Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
at U.S. Embassy Budapest
February 11, 2019
SECRETARY POMPEO: Hello, everyone. Enjoying your time in Budapest so far?
QUESTION: Great city to be in.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the afternoon here. Thanks for – (inaudible) team. I enjoyed being with them a great deal. They’re doing fantastic work here. This afternoon I’ll meet with a group of leaders from Hungarian civil society. I’m anxious to hear from them about the conditions they believe Hungary finds itself in, their thoughts on how best to move forward. And then I’ll have a chance to meet with the leadership here in the country. I’ll meet with the foreign minister and with Mr. Orban as well, a series of discussions where we’ll have some announcements about things we’ve been able to do together – the two countries, and I’ll certainly make clear the things that we hope we will do to continue to be a great partner inside of NATO and an important force here in Central Europe, supporting the things that both Hungary and America care so deeply about.
With that, I’m happy to take a couple of questions.
QUESTION: Could we ask about the rule of law situation in Hungary? What – do you think that you can have a relationship with Hungary in light of these concerns that have been raised —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Of course. Yes, of course, it’s very important. We do have a – by necessity we have a relationship with Hungary. They’re a sovereign nation. We have a relationship with them. Your question was really can you have a good relationship with them.
SECRETARY POMPEO: And what’s important to recognize is many of the things that I hear people say, and they say well, this could be better, happened when America was not engaged, when America – I’m the first secretary of state to come here since 2011. And so many of the concerns that are voiced are things that have happened in the absence of America being engaged, so I think it’s centrally important that we’re here.
We’ll certainly make the case about the things that we see that we wish were different here. America is never shy about promoting its value set – our concern about humanitarian situations, about civil liberty, law – rule of law, as you mentioned. We’ll certainly talk about those things, and I’m confident we’ll find common ground to work forward on lots of things that are important to my – of course, my first interest, which is delivering on behalf of the American people.
QUESTION: Do you think they’ll listen, given what you say is an absence? Do you think they’ll hear us?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think they are welcoming United States engagement. I think for a long time we shunned them in a way that drove them to fill a vacuum with folks who didn’t share our values, right? The Russians and the Chinese ended up getting more influence here. They do not remotely share the American ideals that we care so deeply about. So yeah, I’m confident they’ll listen. We’ll have a good conversation.
QUESTION: What message will you send them on Ukraine and Russia’s presence there in the east?
SECRETARY POMPEO: America’s position is very clear. It’ll be the same message we’ve sent publicly before. We’re pleased that the Hungarians allowed conversations to take place inside of NATO. We think this issue shouldn’t be a NATO issue. We should all be working to ensure that the people of Ukraine get a chance to have for themselves a fair and free election this upcoming spring – May.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is there any kind of concern in an effort to bring nations like Hungary back into the fold that there might be a propensity to overlook some of those human rights, rule of law, press freedoms that people are concerned about?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Nope, you can do it all. You can – it is not – walk and chew gum at the same time. We’ve never been bashful about that. We have NATO partners that we wish were doing better on these issues. We talk about it openly with them.
QUESTION: Does it make it more difficult to do given that Congress is unhappy with the response you gave them on the – on Friday, when there was the deadline on the Magnitsky Act? Senator McCaul said he thought it was – it fell terribly short. Tim Kaine said he thought the United States is helping cover up a murder. Do you have any response to that, and do you think that undercuts your message here?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Not at all. And my response to that is Senator Kaine is just dead wrong. He’s just – he’s just flat-out wrong. I like Senator Kaine; I have a lot of respect for Senator Kaine. Senator Kaine is just dead wrong. America is not covering up for a murder. America has taken more action in response to the tragic murder of Jamal Khashoggi and will continue to take more action, continue our investigation. We are working diligently on that. We will – the President has been very clear, couldn’t have been more clear, as we get additional information we’ll continue to hold all of those responsible accountable.
So no, it won’t have any impact on my conversation today here. We’re committed to reengaging with folks throughout Central Europe. They are an important part of American national security, and our absence here in the previous administration has been duly noted and has worked in a way that harmed America’s national interest.
MR PALLADINO: You’ve got a meeting, sir.
QUESTION: What exactly do you want to – Mr. Secretary, what exactly do you want to talk to them about on Huawei? That – it’s part of the bigger issue of interference by Russia and China, but what exactly is it that you want them to do or not do on Huawei?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So they’re a sovereign nation. They get to make their own decisions with respect to these things. What’s imperative is that we share with them the things we know about the risks that Huawei’s presence in their networks presents: actual risks to their own people, to the loss of privacy protections for their own people, the risk that China will use this data in a way that is not the best interest of Hungary. We have an obligation to share that information with them, and we will do so.
But second, we have seen this around the world, it also makes it more difficult for America to be present; that is, if that equipment is co-located in places where we have important American systems, it makes it more difficult for us to partner alongside them. We want to make sure we identify them the opportunities and the risks associated with using that equipment. And then they’ll get to make their decisions.
Great. Thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Thank you.