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March 20, 2019 5:35 pm

Journalists Say They Were ‘Barred’ From a Roundtable With Mike Pompeo. Here’s the Transcript.

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference at Lazienki Palace in Warsaw, Poland, Feb. 12, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Kacper Pempel.

Over the past 24 hours, a minor controversy has been bubbling among members of the Washington, DC press corps over a telephonic roundtable hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday. The 13 minute invitation-only discussion included a small group of “faith-based” publications who asked questions about Middle East policy ahead of Pompeo’s upcoming trip to the region.

Over the day that followed, critics accused the State Department of an “attack” on the press by “barring” journalists from attending and “breaking with regular protocol” in not publishing a list of attendees and not releasing a transcript of the call. Even the House Committee on Foreign Relations joined in the criticism. 

In response to inquiries from members of the press, The Algemeiner, which did participate in the call, has elected to publish the full transcript below: 

Secretary Pompeo: I’ll be very quick because then I’ll take as many questions as I can. First thanks for joining me on the phone call. I am happy to talk about whatever is on your mind. I am here in Kansas today working with groups on entrepreneurship, freedom and liberty. I’m in Kansas so I’m home, so I’m in a really good space and a good mood. And then I head out of here in just a few hours. I’ll take a trip where the first stop is in Kuwait to meet with their leadership traveling then to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and then on to Beirut. So I’ll be visiting different places, but in each place very focused on not only the security aspects of the relationship between our countries and the economic aspects, but also the challenges we face from radical Islamic terrorism in the region, and working to promote religious tolerance in each of those places as well. So with that I’m happy to take questions.

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(Jewish Telegraphic Agency) In 2016, right before the US elections when Benjamin Netanyahu was here, he took pains to meet with both nominees in order to make sure he didn’t favor one or other. You’re gonna be in the heart of the Israeli election you’re going barely two weeks before them. Are you going to be meeting with the Israeli opposition leader Benny Gantz? Are you concerned at all that you’re giving the impression that you’re giving Netanyahu a boost in these elections?

We haven’t released our full schedule yet and we don’t intend to for a bit, but my travel is something that has been long planned. I had to wave off a previous trip because of a personal commitment that I had to fulfill back here in the United States, so I’m not worried about what someone may say. I’m going there to meet with leadership in Israel on a set of incredibly important issues that are time-sensitive. The threats in the region are real. Radical Islamic terrorism, the threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran is something that we work closely with our Israeli partners on. That’s the focus of my visit, it’s what we’ll talk about and it’s the work that I’ll do while I’m on the ground there.

Are you going to be mentioning the Golan or seeing the Golan Heights at all?

I’m not going to foreshadow the remarks that I’ll make while I’m there.

(Religion News Service) I was wondering about the State Department report that was released last week that no longer uses the word “occupation” in regards to the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza. I was wondering if you can tell us what was behind those changes and if this is what we can expect in the upcoming peace plan.

So the language that we use we think most accurately reflects the facts. The Human Rights Report itself, as you all know, is a congressionally-mandated document. Its mission is to lay out facts, is to lay out what’s going on. It’s not a policy document. It doesn’t intent to be. It simply documents human rights abuses around the world and attempts to provide a baseline about which not only here in the United States but countries all around the world can measure their own performance and the performance of others. And so the language we chose to use there was a result of our determination that that both factually represented the reality on the ground.

And I know that the White House recently hosted a meeting with evangelical leaders about this peace plan. I was wondering if you could talk about why that constituency is important to this process?

Well I’ll leave it to the White House to talk about their meeting and I’ll say only this, as an evangelical Christian myself, I’ve always understood the centrality of that place. I think many evangelical leaders believe that as well. We know that the Abrahamic traditions hold value in Jerusalem and so I’m confident that when the administration is thinking about how it is we might finally achieve the Middle East peace with the world has been demanding for decades, I think persons of all faiths, who live today in Israel and can worship freely, I think persons of all faiths will have something to say about the plan and if it makes sense. So we’re doing our best to make sure and have a broad base of people have an understanding of the plan as we will present it. I think it’s that straightforward.

