Senior State Department Officials Previewing Secretary Pompeo’s Travel to Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom (Excerpts)

May 29, 2019

Related Country: 

  • Germany
  • Switzerland

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QUESTION: [...] 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 —

MODERATOR:  Brussels.

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.

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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.

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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.