Bellinzona, Switzerland - Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo And Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis At a Joint Press Availability:
FOREIGN MINISTER CASSIS: (Via interpreter) Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. Welcome to this press conference and this meeting between Switzerland and the United States. This meeting follows my visit to Washington, which dates back to February of this year. It’s a great joy for me to welcome here the Secretary of State of the United States Mike Pompeo here in Switzerland.
We welcome him in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, and it’s again and with great joy I welcome him here in the San Michael Castle, like his name, Michael like Mike Pompeo. And this is a classical bilateral meeting, classical as far as the structure is concerned; but chronologically speaking, there hasn’t been such a bilateral meeting between the U.S. and Switzerland between the foreign ministers of Switzerland and the U.S., so we’re very happy to have Mike here with us today. Thank you very much for granting us his time, precious time.
This visit wants to witness how strong our relations to the U.S. are, a country with which we share many values, the restructuring of Europe after World War II, and this year is the 100th anniversary of the bilateral system which was created mainly by the U.S.
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.
Then we approached the topic of Venezuela. We have signed an agreement to protect Venezuelan interests as far as the diplomatic American interest in Venezuela are concerned. We’ve been active on a humanitarian basis, but we have not – we are not fully active on all aspects because Maduro’s regime, Maduro’s government, is waiting for a reciprocity by the U.S. in order to confirm Switzerland’s presence as a protector of the American interests. We have discussed this as well, and we have tried to come up with some solutions.
We have then moved on to the relations with Russia and China, two powers with which there are tensions nowadays, both with the U.S. and between China and Russia in our multipolar world, and we have discussed the role that Switzerland could have with good offices with its very well-balanced action in interacting with these two countries without forgetting the shared common values we have, the common values we have, we share, as a Western world, and that in some other parts of the world these values are quite different.
With Russia there’s been sort of modulation in that Russia is active in Syria, for instance, in Venezuela, in ways that not always align with the interest of the Western world, but we still have constructive relations with Russia and we’re trying to act as a discussion platform.
We have then touched upon multilateralism. The 100th anniversary of the birth of the League of Nations in 1919, multilateralism which the U.S. are now trying to put under pressure so as to cause changes. But we both agreed that the world needs multilateralism, and this has to be as effective as possible, and that’s why Switzerland, like U.S., are in favor of the ongoing reforms with different approaches.
I would now love to give the floor to Mike Pompeo for his remarks.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Foreign Minister Cassis. It was an honor to host you in Washington in February. It’s great to be with you today here in Ticino. I’m the first Secretary of State to be Bern in 20 years. I’m thrilled that we’ve had this opportunity to have an extended discussion here today.
We in the United States have enormous respect and appreciation for Switzerland and the role that your nation plays all around the world internationally. We know that Switzerland prizes its neutrality but never shies away from defending its values, including democracy, peace, and good governance around the world. The United States and Switzerland are thus natural partners, and today we are driving towards even greater cooperation. Just a couple weeks back now, President Trump was proud to be the first U.S. president ever to host a Swiss president at the White House. And today, Foreign Minister Cassis and I followed up on the ground that they covered.
The first thing we spoke about was trade. It’s easy to see why American businesses love to do business here in Switzerland. It’s a central location in Europe; it has financial and political stability, first-class infrastructure, and a highly trained workforce. It’s a great place for American businesses to come and work. Two U.S. companies, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, are currently competing to provide Switzerland with its newest fleet of fighter jets, while another, Raytheon, is competing to provide its ground-based air defense system. American defense products are the best in the world, and we want to help Switzerland maintain its best-in-class defense, as we do for our other close defense partners.
Switzerland and the United States also continue to explore a potential bilateral trade agreement. Foreign Minister Cassis mentioned this. While we’re in the early stages, I feel optimistic about the opportunity for progress. Our economic interests are closely aligned, and so I think we’ll be able to achieve a good outcome there for each of our two countries.
Across all industries in both economies, a broad agreement would indeed make trade much faster, fairer, and more mutually advantageous. And a trade deal would also reinforce the economic values that we both hold dear. It would also reinforce this notion that there are other countries that seek to undermine the way that we do business. China is one such nation. Its ambitions are on full display here in Switzerland. Under the free trade agreement that went into force in 2013, China has gained an extensive presence here while denying Swiss companies the same access inside of China.
As I have said before, the United States welcomes China’s participation in the global economy, as long as it plays by the rules. But we encourage our Swiss friends and partners to recognize the security risks associated with many of China’s economic activities, and we discussed that at some length today.
Strong relationships between countries are built on good faith and mutual respect, and the U.S.-Switzerland relationship certainly proves that. Last December, we signed an MOU to advance our partnership in vocational education. The Swiss experience offers compelling lessons for the United States, and U.S. industry has taken note of the model here in Switzerland. The Trump administration is grateful to Swiss companies currently sharing their expertise on this subject with us.
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.
