Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
QUESTION: All right, so we begin this evening. We’re glad to be joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Secretary Pompeo, thank you very much for being with us tonight. Your thoughts, I guess first of all, just your reaction to that story and that question from John Roberts. What do you say to that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Martha, thanks for having me on the show tonight. The mere fact that John had to ask the question, the mere fact that we don’t know the answers, that China hasn’t shared the answers, I think is very, very telling. To your point, the President said that there are multiple sources. What we do know is we know that this virus originated in Wuhan, China. We know that there is the Wuhan Institute of Virology just a handful of miles away from where the wet market was. There’s still lots to learn. You should know that the United States Government is working diligently to figure this out.
But what we really need, Martha, we really need the Chinese Government to open up. They say they want to cooperate. One of the best ways they could find to cooperate would be to let the world in, to let the world’s scientists know exactly how this came to be, exactly how this virus began to spread.
Today you saw further evidence that there were days – days that went by – from when the Chinese Communist Party, the leadership there, knew about this virus before they told the public writ large. That’s dangerous. A lot of cases, a lot of movement, a lot of travel around the world before the Chinese Communist Party came clean about what really transpired there.
These are the kind of things that open governments, democracies don’t do. It’s why there is such risk associated with the absence of transparency. We need it still today.
QUESTION: I mean, it’s hard to imagine, giving everything that so many countries have been through, how different it might have been if China had immediately been clear about what they knew about the origin of this virus and if they had shut down all of the travel at that point. There were tens of thousands of people who flew out of the Wuhan area after that point. So how does this not have a very negative, heavyweight impact on our relationship with China going forward?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Martha, I’ll say this. I’ve talked to my counterparts all across the world over the past handful of days. They all see this too. It’s very difficult to make the case that there was anything but absence of shared information in a timely fashion. It didn’t just put Americans at risk; it put people all across the world at risk. It wasn’t until the end of January when we brought the first Americans home, the roughly 800 people that we got back from Wuhan itself. They were at risk for an awfully long time.
The Chinese Government needs to come clean. It needs to be accountable. It needs to explain what happened and why it is the case that that information wasn’t made more broadly available. We could have done things differently. The world would have responded quickly. Frankly, the international health organizations didn’t do us any favors either in making sure this information was broadcast in a way that it needed to be with transparent and full information.
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, the President has made a lot of effort to be very supportive of his friendship and his relationship with President Xi, even on January 24th saying that he hopes it works out well, he appreciated the efforts and the transparency on the part of the Chinese Government, he wanted to thank President Xi for that. I mean, can those kind of statements go forward anymore? I know the President talks a lot about the trade deal and making sure that they don’t renege on their promises there. It almost feels like that’s the one piece that is holding that relationship together at this point, because we’re counting on those trade agreements and those trade relationships with China.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, we’ve seen the President be serious about righting the disaster that was the trade relationship before he came to office. He’s made it more fair and reciprocal. We have an expectation that they will live up to their obligations under the phase one trade deal. It was a good deal for both parties.
As for the relationship, we want to cooperate. It’s 1.5 billion people in China. We want the Chinese people to be successful. But it requires leadership that’s prepared to engage in the international community on a fair and reciprocal basis and to share information the way we expect every nation to do that. It doesn’t appear that that happened here. The President talked about their data today and he asked if anybody believed the numbers of deaths and the numbers of cases inside of China.
But that’s the kind of doubt and uncertainty that happens when you close down, when you kick journalists out of your country. All we’re asking is for the Chinese to cooperate and share that information with us. It would be very helpful to the United States. It’d keep us safe. Frankly, it’d keep the Chinese people safer too.
QUESTION: Do you trust what you hear from the Chinese officials when you deal with them?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It varies. I try to take them at their word, but we’re always in every relationship we have trying to make sure we verify everything. It’s not about words; it’s about actions. We need to make sure that every country lives up to the commitments that they made.
QUESTION: So I want to ask you about these cables, this story that came out a couple of days ago in The Washington Post by Josh Rogin that said that there were cables that were highlighting very big concerns about what was going on in these Wuhan labs, that they felt that there weren’t enough people there given the highly contagious and dangerous materials that they were dealing with with these bats and these viruses. They said that it was highly likely that a pandemic could result from how mishandled everything was there.
What happened to those cables? Who received them in the State Department? Who went over them in the State Department two years ago?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Martha, I appreciate you want to ask about that. I can’t comment on the cables tonight. I can say this. This is a laboratory that contained highly contagious materials. We knew that. We knew that they were working on this program. Many countries have programs like this. And in countries that are open and transparent, they have the ability to control and keep them safe and they allow outside observers in to make sure all the processes and procedures are right. I only wish that that had happened in this place. We would know more about it and we would know more about what has transpired there, if anything, today.
QUESTION: Is that something that you’re looking into, what happened with those bits of information and who followed up on them?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Absolutely, Martha. We’re doing a full investigation of everything we can to learn how it is the case that this virus got away, got out into the world, and now has created so much tragedy, so much death here in the United States and all around the world, and at enormous cost to the global economy as well.
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, one person who is obviously also very involved in world health is Bill Gates. He takes issue with the American decision, the President’s decision, to stop funding them at least temporarily until we get some answers on all of this. Here’s what he said: “Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds. Their work is the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs the WHO now more than ever.”
What do you say to that, given the President’s decision?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, what the world needs is an institution, an organization, that actually delivers on the mission set, right? The thing the President – caused the President to make this decision was the fact that the World Health Organization didn’t do that, that for an awfully long time it said that there wasn’t a pandemic, it delayed announcements about things that it knew inside of China that were going on. That’s about politics, not science. We need a scientific organization that is engaged in the medical, epidemiological, and health work that it was designed to do. The President has now put a pause on funding. We’re going to evaluate how best that this mission be executed and is designed to make sure we protect America and protect American taxpayers too.
QUESTION: Yeah. Before I let you go, I want to ask you about this Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps vessels that have conducted what are called dangerous and harassing approaches to several U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, coming as close as 10 yards away. We have some video that we’re showing right now. What can you tell us about what happened here and what the ramifications of this will be?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll leave it to the Department of Defense to talk about the details of that, but we have seen this before where the Iranians behaved in ways that were inconsistent with international law. I think the American people know that President Trump is serious about protecting Americans, protecting our military, protecting our Navy. I am very confident that we’ll make decisions that do that. And I’ll leave it to the Department of Defense to talk about the details of how we’re thinking about that at this point.
QUESTION: All right. Any State Department discussion on that at this point with you and the Defense Department or with Iran for that matter?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh yes, we’ve talked as a team. We’ve talked across the interagency. We’re evaluating how best to respond and how best to communicate our displeasure with what took place.
QUESTION: All right, we’ll be watching.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Martha.
QUESTION: With all of this virus going on, there’s a lot of other things going on in the world too, so we appreciate you responding to that. Secretary Pompeo, good to see you tonight. Thank you very much, sir.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Martha. You have a wonderful evening, ma’am.
QUESTION: You too. Stay well.
Sources: Press Releases for U.S. Department of State. published on 2020-04-06