Senior State Department Officials previewing Secretary Pompeo's travel to Germany, Senegal, Angola, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and Oman
Special Briefing, Office of the Spokesperson
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Good afternoon, everybody. Great to have all of you on the phone again for another trip with Secretary Pompeo. This call is, of course, about our upcoming travel to Germany, Africa, and the Middle East. For your reference purposes only and not for reporting, we are joined today by [Senior State Department Official One], who will discuss our objectives for the stops in Africa. From this point forward, [Senior State Department Official One] should be referred to as Senior State Department Official One.
Also joining us today is [Senior State Department Official Two], who is available to answer your questions about the Middle East portion of the trip. From this point forward, he will be referred to as Senior State Department Official Two.
I will be here to answer any questions that you have on the Secretary's stop in Munich, Germany for the Munich Security Conference. You can refer to me as Senior State Department Official Three. Although if you have a question about Munich, you have to ask it at the beginning, because I have to leave the briefing a little early, and [Moderator] is next to me and will be taking over.
We are able to ask a limited number of questions on this call. So for the purposes of efficiency, we ask you – we ask that you queue up now for questions by pressing 1 then 0 rather than at the end of the opening statements. Again, this call is on background. The contents are embargoed until the conclusion of the call.
I will now turn it over to Senior State Department Official One, who will begin our call with opening remarks, and after a brief pause, we'll move on to your questions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you very much. Good afternoon, good night, wherever you guys are, from Washington. I am absolutely delighted that this trip is coming up, that the Secretary will be visiting three sub-Saharan African countries between February 15th and 19th. Some of the overarching themes that we were looking at here – first of all, of course, is Africa's youth bulge. It is the youngest continent. As we know, Africa's population will be doubling between now and 2050, and we want to absolutely empower that youth and make sure that they are a force for dynamic growth and economic empowerment and better governance in the world.
Another theme is economic growth, trade and investment with the continent. The overall economic growth rates in Africa are some of the highest in the world, and the three countries where the Secretary will be going are especially standouts in that regards. Another one is that the countries that the Secretary will be visiting contribute to the stability of their region. Unfortunately, we all know about the instability and absolutely some of the terrorist threats on the continent, but these three countries are major contributors to regional stability. Also, the countries are benefiting from dynamic leadership. In each of the countries, we can point to examples where the leaders involved have been making some really positive achievements. Also, as you will note, amongst the countries we do have one Francophone, one Lusophone, and if we can give a language to Ethiopia that is aside from Amharic or Oromia or one of the Ethiopian languages, which would be English, which is a working language there. And of course, obviously, in Ethiopia the Secretary will also be engaging with the African Union. If there's one thing we can say about Addis Ababa, it is that in addition to being the capital of Ethiopia, it is in also many respects the capital of Africa.
So with that, I will be happy to stop, and we can talk in greater detail about any of the specific countries, purposes, common themes, anything like that that you all would like to address. Over.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Thanks so much. So [Senior State Department Official Two] had to step out for a quick second; he will be back to answer questions. I am going to do a quick briefing on the Middle East part of our trip until he gets back.
So for the last leg of Secretary Pompeo's trip, he will travel to Saudi Arabia and Oman. In Riyadh, he will meet with senior Saudi leadership to discuss bilateral and regional issues of mutual concern. They will discuss the Iranian regime's continued destabilizing influence in the region. Regarding Yemen, they will discuss their concerns about the escalation of violence there, the need to return to a UN-led peace process, and the urgent humanitarian concerns in Houthi-controlled areas. They will also discuss human rights and consular issues related to Saudi Arabia. The Secretary will also have an opportunity to meet with the diplomatic community and their families while in Riyadh to thank them for their service.
Lastly, the Secretary will travel to Muscat, Oman. He will express his condolences on the death of Sultan Qaboos bin Said in person, and will meet with the new sultan, Haitham bin Tarik. This is an opportunity for the Secretary to underscore the United States steadfast partnership with Oman, and our desire to continue our strong bilateral cooperation. The Secretary will also meet with the American embassy community in Oman as well.
And, as I said earlier at the beginning of the call, if you have questions, you can press 1 and then 0 to get in the queue.
OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to ask a question, once again, please press 1 then 0.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Okay. Let's start with Matt Lee from the Associated Press.
