Briefing on Secretary Pompeo’s Travel to Brazil and Colombia

Special Briefing
State Department Official
Via Teleconference
December 28, 2018

MODERATOR: Thank you, and good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us. Welcome to this background call to preview the Secretary’s travel to Brazil and Colombia from December 31 to January 2. As a reminder, today’s call is on background for attribution to a senior State Department official and will be embargoed until the end of the call.

For your reference purposes only and not for reporting, we are very fortunate to have with us this morning [Senior State Department Official]. I will now turn the call over to [Senior State Department Official] for opening comments on the Secretary’s trip. She will then take your questions on the upcoming trip. Thank you very much.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you, [Moderator]. Hi. Good morning, everybody. Thanks for joining the call. I’m pleased to have the opportunity to preview the Secretary’s trip to Brazil and Colombia early next week. The Secretary will be leading the presidential delegation to the inauguration of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and then we’ll visit Cartagena, Colombia.

The visit I think shows that the United States is seizing the opportunity to forge a close and comprehensive partnership with South America’s most populous democracy, the world’s eighth-largest economy, and to make both of our countries more prosperous and secure.

President-elect Bolsonaro has expressed interest in closer ties with the United States and our regional allies, and we of course welcome this. Brazil’s latest free and fair election shines as an example of the country’s vibrant democratic institutions and presents a historic opportunity for closer ties between our two countries. We look forward to building a stronger partnership with Brazil across the gamut of our relationship, from bilateral relations, in regional affairs, and around the globe. As you well know, Brazil has long been a major player in global affairs, and we look forward to working more closely with the incoming government.

The United States is Brazil’s second-largest trading partner and we have approximately 100 billion in bilateral – in goods and services. And we seek – we’re going to be seeking to increase trade and investment between our countries, including opportunities across many sectors of the economy – technology, defense, and agriculture, to name a few.

Based on President-elect Bolsonaro’s recent comments, we also look forward to working with Brazil in multilateral fora to achieve our goals while respecting national sovereignty. As Secretary Pompeo said in Brussels earlier this month, our mission is to reassert our sovereignty, reform the liberal international order, and we want our friends to help us and to exert their sovereignty as well.

We also welcome President-elect Bolsonaro’s comments regarding moving the Brazilian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in support of Israel’s sovereign right to have its capital, Jerusalem, recognized by nations around the world. We look forward to welcoming many more of our friends and allies in Jerusalem.

Following his trip to Brazil, Secretary Pompeo will travel to Cartagena, Colombia, to meet with Colombian President Ivan Duque to further our strong partnership with Colombia and build a more prosperous and secure hemisphere.

This trip wraps up a very busy year of high-level engagement in the region and kicks off the start of the new year of 2019 of high-level engagement.

Just to recap briefly, you’re probably aware that last month Secretary Pompeo was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the G20 leaders summit; in October, he traveled to Panama and Mexico City; and he had been in Mexico City earlier this year in July following the victory of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. So this marks his fourth trip to the region in just over half a year.

His trip to Brazil also follows other high-level visits to Brazil this year, including by the Vice President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, and most recently the national security advisor.

On this trip to Brazil and Colombia, Secretary Pompeo will continue these efforts to support a safer and more secure, prosperous, and free future for U.S., Brazilian, Colombian, and all of our hemisphere’s citizens.

I’d like to give you just a little bit of the detail on the itinerary. He will travel to Brasilia, Brazil, on December the 31st, leading the presidential delegation to the inauguration on January the 1st, and while in Brazil, he will also meet with regional counterparts. Accompanying him on the official delegation will be USAID Administrator Mark Green, charge d’affaires of our mission in Brazil William Popp, National Security Council Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs Mauricio Claver-Carone, and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung.

In Brasilia, the Secretary will meet with Brazilian President-elect Bolsonaro and his foreign minister-designate Ernesto Araujo to outline our priorities for cooperation for the year ahead. I’m sure they will discuss strengthening our economic ties, expanding our trade relationship, and also regional and foreign affairs. In particular, I would think they would be likely to discuss China and China’s predatory trade and lending practices, which the Bolsonaro administration or President-elect Bolsonaro has indicated run counter to Brazil’s sovereignty in some cases.

