Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis at a Joint Press Availability (Excerpts)

June 2, 2019

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  • Switzerland

FOREIGN MINISTER CASSIS: [...] During our face-to-face meeting and with the two delegations, we approached various topics which are important in the world today: Iran, Venezuela, Russia, the free trade agreement, and bilateralism. On every single topic, I will spend just a few words, first of all about Iran.

The situation is very tense, and we are fully aware – both parties are fully aware of this tension. Switzerland, of course, wishes that there is no escalation, no escalation of violence in Iran, although the situation seems to be quite tense at present. There is suffering for the sanctions which have been applied on Iran. These sanctions, of course, cause suffering, suffering in the Iranian people. And Switzerland, which is in charge of Iranian – interests in Iran, wants to give humanitarian aid to Iran, especially pharmaceutical products and foodstuffs. In order to supply these foodstuffs and pharmaceutical items, Iran needs to pay for this supplying, and this is only possible if the U.S. free this channel of payment as far as banks are concerned. We have discussed this back in February in Washington. Today we have re-discussed the situation, and we are confident that the U.S. will help us come up with the best possible solution in the shortest possible time.


SECRETARY POMPEO: [...] I reminded the foreign minister too how deeply appreciative the United States is of Switzerland’s service as America’s protective power in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In this role, Switzerland guards American interests inside that dictatorship. You perform important consular services for our citizens there, and you manage the cases of our missing or imprisoned U.S. citizens, visiting them in Iranian jails and assuring them and their families that their country are doing everything that it can to bring them home. This is an important part of our bilateral relationship, as you know. Bringing home unjustly detained persons is one of President Trump’s highest foreign policy priorities, and we throughout the administration work on it every single day.


QUESTION: (Via interpreter) My name is Pierre Ograbeck from the local radio/television. A question for both of you, Mr. Secretary and Mr. Federal Councilor. In the last days, President Trump has expressed his wish to create a dialogue with Iran. So from Washington today came a very specific question towards Switzerland so that Switzerland can use its good offices.

FOREIGN MINISTER CASSIS: (Via interpreter) Yeah, we grant U.S. interests in Iran. We are a channel of communication. This is not a new request. This has always been the case. We’ve been doing this for years, and we have discussed the communications which went on over the past few weeks up to the very highest levels, so with the foreign ministry of Iran. The situation and what we can do as Switzerland is to be intermediators, not mediators, if there is no goodwill from both parties. Both parties are now increasing the pressure, and for us this is a matter of worry, but we cannot do anything unless we get a mandate from both parties.

SECRETARY POMPEO: I’d just add since you asked both of us, you said that President Trump had indicated his willingness to have a conversation with the Iranians in the past few days. He’s said this for an awfully long time, more than just the past few days. We’re certainly prepared to have that conversation when the Iranians conclude that they want to behave like a normal nation.

There’s real challenges inside of Iran today. They’re not caused by our economic sanctions. They’re caused by 40 years of the Islamic regime not taking care of its people, instead using their resources to destroy real lives, to use resources to underwrite Hizballah, to using resources to fight in Syria, where 6 million human beings, 6 million people, have been displaced because of Iranian activity in support of the Assad regime there. They have used their resources in ways that fundamentally undermine the well-being of their own country.

The foreign minister spoke about the need for humanitarian, for medicine, and for food. This is going on while the Iranians are working to build out their missile program. This is going on while the Iranians continue to put people in Venezuela. This isn’t about an absence of resources for the Islamic Republic of Iran. It’s the decision by their leadership to deny their citizens the basic necessities they need while continuing their expansionist efforts, their revolutionary efforts, all around the world. That’s what America’s policy is aiming to reverse.

MS ORTAGUS: David Brunnstrom, Reuters.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. For Secretary Pompeo, I was wondering if you could give us a specific comment on President Rouhani’s remarks yesterday about Iran’s willingness to engage but not under pressure. And on the issue of U.S. detainees, are there any talks at all underway via Switzerland or anyone else to get them free? And if they were to be released, how much of a confidence-building measure would that be?


SECRETARY POMPEO: [...] The same thing holds true for our conversations about the release of American detainees. I want every family of every American who is held unjustly by the Islamic Republic of Iran to know we take it seriously. The Levinson family, all of the families that are impacted by this wholly unjust detention of American citizens by the Islamic Republic of Iran, is something that is at the center of what we work on each and every day. But I’m not going to talk about the scope of the conversations or who may be helping us get them back. Know that the United States is working with all willing nations to assist us in getting those folks returned.

Your first question again, sir?

QUESTION: It was essentially about President Rouhani’s remarks the other night.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. We’re prepared to engage in a conversation with no preconditions. We’re ready to sit down with them. But the American effort to fundamentally reverse the malign activity of this Islamic republic, this revolutionary force, is going to continue.


QUESTION: [...] And for Secretary Pompeo, with respect to the latest IAEA report covering Iran’s alleged compliance with the JCPOA, do you regard that what the report had to say about Iran’s installation of advanced centrifuges constitutes a violation of the accord? And then secondly, where the report stated that the agency had had access to all sites in Iran to which it needed to have access, do you agree? And if not, has the Trump administration suggested to the IAEA any sites which Washington believes should be inspected? Thank you.


SECRETARY POMPEO: [...] You asked about the IAEA report. I don’t want to comment on that other than to say is that we’re tracking closely the work product of the IAEA. We also have our own independent understanding of what’s taking place there. And the world should be mindful that we are watching closely how Iran is complying with the requirements that were set out in the JCPOA, not only the heavy water issue but the amount of highly enriched uranium which they are accumulating. We are watching closely as they put centrifuges into work, and whether they’re actually beginning to spin those centrifuges and load those centrifuges. We are very mindful of these issues.

And this really gets to your third question about America’s efforts to make sure that we have a deep understanding of what’s going on there and whether there is not only JCPOA compliance – we’ve withdrawn from the deal; but importantly, if there’s work taking place that presents risk to the world, that Iran will begin to move forward on its program to develop its nuclear capabilities which threaten the entire world in which every country, every European country, agrees presents real risk.

And so yes, we have urged the IAEA to make sure that they are looking at all the right places, to do all the things that need to be done to ensure JCPOA compliance. That’s their mission set. But you should know independently of that we are doing our work to make sure that Iran never ends up in a place where it can have a nuclear weapon. It’s why we withdrew from the JCPOA. It was a time-limited agreement that allowed them to build out their missile program, as you can see, to within hours be able to begin to spin centrifuges. These were the fundamental failings that President Trump identified when we made the decision to move down that path. Other countries have chosen a different path, but collectively we all understand the need to ensure that the Islamic Republic of Iran does not have the capacity to build out a nuclear weapons program that threatens us all.

QUESTION: Are they in violation?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, we’re looking at it constantly. We’ve been doing that for years and we’ll continue to do that. I don’t have a conclusion that I’m going to provide for you today.