US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that there was “enormous evidence” that the coronavirus pandemic originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, China.
“There is enormous evidence that this is where it began,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”
But while highly critical of China’s handling of the matter, Pompeo declined to say whether he thought the virus had been intentionally released.
President Donald Trump has been increasingly critical of China’s role in the pandemic, which has infected nearly 3.5 million people and killed more than 240,000 around the world.
He has insisted that Beijing recklessly concealed important information about the outbreak and demanded that Beijing be held “accountable.”
News reports say Trump has tasked US spies to find out more about the origins of the virus, at first blamed on a Wuhan market selling exotic animals like bats, but now thought possibly to be from a virus research laboratory nearby.
Pompeo, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told ABC that he agreed with a statement Thursday from the US intelligence community in which it concurred “with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified.”
But he went further than Trump, in citing “significant” and “enormous” evidence that the virus originated in a Wuhan laboratory.
“I think the whole world can see now, remember, China has a history of infecting the world and running substandard laboratories,” Pompeo said.
He said early Chinese efforts to downplay the coronavirus amounted to “a classic Communist disinformation effort. That created enormous risk.”
“President Trump is very clear: we’ll hold those responsible accountable.”
The United States on Tuesday called for Iran to release all American prisoners held in the country as the coronavirus outbreak reportedly spreads through its prisons.
“The United States will hold the Iranian regime directly responsible for any American deaths. Our response will be decisive,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
“Reports that COVID-19 has spread to Iranian prisons are deeply troubling and demand nothing less than the full and immediate release of all American citizens.
“Their detention amid increasingly deteriorating conditions defies basic human decency.”
Iran’s response to the deadly coronavirus outbreak, including temporarily releasing 70,000 prisoners, was “too little, too late,” a UN rights expert said Tuesday.
Javaid Rehman, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, said Tehran was trying to “fudge” its handling of the outbreak, one of the deadliest outside China, where the disease originated.
“The situation on coronavirus is highly disturbing within Iran,” Rehman told reporters at the UN in Geneva.
Iran on Tuesday reported 54 new deaths in the past 24 hours, the highest single-day toll since the start of the outbreak there. That brought the numbers killed in the country to 291 out of 8,042 infected.
The Iranian judiciary’s Mizan Online official news agency cited Asghar Jahangir, the head of Iran’s prisons organization, as saying that “about 70,000 prisoners” had been released in a bid to combat the outbreak.
Iran said in December it was ready for more prisoner swaps with the United States after it secured the return of scientist Massoud Soleimani in exchange for Xiyue Wang, a Chinese-born American held in the Islamic republic.
Decades-old tensions between Tehran and Washington have escalated steeply since 2018, when US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday demanded that Iran “tell the truth” about a coronavirus outbreak, voicing alarm at allegations of a cover-up.
“The United States is deeply concerned by information indicating the Iranian regime may have suppressed vital details about the outbreak in that country,” Pompeo told reporters in Washington.
“All nations including Iran should tell the truth about the coronavirus and cooperate with international aid organizations,” he said.
Iran has reported 15 deaths from the epidemic, more than in any country other than China. Both countries are considered top adversaries by President Donald Trump’s administration.
The Iranian government has pledged greater transparency after a lawmaker alleged that the clerical regime was playing down the outbreak and that the toll could be as high as 50.
Pompeo said that both China and Iran could have better-contained coronavirus if they allowed free expression and he saluted foreign journalists who have reported on the epidemic.
“If China permitted its own important journals and medical personnel to speak and investigate freely, Chinese officials and other nations would have been far better prepared to address the challenge,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo said that the United States had quarantined all people known to have contracted the virus and that Washington would take further “appropriate action” if needed.
The United States is discussing military cuts in Africa, has tightened visa rules for Africans and President Donald Trump notoriously was quoted as disparaging the continent with a vulgar epithet.
