Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you for being here.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Jeff, it’s great to be with you today.
QUESTION: Tell me about that challenge, because at some point President Trump said, “We’ve got thousands of Americans overseas. Mike, handle this. Let’s fix it somehow.”
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, Jeff, that’s about how it went, and then we also began to hear from these people in – with the virus, Jeff, that began in Wuhan and then spread across the world. We had airports closing, we had flights canceled, we had all kinds of programs being taken down, and so people were stuck. And we began to build out a team here at the State Department – it’s not our normal line of business – began to build out a team to respond to them, to make sure that they were first of all safe, had medicine if they needed it, they were able to get to someplace that was safe and secure until such time as we could get them out.
We have now since right around the 1st of February brought over 50,000 people back to the United States, a deeply coordinated effort – 90 countries, 480-plus flights all across the world. It’s often the case these people weren’t near airports and were stuck. We’d have to find a way to get them through checkpoints. These countries were largely closed down and they needed help, and so our team, as well as some great partners – commercial airlines helped us out a bunch; our Department of Defense brothers and sisters helped a great deal as well – the collective efforts of the United States Government have now returned 50,000 Americans to their families and back to the safety of the United States of America. It’s an amazing diplomatic accomplishment. I’m incredibly proud of our team here.
QUESTION: And well you should be. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is joining us. Secretary Pompeo, do we know how many other Americans are still in foreign lands that are dealing with this?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So this will – number will change over time. We know there are still several thousand, but people are trying to figure it out. There are a handful that have decided they’re just going to ride it out where they are, that they think they’re better off staying in the country where they are. Some of them were there on business, people had gone for a vacation, others who’d gone on mission trips. The reasons for their international travel were quite varied.
But there will be other countries, too, that over time will begin to shut down, people we’ve not heard from yet, and what we’ve suggested is this: If you’re traveling overseas and you are intending to come back – that is, you don’t live there and you want to return – you ought to make your way back home here pretty quick, because if those airports close down and the roads shut down and bus and train transportation and rail inside those countries is closed, getting to you and getting you back home will prove increasingly difficult.
You can go to our website, go to state.gov. There’s a STEP program, or you can just call our local embassy and we’ll reach back out to you and we’ll help you find your way back home.
QUESTION: Excellent. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is joining us this afternoon. Mr. Secretary, can we talk a little bit about the role that the World Health Organization and China have played in this? It just seems to many of us that they’ve never been honest with the outside world related to this, they’re still not being honest, and yet President Trump when he points it out somehow is the bad guy.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. In a time of crisis, you find out that the value of transparency and the ideas we have in America of liberty and freedom really matters. This information didn’t flow fast enough. As I said, the virus began there in China and days and hours mattered, and information about human-to-human spread and its transmission form and the nature of the disease mattered. And so it’s not even a matter of retribution. It’s a going forward challenge. We still need lots of information – information that’ll come from lots of countries around the world – and it has to be the world’s expectation that whether it’s China or another country or the World Health Organization itself, they have to do the work which they were designed to do. They have to get the data, they have to share that data with the world’s best scientists – many of which are often located right here in the United States – and allow that information to be transferred freely so that we can have a transparent response that will save lives.
This isn’t about appointing political blame. This is about saving the lives of Americans and citizens all across the world, and if countries hide data, they don’t share with us what’s really going on or they’re not transparent, people will lose their lives. And that’s just simply unacceptable, and so the World Health Organization has a responsibility to demand that every country comply with the international health rules that are set out, and when they don’t, they’ve got to go impose a cost on them for not having done so. I hope as we get a chance and we reflect on this that we will never put ourselves in a position again where we will count on entities that can’t deliver that transparency and data sets in an open and transparent way that we can, when confronted with a virus like this, respond in a way that meets the challenge of the day.
QUESTION: Well, that diplomatic language that you just expressed is probably one of the reasons that you are Secretary of State – handled brilliantly there. I wonder as well, Mr. Secretary, about the President. There are many of us obviously on the outside who look at him delivering these briefings on a daily basis – an hour, two hours – and I think to myself, gosh, going above and beyond, far above what would be expected of anybody else. Is he holding up okay through this?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I see him nearly every day or talk to him. He’s doing really good work, and the team – Vice President, his team on the task force – are doing really great work. This is a big challenge. It’s a big challenge for every American. We’re getting it right. The President’s doing remarkable work. He’s holding up just fine and he has turned to experts and policy makers across a broad swath both of the United States Government – and you see him. He interacted with the pharmaceutical companies, and with energy industry, and with manufacturers, and auto companies to get them making the equipment and goods that we need to keep Americans safe. He’s done that in a way that is delivering for the American people and he’s holding up just fine.
QUESTION: Excellent. Well, Mr. Secretary, we’re out of time. If we were not, I would ask you how is the cow, but next time I’m going to need an answer. All right, sir?
SECRETARY POMPEO: All right. I’ll either flesh it out from my memory or I’ll bring a notecard. Thank you, Jeff, for being with me. Have a blessed Easter.
* This article was originally published here
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