As Secretary Pompeo has said, we’re all concerned about China and the way China enters countries. It’s not always the case that when China shows up it’s with good intention for the people of the country they are showing up to ostensibly support.

They will also discuss regional affairs and efforts to defend and promote democracy and human rights in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba. The United States intends to work with Brazil to support the people in these countries who are struggling to live in freedom against these repressive regimes.

They are also likely to discuss joint efforts to combat transnational crime, to counter terrorism, increase border security, as well as counternarcotics, as well as cooperation on global issues including addressing unfair trade practices and global concerns like North Korea.

The Secretary will also meet with Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra while in Brasilia, and I’m sure will thank him for his regional leadership of the Lima Group in condemning the Maduro regime in Venezuela and applaud Peru’s generosity in hosting Venezuelan refugees and migrants.

The Secretary will conclude his travel with a stop in Cartagena, Colombia to meet with President Ivan Duque. The Secretary’s visit to Colombia will build on our countries’ mutual success under the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, which has doubled U.S. agricultural exports as of 2017. I’m sure they will also discuss the Colombian role in hosting Venezuelan migrants and leading the charge against the Maduro regime in Venezuela and our joint efforts to restore democracy in Venezuela.

After the stop in Cartagena, the Secretary is scheduled to return to Washington. Just a couple more notes. On behalf of the President, National Security Advisor Bolton has invited President-elect Bolsonaro to visit the United States, and we look forward to what will hopefully be his first official visit early in the year ahead.

That is all that I have for opening remarks. Thank you, and I’m happy to take any questions that you may have about the Secretary’s trip.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll now go to our first question.

OPERATOR: And our first question comes from the line of Cristobal Vasquez with Radio Caracol. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, hi, thank you. I would like to know during Pompeo’s visit to Cartagena, is he going to meet only with Duque or is he going to meet with other – other people from the government here in Colombia? And also wanted to ask: Is – are they going to talk about any sorts of aid, military aid to Colombia in order to protect the region considering the Russian threat of the planes?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks for the question. It’s my understanding that he is only meeting with President Duque because the meeting is in Cartagena and not in Bogota. But we can double-check that and try to get back to you with any further detail.

As I mentioned, I am sure they’re going to be discussing the crisis in Venezuela and the outflow in particular of migrants, which you know Colombia has been hosting the lion’s share of the migrants fleeing. The last figure I had seen was something on the order of a million Venezuelan migrants. And so I’m certain that they’ll be discussing the issue of Venezuela broadly, and in particular, there’s a very important date that is coming up, which is the 10th of January, where Maduro will hand over power to himself based on an election that many governments in the region and globally have condemned, including the United States, have condemned as illegitimate. So we will be discussing, I’m sure, our joint efforts with Colombia and with the region to address this new era beginning on the 10th of January in Venezuela.

MODERATOR: We’ll go to the next question now.

OPERATOR: And that question is from Michele Kelemen, NPR. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi, thanks. You mentioned that in Brazil he’ll be meeting other regional players, but I also wanted to know if he’s going to be meeting with Netanyahu there. And how quickly are you expecting this embassy move, the Brazilian embassy move? What have they told you about that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks. I don’t have the answer for you on the Netanyahu meeting. It’s – I’m not certain of the answer there. I know there’s been discussion of it, but I don’t know what the outcome has been up to this point. So we’ll have to have someone get back with you about when – if and when that meeting is confirmed.

In terms of the embassy move, that would be up to the government. Let’s let them get in and take office and see how quickly they can do that. When other governments have done so in the region, I think the moves have been relatively quick, if that’s any measure. But we’ll leave it to the incoming government to determine its timeline.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll go on to the next question now, please.

OPERATOR: The next question is from the line of Carol Morello, Washington Post. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. If you’ll permit me, I have a question about each country. As you know, in Brazil, many members of civil society have expressed concern about incoming President Bolsonaro. Does the Secretary plan to talk with him about U.S. expectations for the need for democracy, human rights, protection of minorities and the rule of law when he takes power?

