Secretary Michael R. Pompeo At a Press Availability on the Release of the 2019 Country Reports on Terrorism
REMARKS TO THE PRESS
MICHAEL R. POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE
PRESS BRIEFING ROOM
JUNE 24, 2020
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning, everyone. Good to be with you all today. I want to start my remarks, as I often do, on matters relating to China.
As many of you saw, I met with Yang Jiechi last week in Hawaii.
We had a very frank discussion about the Chinese Communist Party’s unprovoked aggression on a number of fronts and I pressed him for more transparency on COVID for the good of the world.
We’re concerned by Beijing’s behavior and we’re not the only ones. And he and I talked about that. Our friends and partners are finding their voice and taking action to counter China’s malign activities, particularly in Europe:
Within the past week, I spoke to EU foreign ministers and also to a democracy forum in Copenhagen. They clearly recognize the threat that China poses to the free world and to the rule of law.
After the EU-China Summit this week, both President Michel and President von der Leyen publicly echoed many of the concerns that I’ve expressed previously.
While I was meeting with Yang, the G7 released a statement condemning Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong.
The world’s leading telecom operators – including Spain’s Telefonica, as well as Orange, O2, Jio, Bell Canada, Telus, and Rogers, and many more – are becoming “Clean Telcos.” Disconnecting from the Chinese Communist Party infrastructure.
They are rejecting doing business with tools of the CCP surveillance state, companies like Huawei.
I’ll speak more about how we’re working to consolidate Europe’s awakening to the folks at the German Marshall Fund in just a few days.
It’s all good to start, but we have to keep at it. The empty promises and tired platitudes of the Chinese Communist Party put forth at last week’s China-Africa Summit won’t create the free and prosperous future that the African people deserve.
And the U.S. will keep speaking up for the Chinese people, too. Last week, CCP authorities sentenced human rights lawyer and defender Yu Wensheng to four years in prison.
We continue to call for the release of all of those justly imprisoned in China for exercising their basic human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Last item on China – a positive one, in case you all think I only criticize them:
The CCP is raising the protected status of pangolins and removing them from its official list of animals used for approved traditional medicines. I think that’s great news. I called on the CCP to take similar steps to respond to other endangered species and shut down high-risk wildlife wet markets permanently.
Moving on, today I have Nathan with me. We’re releasing our annual Country Reports on Terrorism. I hope everyone sees that this administration has taken on terrorist threats that other administrations simply downplayed:
We designated the IRGC, including its Qods Force, as a terrorist organization, the first time the authority has ever been used on a foreign government.
We kept pressure on Iranian proxies like Hizballah by encouraging our partners to designate or ban them, as Paraguay, Argentina, and now the United Kingdom did just last year.
Last year, too, we held the first of two ministerials focused specifically on counterterrorism in the Western Hemisphere. No administration has forged closer ties in our hemisphere and alliances working on important problems like counterterrorism as we have done.
The Defeat ISIS Coalition has – remains strong. It has completed the destruction of the so-called physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
And thanks to our great U.S. military, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead.
Now, to be clear, there’s still counterterrorism work to do: ISIS and al-Qaida branches and affiliates in Africa; Venezuela and Cuba cozy ties with terrorists; and increasing ELN attacks in Colombia are problems that remain.
But we’re undaunted in our pursuit of bringing terrorists to justice.
I’m pleased today to announce the State Department has increased our reward offer – now up to $10 million – for information about the location of the new leader of ISIS.
Coordinator for Counterterrorism Sales will today spend some time with you working through, talking you through his team’s report. He is here with me to answer all of the questions you have.
I mentioned previously for a moment the Maduro regime. A few comments on Venezuela:
Over the last two weeks, the illegitimate Venezuelan supreme court has decreed a new, regime-aligned electoral commission and stolen the name and branding of two major political parties, replacing their leadership with Maduro’s lackeys.