Our two countries have enjoyed sturdy bonds ever since the formation of a unified Swiss state in 1848. Over time, the world has come to look to both of our nations in our own unique ways as leaders in peace and democracy. Today we seek to build an even brighter partnership between our two countries with great implications not only for the United States and Switzerland but for the entire world. Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER CASSIS: Thank you. (Via interpreter) Thank you, Mike Pompeo, for your kind words towards Switzerland.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. Now we have some time for a couple of questions from the Swiss and the American press. Let’s start with a Swiss journalist who would like to ask the first question.
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?
I’ve got one other on North Korea. Can I ask when the U.S. side was last in contact with Kim Hyok-chol and Kim Yong-chol, and who you see as your current interlocutors with the North Koreans? And finally, when were you – when were the last direct contacts, direct talks, between United States and North Korea? Many thanks.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I’m not going to answer the question about the conversations with North Korea. We conduct our negotiations in private.
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.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. One more question from the Swiss press.
QUESTION: My name is Rafaella Machine from the Swiss television. As far as free trade agreements are concerned, I would like to ask you what is your priority there? Where are they on the list of priorities?
And to Federal Councilor Cassis, I would like to ask him if he’s satisfied with the negotiation, today negotiations, and if you moved forward.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s a priority. We think engaging in these discussions is important. We want to do it as quickly as we can. We have important trade relationships here, and we’d like to get a good outcome, an outcome that is a winning outcome for each of the two countries. I can’t speak to the actual timing over which we can achieve it, but today we both committed to doing our best to move forward this as expeditiously as we can.
FOREIGN MINISTER CASSIS: (Via interpreter) I can confirm that we are very satisfied on both parties’ commitment. Both parties are very much interested in concrete matters – trade interests, economic interests. And you know that the trade balance is now in favor of Switzerland right now, so to open up the market more means what kind of mechanisms are putting into discussion again, and we have to come up with a new balance. But today we have committed ourselves to continue those exploratory talks so as to clear whether we want or not to open a negotiations on these free trade agreements. It might last a little longer than expected, because if you want to open the negotiations is to finish it up quickly, not to go on for too long.
MS ORTAGUS: James Rosen, Sinclair.
QUESTION: Thank you. First, on behalf of the American traveling party, I want to say how grateful we all are to be exposed to such an extraordinary and beautiful setting, so thank you for taking us here.
Gentlemen, with your indulgence, I have two questions on Iran for the Secretary, but I will begin with one question on a different topic for the foreign minister.
Sir, do you see President Trump with his words, his actions, his conduct, his “American First” foreign policy, enhancing or harming the image of America in your country?
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.
FOREIGN MINISTER CASSIS: (Via interpreter) I’ll go first and I’ll reply to the question on President Trump’s enhancing or not the image of the U.S. in Switzerland. I can say that it’s not up to a state to judge another state’s work or the president of another state’s work. Secondly, both realities are true. In Switzerland, I feel that there is a perception of a very profile president, and of course, that’s dividing the opinions. Part of Switzerland believes that the image has been enhanced, and another part believes that he hasn’t. This happens all over the world in human relations. We smile if somebody has – shares the same opinion with us, and we dislike those who don’t agree with us.
But globally speaking, going beyond social psychology, we have figures – trade exchanges which have never been as good as they are right now with the U.S. So we are amongst the top 10 trade partners of the U.S. We’re number seven in the ranking. We create jobs for half of million people in the U.S. with a very – with very high wages over there. And so there is a very strong relation binding Switzerland and the U.S., let alone the scientific world, where we are really cooperating strongly.
And multilaterally speaking, despite what seems to go against multilateralism, today we have discussed this with Secretary Pompeo and again in the past in February with Secretary Bolton. So our aim is to go back to the initial mission, and of course, the multilateral organizations need to do this. And we believe it’s got to be done from the inside, not from the outside, like they believe it should be done. So this was always Swiss vocations. We both want a multilateral system which works, a credible and an effective one. And this is why the common values are still common today like they were in the past.
Thank you very much for your appreciating our invitation to Bellinzona. I’ve been extremely happy as foreign ministry to do something for my canton, my little corner of the country. There’s not much more I can do. I cannot build roads or railroads or bridges or open schools, but I can invite people to this side of the country. And having such an important representative coming to Switzerland and seeing the castles is something that makes me very proud, let me say so.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Again, and it’s been thrilling for me to come here too to the Italian part as a Pompeo, again to come back to a very special place. And I really thank the foreign minister for doing that.
I just want to comment on your first question as well. I think the foreign minister got it exactly right. If you look at the relationship between our two countries for these past now two years and a handful of months, they are significantly more robust than they were in the previous administration. Our trade relationships are strong. Our conversations are candid and clear. I think what we have been able to do together in these two years has fundamentally put the trajectory of the U.S.-Switzerland relationship on the right course. And I hope we in the months and years ahead can continue to do that.
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. Thank you, James. You can ask one more time if you like. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much for being here today. The press conference is now over. Have a good afternoon.