The Secretary’s visit to Europe will underscore the visit of our relationship to our transatlantic security and economic prosperity for which so many Americans and Europeans have sacrificed across generations to build and to safeguard.
Office of the Spokesperson / Via Teleconference
May 29, 2019
MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. Sorry for the delay, but we’re going to get going now. We have just celebrated Memorial Day in the United States, honoring all of those who have died in service to our country to ensure our fundamental freedoms. The Secretary’s visit to Europe will underscore the visit of our relationship to our transatlantic security and economic prosperity for which so many Americans and Europeans have sacrificed across generations to build and to safeguard. After World War II, America invested to help Europeans rise out of the shadows of war and into a future of democracy, rule of law, and free enterprise. There can be no question that Americans and Europeans have benefitted from having a more secure and a more prosperous transatlantic community, and we will find ways to adapt and to refine our economic relationships to ensure our mutual prosperity.
We’re here today to speak on background with [Senior State Department Official One]. He should be cited as Senior State Department Official One. And we’re also with [Senior State Department Official Two], who should be cited as Senior State Department Official Number Two.
So I will now turn it over to Senior State Department Official Number One.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Good morning. Thank you, [Moderator], and again apologies for the delay, for which I take responsibility. These corridors in the State Department are longer than I remember. Running from one place to another, and the next running of course begins tomorrow when Secretary Pompeo departs for travel to Germany, arriving Friday morning to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. Many of you will recall that this visit has been rescheduled after the Secretary had to postpone the planned visit to Berlin two weeks ago. And so we’re very pleased that we were able to find a time still in the month of May that worked for both the American and German side to allow Secretary Pompeo to meet with German leaders and discuss the whole range of bilateral and multilateral issues in the U.S.-German relationship. A very important year in terms of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Germany and the founding of NATO, as well as the Berlin airlift.
From Germany, then Secretary Pompeo is going to head to Switzerland, and this will be the first official visit of a U.S. secretary of state to Berne, the capital, in more than 20 years. He’s going to meet with the Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis and other Swiss officials to discuss our two countries’ strong economic partnership – broadly, of course, array of issues of mutual concern that the Swiss are involved with on the global scene. And he is going to meet with Swiss business leaders to hear their views on ways to deepen our bilateral, economic, and trade relationship. Also while in Switzerland, the Secretary will meet with the World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and get an update on the World Health Organization’s important work.
Then from Switzerland, Monday travel to the Netherlands, where Secretary Pompeo will participate in the opening of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit with the Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte, in The Hague. He’s also going to meet with senior Dutch officials, including Foreign Minister Blok. And at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, the Secretary will deliver remarks that underscore the foundations of entrepreneurship – namely rule of law, protection of property rights, and a business environment that rewards risk-taking. And as many of you know, the Secretary was once an entrepreneur himself who has said that the free enterprise system is really the only system where a business started in a dorm room can disrupt a billion-dollar industry. And those of you looking at your Facebook right now would understand that well. But this is where risk-takers can rise from the crowd if they’ll work hard and have a good idea.
I’m going to defer to my colleague, [Senior State Department Official Two], to talk more about the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in a moment. But then note the final leg of the trip, the Secretary will travel to the United Kingdom to join President Trump’s state visit there and, of course, support the administration’s engagement with one of our oldest allies. Of course, this follows onto the trip the Secretary made himself to London a couple of weeks ago.
So with that, let me turn it over to State Department Official Number Two.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: (Laughter.) Very good. Thank you so much, [Senior State Department Official One]. And hello to everyone. I am very happy to share some information on the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which is really the premier gathering of entrepreneurs, investors and innovative thinkers that underscores, as [Senior State Department Official One] mentioned, the U.S. commitment to entrepreneurship, and innovation. GES is a U.S.-led initiative, which started in 2010 to promote entrepreneurship around the world. Past events took place in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Morocco, Kenya, India, and twice in the United States.