But in his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa in his nearly two years in office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will seek to lay out a positive vision for US cooperation with the continent where China has been increasingly active.
Pompeo on Saturday begins a trip to Senegal, Angola and Ethiopia, chosen for their leaders’ attachment to democratic values in a continent that has seen backsliding in recent years.
“These three countries are major contributors to regional stability. Also, the countries are benefiting from dynamic leadership,” a senior State Department official said on customary condition of anonymity.
The official said that a “major theme” will be the growing role of China, which has poured money into the continent as part of its global blitz of infrastructure spending.
China has invested especially heavily in Angola, which racked up an estimated $25 billion in debt to Beijing to be repaid with oil shipments.
The United States has been encouraging developing countries to exercise caution with China, saying that big-ticket projects can turn into debt traps that primarily benefit China, and has billed the US private sector as an alternative.
The US official said Pompeo would stress “economic growth, trade and investment” in a continent whose population is forecast to double by 2050.
“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,” he said.
Concerns on security
The United States has hardly sent consistently supportive messages ahead of Pompeo’s trip. The Pentagon announced this week that it will start adjusting its military presence in Africa as it considers cuts, with resources instead expected to go to countering China, Russia and Iran.
France has voiced particular concern at the impact of US cuts on the fight against Islamist extremism. The French are leading a 4,500-strong operation in the Sahel to crush a rise in militants, with the United States providing in-flight refueling and other logistical support.
“I think the signal the US government is said to have sent that they are withdrawing from the Sahel will be very, very worrisome in Senegal and in the Sahelian countries,” said Ahmadou Aly Mbaye, a professor at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar.
“This should be a very important talking point during his visit,” said Mbaye, who is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Weeks before Pompeo’s trip, the United States said it was also sharply tightening visa rules for citizens of six countries including Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, and Sudan, whose new civilian government has been seeking international support.
US officials said the countries needed to resolve technical issues related to security, but some critics recalled Trump’s widely reported remarks in 2018 when he used a profanity to describe African and poorer Western Hemisphere nations that send immigrants to the United States.
A trip is not a ‘strategy’
One former US diplomat expressed confusion over the goals of Pompeo’s trip to sub-Saharan Africa, the only region he has not previously visited.
“It’s not clear why he is going now and whether this is part of any broader US strategy on Africa, especially when the administration has indicated in just the last few weeks that it intends to exponentially reduce its security and aid investments,” said the former diplomat, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.
“You can’t just check the box of having an Africa policy by stopping in a few countries on a big continent and then call that a strategy.”
Witney Schneidman, who worked on Africa in the State Department under President Bill Clinton, said Pompeo’s trip showed the Trump administration trying belatedly to set “a positive tone on the continent.”
But he said that Pompeo would have his hands full explaining the mixed messages from Washington, which include sharp cuts in both the Commerce Department and overseas aid in Trump’s latest budget proposal.
“I think that he risks getting caught up in a sort of China-China-China dynamic and really needs to convey to African leaders that Africa is genuinely a priority for the United States,” said Schneidman, who is also at the Brookings Institution.
“If he can cut through and promote those messages clearly, then I think his trip will be successful.”
The last secretary of state to visit sub-Saharan Africa was Pompeo’s predecessor, Rex Tillerson, in March 2018.
He was unusually buoyant in Africa but the trip was not auspicious. On his return, Trump fired him.
The United States said Friday it would refuse entry to Sri Lanka’s army chief over “credible” evidence of human rights violations in the bloody 2009 finale to the civil war.
Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva, whose appointment last year drew wide international criticism, will be ineligible to visit the United States, as will his immediate family, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
“The allegations of gross human rights violations against Shavendra Silva, documented by the United Nations and other organizations, are serious and credible,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“We urge the Sri Lankan government to promote human rights, hold accountable individuals responsible for war crimes and human rights violations, advance security sector reform, and uphold its other commitments to pursue justice and reconciliation,” he said.
