido to be recognized immediately as the president of Venezuela for over a year. So some will say that this is a recognition of a failure of the initial policy. What’s your reaction to that?
MR ABRAMS: Just under 60 countries, including the United States, do recognize him as the only legitimate president of Venezuela. If our transition plan were adopted, there would be a transitional government for however long – nine months, twelve months – to hold an election in which I think it’s pretty logical Juan Guaido would be the candidate of the democratic parties. So we see this as support for Guaido.
MS ORTAGUS: Rich, did you have something?
QUESTION: Yeah. Thanks, Morgan, and thanks, Mr. Abrams. Those U.S. allies that have recognized Juan Guaido as the current interim president, do you believe that they are doing enough in this period over the past year? Do you think that the Europeans, for example, have maximized their pressure on the Maduro regime?
MR ABRAMS: Well, we’d like to see more European sanctions. The Europeans are not doing economic sanctions; they do personal sanctions. But it’s been very slow. I mean, we all know why. They have to get unanimity to make these decisions. But if you look at – well, for example, the last time anybody was sanctioned was around Labor Day – the people who had been involved in the killing of navy Captain Acosta last summer. That’s a long time. And prior to that, it had also been a long time. So the total number of people sanctioned is not very high. We think that’s a useful form of pressure to single out the people who are really contributing most to the repression of the Venezuelan people. We’d like to see more.
QUESTION: And I’m sorry, really quickly, on oil prices, do you think they’ve reached a point where we will significantly start to see much less Russian presence in Venezuela?
MR ABRAMS: Well, we did see this maneuver with Rosneft last week, which I think is a reflection of the collapse of oil prices. Rosneft is now losing money. Its joint ventures can’t sell crude oil for a profit. Its trading activities around the world, trying to sell Venezuelan oil, are really in trouble.
So what does it do? It basically offloads Venezuela onto what looks like a new 100 percent government-owned company. We’re trying to find out more about that. What is the company? What activities will it undertake? Will it take a hundred percent of what Rosneft is doing or less than that? That’s not clear yet. But I think it’s a clear reaction to the collapse of oil prices and the oil sector in Venezuela. We’re already beginning to see production go down. They’re running out of storage spaces because they’ve been producing and they can’t sell the oil anywhere.
MS ORTAGUS: Kim, next one.
QUESTION: I was actually going to ask about Rosneft. So just to piggyback on that, how about – how do you measure how much you’ve narrowed the aperture on the money going to members of the regime with – between the Rosneft action and the actions last week by DOJ?
MR ABRAMS: Those DOJ actions I think don’t have an immediate impact on the regime’s income, but the collapse of oil prices really does. It’s still an oil-based economy. And as production goes down (a) and then the dollar amount they get per barrel goes down and down and down, and they can’t sell because people are looking for – for example, if you were in Asia, it is cheaper to buy Saudi crude because it’s closer; transportation costs are lower. So I think it’s very clear that the amount of money going to the regime is going to be on a pretty steep decline.
QUESTION: But could you quantify that for us in any way, or to be determined?
MR ABRAMS: You would have to look at oil prices. I mean, at one point, they were – well, of course, at one point, they were producing 3.2 million barrels a day. By the end of last year, it was down to about 750,000. It is probably down to about 500,000 right now. Then look at the oil prices, which have gone way down, and most Venezuelan oil is heavy crude, so it is at an under-market price. They’ve been selling it for a very big discount, maybe $15, so if Brent Crude is at 50, they’re selling for maybe 35, 30. If Brent Crude is at 30, they’re not getting very much money. In fact, we think right now – well, let me not say “we think.” Nicolas Maduro said about a week ago they’re not getting the cost of production. So you can see the impact is enormous.
MS ORTAGUS: All right. Thank you, guys.
MR ABRAMS: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Appreciate you coming in.