These are unconstitutional actions. They make a mockery of democratic processes, and the Venezuelan people are fighting to protect those very freedoms that they so richly deserve.
The best pathway out of the Venezuelan crisis is through a broadly acceptable transitional government to administer a free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections.
The Maduro regime has also mismanaged Venezuela’s abundant natural resources to the point that a country with one of the world’s largest oil reserves must import gasoline from Iran.
Today, the United States is sanctioning five Iranian ship captains who delivered around a million and a half barrels of Iranian gasoline to Venezuela in support of the illegitimate Maduro regime.
These captains’ assets will be blocked, and they won’t be able to operate in U.S. waters.
Mariners who do business with Iran and Venezuela will face consequences from the United States of America.
We will continue to support the National Assembly, Interim President Guaido, and the Venezuelan people in their quest to restore democracy.
Turning to another rogue actor, the Islamic Republic of Iran:
Last Friday, the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution calling on Iran to provide the IAEA inspectors the information and access it’s obligated to provide. I want to thank Director Grossi and his team for their faithful work.
Iran’s denial of access to IAEA inspectors and refusal to cooperate with the IAEA’s investigation of potentially undeclared nuclear material and activity raises serious questions about Tehran’s efforts and what it is precisely that they are trying to hide.
Iran’s refusal to cooperate is wholly separate from the JCPOA. This is simply about whether Iran is honoring its own legally binding safeguards obligations. If Iran fails – if it fails to cooperate with the IAEA obligations, the international community must be prepared to take further action.
Today, Special Representative Hook is briefing members of the United Nations Security Council on our diplomacy to prevent the arms embargo from expiring on Iran in October of this year.
Without action, on the 18th of that month, Iran will be able to purchase advanced weapon systems and become the arms dealer of choice for terrorists and rogue regimes all throughout the world. This is unacceptable.
Iran has been under arms restrictions by the United Nations since back in 2007. And one of the greatest failures of the Iran nuclear deal was to allow these restrictions to expire without regard to how the regime behaved.
The resolution that we will present to the UN Security Council would extend the conventional arms embargo on the leading state sponsor of terror.
Our focus now is to work with the Security Council to pass this resolution. But in the event it doesn’t happen, I would remind the world that the Obama administration’s officials said very clearly that the United States has the unilateral ability to snap back sanctions into place.
Two quotes, first from President Obama. He said, “If at any time the United States believes Iran has failed to meet its commitments, no other state can block our ability to snap back those multilateral sanctions.”
And then my predecessor Secretary Kerry said, look, “If we’re not happy, we can go to the Security Council and we alone” – we alone – “can force a vote on… snapping back of those sanctions.”
The legal options in the Security Council are clear. Our great preference is to have a Council resolution that would extend the arms embargo, but we are determined to ensure that that arms embargo continues.
To change gears just a bit and then I’ll take some questions. We also assert ourselves as a force for good throughout the world. It’s not just about the dangers we face. Last week, we released an additional $93 million to boast – boost COVID assistance throughout the world, bringing the State Department and USAID’s assistance total to more than $1.3 billion, more than – across more than 120 countries.
Tomorrow, interagency leaders will convene the private sector counterparts as part of our program called “Asia EDGE” or “Enhancing Development and Growth through Energy.” Asia’s energy demand is projected to increase by 60 percent in 2040. And we’re proud to work through our revamped Development Finance Corporation to help pair up countries with American companies, the best partners for helping meet that need.
Also tomorrow, Senior Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump, Ambassador John Richmond, and I will unveil the 2020 State Department Trafficking in Persons Report. Crushing human trafficking at home and abroad has been a high priority for President Trump and our administration, and you’ll hear plenty more tomorrow about how we will continue to do that.
One last item. As the country begins to reopen, the department is getting our passport team back on the field. In the coming weeks they will aggressively tackle applications that were put on hold because of the pandemic and provide fast and efficient service for Americans that they rightfully expect. I’m now happy to take some questions.
MS ORTAGUS: Hi, Arash.