President Trump and Dutch Prime Minister Rutte agreed in July of 2018, last summer, to cohost the 9th GES here in the Netherlands in 2019. And so GES 2019 will take place June 4 and 5 at the World Forum in The Hague, Netherlands. This is the first time the summit will be held in the European Union, and GES 2019 will highlight the importance of entrepreneurship in driving economic growth and innovation worldwide.
The summit will bring together more than 2,000 people, including scalable investment-ready entrepreneurs, investors from across the capital continuum, entrepreneurship supporters, business leaders, and officials from around the world. GES 2019 will feature five focus areas: agriculture, connectivity, energy, health, and water, and will address themes such as access to capital, women’s economic empowerment, industries of the future, and cutting-edge solutions to global problems.
Secretary of State Michael C. Pompeo will lead the U.S. Government participation and will meet with a select group of business leaders and participate in the opening reception with Prime Minister Rutte on June 3rd. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump, and Michael Kratsios of the White House Office of Science and Technology will have speaker – speaking roles over the two summit days of June 4 and 5. Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services Eric Hargan, USAID Deputy Administrator Bonnie Glick, and OPIC Acting President David Bohigian are also attending GES 2019.
We’re very grateful for our partnership with the Dutch Government to cohost GES 2019, and we look forward to welcoming all of our participants next week to The Hague.
And with that, I will turn it back to speaker number one, or [Moderator], to continue.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much. We’re actually now going to go into Q&A.
OPERATOR: And just a reminder, ladies and gentlemen, it is * followed by 1 if you’d like to queue up here for question. And if you are using speaker phone here this morning, it may be helpful to lift the handset before pressing those. Once again, * followed by 1 immediately to queue up.
And it looks like our first question comes from the line of Matthew Lee of AP. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks a lot. Hey, [Senior State Department Official One], I for one find it a little implausible that you actually got lost in this building, considering how long you’ve – (laughter).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I didn’t say I got lost, I just said it took longer than I remembered to walk the corridors.
QUESTION: Uh-huh. Okay.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I knew where I was going, as always. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Okay, listen, two quick things on the German and Swiss stops. One, when we did the call before the last trip when he was supposed to go to Berlin, the officials on that call talked a bit about Huawei and Nord Stream and how those were issues; I presume that they are again. Can you talk a little bit about that and your concerns that they relate to Germany?
And then on Switzerland, are those – are there similar concerns with the Swiss? And then finally, just on – how much of this visit – Germany and Switzerland – is going to be Iran-focused? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks, Matt. I think the points that we made about Germany before would certainly apply there. I mean, let me point out – just to step back for a second – too that this will be the fourth trip to Europe in three months, which underscores the focus on alliance-building. That’s been a priority for the Secretary, and this opportunity to talk with one of our closest allies, obviously, particularly as I noted in this important year in the U.S.-Germany relationship I don’t think can really be overstated. But German leadership is essential on a number of these areas, specifically your reference to 5G Huawei.
I think again, the Secretary is going to reiterate that the security of our allies’ telecoms networks has a direct bearing on our mutual national security, something we’re concerned about not only for American national security but for our allies and partners, and it’s something that, as you’ve seen across Europe, there is greater concern and focus on as well.
I think we’ve made clear that if the risk of sharing information exceeds the threshold for the United States, we may be forced to limited – limit information sharing, and that’s what we continue to discuss and highlight for our allies, including Germany, about vulnerabilities there. This may be something that comes up as well with the Swiss, not only with the government but also with businesspeople as well, who have insights or questions on that.
I think getting back to your general question about the array of issues, burden sharing, of course, is something we continue to look at in terms of investment by each nation in their own defenses. The NordStream II issue is there, trade, Ukraine. I think we have a new start in Ukraine with a new president as they go into elections to have a new government. I know we’ll be interested in exchanging information on that.
I mentioned NordStream II, but that, of course, relates broadly to European energy security. Arms control is an issue that is of mutual interest to both of us. I’m sure they’ll discuss the Secretary’s recent trip to Russia and his meetings there with President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov.