(The Algemeiner) Under your direction, the State Department has taken a number of steps to try and convince the Palestinian leadership to stop the funding for terror groups, or those that have committed terror acts and their families, those that are held in Israeli prisons, etcetera, the Taylor Force Act, and some other steps that the State Department took. It was reported late last month that the Palestinian Authority sent a letter directed to you rejecting US aid and also stressing in a meeting with Congressional leaders that “if we only had 20 or 30 million shekels, which is what is paid monthly to families of martyrs, we will give that money to the families of martyrs.” So considering the steps that have been taken and the lack of progress in this area are there further steps that the United States or the State Department is considering taking or could take to try and end this practice of incentivizing terrorism against Israelis.

Well it’s certainly our objective and is a legal requirement as well. The Taylor Force Act and other requirements. It’s also the case that we’ll focus not only in that theater but all around the world doing all that we can to reduce terrorism. It’s pretty straightforward and so I’m not going to foreshadow whatever actions we might take in this particular case but know this – we’re determined to get every country to cease underwriting terrorist acts. We want every people to live in freedom without fear of having terror reigned down upon them. That’s certainly the case of Palestinian terror into Israel, it’s the case of terror all around the world. I work on it all around the world nearly every day and it often is the case that one of the best ways to get at a problem, the problem of terrorism, is to stop the money. Stop the resources from flowing towards those who are engaging in those terror acts.

(The Leaven) Some commentators have said when it comes to the issue of Islamic radicalism that of course we’re opposed to, that ideology and the violence that results from it. But there seems to be a kind of a lacking of an ideological fight against this sort of thing. Like we did against Nazism during World World II or communism during the Cold War. We have introduced troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and in other places we have our troops advising and supporting, but there doesn’t seem to be a comprehensive and coordinated opposition to Islamic radicalism on at least an ideological level as far as I can tell. I could be wrong but please tell me what’s happening in that regard.

So it is an important part of being successful, we can take down caliphates, we can take away resources. All of those are good steps. In the end one has to get to the prime driver which is the idea of extremism as a way to achieve a political end. That certainly extends to radical Islamic terrorism in particular but its broader than that. The administration has a number of programs aimed at just that.

We also know that it often is the case that we’re going to have to turn to other nations to do that, to operate in that space inside of their cultures, inside of their religions. That we’re going to depend on those countries to cease allowing radicalism to take place in their mosques or elsewhere, in madrassas. It is imperative that this not be taught, and not be fermented and not be tolerated in each of those countries as well. We have a very robust effort to work with other countries to ensure that they understand that that is part of the relationship between our nation and theirs, which is our understanding that they will not themselves promote or permit extremism inside of their borders. To get at that extremist ideology is a central understanding of what we are trying to do, it is a difficult problem but one that we are incredibly focused on.

(WORLD Magazine) I want to ask about Syria. I know that you won’t actually be there but you’ll certainly I imagine, be having discussions. The State Department announced I believe close to 400 million in additional humanitarian aid to the region. I’m just curious what some of your conversations, what you anticipate will be. Will you be focused on the area of north eastern Syria where we’ve seen so much fighting recently? Are you going to be speaking more broadly? How is the US, in particular from a diplomatic humanitarian side going to be engaging on the question of Syria at this juncture?

So we have many elements of our diplomatic policy on the Middle East and in Syria in particular you ask. Even more specifically with respect to humanitarian assistance in Syria. So it’ll be broadly aimed that is not just in the east or just in the northeast. We’re gonna try to reach all of those places which require humanitarian assistance, where there is a need for food, medicine and often water. And it’s not just the material, it’s medical care as well, expertise and training.  And we aim to deliver that more broadly. It is still the case that there are many pockets which are difficult for us to reach, places that have regime control, that getting humanitarian assistance would be incredibly difficult and so much harder for us to do that. We are determined to use the taxpayer provided resources for humanitarian assistance in a way that actually delivers good outcomes. But you should know we remain in step as our European partners that until such time that the political process moves forward, until such time as the Syrian regime and the Russians and the Iranians understand that there has to be a political solution in Syria, where many voices will be heard from, and that political fault lines, divides can be hammered out and discussed, money for reconstruction of Syria simply is not going to be made available.

Will that include support for the Syria Democratic Forces in the northeast and more support for that particular entity there?

We have teams working on that issue as well. We’re trying to make sure that we have a stable outcome as between the Turks and the forces in Syria along the Syrian-Turkish border. It’s an important political diplomatic outcome. There will be a military component to that as well. And then at the end the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254 must be implemented for large scale reconstruction to come into the country to begin to rebuild what has caused over 6 million Syrians to be displaced from their homes is gonna require the Assad regime to engage in a political resolution of that conflict. There’s simply no other way that the Western world is gonna be able to move forward there.

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