MS ORTAGUS: Welcome.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hi, good to see you.
QUESTION: Good to see you, too, Mr. Secretary. The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, said that Iran has no problem with talks with the United States, and I quote, “only if the United States fulfills its obligations under the nuclear deal, apologizes and compensates Tehran for its withdrawal from the 2015 deal.” Your response, sir?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, that is not remotely serious. The United States has been clear about our expectations. We’ve been clear about our goals. We ask the Islamic Republic of Iran to behave like a normal nation. We’re happy to engage in conversations with them when the time is right, but the conditions that suggest somehow we give a bunch of money to the Iranians so they can foment terror around the world is simply ludicrous. It’s just not how this administration behaves.
MS ORTAGUS: Michel, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Good morning, Mr. Secretary. Thank you for doing this.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning.
QUESTION: First, Sudan – or Sudanese foreign minister is saying that the country is nearing a deal with the U.S. regarding compensation for the families and victims of embassies bombing. Is this accurate? Are you close to a deal? On Libya, are you willing to – for a regional conflict in Libya between Turkey and Egypt specifically? And on Lebanon, the Lebanese people are suffering financially, economically, and politically, and there is no solution in the horizon. How do you view the future?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I’ll take them in reverse order. On Lebanon, we – our policy is very clear. We are fully prepared to support a government that conducts real reforms and operates in a way that is not beholden to Hizballah. When that comes, when the government demonstrates – whoever that is – demonstrates their willingness and capacity to do that, I think not only the United States but the whole world will move in to assist the Lebanese Government, get its economy back on its feet. We’re prepared to do that; it’s the right thing for the Lebanese people. It’s what the protests that are taking place, not only in Beirut but all around Lebanon, are asking for: real reform, real change, a fundamental shift away from Hizballah as the governing power inside of Lebanon.
Second, for Libya. We have worked closely with our European partners to try and get these talks restarted. I was in Berlin now several months back. The mission set remains the same: to get the fighting to stop; to reduce the number of arms flowing there from any place, whether that’s from the Turks, from the Russians, from anyone; to reduce the footprint of the military conflict; and then to find a political solution to resolve, to get a stable, peaceful situation in Tripoli and in Libya more broadly. We’re still hopeful that we can all of those who have an interest there to the table to have these discussions and come to a political resolution.
Your first question was about Sudan. I spoke with the prime minister just a couple of hours ago. We’re working very closely with them to try and come to a solution so that we can get the right outcome for their new leadership and for the Sudanese people. I don’t have any details that I can share with you, only that my team on the ground there is working very closely with the Sudanese leadership to try and get a really good outcome. And I’m hopeful that that will be forthcoming in the weeks ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: Torsten.
QUESTION: Yeah, back to Iran. You put the threat on the table again of the snapback of – unilateral snapback of sanctions. Does that mean you don’t have the support in the UN for an extended embargo that you wish to have?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t know.
QUESTION: Why you don’t know?
SECRETARY POMPEO: By the way, it’s not a threat. The – what I’ve made clear is U.S. policy. It is unacceptable – it’s unacceptable for the Europeans to have equipment inside of Iran, move into Iran, that can threaten the people of Europe, right. People from Belgium to Denmark are at threat because of the expiration of an arms embargo on the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. I’m hopeful that the whole world will accept the proposition that this arms embargo needs to be extended. They’ll be an arms merchant, too. Not only will they take weapon systems and purchase high-end weapon systems from Russia and China, but they’ll sell their weapon systems all across the world too. This is not the – this is a rogue regime, they shouldn’t have the capacity to do that, and I am very hopeful that the whole world, when we come to the point when this decision must be made, that they will come to the same understanding that the United States has, that this is dangerous for the world for this to have expired.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow up on this?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: You said you don’t know. Does it mean you don’t know you have enough support in UN, or does it mean you don’t know how the Europeans and the Russians and the Chinese will act?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We are out working diligently to make sure everybody understands the risk that’s associated with the arms embargo expiring. This is really dangerous for the whole world, for the region. The Gulf states know it too. There’s tremendous support for what it is we’re trying to do. I think all but a couple of nations understand that this should not expire, and there’s going to be a discussion about how it is that we extend it.