OPERATOR: Matthew Lee, your line is now open. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I have a question for both of you. Senior Official Three first, since you have to go, do you have any more – any of the highlights of the Munich – of the Secretary's participation in the security conference, any speaking? I understand Saturday, Saturday morning, maybe?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Yeah.
QUESTION: And any confirmed bilats yet or multilat meetings, possibly with Secretary Esper, who will also be there?
And then Senior Official – oh, wait, now I'm – Senior Official One, I guess, on Africa —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Africa.
QUESTION: Well, you got it all confused. Senior Official One, given the Secretary's weekend speech about the perils of China, his message which has been pretty constant throughout Europe and elsewhere about China, I'm wondering about the Angola stop, which is kind of like a little – an outpost – Chinese – Chinese outpost where they've really kind of taken over. How big of an issue do you expect him to make of that? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Okay. So quickly on Munich, we will get all of you in the bullpen all of the details there. He is, as of now, speaking – the Secretary's speaking on Saturday – excuse me, on Friday morning before we head out on our Africa stops. Is it Friday morning or – yes, sorry, I'm getting my days confused.
There are a number of bilats. A lot of them will be with Esper, a lot of them will be with members of Congress that are there. So I don't have anything to confirm yet, but Matt, the last I – we can talk as we get closer, but the last I checked, there was probably at least 10 meetings that we had on the books there. So we will have readouts for all of those. You can – I think the Munich Security Conference posts online all of the senior officials coming. So he'll be meeting with a number of his counterparts.
We're working on the speech now. We'll make sure that all of you in our bullpen have an embargoed copy of that speech. It is the Secretary's first time attending the Munich Security Conference as Secretary of State. He's been there in the past, but never as Secretary of State, so I think that this is a really good opportunity for him to talk to our allies and to the transatlantic alliance about how the Trump administration views that relationship going forward.
Now I'll turn it over to our senior official.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. As you guys know, China in Africa is one of the major themes, and we've had a number of discussions on that. With this trip more so, the Secretary is going to be really promoting U.S. engagement with these African countries, and why the U.S. is a phenomenal partner for Africa.
Angola specifically, first of all, we wanted to really congratulate President Lourenco for his economic and political reforms, his extremely strong anti-corruption efforts, and his very strong regional leadership. If people will remember when Tshisekedi was elected president of the Congo, DRC, his very first trip out was to see President Lourenco in Angola, and President Lourenco just made some remarkable, remarkable achievements in his time there.
And absolutely, we want to expand our economic ties with Angola. Angola offers tremendous promise in a number of areas, and again, as you all know, for the Africa bureau, our number one goal is dramatically increasing U.S. trade and investment, and that's what we're there for. Over.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Okay. Let's go to Annika Hammerschlag from Voice of America.
OPERATOR: Annika Hammerschlag, your line is now open.
QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Yes.
QUESTION: Hi. I was wondering if you're going to elaborate – Senior State Department Official One can elaborate more on the Secretary's schedule in Senegal, and why he's going there, what he's hoping to gain from his meeting with Macky Sall.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Sure, absolutely. Well, as you guys probably know, the United States has – this year, we have 60 years of relations with Senegal. We have very strong shared democratic values. We see some tremendous bilateral economic opportunities. Senegal is an extremely strong security partner for the United States. Especially with the very serious stability, terrorism, conflict problems going on in that region, Senegal is an absolute bulwark. It's one of the states there that exports stability instead of instability. Also, Senegalese society is very tolerant. So in many respects, Senegal is an example for, I'd say, the entire continent, and we want to further develop our partnership with Senegal.
If you look at the map of Africa and the map of North America, Dakar is one of the closest points, and the Senegalese very much would like to take advantage of that. In Senegal, in addition to, obviously, meeting with Senegalese officials – and this is pretty well the pattern for each of these three countries. In addition to meeting with Senegalese officials, the Secretary will be meeting with business leaders, again, to discuss the business environment, expanding trade and investment, as always with the U.S. embassy staff to thank our people for the tremendous work that they do, for YALI, Young African Leaders Initiative alumni, focus on women's empowerment, and also will be doing a media event. Over.
MODERATOR: Okay, next question. Let's go to the line of Shaun Tandon from AFP.
QUESTION: My question is also for senior official number one. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about the security aspects in Africa. I mean, there's also been talk, as you know, in the Pentagon of a drawdown militarily of the United States in Africa. Is there going to be any message about Africans doing more for themselves or more about cooperation on the security front? Any talk about what to do in the Sahel?
And if I could add on the Ethiopia stop, how much, if any, do you think there'll be discussion of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam? With the talks that have gone here in Washington, is this an effort – is this an opportunity for the Secretary perhaps to push that across the finish line, or do you not see that coming up very much? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: On the second question, hopefully, that situation is close to resolution with the discussions here in Washington, so we'll see what the status is by the time the Secretary gets there. I mean, what I can say about that is we have two very strong friends who are involved in that. The United States wants them to come to resolution. And now, more and more the third participant is also a U.S. friend with the changes that have gone on in Sudan, so hopefully – let's keep our fingers crossed and remain very optimistic.
On the security aspect, all three – as I mentioned, all three of these countries are key because they're very strong security partners, one, or they're very involved in promoting stability and exporting stability in their regions. Specifically on the Sahel, as you all know, there is a review going on and any specific information regarding that review should go to the Department of Defense. But I can tell you that from the U.S. State Department's point of view, an awful lot of the security programs that we conduct in the Sahel are actually paid for by U.S. State Department funds. We absolutely plan to continue those programs. Our embassies are very much energized and involved diplomatically.
And I guess as some of you know, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Ambassador David Hale is currently in the Sahel visiting a number of states there, conducting meetings with some of the regional leaders. So we are very focused on the Sahel. We are very focused on African peace and stability, and our energy level will continue to be very high. Over.
MODERATOR: Okay. For our next question, can we go to the line of Lara Jakes.
OPERATOR: Lara Jakes, your line is now open.
QUESTION: Hi, everyone. Senior State Department Official One, you didn't mention anything about South Sudan, and so I'm wondering while the Secretary is in Addis, which has been a place where South Sudan has been a place for peace talks and meetings, I'm wondering to what extent this will be addressed. Specifically, has there been any movement in this process since the U.S. appointed a new envoy and since the sanctions were levied last month? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: As you guys probably know, I was in South Sudan just, I think, like 10 days ago. Yes, Ambassador Symington is now engaged directly in the region. I think he was just in Addis yesterday, sent in some interesting reports. We'll see where that goes. We're looking at the February 22 deadline, keeping our fingers crossed, hopefully, that the leaders involved will be able to put aside their differences and move forward on forming the transitional unity government which everybody wants.
As far as the Secretary's discussions will go, obviously, when he's in Ethiopia and he will be meeting with the senior leadership, they will be discussing regional issues. But this trip is more focused on expanding U.S. ties, opportunities, economic opportunities. So the South Sudan part is not the central piece because, as you guys know, dealing with an issue like South Sudan, that needs constant ongoing attention, and this is much a larger-picture visit. Over.
MODERATOR: Hey, I just want to let everybody know that Senior State Department Official Two is here if you have questions on our stops in the Middle East. And let's go to Conor Finnegan for the next question.
OPERATOR: Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi. This is for official number one as well. I have a couple questions on Sudan.
First, the Secretary had a call recently with General Burhan and invited him to Washington. The readout, though, didn't make a mention of the country's transition to democracy. So I'm just wondering if you can reiterate the support of the administration for that transition, for Prime Minister Hamdok, and whether or not that will be a part of this trip as well.
But on the invitation specifically, does it send the wrong message to invite General Burhan after the Secretary did not meet the prime minister here in Washington in December?
And then finally, General Burhan also said that his recent meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will help Sudan be de-listed from the state sponsors of terrorism list. I'm just wondering if that is true, if that was a message that the Secretary gave him.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: On the de-listing, obviously, that is a process on itself. That is going to play itself out. As I have said many times, it is not flipping a light switch. It is definitely a process. Everybody wants it to move forward as quickly as possible. And that's as much as I'll say on that.
As far as meetings go, obviously, there are still to be some meetings in the future. Meetings in the past are not by themselves limiting, so stay tuned as to potential future meetings.
Absolutely, the United States of America continues to support the transition process and the civilian-led transitional government. There are currently two parts to the government. I was also recently just in Khartoum. I was there, I think, about 10 days ago. And one of the aspects of the visit which for me was very optimistic that, as opposed to when I was there last year when there was a considerable distrust between the different parts of the government, this time there was really a sense that both Prime Minister Hamdok and General Burhan saw their relationship as a partnership with each of them playing key roles.
So to answer your question, yes, the United States of America continues to very strongly support the transition and to support the civilian part of the government. They each have different responsibilities. And as far as meetings go, we'll just see what happens in the future. Over.
MODERATOR: Okay. For our next question, maybe a Middle East question, and we'll go to the line of Kim Dozier, please.
OPERATOR: Kim Dozier, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. I wanted to ask a question of the official looking at Gulf things. When you make the stop in Saudi Arabia, will you be bringing up aspects of reform, including the Saudi textbooks, as IMPACT-SE just did a review of the 2019 curriculum and found it still continues – includes things like calling Jews monkeys and warning against close relationships, friendships, with Westerners? Thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yes, thank you. Certainly, reform issues, human rights, will definitely be part of the conversation that we have with the Saudis in Riyadh. The textbook issue is something that we've been working on for years. We know it's not perfect. We know there is still room for improvement. So I can't tell you whether that specific issue will come up. There are other things that we want to be sure that get discussed. But what I can assure you of is that that issue is on our radar screen and ripe for further improvement. Over.
MODERATOR: Okay. For our next question, let's go to the line of Jennifer Hansler from CNN.
OPERATOR: Your line is now open.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this call. Senior Official Two, I was wondering if you could comment on reports that the Secretary is hoping to engineer a meeting between Crown Prince MBS and Prime Minister Netanyahu. And if so, will those discussions be brought up in his Riyadh stop?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Certainly, the issue of Israel's reintegration in the region is something that the administration is focused on, and you've been able to see the ways in which that has taken place. But on this particular issue, I don't have anything I can share with you at this point.
MODERATOR: Okay, next question. Let's go to Jack Robinson from Fox.
OPERATOR: Your line is now open.
QUESTION: To Senior Official Number Two, in the Middle East part of the trip, to what extent will the President's and the administration's new plan on Israel and Palestine be mentioned?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, I'm sure this will be a topic. You know the President unveiled it just here in the last 10 days. It's a very current issue. The Saudis have a role to play, and so I can – I am quite certain that the Secretary will want to discuss the way forward with the Saudis.
MODERATOR: Okay, I think we have time for one more question. Let's go to the line of Joyce Karam from The National newspaper.
OPERATOR: Joyce, your line is now open.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. Now, I have two questions.
On the Africa side, I mean, given that we just saw the travel restrictions from the Trump administration, are you at all concerned that this will sort of muddy the waters, especially with countries like Sudan?
And on the trip to Saudi, the Saudi foreign minister will be meeting Pompeo on – Secretary Pompeo on Wednesday here in D.C. Is this also Yemen-related? And what are you hoping to achieve on Yemen?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay, on my side of it, on the visa limitations, I don't believe so, because, for example, we just had the binational dialogue with Nigeria this past week, and the Nigerian foreign minister was here, very much involved in the visa issues. And we all agreed as to the reasons that we had to do that and what we can do fairly quickly to overcome that, and we all agreed that Nigeria has – for example, had already done considerable amount of work for that. And all the other countries involved, they know what the deficiencies are, what we need to do to feel more secure in how they handle passports, and then hopefully that they can be ended fairly quickly. Over.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: On the Yemen question, the Saudi foreign minister will be here on Wednesday, will see the Secretary. Yemen will feature prominently in their discussion as it will in the Secretary's conversations in Riyadh. There has been a de-escalation effort underway here for a couple of weeks. It's been sorely tested by renewed fighting on the ground inside Yemen. And we're very keen to see the fighting brought down to a more acceptable level for humanitarian supplies to be able to continue to flow freely through the country, despite some very aggressive limitations and obstruction that the Houthis are putting on aid groups right now. So – and then moving the process back towards a real – a genuine political dialogue is what we are aiming for.
MODERATOR: Super. Thanks, everybody, for your time, for joining the call today. And thanks to our presenters for sharing their insights. This concludes the call, and as such, the contents – or the embargo on the contents is lifted. Thank you.