MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to welcome you to the press conference in the Belvedere on the occasion of the visit of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Vienna. Following the statement of the two ministers, there will be an opportunity to ask two questions. I would now like to ask Foreign Minister Schallenberg to give his remarks.
FOREIGN MINISTER SCHALLENBERG: Ladies and gentlemen, dear Secretary of State, dear Mike, it is an enormous pleasure to welcome you here in Vienna in this historical palace, the Belvedere. When I visited you in Washington in February, last February, I brought us a little bit – a little gesture of a little gift, a booklet, “Austria: A Soldier’s Guide,” for Austria which the GIs had in 1945 when they liberated Austria. And I think it’s very fitting because 10 years later, thanks also to the U.S. contribution, we were able to sign in this very room the state treaty which gave Austria full sovereignty again. And I think it’s a very fitting time that 65 years later we are again in this room in this building, which is a sign of not only our very strong historical ties which unite us but of a strong strategic partnership which brings us together today. And again, welcome to Vienna. It’s a great pleasure having you here.
United States are and remain an indispensable partner, not only economically but also politically and culturally, and I cannot underline this enough. We share a common way of life, a way of life based on common values such as checks and balances that actually the United States invented, the rule of law, democracy, human rights. And we have to be aware that, globally seen, these values, this way of life, is being more and more challenged. If we look at the UN family of states, 193 states, only a quarter of these are abiding and committed to the same values and rules as we are, so I believe all the more we are called upon to stand together in this more and more complex and hostile world, and I’d say in order to defend our common values.
We are faced now with a common crisis, a common challenge, which is COVID-19. And here again, I believe that we are called upon to work together to stand side by side and to use any means bilaterally and multilaterally in order to advance in our fight against this pandemic. Be it the OSCE, the UN family, or other international organizations, I believe our endeavors should be to use them in most efficient way to further our common struggle against the pandemic.
And this sends a – all the more welcome the fact that the strategic talks between the United States and Russia are taking place and are taking place here in Vienna, and we obviously hope that they will lead to a positive conclusion, and we urge all other nuclear weapons states to joint these efforts led by the United States in order to make our world a little bit safer. And I can assure you, Mr. Secretary of State, that Austria will do its utmost and anything to make these talks as fruitful as possible here and to offer the framework you need for a successful continuation of them.
It is no secret that obviously any friendship doesn’t mean that you are – you agree 100 percent on every topic, and there are issues where we do not agree and we have different approaches. One, for instance, is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. We deeply regret, obviously, the extraterritorial sanctions imposed by the United States and would rather endeavor on or pursue the way of bilateral talks to find a solution, a common solution on this ground, on this matter. But I believe that it is a sign of our friendship that we can actually very openly talk about these issues and address them together.
It is hard to say what we touched upon in our discussions because we went from Libya to the Eastern Mediterranean, developments in the eastern edge of the – in the Western Balkans, the wider the Middle East. But let me start by congratulating you on the breakthrough concerning the agreement on full normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. I believe this is a very encouraging message coming out of the region which has been poor in encouraging messages in the last months and years, and we hope that more positive messages will follow.
On the Western Balkans, an issue which we will again address this evening because we have a further discussion planned over dinner, we consider the United States an indispensable partner for us to keep the region stable and to enable the region to have an economic fruitful development. And we very much welcome the continued U.S. engagement, and I’ve just heard the beginning of September there will be new talks, Pristina-Belgrade in the U.S. in Washington. So this is something that we have seen that the European Union and Americans together have to stand side by side in order to get this very European region closer to the European Union.
One issue which we discussed in particular was the development in the Eastern Mediterranean, including Turkey. I have to say that Austria is very concerned about the dangerous and alarming situation which we believe could easily escalate, and we will have a discussion this afternoon among the foreign ministers of the European Union. And I know that my Greek colleague Nikos Dendias is here in Vienna too. He will meet you and I will meet him just after this press conference. This is a topic of high urgency and high importance for everybody and especially for the European Union. I believe that the actions taken by certain states in the Mediterranean from Libya, Syria, to north Iraq – even the reclassification of a world-renowned monument, the Hagia Sophia, as a new mosque – should lead the European Union to re-evaluate its relations with Turkey.
Last but not least, one issue I would like to raise is the situation in Belarus. Austria and the European Union over the last couple of years have made it the task to reach out to Belarus, to extend a hand to Minsk. And that’s why the situation and the development we are seeing in the last couple of days is so disappointing. It’s a huge step backwards, and I am deeply worried about the events unfolding in Minsk and in other cities. I call upon the state authorities in Belarussia to immediately stop the violence and the arbitrary detentions of peaceful demonstrators and journalists, and to release – the release of the prisoners, the first – is a first step, but it is not sufficient. Further steps are needed. And I believe the one thing this country needs most is a start of a meaningful, comprehensive national dialogue.