MS ORTAGUS: Humeyra, last question.
QUESTION: Hello, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hi.
QUESTION: Hi. Israel may be annexing parts of the West Bank and Jordan Valley in a week, and Jordan has said annexation could kill its peace treaty with Israel. UAE’s Ambassador to the U.S. Otaiba said it would end any hopes of normalizing relations with the Gulf and Arab states. So my question is: How concerned are you about potential ramifications of annexation? And do you favor an incremental approach or an immediate annexation of 30 percent, as proposed in the White House peace plan? And very quickly, are you trying to discourage or encourage European nations to keep the United States off a list of countries for a travel ban? They said that they’re not looking to open travel with the U.S. when they reopen next month. And how can you argue that given the high rate of COVID here? Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So as for your second question, we’ve been working with countries all across the world, including our friends in Europe and the EU proper, to determine how it is we can best safely reopen international travel. It’s important for the United States to get Europeans the capacity to travel back to the United States. It’s important, very important for the Europeans to fully reconnect with the American economy as well. I think leaders all across those two places understand the importance of this, and so we’ve been working with them for quite some time on this. I am confident that we will find a set of conditions that create sufficient health and safety protections, sufficient travel opportunity that will get the private sector, that’s important in this too.
We have to make sure that we have all of the elements in place to reopen travel between the EU and the United States. We’re working on finding the right way to do that, the right timing to do it, the right tactics to have in place. We certainly don’t want to reopen a plan that jeopardizes the United States from people traveling here, and we certainly don’t want to cause problems anyplace else. I’m very confident that in the coming weeks we’ll figure that out as between not only the United States and the EU, but the United States and other parts of the world too. The State Department, the Department of Transportation, Homeland Security are all working to develop plans and methods by which we can begin to get global travel back in place.
Your first question was about Israel. We unveiled a Middle East peace vision some number of months ago now, and we’re continuing to work down that path. Decisions about Israeli and extending sovereignty in other places are decisions for the Israelis to make, and we are talking to all of the countries in the region about how it is we can manage this process for our end state objective. It’s, I think, the objective that the prime minister has certainly acknowledged he wants, right. He wants our Middle East peace vision to be successful. The Gulf states have all indicated that they are hopeful that we can put that in place. I regret only that the Palestinian Authority has refused to participate in that, right. They simply have rejected this out of hand. We simply asked that they come to the negotiating table based on what’s outlined in the Vision for Peace, and they have chosen not to. They have chosen to threaten, to bluster, to assert that they’re going to deny the ability to do security – that’s not good for the Palestinian people. It’s dangerous for the people that live in those places too.
What we’ve asked is for them to come together, for Israel and the Palestinian people to come to the table to negotiate a path forward and to find a resolution to this decades-long challenge. I remain hopeful that in the coming weeks we can begin to make real progress towards achieving that.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you all very much. Have a good day.
QUESTION: One more on China?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: If you guys can – we have a little bit of technical difficulties, so we’re going to mike up Nathan.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, all. Thanks, Nathan.
AMBASSADOR SALES: Thank you, sir.
MS ORTAGUS: So sorry. Just give us a second.
AMBASSADOR SALES: Thanks, Morgan. Thanks, everyone, for being here this morning. I won’t repeat the significant accomplishments that the Secretary highlighted in his announcement, but I do want to emphasize a few key points from the 2019 Country Reports on Terrorism. In short, the United States and our partners took major strides last year to defeat and degrade international terrorist organizations.
In Iraq and Syria, we destroyed ISIS’s so-called caliphate and eliminated its leader. Now we’re taking the fight to ISIS and al-Qaida affiliates around the world, intensifying our efforts to ensure that we are able to protect American lives and American interests globally.
