QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thanks for being here.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, it’s great to be with you this evening.
QUESTION: Heard in an interview earlier you said that Nicolas Maduro was on his way out or planning to leave by plane to Havana, Cuba. How close did he get?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, it’s an understanding that he was ready to go, he’d made a decision that we’ve been urging him to make for quite some time, and then he was diverted from that action by the Russians. We hope he’ll reconsider and get back on that plane. We’ve made it very clear: We support the National Assembly and their interim President Juan Guaido, and we’re supporting the Venezuelan people in their hour where it’s time to get it right and begin to build back their economy so that starving children can eat and those that are sick can actually get medicine that’s sitting on the nation’s very border.
QUESTION: Would he have safe passage to Havana if he got on that plane?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, we’ve made very clear what are the expectations for Maduro’s departure, for the departure of others too. And what our expectations, what assurances we’re willing to provide them, I’m not going to discuss those here.
QUESTION: But living is one of them?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, I’m just not going to start down that path.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, what about the Russians? Has there been communication with the Russians since they told him to stay in Caracas?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, I don’t want to get into all of the conversations we had today, but it’s very clear the Cubans and the Russians understand that they are upsetting the duly elected leader there in Venezuela. They know that. I hear sometimes people saying, well, the United States is considering an invasion. The invasion has taken place. The Cubans have thousands of their officers inside of Venezuela today. They are not there with the consent of the government; they’re there with the consent of the thug Nicolas Maduro, but not Juan Guaido, the duly elected leader of the Venezuelan Government today. And for the Russians it’s the same.
Look, it’s time for Maduro to leave, it’s time for there to be free and fair elections, and it’s time to begin to rebuild this once-great economy.
QUESTION: Talking to Cuba and Russia, you have, as you look at the map here, 45 nations around the world have recognized Guaido as the leader of Venezuela, including the U.S., but there are 14 countries that continue to support Maduro: Russia, China, Turkey, Cuba, Bolivia, Iran, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Mexico, Syria, Belarus, South Africa, Cambodia, and North Korea. I mean, are you turning the screws on these countries? How is that pressure building to accept Guaido?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So the State Department team has been hard at this. We’re now up over 50 nations – I think it’s 54 or 56 nations – that are supporting Juan Guaido. We’re happy to have the 57th the moment we can get it. We’ve made clear to the nations that you just called out – we’ve made clear to them they’re on the wrong side of history, and that the rule of law and democracy ought to be restored, that the destruction that’s taken place over years inside of Venezuela will be a struggle to rebuild, but it is a worthy cause, and Nicolas Maduro cannot be anywhere in the country if the Venezuelan people hope to finally achieve that outcome. I’m confident they’ll get there and the United States, the Lima Group, the countries in the region, the Organization of American States are all supporting that.
QUESTION: You mentioned that some in the Maduro regime talk about the U.S. possibly invading Venezuela. One of those was the ambassador to the UN for Venezuela, who said that the buildup at the embassy in Bogota, Colombia, next door, has been to get ready for war. Listen to this.
(Video is played.)
QUESTION: What’s your response to that as we look at live pictures in Caracas, Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, we never talk about the numbers we have at any particular embassy. They change from day to day. But if the question is, is the United States prepared to consider military action if that’s what it takes to restore the democracy there in Venezuela, the President’s been consistent and unambiguous about that – that the option to use military force is available if that’s what is ultimately called for. We hope it’s not. We hope there can be a peaceful resolution and that Maduro will leave without violence. We’re watching those who are engaged in violence and we will hold them accountable. But the President has made very, very clear that we are going to ensure that Venezuelan democracy is restored.
QUESTION: Nicolas Maduro did issue a tweet today, and he said: “Nerves of steel. I’ve spoken to all commanders in the integral defense regions and integral defense zones around the country who have pledged their total loyalty to the people, the constitution, and their fatherland. I call for maximum popular mobilization to assure the victory of peace. We will win.”
I mean, Mr. Secretary, that does not sound like a guy that’s getting ready to leave.
SECRETARY POMPEO: “Nerves of steel” hasn’t shown himself very much today, Bret. While Juan Guaido is out talking to the people of Venezuela, he’s on the street shaking hands, rallying people behind him, while Nicolas Maduro has been hiding for the whole day. So much for nerves of steel.
QUESTION: As we’re continuing to look live there, were you taken by surprise that this happened on this day and not tomorrow?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ve been working to restore democracy for months. As events unfold day to day you can never predict which day particular events will happen on. We’ve been – we’ve known that there would always be some day that looked about like today in the sense of the increasing opportunity for Venezuelan democracy, and we’re continuing to support that effort.
QUESTION: Is there a red line in Venezuela – if Maduro does X, the U.S. does something?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We have planned out lots of options. We’re prepared for lots of things. I don’t want to talk about what particular actions may trigger particular responses. The President just talked about the need for the Cubans to change their ways and what we will do if the Cubans make a decision to continue to engage in violence, to take down the duly elected leadership in Venezuela. But beyond that, I don’t want to get into where particular lines are.
But the Venezuelan people should know that not just the United States, but 50-plus countries, the Organization of American States are all prepared to continue to work and support them and stand with them.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I have two more questions for you. One is on North Korea, the North Koreans saying there needs to be a new approach to denuclearization. Are you still hopeful that that is all going to come together seeing what you’re seeing now?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I am. I still remain hopeful, Bret. There’s only one real approach to denuclearization, that’s to denuclearize, right, to begin to take down the threat. And we’re prepared to engage in conversations to arrive at a process by which the North Koreans can see their way clear to fulfilling the commitment that Chairman Kim made back in Singapore in June of last year.
QUESTION: Last thing: As a cabinet Secretary, would you be questioned by staff members up on Capitol Hill?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I haven’t given it two seconds thought. It certainly – having served in Congress for six years, I don’t think it was ever the case that a committee I was on – and I was in probably hundreds of hearings – I don’t think I ever – I don’t think in any of the actual committee hearings we had staff members asking questions.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, as always, thanks for the time.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, sir.
- May 1, 2019 at 6:34 am by USA Editor (displayed above)
- May 1, 2019 at 6:34 am by USA Editor