September 30, 2020
Secretary Michael R. Pompeo
And Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio
At a Press Availability
September 30, 2020
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
FOREIGN MINISTER DI MAIO: (Via interpreter) Good afternoon. Good afternoon to you all. Thank you for being here. I’m very happy to be here with the U.S. Secretary of State, Mr. Mike Pompeo, and we had a very friendly and constructive dialogue. The Secretary of State, with whom I’m constantly in touch, he was in Rome last October, and never we would have imagined that in a few months, we would have to deal with an obscure enemy like the coronavirus.
Once again, I would like to thank wholeheartedly the United States for the extraordinary help they have provided to us, both as a government but also through the private sector and civil society in the most acute phases of the pandemic. This solidarity has been really powerful and pervasive. That can exist only between two strategic allies that are linked by an insoluble bond such as the United States and Italy. Our bilateral relations are excellent under every point of view, and we work to keep them excellent and find always new spaces for cooperation.
On this, I would like to mention the recent partnership between Italy and the United States within the Artemis space mission that will bring man back on the moon. With this spirit today, we have spoken mostly about Libya, challenges to common security in large Mediterranean.
In Libya, Italy and the United States pursue goals that are basically convergent, and the support to the intra-Libyan dialogue under the aegis of the United Nations and then a sustainable ceasefire, a demilitarization of Sirte and Jufra and the full resumption of oil production. Right now, it is important to ensure international support to the efforts made by UNSMIL to organize the next meeting for the next political dialogue forum in Libya, which, as a follow-up to the Montreux talks, would allow Libyans to define a new institutional architecture and a government that might lead the country to elections in the next 18 months. We rely on the influence that Washington will be able to exercise on Libyan interlocutors and the relevant international players in order to oppose possible attempts at sabotage, and also to allow for the urgent resumption of oil production, and we are working intensely together in this direction.
I would like to take the opportunity for this meeting to convey a very clear message: Italy is strongly anchored to the United States and the European Union, and we are bound together by common values and interests. We are a NATO member, we support the NATO alliance, and we strongly believe in the values that are shared by all Western democracies. Therefore, for Italy, they’re our allies, interlocutors, and economic and trading partners. And it is obvious that a dynamic country like our own is open to new investment and development opportunities. But all this can never take place outside of the perimeter that has been traced by our Euro-Atlantic values.
Regarding 5G, I have conveyed to Secretary Pompeo that we have clear in mind the concerns that our U.S. allies have, and we’re fully aware of the responsibility that bears on every NATO country when the security of their allies comes into play. Italy is fully aware of the importance of ensuring the security of 5G networks. This is an absolute priority to us, and for this, we are in favor of common European rules, a topic that I have often raised with the High Representative Josep Borrell, to the extent that I asked him that this should be a subject of discussion in the upcoming Council of European Affairs in the EU.
We have introduced already legislation that increases the government’s possibility to monitor developing 5G networks, legislation that has been considered virtuous by the EU in several reports on this topic. All the contracts and – in this domain have to be vetted by the golden power coordination group that has been established with the prime minister’s office.
Moving on to the Eastern Mediterranean, our stance has always been clear: As member-states of the EU, we stand in solidarity with Greece and Cyprus, and we believe that it’s necessary to address the root causes of tension, starting from the definition of maritime jurisdictions between Turkey and Greece. At the same time, as I told Secretary Pompeo, we should not forget that Turkey is an unrenounceable actor for the stability of the region and an important member of NATO, so it is fundamental to work together, being able to rely on the positive influence that the United States can exercise in order to encourage Turkey to keep demonstrating a constructive approach, both with respect to Cyprus and Greece in order to find a shared solution. In this activity, the role played by the United States can be absolutely essential.
On our part, we support made by the German presidency and also by the High Representative Borrell in order to establish a political space for dialogue in the Eastern Mediterranean and also the action of the NATO Secretary-General Mr. Stoltenberg in order to improve the cohesion of NATO, we’re very active bilaterally, and with Ankara, we have a positive and very frank relationship. In this respect, I will meet in the next few days in Rome with the Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu. We believe that it’s important to encourage our partners to look at the Eastern Mediterranean as an advantageous scenario for everyone since the energy potential of the region can be tapped into only through regional, inclusive, and effective cooperation.
In this forum, I would like to express the concern on the part of Italy for the renewed military clashes along the contact zone between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The issue of Nagorno-Karabakh has been dragging on for years without a solution. But now, we are afraid of an additional military escalation with a high toll on the civilian population and on the regional stability. This new crisis shows that we need to relaunch negotiations within the Minsk Group of the OECD without any precondition.
Italy right now is ready to do its share, and on this, in the next few days, I will also talk with my colleagues from Azerbaijan and Armenia. In agreement with our EU partners, we still follow with concern the violent repressions in Belarus, and we stand firm in urging authorities so that they can launch an effective and inclusive national dialogue with all involved parties, including the opposition and members of civil society. We have to be pragmatic and not undermine communication channels with Minsk. It is obviously in order to reach a positive solution of this event, of this crisis, we have to engage Russia so that it can play a constructive role in promoting dialogue with Minsk. And on this point, I had a chance to raise awareness – Minister Lavrov time and again.
Before giving the floor to my good friend Mike, lastly I would like to thank him also for the great attention that they have dedicated to the case of our fellow national, Chico Forti – Chico. His situation, as I referred to the Secretary of State, is very close to our heart, and for which Italy will keep always engaging its efforts with the utmost energy.
Thank you, Mike, for being here, and thanks to you all.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Luigi, thank you. It’s great to be back here in my ancestral homeland. I’m one of 20 million Americans with root from Milan to Messina – with roots in this remarkable country, a great friend of the United States. It’s wonderful to be here.
I came today to reinforce the partnership between one of our closest friends and allies. The strength of the U.S.-Italy friendship was the foundation of a great conversation today that I had with the foreign minister, with the prime minister before that. We discussed a broad range of issues, and they include things that have benefitted each of our two countries. We were happy to help our Italian friends in a myriad of ways over these past years.
During the initial outbreak of COVID, the Department of Defense donated medical supplies, including medical monitors and ultrasound machines to field hospitals. In May, to support the Italian Government’s distribution of supplies, the United States military airlifted 86 tons to locations all throughout Italy. Our aid arm at the State Department, USAID, has given $10 million to help Italian manufacturers retool their facilities to produce medical equipment.
Our total assistance that’s still ongoing is worth more than $60 million to date. We did it because it was the right thing to do and because you are all such great friends. We’ve done so much great work in this partnership, with nongovernmental organizations, faith-based groups like Catholic Relief Services and the Italian Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse. The American private sector has more than doubled the amount of assistance that has been provided. The Italian people should know that we will always be with you as these challenges arise.
We also spent time talking about how we get our economies going again, how we boost growth in the post-pandemic era. And I thank the foreign minister for his leadership on developing the G7 high-level transportation principles, which all G7 nations should adopt. They will get us closer to bringing back tourism, normalcy, study abroad activities that matter so much to each of our two countries.
Recovering from the virus should also mean accountability for the Chinese Communist Party, as I urged today, and its blatant cover-up attempts that have led to the deaths of more than 1 million people, and an enormous loss – trillions of dollars of economic wealth – and the terrible situation it’s put ordinary families all across the world.
To that end, the foreign minister and I had a long conversation about the United States concerns that the Chinese Communist Party is trying to leverage its economic presence in Italy to serve its own strategic purposes. Rather than when American companies invest, the Chinese Communist Party is not here often to forge a sincere, mutually beneficial partnership. And as I discussed with the prime minister earlier, the United States also urges the Italian Government to consider careful – carefully the risk to its national security and the privacy of its citizens presented by technology companies with ties to the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state.
We also talked about Russia’s aggressive and destabilizing behavior in Europe and around the world, and we agreed that the Russian Government must provide a full accounting for the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and hold those involved responsible.
As the foreign minister said, we also addressed the situation in Libya at some length, and how the EU can play a constructive role in stopping Russia’s malign activities and those of its proxy militias like the Wagner Group.
And on Venezuela, I raised the importance of standing with legitimate governor of Juan Guaido and the Venezuelan people, as now 60 nations do, including the vast majority of the EU member-states that are working to help the Venezuelan people reclaim their democracy.
It’s always wonderful to be here, Luigi. We have established a great friendship. Our nations, two important democracies – our relationship rests on our values, and so I am confident it will continue in the days and months, and we will benefit each other’s peoples with more freedom and more prosperity for decades.
Thank you again for hosting me.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you. At this point we can take questions. Let us begin with Benedetta Guerrera, ANSA Agency.
INTERPRETER: The microphone is off. I’m sorry, but the microphone is off. I think talking —
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) What role can the United States play in stabilizing Libya, a very important country for Italy, and where Italy plays a prominent role?
INTERPRETER: We could grasp a little bit of the question.
FOREIGN MINISTER DI MAIO: (Via interpreter) As you know – thank you for this question. As you know, Libya is a national security issue for us, and we have been working on this intensely with our European partners and with our allies, like the United States, in order to support a constructive dialogue process that can take the country towards a permanent ceasefire. And within this framework, the voice of a strategic ally as important as the United States are to us is a fundamental contribution towards the stabilization of the entire region.
I would like to take the opportunity once again to thank Washington, D.C., to thank Mike for the support that they are giving us in this very delicate moment. The last few weeks have been fundamental for Libya. We have seen major strides forward, both regarding intra-Libyan dialogue and also dialogue between those countries – amongst those countries that have an influence in Libya, and the joint work involving all allies that we’re pursuing has given fruit.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think the foreign minister had that right. Let me just add the following: The United States has expended enormous diplomatic effort to try and resolve the situation in Libya. We know it’s in the region’s best interest. We know it’s in the people of Libya’s best interest to get a ceasefire, to get stability, to get oil produced again where the revenues can be shared in an appropriate way.
We’ve used – there are many countries involved there – we have used our diplomatic capabilities to try and create the conditions on the ground where we can get the violence levels reduced, where we can get all the parties that are talking to each other to re-engage. We’ve supported what Chancellor Merkel is doing in Germany with the five-plus-five in Berlin. We are optimistic that over the last weeks the situation on the ground is better, that there’s more opportunity. We need to – as we spoke about – need to close this window of opportunity as quickly as we can. We recognize the impact that an unstable Libya has on the people of Italy, the risk it creates, and we will use all the tools in our diplomatic arsenal to create the conditions for more stability, less risk, and ultimately a political process that gets us to resolution in Libya.
MR BROWN: For our next question, can we go to Carol Morello with The Washington Post?
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary, today Vatican officials said that they felt blindsided by your very public opposition to their deal with China. They said the deal would go ahead, and they also said that Pope Francis felt it to be inappropriate to meet with you so close to the election. I was hoping to get your response. And also, you seem to be almost picking a fight with the Vatican over China. What impact do you think that might have on Catholic and other Christian voters?
And Minister Di Maio, the United States is – there are reports that it will have further deep cuts in refugee numbers this year. Italy has been on the frontline of the refugee crisis. Do you think the United States is doing enough to alleviate the crisis? Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Carol, in the last part of your first question, did you say what impact it would have on voters in the United States?
QUESTION: Catholics and other Christians.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, that’s just crazy. We’ve been working on improving the lives of the people of China for the entire time this administration’s been in office. We’ve been working on human rights in Xinjiang the entire time I’ve been part of this administration. This has everything to do with making life better for the Chinese people, and the article that I wrote, the statement I made is consistent with longstanding administration policy with respect to what’s taking place in Xinjiang. We want every institution to use its authority, its power to make the lives for what is the greatest human rights violation ongoing in the world – and we want every institution to use their power.
I happen to think that churches and the Catholic Church included have enormous capacity. It is – I wrote that piece to honor the moral authority of the Catholic Church and its capacity to influence and make things better for people all across the world. They have historically stood with oppressed peoples all around the world. And so that was – the piece was written and our policy has been all along to bring every actor who can benefit the people of China from – to take away the horrors of the authoritarian regime the Chinese Communist Party is inflicting on these people. That was our mission set, and it will remain our mission set. Long – it’s been so long before the election; it will remain so after the election.
Last thing, I want to mention this issue. There’s no more generous nation anywhere in the world when it comes to alleviating human crises around the world. So you suggest somehow that we didn’t do our fair share when it comes to refugees – nothing could be further from the truth. We’ve taken more refugees inside the United States than any other nation over the course of the last 20 years. We continue to be the single greatest contributor to the relief of humanitarian crisis all around the world. We will continue to do so, certainly so long as President Trump is in office. I can promise you this administration is deeply committed to that.
FOREIGN MINISTER DI MAIO: (Via interpreter) Thank you. I believe that regarding the humanitarian crisis issue, all Western states, I believe, are dealing with a global situation which should not be underestimated. As Italian Government, we have done whatever we could to manage migration flows in the Mediterranean, both coming from the east and from the south. It is equally true that Italy cannot do it on its own without a European Union that is able to redistribute those who are coming in, and also to repatriate those who cannot stay here. So redistribution and repatriation, these are two important elements that we’re asking for – for the European migration pact. Without these two items and a massive agreement with the countries of origin to repatriate people to countries where they are not being persecuted and they’re not war victims, Italy cannot do it on her own. And actually, Europe will not be able to do it on her own.
I believe that when dealing with migration flows, we need heart but also brains. And in order to deal with this issue in the best possible way, we must say that just like we have recovered European solidarity with the recovery fund to jump-start the economy after COVID, we have to find that same solidarity once again in the management of migration flows. And I believe that the work that is ahead of us in the next few months at European level, because this is a European issue, is to invest more resources in agreements with North African and Sahel countries so there can be more investments there to improve the quality of life of citizens there, and also at the same time establish channels for repatriations for those who are not running away from dismal humanitarian situations that might basically have them – asylum rights moving here. Thank you.