We’re particularly focused on Africa. In 2019, ISIS-affiliated groups were active across the continent, including in the Sahel, the Lake Chad region, and East Africa. [Inaudible due to technical difficulties.]
And with that brief summary, I’d be happy answer some questions.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for doing this, Ambassador. Two questions for you. (Inaudible) full report yet, but last year the report talked about ISIS (inaudible) evolving worldwide. I know that you just discussed the caliphate of ISIS being gone in Syria and Iraq, but worldwide what’s the update? Has it grown or has it shrunk since last year?
AMBASSADOR SALES: It’s evolved. We’re seeing a continued evolution in ISIS from a entity that purported to control territory to one that is instead a network, a global network that reaches every inhabited continent. And this network not only plans its attacks on its own, it also continues to inspire individuals to commit attacks of their own devising. And as an example of that, I would refer you to the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka last year, a gruesome and vivid example of what ISIS-inspired terrorists are capable of doing.
And so as ISIS evolves into a global network that lacks a physical so-called caliphate, it’s important for the United States and our partners to evolve as well in using a different set of tools to get at this challenge. Sometimes military force is the appropriate tool – we saw that in Syria and Iraq – but oftentimes in this new stage of the fight we will be prioritizing law enforcement to prosecute ISIS-affiliated terrorists for the crimes they’ve committed, counterterrorism finance to cut off the flow of money to ISIS and its affiliates around the world, countermessaging so that we can delegitimize the radical ideology that ISIS uses to inspire the next generation of recruits, and border security measures to ensure that ISIS fighters are not able to enter the United States or cross international borders where they could wreak havoc. Thanks.
QUESTION: Can I ask you one question on China?
AMBASSADOR SALES: Yeah.
QUESTION: So the report points out that the Chinese have put together these Uyghur detention camps and it says that, quote, “[the] actual goal that the United States assesses” is that it’s “the repression of religious and ethnic minorities” in these camps. How effective is it to have something like this written in the report to have a stated policy goal of being opposed to these detention camps when there are reports that the President told President Xi that he could keep building these concentration camps?
AMBASSADOR SALES: Look, I’m not going to play the Washington, D.C. rumor mill game. The position of this administration has been clear from the get-go: Religious liberty is one of the most fundamental priorities not only of the United States historically but of this administration, and we have done more than any predecessor to raise the profile of this issue. Ambassador Brownback has launched the International Religious Freedom Alliance, the Vice President has been outspoken on this issue, and religious freedom means religious freedom for all. It means religious freedom for faithful Muslims in China who see their mosques demolished by the CCP. It means religious freedom for faithful Muslims in China who are rounded up and herded into camps purportedly for vocational training. Doctors and professionals don’t need vocational training. Religious freedom is a core American value and this administration is going to continue to advance that value, including in our relations with China.
MS ORTAGUS: Kim.
QUESTION: Ambassador Sales, the UN earlier this year found that al-Qaida in Afghanistan remained close to the Taliban. I don’t see much mention of it here. Are you tracking any division between the two as per the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement?
And then also the update on white extremism, white extremist terrorism. Are U.S. efforts able to combat that, or what needs to happen to check its rise?
AMBASSADOR SALES: Yeah, so let me take that second part first. We are concerned and – as we lay out in the report – remain concerned about a rise in what we call racially or ethnically motivated terrorism since 2015, which was when this global trend really began to intensify. We’re particularly concerned about white supremacist terrorism, and this administration is doing things that no previous administration has done to counter this threat. Last – earlier this year we announced the designation of the Russian Imperial Movement, a St. Petersburg-based white supremacist terrorist group that has trained people to commit acts of terrorism in Scandinavia. This is the first time – it was a historical development because it was the first time the United States has ever used its sanctions tools to confront the threat of white supremacist terrorism.