I know the Western Balkans will be on the agenda, particularly as we see North Macedonia and Albania having achieved significant progress on their reforms and are waiting for their next step in the EU accession process. That remains a priority as they move up to the June European Council summit.
So there’s really a whole range of issues there that relate not just to U.S.-German relations but transatlantic relations more broadly. And again, it’s 70 years since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany and NATO and the Berlin Airlift, and let’s remember that in just a few months, this fall, we’re going to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Those of us that actually happened to be there that day realize not only that it means we’re not getting any younger, but it’s these anniversaries I think that mark such a crucial tie between the U.S. and Germany in particular, but underscore the whole transatlantic alliance and what we’ve accomplished certainly since then but going back to the days after World War II.
OPERATOR: And our next question comes from the line of Andrea Mitchell of NBC News. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, and so I just want to say you’re not the only one who’s finding it harder to get around the State Department these days. (Laughter.) We’ve all gotten a lot older. But I’ll just say you’re in a lot better shape than the rest of us.
Going into this trip, I just wanted to follow up on Iran and what avenues might be open for conversations, following up on some of the signals, overt signals that the President sent, his comments on his recent trip about being open to talk. Obviously, there are places you are going where there are intermediaries.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. Thanks, Andrea, and look forward to catching up. Vis-a-vis Iran, the trip itself was planned long before the latest developments. I think it is an opportunity to catch up with close allies on those issues. Obviously, the Secretary had an opportunity to discuss with the ministers, including Minister Maas when we stopped in Berlin, on the way to Russia —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Brussels, sorry. I’m confusing all my stops. We stopped in Brussels on the way to Sochi. He had a chance to meet with Minister Maas as well as the other ministers from key allies there. So this is an ongoing conversation, and I’m sure they’ll have a chance to review where we are on that and the threats that Iran has posed and our concerns on that.
OPERATOR: Next in queue we have the line of David Brunnstrom of Reuters. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Thank you very much. I wanted you to expand a little bit about the Swiss leg of the trip. There’s some reporting in the Swiss media saying that Secretary Pompeo will go to the Bilderberg meeting and join Jared Kushner there. Is that right?
And also I’m wondering if there’s going to be any discussion of the intelligence assessment that Russia has been – may be conducting low-level nuclear testing again. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Hey, David, this is [Moderator]. So I’m happy to confirm on background that he is attending one session at Bilderberg. I would not describe it as him going with Jared. I don’t even know if they’ll be there at the same time. I haven’t seen Jared’s schedule, and I think that there’s other people from the administration going as well. But the Secretary will be there for one session only, so he’ll be in and out, and he won’t be attending with others as the way that you described it.
And then the second question on Russia I will let [Senior State Department Official One] answer. But could you say it one more time? I’m sorry, there was a little bit of an echo. We just want to make sure that we heard your question correctly.
QUESTION: Well, the Defense Intelligence Agency is saying that the United States believes Russia may be conducting low-level nuclear testing in violation of the moratorium on that. And I wondered if this issue is going to come up in discussions in Europe.
MODERATOR: Yeah. So from what I can tell, that’s breaking right now, and so I don’t think we have an answer for you yet. I’ll try to have one for you by [the] press conference today, if possible, but I don’t think I have one for you on the call today, David. But thank you for bringing that up.
OPERATOR: And next up we go to the line of Francesco Fontemaggi of AFP. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks for this call. I wanted to follow up on Andrea’s question on Iran, maybe very clearly. Would you ask Germany or Switzerland to facilitate some kind of conversation with Iran, as the President said that he wants his team to this conversation?
And just another quick one on Venezuela. I think that Switzerland agreed to be – to represent U.S. interests in Venezuela. Do you have a final decision on that? Do you have the green light from Caracas on that? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Look, on Iran I think you’re very aware of our Iran strategy focusing on neutralizing Iran’s destabilizing influence and constraining their aggression in terms of support for terrorism and militants and certainly any threats they make against us, our interests, our troops. And we’re working very hard to deny Iran funding for their malign activities, which have affected certainly our European allies and partners as well in terms of the terrorist activities.