And also, just in general, as you know, President Maduro said earlier this month that the United States, he believes with the aid of Bolsonaro and President Duque, is plotting a coup against him. Did you plan on – did the Secretary plan to go to Colombia before the Russian bombers came to Venezuela for the war games? And are you at all concerned about – that this might increase tensions in the region, or are you discussing a new strategy?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Hi. Thanks, Carol. To your first point, I’m certain that the Secretary and the president-elect will discuss human rights, and I would point you to – I realize there’s been some concern about older statements that were made many years ago. What we see at this point since the president-elect was elected by the Brazilian people is somebody who is taking a very strident and very forceful approach to human rights, particularly across the region. As you’re aware, the president-elect has been very forward-leaning on Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua in his defense of the human rights and the freedoms and democracy for the people in those countries. So I’m sure that those issues will be on the agenda.

In terms of the Colombia trip, these schedule things evolve over time. Colombia is always a very high-priority issue for us. I know it’s a high-priority issue for the Secretary, certainly. He was very concerned about the visit of the Russian bombers, but I don’t see this as a direct correlation. Colombia is one of our closets partners in the Western Hemisphere. We have a deep, long, enduring relationship with Colombia. It’s a top priority for us, so I’m sure that this trip would have occurred anyway.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll take the next question.

OPERATOR: And that’s from the line of Shaun Tandon, AFP. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, thanks for doing this call. You mentioned the reassertion of sovereignty as a priority with Bolsonaro. I wanted to know if he’d say something about climate change. He’s flirted a bit with leaving the Paris accord in the footsteps of Trump, President Trump. I wanted to see if that’s something that you plan to discuss, climate and the Paris accord, and what direction you’d like Brazil to go on that issue.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks for the question. First of all, just to be very clear, I mean, we started the question on sovereignty. This is a sovereign issue for Brazil, so certainly I think the issue of state sovereignty in multilateral institutions is a broad and deep issue that cuts across many things beyond the Paris Agreement, so I would expect there’ll be a conversation about that broadly. And it relates to this broader issue of having to ensure the international system is working in a way that is beneficial to the countries and member-states of the various institutions. So whether Brazil will or will not stay in the Paris accord is clearly a sovereign decision of Brazil, so – but I do think, broadly speaking, there will be conversation about kind of state sovereignty and the role of the nation-state in international affairs and in multilateral institutions.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll take the next question.

OPERATOR: And that’s from the line of Beatriz Bulla, Estadao. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, [Senior State Department Official]. My name is Beatriz. I would like to ask you two things. First of all is about the relations with China. You mentioned that the Secretary Pompeo want to talk about this with Bolsonaro, so is there any concrete measure regarding trade with China that the U.S. is expecting from Bolsonaro’s administration in Brazil?

And the second question is about the official visit to the United States. So is there any date in mind that you are planning to receive Bolsonaro here? Are you starting planning this trip? Can you talk a little about it?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you. Thank you for the questions. On China – similar answer to the last one, which is Brazil’s relationship with China are a sovereign decision of Brazil, but we have noted some of the president-elect’s comments about his concern about the role of China in Brazil, and that is a conversation that we’re having – the role of China in the Western Hemisphere – that we’ve had in Panama, that we have with Canada, that we have with Mexico. This is an ongoing issue and I think the Secretary has been very clear that we are more than happy to compete on a level playing field with Chinese companies. We just want to be sure that there is in fact a level playing field and that when Chinese investors come that they do things that end up being in the interests of the country in which they were investing. And I think there’s been some very good reporting in the past week or so and in several publications about Chinese investments that have not ended up being helpful in terms of rule of law, in terms of anticorruption, or in terms of actually completing projects that were committed. So I think there’ll be a broad conversation about that, but at the end of the day, decisions about investment are sovereign decisions of Brazil.

In terms of the day, I don’t have anything for you. That will be (inaudible) by the White House, and I’d have to refer you to them for any details on visit. I’m not aware of the date at this point, but I’m sure we will hope to iron out one quickly.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll take the next question, please.

OPERATOR: That’s from Beatriz Pascual, EFE. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you very much for doing the call. I’m – you mentioned, [Senior State Department Official], that Pompeo will be discussing joint efforts with Colombia and region for the new era that opens in Venezuela after January the 10th. Is the Secretary going to discuss also this with the Peruvian president and with the – and with Bolsonaro, the new Brazilian president? And what is the position in the – of the United States in this issue? Is the United States prepared to cut diplomatic relations with Venezuela? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks for the question. So I think the short answer is I’m sure this will come up with (inaudible) like Bolsonaro as well. This is something that we’re discussing across the region with members of the Lima Group and with other countries, as well as with the European Union and other interested nations. It’s an important moment. There are actually two important dates; one is the 5th of January, which is the handover in power in the legitimate national assembly in Venezuela, and the other is the Maduro handover to himself on the 10th.

So it’s an ongoing conversation. I think there is (inaudible) concern across the region. All of our governments are talking to each other (inaudible) and looking at what options are (inaudible) to address what’s considered to be an illegitimate transition based on an election that we have (inaudible) condemned as illegitimate.

In terms of (inaudible) we’re going to (inaudible) January, I’m not going to get ahead at this point of the decision making on that. But I will say we view it as an important date, and we view with great concern the situation in Venezuela.

MODERATOR: We’ll go to the next question now.

OPERATOR: And that’s from the line of Jennifer Hansler, CNN. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi there. Thank you so much for doing this call. While we have you on the phone, [Senior State Department Official], I was wondering if you had any insight into the President’s tweets about the Northern Triangle this morning. Has there been a change in the aid guidance for those countries given he said they’re going to be cut off from aid?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks. I think this – the President has made very clear that U.S. aid and our assistance to countries needs to achieve U.S. objectives. And in this case, the objective is and has been since the bipartisan support of the policy in the Hill – I believe it was 2015 was the first year of the package – the objective has been helping people to thrive at home in the countries of the Northern Triangle so that they would not have to migrate. I think it stands to reason that if you are (inaudible) formation of caravans involving thousands of people coming to the U.S., that there is a moment to say – to question and say is this – is this aid really achieving the objective.

He’s also made clear – and I think this is a tenet of the foreign policy of the administration – that he expects governments around the world to take responsibility and to do more, and that there will be consequences if they do not. So we are in the posture of ensuring that our programs are achieving their objectives, and I think this is an ongoing review and I think there will probably be more of it and more to come.

MODERATOR: We’ll go to the next question now, please.

OPERATOR: And that’s from the line of Cristoval Vasquez, Radio Caracol. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you again. I wanted to know if Pompeo traveling with who in his trip to Colombia. And is he planning to talk about the renegotiation of the free trade agreement between Colombia and the U.S.?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you. I think he will be traveling with State Department personnel, including the principal deputy Julie Chung will be with him there, as well as other senior advisors from the department. In terms of trade, I’m sure we’ll be having a conversation with Colombia on our economic relationship, as that’s a very important relationship I think for both of our countries. But any conversation about reopening a trade agreement would be led by the U.S. trade representative.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll now go to our last question.

OPERATOR: That’s from the line of Haik Gugarats, Argus Media. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. I know you issued a statement on that Venezuela navy action against the ExxonMobil ship. Is that something you’re broadly following and is there any additional security measures that do you think needs to be taken protecting Guyana’s oil exploration rights in disputed waters with Venezuela?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you for the question. It is – we did issue a statement. It’s – I think it’s an important issue for us and we’ve been very clear that Guyana has the sovereign right to development its resources in its economic zone. And we looked very carefully at the location of the ship and the occurrence of the Venezuelan navy approaching them, and we were very concerned about the sovereignty of Guyana in that case and made clear with our public statement we are certainly – both our embassy in Guyana and our presence in Caracas – are following this very closely. We’ve made very clear to the Venezuelan Government what our view is on this, and we will continue to follow it very closely and believe that Guyana should have the sovereign right to develop those resources, which includes allowing ships to go about their business doing surveys and other seismic activities as necessary to develop the resource.

MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, everyone. Thank you, [Senior State Department Official], for making time this morning. Thanks to all the journalists. The embargo is now lifted, and we thank you, everyone. Have a great weekend.