Of course our fight against white supremacist terrorism globally is not limited to sanctions. That’s – it’s been an important tool, but we have other tools that we’ve been using as well, including some countering violent extremism tools to use former members of white supremacist organizations who have left the movement because they’ve realized the error of their ways. These people are incredibly powerful spokespeople as we seek to connect with vulnerable populations and dissuade those vulnerable populations from going down a dead-end path. We’re using the full suite of counterterrorism tools against white supremacist terrorism that we use against Islamist terrorists like al-Qaida and ISIS.
Speaking of which, your question about al-Qaida in Afghanistan – we’ve been very clear with the American people and with the Taliban that we expect certain conditions to be met as part of our negotiations. We have honored our commitments with respect to troop presence in Afghanistan thus far and we expect the Taliban to honor their commitments to make a clean break from all terrorist organizations. Our end state in Afghanistan is that it can never again be allowed to be a platform for terrorist activity that threatens the U.S. homeland, that threatens our people abroad, or that threatens our allies or interests.
MS ORTAGUS: Said.
QUESTION: Thank you, Morgan, and thank you, Ambassador. Sir, do you think that extrajudicial killing by an occupying force should be considered as a form of state terrorism? The reason I ask you is because yesterday the Israelis killed a young relative of mine, 27 years old, who was doing nothing. So how should such an incident be counted or – counted or classified and how should it be investigated? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR SALES: So I’m very sorry to hear about the loss. Having heard about it now for the first time, I’m not in a position to comment on how to characterize a particular incident, but as a general matter, I can tell you that when – one, it is appropriate and necessary for nations to use force in appropriate circumstances to defend themselves against terrorist threats. Another principle is equally true, and that is when using military force, all nations must comply with the law of armed conflict to ensure that force is only directed at actual combatants, actual threats, and not at innocent civilians.
How those two related principles apply in a given case, I can’t answer that in the abstract, but the U.S. position on the use of force and the need to comply with the law of armed conflict has been clear for decades.
MS ORTAGUS: Robert, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Morgan. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. So the State Department issued its determination about Hong Kong in – pursuant to the Hong Kong Policy Act and the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, and the determination was that Hong Kong was not sufficiently autonomous to enjoy deferential treatment with respect to how the State Department treats China. Just wondering, at what point do we see what action will be taken in line with that determination with respect to Hong Kong?
And a follow-up question is: Our understanding is that there is also supposed to be a separate report on Hong Kong’s export controls, and so we’re wondering when we might see that report. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR SALES: So on the second, I don’t have anything to share with you on that, but if you follow up with us offline, I’m sure we can connect you with the right people who are tracking that.
Hong Kong is – has been a bastion of liberty and Hong Kong’s prosperity is intimately connected to its status as a beacon of liberty. Our policy has been clear and our expectations with the Chinese Communist Party have been clear. China made certain commitments to the UK, it made certain commitments to the world in connection with the Sino-British declaration. We expect China to live up to its commitments. We expect China to honor its word and allow the people of Hong Kong to continue to enjoy the liberties and therefore the prosperity that have made Hong Kong the envy of that part of the world and indeed the rest of the world.
MS ORTAGUS: Carol and then we’ll get Nick, I think – those – the two that haven’t gone yet.
QUESTION: Ambassador, some of the white supremacist groups that you (inaudible) were changed. So would you go after these really international groups that extend into the United States.
AMBASSADOR SALES: So we have a seamless partnership with other agencies that have responsibility for the domestic side of the house. Our authorities at the State Department, as you know, begin and end at the water’s edge, and we are aggressively using our authorities to target foreign groups and foreign individuals regardless of ideology that threaten American lives and threaten American interests. When it comes to investigations or activity here in the United States, I’d refer you to DHS, the Justice Department, and the FBI, all of whose leadership have made it a top priority to address this rising threat of white supremacist terrorism or other forms of violence. This is a priority that this administration has put at the top of the queue. As I said, this trend began in 2015, but it took several years. It took this administration coming into power to really prioritize stepping up efforts against this threat here in the case of the FBI and DHS, but also abroad where this department comes into play.