And so I think it’s something that is discussed often in most of these meetings – views on Iran, insights, information. That’s what a lot of diplomacy is about, but I certainly wouldn’t characterize it as any major focus of the trip being on Iran. This is a chance, as I said, to review with one of our closest allies, Germany, in some ways 70 years of our relationship, but a whole array of important things that are involved in broad transatlantic relations, specific U.S.-German issues.
And of course, a big focus of the trip is then going on to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which is very much focused on entrepreneurship, economic growth, opportunity, and then ending up, as the Secretary will after what is in many ways a historic visit to Switzerland – as we said, the first Secretary of State to visit Bern in 20 years – and then going to the UK for a historic visit there which will underscore the Special Relationship with the UK.
So again, I see and hear some of this effort to sort of focus this on Iran, and that is not at all the focus of this trip.
And I’m sorry, you had a second question, which, of course, I’ve now completely forgotten. Pardon me.
QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Can you hear me?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah. And it was just on Switzerland representing your interests in Venezuela. Do you have a final agreement on that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We took a step in April to conclude an arrangement with Switzerland on acting as our protecting power in Venezuela, and that was a first step. I don’t believe that we’re at an operative point yet on that. Let me check on that and we can provide you any update on where that arrangement stands, because obviously we continue to work towards having a protecting a – protecting power arrangement operative in Venezuela to assist and advocate for the safety of U.S. citizens in that country, and we can get you an update of where that is. We’re always appreciative of the Swiss who have taken on that role for us in other places as well.
OPERATOR: And our next question in queue comes from the line of Nike Ching of Voice of America. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for this call. Good morning. My question is to official number one. You have mentioned North Macedonia in your opening remarks. My question is regarding North Macedonia’s NATO and EU integration. What does – as you mentioned, (inaudible) is expected to vote for the protocol of North Macedonia into – joining NATO. Do you have anything on that? Does the United States support North Macedonia as the 30th member of NATO? Thank you very much.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yes, the simple answer to your question is yes, very much. The United States supports very much Macedonia’s entrance into NATO as the 30th member in the alliance. The United States is a strong power – strong partner of North Macedonia. We send our finest diplomats there to represent us at the top level ever since the independence of North Macedonia, and we look forward to continuing to work with North Macedonia as they move forward through the process. I don’t want to give you a number, but I recently got an update of the number of ratifications already of – by other members of the alliance, and it’s somewhere in the upper teens and on track, I believe, to have all of the ratifications finished by the end of this calendar year, somewhere in the fall. That’s something we can check on.
We’re also strong supporters of North Macedonia’s EU path and membership. Our aid and assistance has been directed in support of the reforms necessary for that effort, and we keep in close contact with our EU partners both at the EU level and with member states – in this case, for instance, Germany – it is something we’ll talk about, underscoring our belief that the EU path and the – reflecting the positive report they’ve gotten in the latest commission report be taken into full consideration as they begin to schedule the next steps for North Macedonia, as well as Albania and the other countries of the Western Balkans that aspire to EU membership.
MODERATOR: Thanks, and we’ll take one more question.
OPERATOR: Our last question comes from the line of Jennifer Hansler of CNN. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi there. Thanks so much for doing this call. On Iran, given that Swiss – the Swiss are a protecting power there, are there plans for the Secretary to bring up Americans who are being held in that country and perhaps start to lay the groundwork for negotiations for those Americans, as Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif brought up last month?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I don’t know that there’s specific plans for that, but obviously the Secretary will have an opportunity to meet with his Swiss counterparts and discuss a whole range of things. One of those will be to thank the Swiss again for their role as our protecting power there, just as I reflected in the answer about Venezuela. And once those meetings are done, we can try to give you readouts of anything specific that was brought up. But obviously the fate and safety of American citizens is utmost on our agenda at all times, and I think this is part of our regular dialogue with Switzerland as our protecting power there.
MODERATOR: Okay, thank you, everyone. We appreciate it. We’ll see you at 2 o’ clock.
 Michael R. Pompeo