With these points, the Secretary of State, Mike, welcome again in Vienna. Thanks that you responded positively to my invitation last June, and I am very thankful with really good and open exchange of views we had. I’m very much looking forward to the common dinner we are having. Welcome in Vienna and the floor is yours.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary, you have the floor.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Foreign Minister Schallenberg. I greatly appreciate you and Chancellor Kurz hosting me here. It’s pretty nice, pretty nice digs.
FOREIGN MINISTER SCHALLENBERG: (Laughter.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: I had a wonderful lunch with your team as well. I appreciated that very much.
Thanks for making this day possible. It’s important. Austria is a trusted partner and a great friend, importantly, with the United States, and perhaps equally importantly a true force for democratic ideals – free enterprise and stability – in the heart of Europe.
I met with business leaders this morning, many of whom have invested and created jobs in the United States and are growing their business from both sides of the Atlantic together, an important part of what we all do because of the nature of our two countries.
Our relationship has only grown stronger since Chancellor Kurz’s visit to the White House in February of last year. I had the pleasure of inaugurating the Friendship Tram this morning that highlighted many of our very ties which stretch more than a century now. It was truly a lot of fun and special. I met some young Austrian entrepreneurs as well, which was special. I know they’ll do great things here.
Thanks for your kind words about the agreement that President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed reached yesterday. It was an important step forward for Middle East stability, something President Trump has put at the top of his agenda. I know we talk with our European counterparts often about how to do this. It was a good moment for the world and its security.
We talked about a whole broad range of issues. Look, right here in Vienna at the OSCE, our team is fighting hard to hold Russia and many other participating states accountable to the international commitments on human rights and fundamental freedoms. We hope to hold the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting this year consistent with health requirements, and we ask all members to support us in that effort. We look forward to working with Austria and the EU to find strong, competent new leadership for the OSCE’s top position as well, something we’ve chatted about.
Critically too, we talked with our Austrian counterparts this morning on our support for IAEA Director General Grossi’s critical mission to ensure that all countries comply with their international nuclear safeguard requirements. That mission is all the more important given the Islamic Republic of Iran’s failure to address the IAEA’s questions about its nuclear activities. The international community must speak with a single voice. Iran must provide full, transparent, and immediate cooperation with the IAEA.
So too, we ask nations to urge the UN Security Council to renew the arms embargo on Tehran. We can’t allow the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism to buy and sell weapons. I mean, that’s just nuts. We talked about Communist China too. It’s been a subject of our talks. It’s been visibly absent from these nuclear arms discussions that we have been having, the strategic conversations here in Vienna that the Austrian people have been so wonderful in supporting.
I want to thank you personally, Minister Schallenberg, for all the help you have given and your host – your country has given as host for these talks. I urge Beijing to come be part of this important conversation for the world’s safety to reduce the risk from the world’s most dangerous weapons.
We also spent some time talking about those trade and investments opportunities, the ties between our two countries, and our objectives regarding Israel, Venezuela, and multiple peacekeeping missions which Austria greatly contributes. Our relationship – in spite of what the media will say sometimes, our relationship is built upon a set of values, and the things that we agree on and work on together far outweigh the things where we have different views.
I have one more great treat this morning. I want to announce that the Department of Defense has now approved Austria for the State Partnership Program, a program through which the United States National Guard and military forces ally with partner nations around the world. Welcome. This will be a great addition to our relationship. I want to give special thanks to Defense Minister Tanner for his support in this, working to get that off the ground.
Foreign Minister, thank you for inviting me here. It was a great conversation and I’ve had a wonderful visit so far, and I know the rest of the day will prove important as well. Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER SCHALLENBERG: You’re more than welcome.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We now have time for two questions now, and I would like to call on Judith Egger, Austrian Press Agency.
QUESTION: Hello. I would like to ask: In recent months, we heard from Washington several times. Washington expressed criticism of Germany, but we do not hear similar criticisms towards Austria even though they share a common positioning on important issues like Nord Stream, 5G, cyber security, or Iran. Could you explain this fact?
And secondly, I wanted to ask both of you if you could tell me if Austria is doing enough to tackle the concerns of the United States about the possible influence of China and Russia on cyber security, for example, and energy.
SECRETARY POMPEO: You want me – shall I go first?
So there are places that we simply disagree. Nord Stream 2 is one of them. I think the foreign minister mentioned that in his remarks. He certainly spoke about it with me earlier. We just have a different view for the security threats that it poses to the region and therefore for the important transatlantic security relationship as well. We’ll work on it. We’ll work our way through it. We may end up agreeing to disagree on that as well. But friends can do that. Nations that have a deep strategic relationship will always have tactical places where they disagree.
Your second question related to the second part of your first one as well, talking about telecommunications infrastructure and the risks that are presented by the Chinese Communist Party. The Austrians have been great in taking onboard and understanding that as well. I think the whole world can plainly see now that the Chinese Communist Party is intent on using this telecommunications infrastructure for purposes that no other – no other telecom system in the world does, right? They’re using it as deeply tied to their national security apparatus, to their intelligence community, to their military forces – all the data. I know Austrians care deeply about the security of their own citizens’ data, private information. You all – everybody wants to keep their own information to themselves. Permitting untrusted vendors to participate in networks creates enormous risk.
And so we’ve been clear about our expectation that everyone will come to understand this threat in the same way, and we have watched countries all across the world come to a common understanding and begin to move their nations forward with a set of trusted vendors from whatever source – whether they’re European – European country – companies, like Ericsson and Nokia, we just want to make sure that these are trusted vendors that are protecting this information from the threats that the Chinese Communist Party poses.
FOREIGN MINISTER SCHALLENBERG: I mean, the whole issue of 5G and cyber we are very much aware of the situation because, as you might know, the Austrian Foreign Ministry has been a target of a very strong attack, cyber attack, beginning of this year. So this is something which is very high up on our agenda.
On the issue of 5G and cybersecurity, we have adopted a common position within the European Union. It’s called the EU toolbox. And now what we’re doing here in Austria, we are implementing this EU toolbox. As a result, we’re not – we’re not a – our approach is not to ban in general one competitor, one provider, but to establish a clear list of criteria to avoid high-risk providers. This is something which we’re trying to implement now in national law in Austria and this would be our approach based on the EU toolbox which has been developed two months ago in Brussels.
MODERATOR: Nike Ching, Voice of America.
QUESTION: Foreign Minister Schallenberg, Belarus – as EU foreign ministers are meeting today to discuss sanctions over disputed Belarus election, do you support new sanctions on Belarus? Have you coordinated with the United States on possible new sanctions?
And Mr. Secretary, if I may on Iran, as the U.S. is pushing to extend arms embargo on Iran, given the likely veto from Russia and China and given European diplomats are searching to find the middle course to save the Iran nuclear deal, is the United States willing to compromise its demands for an indefinite extension of the Iran arms embargo, or will they immediately seek the snapback sanctions on Iran? Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER SCHALLENBERG: May I start with Belarus? We are not discussing this afternoon sanctions, we are discussing the situation in Belarus. I believe that what is needed now is a clear, common line for the European Union. And as I said at the beginning, we are extremely worried about the situation we’re seeing there. Europe and the European Union, and especially Austria has been among them reaching out to them. We don’t want to push them back into the Russian hemisphere, and they have been helpful, for instance, on issues such as Ukraine in the past. So we would like to see a Belarus which moves our way in far – as far as standards and values are concerned.
We all agree that this vote and this election was anything but fair and free, but what we want now – and that’s what my expectation is of this afternoon – the video conferences that we will have among the EU foreign ministers – is a clear call on Minsk to end immediately all the violence, the arbitrary detentions. Release the remaining prisoners. They did start today, but more has to follow. But the most important demand would be to start a meaningful national dialogue. And in case these demands are not followed or Minsk even takes another approach, then I believe the European Union should not exclude sanctions. That should be the signal from my perspective. Not adopt them or implement them, but not excluding them either.
I’m sorry to say this room is made for balls and waltzing. (Laughter.) It’s not made for press conferences, according to the echo.
SECRETARY POMPEO: No worries. We actually spent a fair amount of time talking about Belarus today. I traveled there not too long ago, again, trying to work with the Belarusian people with very good outcomes, to put them in a better place. Our views are the same about what has transpired, and I think the world collectively will respond to this in a way that I hope leads to better outcomes for the Belarusian people.
Look, we’ve been at this issue on this UN arms embargo for coming on two years, since December of 2018 – was the first time I spoke publicly about it. It makes no sense to permit the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism to purchase and sell weapons systems. It doesn’t make sense for the European people either, in our view, and we think anybody that’s within missile range will be at greater risk because of the air defense systems, for example, that the Iranians will be able to purchase if this arms embargo expires on October 18th.
And so we’re urging the whole world to join us, to just make the simple statement this isn’t about the JCPOA; this is about whether the world is going to permit Iran to buy and sell weapons systems. Again, it’s that clear, it’s that simple. We think the time is not right. We don’t think Iran has given any indication that it is in a place remotely where the world sell Iran and China – to sell them high-end weapons systems. So we’re going to do everything that we can within our diplomatic toolset to ensure that that arms embargo doesn’t expire. We hope that – the voting will be within the next handful of hours; we hope it will be successful. When we see the results of that, we’ll make the decision about how to move forward. We have been unambiguous, however, about the fact that we have no intention of allowing this arms embargo to expire. None whatsoever.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ministers. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for joining us here today. Have a great day.
FOREIGN MINISTER SCHALLENGBERG: Sorry again about the echo. (Laughter.)