MS ORTAGUS: Nick, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. Thanks, Morgan. Can I go back to Afghanistan and then one quick one on Syria and Iraq? To Kim’s particular question, have you seen ongoing connections between al-Qaida and the Taliban as part of this report?
And on Syria and Iraq, you mentioned that there are places where you’re working on law enforcement with ISIS, and of course with the military. Does the report detail how ISIS took advantage of some political vacuums in Iraq and some of the protests in Iraq in order to expand? And how is the U.S. countering that mostly with the military, but if you could expand on it?
AMBASSADOR SALES: Sure. On Afghanistan, I can’t comment on any intelligence matters, but our position is not a secret. It’s not a secret to you or the American people, nor is it a secret to the Taliban. We expect the Taliban to live up to the commitments they have made, including a break from any terrorist organization that operates in Afghanistan that could threaten the United States. We’ll be monitoring very closely to ensure that the Taliban does in fact live up to its commitments and its obligations under the agreement.
With respect to ISIS in Iraq, we’ve, as I said, destroyed the caliphate – as the Secretary said, destroyed it in its entirety, but the ISIS threat still remains. And so we have to be very mindful of the need to keep up the pressure. I’ve talked about ISIS networks around the world and it is true with respect to those networks, but we also have to keep our eye on the ball in Iraq, in Syria to prevent any ISIS remnants from reconstituting to prevent them from continuing attacks.
And so we work with partner forces on the ground, we work with the D-ISIS Coalition, we work with the Iraqi Government to make sure that we’re able to use the full suite of national tools of power to get at that threat.
MS ORTAGUS: Quickly, Arash, last one.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, just doing a quick research on the report that you just released, and I noticed that the Islamic Republic of Iran has been mentioned 109 times in your report. Is it fair to say that the Islamic Republic of Iran poses the biggest threat when it comes to terrorist activities around the world to United States? And in part of that report, it talks about the connection between Iran and al-Qaida operatives. What evidence do you have to show that Iran is helping or harboring al-Qaida operatives?
AMBASSADOR SALES: Thanks for the question. It’s difficult to rank order the terrorist threats that we face. We have to take them all seriously and we do take them all seriously, whether it’s ISIS or al-Qaida or whether it’s Iran. Of particular concern when it comes to Iran is the fact that it is a state; it has the capabilities and it has the resources of a state. And when you introduce the concept of state sponsorship, the additional resources, the additional capabilities that an SST like Iran can bring is a reason for severe concern, and we’re seeing the results of that all around the world. Last year, we saw – or the year before, we saw a series of Iranian plots to commit assassinations in the heart of Western Europe. We see Iran bankrolling terrorists in the Middle East to include Hizballah, Shia militia groups in Iraq that are responsible for attacks on American personnel there, diplomats and soldiers alike, and that are also involved last year in ruthlessly suppressing peaceful political protests in Iraq.
A hundred and nine times? I’m surprised it wasn’t 110 given the scope of Iranian terrorist malignancy around the world. There was another question in there that I —
QUESTION: About the linkage between al-Qaida and Iran.
AMBASSADOR SALES: Ah, right. And so when you see Iranian fingerprints on so many different terrorist groups around the world, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Iran would also have connections to al-Qaida. I can’t comment on intelligence matters, but what we have said publicly in the past is that after 9/11, Iran failed to comply with its obligations to take into custody and extradite for prosecution al-Qaida operatives who were linked to the attacks.
More recently, we have said publicly that Iran has allowed al-Qaida operatives freedom of movement within Iran to enable the movement of fighters and money into conflict zones in neighboring countries.
If Iran wants to rejoin the community of responsible nations, here is a start: Crack down on the terrorists that caused 9/11. Crack down on the terrorist proxies that foment violence around the world.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS ORTAGUS: And thanks, everybody. Have a good day.
The report may be accessed at State.gov thus: