Secretary Michael R. Pompeo And Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei REMARKS

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Good afternoon, colleagues. Let’s start our press conference because we are quite pressed for time. I give the floor to the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Belarus Vladimir Makei.

FOREIGN MINISTER MAKEI: (Via interpreter) Distinguished Mr. Secretary of State, members of the delegations, and the representatives of the media, we are – it’s a pleasure to welcome Michael Pompeo, the Secretary of State of the United States, in the Republic of Belarus. We see this visit as a very important one because for the last – last time the state secretary of the United States visited Belarus, 26 years ago.

This visit is an obvious proof that Belarus and American relations are become more active, and the visit, as we see it, must give a new impetus to the normalization of the relations between the two states. We’ve just had the meeting with the head of the state and the discussions with the president of the Republic of Belarus took place in the atmosphere of trust and absolute mutual understanding. We’ve discussed a broad range of issues of our bilateral relations, and we’ve come to a conclusion that we have common interests or have resonating interests in many areas. We’ve highlighted the political will of both parties to develop their bilateral relations, and the returning of the ambassadors after the 12-years’ break will contribute to that.

Belarus appreciates that the United States support the sovereignty and independence of this country. We’ve highlighted and discussed the significant but yet untapped economic and investment potential, and we have also discussed the mechanisms and areas where we can work together. We have also highlighted the cooperation between our law enforcement agencies, and both sides are committed to the development of the cooperation in the area of regional and world security. We have exchanged opinions on the situation in the region and the cooperation of the Republic of Belarus with NATO. We’ve highlighted the intentions and the commitment of Belarus to preserve security and peace in the region and in the entire world.

Let me thank my – our American partners for very constructive and open dialogue. And now I would like to give the floor to the Secretary of State of the United States, Mr. Michael Pompeo.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here in Minsk today with President Lukashenka and Foreign Minister Makei, and as you said, Mr. Foreign Minister, two and a half decades – that’s too long. We are a bit overdue, and I’m glad to be here today.

We should all recall the history. We were one of the first countries to recognize Belarus’s independence in 1991 and we remain strongly committed to it. I hope today is a solid first step towards improved relationships and closer ties.

First, as I told President Lukashenka, the United States welcomes Belarus’s increased cooperation and information sharing on the shared security threats that our two nations have. The Government of Belarus has signed agreements with the U.S. Department of Defense, the FBI, our DEA, to bolster teamwork in areas like border security, cybersecurity, and countering narcotics. We hope to see that increase in the coming years.

We also spoke at length about economic issues. The United States agrees with President Lukashenka, who said recently, quote, “Belarusians have your own country, that you’re sovereign and independent and that you can’t be part of some other country and can’t betray you or dissolve Belarus,” end of quote.

The United States wants to help Belarus build its own sovereign country. Our energy producers stand ready to deliver 100 percent of the oil you need at competitive prices. We’re the biggest energy producer in the world, and all you have to do is call us. In that spirit, I talked to President Lukashenka about tackling some of the obstacles that present American businesses for more readily and easily accessing this market, and emphasized the need for a level playing field. WTO accession, increased private sector development, and legal and regulatory reforms will all help Belarus unlock its trade potential and secure its own sovereignty.

Lastly, President Lukashenka and I spoke about democracy and human rights issues. Belarus has made real progress but there remains work to do. The United States of America prioritizes respect for human rights, a strong civil society, and freedom of the press in every corner of the world. Further progress in those areas and others is the only path towards lifting U.S. sanctions.

My counterparts and I also discussed the United States hope that Belarus will adopt stricter international standards to battle human trafficking. I also welcomed Belarus’s participation in the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington this past July and its steps to allow groups to worship more freely here. We encourage further progress on this front. And at a time when anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head in new and frightening ways all across Europe, and sadly in the United States too, we welcome Belarus’s commitment to acknowledging the horrors of the past and striving never to allow them to repeat themselves. We thank Belarus for partnering with the United States Government to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day in May as well as the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Minsk Ghetto.

In closing, I want to emphasize that we fully support Belarus’s desire to make its own choices, pursue its own partnerships, and play a constructive role in the region. Your nation should not be forced to be dependent on any one partner for your prosperity or for your security. It’s my hope that this year will be the best one yet for our relationship. Thank you for hosting me here in Minsk today.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Colleagues —

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Good afternoon, my name is Natalia Stelmakh. I am representing the ONT channel. I have a question for both participants of the press conference, but first of all to the Mr. Secretary of State. President Lukashenka more than once stated that without the participation of the United States of America, we can’t resolve the crisis in Ukraine. Have you discussed this issue today as in more active participation of the United States of America in resolving this crisis? And which role Belarus can play in this process? Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO: So we did. The foreign minister and I spoke about this. President Lukashenka and I spoke about this as well. They made clear that they hope that the United States would continue to take a constructive role in preventing the challenges that are in southeast Ukraine today. We continue to take an active role. We will be real participants in trying to deliver good outcomes. I was sitting when we were having this conversation in the very room where the meetings took place in the Normandy Format. This is – this is something that all of Europe, all of the West needs to participate in resolving.

Ultimately, Ukraine and Russia will have to resolve this conflict, but we’re prepared to do all that we can, all the United States can, to do to deliver and help Ukraine achieve its democracy in the way that President Zelenskyy wants to, and the way he and I spoke about it just yesterday.

MS ORTAGUS: John Hudson, Washington Post.

FOREIGN MINISTER MAKEI: (Via interpreter) As for the Belarusian position on Ukraine, then everyone knows it. We are committed and we are ready to do everything we can in order to resolve the crisis in Ukraine as soon as possible. We are ready to provide the platform for any negotiations and meetings at any level. We support any formats if they are aimed at peaceful resolution, and that includes the participation of the United States in this process. But in order to have that, we must have the sincere interest from both parties of the confrontation.

QUESTION: Thanks very much. Mr. Secretary, so a core tenet of President Trump’s “America First” doctrine is getting away from an era of American foreign policy where we expend finite resources on countries looking for a counterweight to regional hegemony. With that in mind, how does – how do you view this outreach to Belarus and how does it fit into that structure that the President has laid out?

You also mentioned that there may be an ambassador to Belarus. Is that something that could be happening very soon or is that sort of a long-term goal? And you said you’d like Belarus to make progress on human rights. Is there specific areas where you’d like to see progress?

And just finally, you mentioned the possibility of lifting sanctions. What sorts of – what sorts of sanctions could you foresee lifting in the event that you start to see the progress that you’d like to make?

And Mr. Foreign Minister, Belarus is – is Belarus considering making any reforms on human rights in order to normalize relations with the West? If so, what are those and what role would you like to see the U.S. start to play more actively in Belarus? Thank you very much.

SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll go first. I’ll try and take your first four questions. Yes. (Laughter.)

So with respect to human rights and sanctions, what’s important about today is that we’ve seen improvement here and we think our engagement can continue that, can help Belarus to continue to make improvements along the way. The sanctions regime is statutory. We’ll continue to evaluate that. We’ve been unambiguous about the things that have to happen in order to see that kind of sanctions relief. We’re not there yet, but we’re very hopeful that moments like we’re in right now, days like today, bring us closer to that.

With respect to the ambassador, I hope it happens quickly. The Senate will have something to say about that as well. But I think it’s something that we could likely see in the not-too-distant future. It’s something that we’ve made a lot of progress on and I think we can, if everything proceeds apace, have an ambassador here before too terribly long. I think it’d be a great thing for us. We’ve improved our diplomatic capability here already. We’ve almost doubled the number of diplomats we have here. It’s already proven to be beneficial, I think, to the United States as well as, I think, to Belarus as well.

And finally, to put this in context, President Trump’s “America First” foreign policy clearly contemplates making sure that the American people are safer and more secure, and that those who pose threats around the world to the things we hold dear are places we’re going to make investments. You can see what we did in Ukraine, how much we increased our investments to provide security in Ukraine compared to what the previous administration was prepared to do. They simply weren’t prepared to take seriously those American obligations to keep the American people safe and secure. We’ve done that. We’ll continue to do that in places where it’s appropriate here in Belarus, and we want to be part of that. It comes along with a requirement. We want countries like Belarus to make progress, to do this work themselves. We want European countries to participate as well. But no one should mistake “America First” for any retreat from America protecting the values and the things that keep the American people safe.

QUESTION: And any specifics on human rights, where you’d like to see progress?

SECRETARY POMPEO: We talked about all areas of this. We talked about – about every dimension – religious freedom. All the things I mentioned in my remarks are places where we’d like to see continued improvement.

FOREIGN MINISTER MAKEI: (Via interpreter) Answering your questions, I would like to say that yes, we would welcome the more active role of the United States here in Belarus, and taking into account the significance and the role the United States are playing on the world arena. We are quite interested in the American business coming here to Belarus and working quite actively. We are interested in more active cooperation between different governmental structures.

We have a lot of tasks and we share those tasks and a lot of challenges that we can address together, and in some situations we can win, actually, only if we are working together. And today, during the meeting of the Secretary of State with the president, they discussed many issues, many of these areas – countering terrorism, countering human trafficking and drug trafficking and the related issues. Despite some problematic issues and some problems between our two countries, there are some areas where we have common interests and we can cooperate efficiently.

As for a very sensitive area for the United States of America, which is democracy and human rights, then these issues have been discussed as well. They were discussed in detail and the Secretary of State mentioned that. Probably Belarus is not an absolutely ideal country in this respect, and we do understand that we must implement some reforms in many areas, including the area of human rights, and we do that. Probably you don’t know, but according to the recommendations of the United Nations, we have developed the national plan, national strategy on human rights, and we are implementing it quite successfully together with the nongovernmental organizations, and we are quite actively involved in the dialogue with the United States of America on human rights and this dialogue is being carried out not just for the sake of the dialogue, but we are discussing specific issues, trying to find specific answers to specific questions and measures to improve the situation in this area.

So that’s why we are not standing in one place. We are developing. We are going forward. And gradually, I hope that gradually all the problematic issues that we still have will be neutralized and that will help us to neutralize the resting problems in our relations.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much for your work.