Silva was the commanding officer of an army division in the island’s northern war-zone in the final months of the military offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009.
Rights groups say some 40,000 ethnic Tamils were killed in mass atrocities as government forces seized Sri Lanka’s predominantly Tamil north.
The United Nations, in a report into the allegations, said Silva played a major role in orchestrating war crimes.
The 2009 offensive delivered a death blow to the Tamil Tigers, whose nearly four-decade campaign for a separate homeland had killed 100,000 people and was characterized by the rebels’ bloody suicide attacks.
Pompeo nonetheless said that the United States hoped to maintain security cooperation with Sri Lanka, which last year was rocked by Easter Sunday bombings by Islamist extremists.
“We deeply value our partnership with the Sri Lankan government and the long-standing democratic tradition we share with the Sri Lankan people,” Pompeo said.
Sri Lanka’s successive governments have resisted calls for an independent investigation into the conduct of troops during the final months of the conflict.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday accused Iran of honing its ballistic missile skills through a satellite launch and vowed to exert more pressure.
“The United States will continue to build support around the world to confront the Iranian regime’s reckless ballistic missile activity, and we will continue to impose enormous pressure on the regime to change its behaviour,” Pompeo said in a statement.
The United States on Friday offered up to $100 million to China and other impacted countries to combat the fast-spreading coronavirus.
“This commitment — along with the hundreds of millions generously donated by the American private sector — demonstrates strong US leadership in response to the outbreak,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
“We encourage the rest of the world to match our commitment. Working together, we can have a profound impact to contain this growing threat,” he said.
Pompeo, who has frequently criticized China on issues from human rights to its overseas infrastructure spending, said the United States would provide the assistance either directly or through multilateral organizations.
He said the spending would come out of unspecified funds that have already been allocated within the US government.
The aid pledge comes after Beijing criticized the US response to the health crisis, saying that Washington has been spreading “panic” by banning the entry of foreign nationals who travelled to China.
But President Donald Trump on Friday praised China’s response as “very professional” after he spoke by telephone with his counterpart Xi Jinping.
Pompeo said that the United States has donated close to 17.8 tons of medical supplies to China including masks, gowns, gauze and respirators.
At least 31,000 people in two dozen countries have been infected, with more than 630 killed, since the virus emerged late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan, likely from a market that sold exotic animals for consumption.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will make his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa, the State Department said Wednesday, putting a focus on a continent rarely prioritized by the Trump administration.
The State Department said that Pompeo will travel to Senegal, Angola and Ethiopia from February 15 to 19, meeting the leaders of all three countries.
He will start in Dakar where he will discuss “how to deepen our strong security and economic partnership” with President Macky Sall, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
In Angola, he will offer support to democratization and anti-corruption efforts that have gathered steam since strongman Jose Eduardo dos Santos exited power in 2017.
And in Ethiopia, Pompeo will “support Ethiopia’s historic political and economic reform agenda” in talks with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who last year won the Nobel Peace Prize for spearheading domestic change and advancing reconciliation with rival Eritrea.
Pompeo will also hold talks and deliver remarks at the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa.
President Donald Trump is not known for his interest in Africa and notoriously was reported to have used a vulgar epithet for African countries when discussing sources of immigrants.
Pompeo’s trip comes exactly two years after his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, paid a five-nation visit to Africa.
Trump fired him on his return home, with the White House saying Tillerson learned the news while on the toilet after catching a stomach bug in Africa.
Pompeo, a stalwart ally of Trump, will head after Africa to close ally Saudi Arabia for talks in the wake of a US-ordered strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, a top general of the kingdom’s regional rival Iran.
He will also stop in Oman to meet the new sultan, Haitham bin Tariq, and offer condolences over the death of his predecessor Qaboos, who was the Arab world’s longest-serving leader and served as a go-between for Iran and the United States.
Before the Africa trip, Pompeo will take part in the annual Munich Security Conference.
The United States and Nigeria voiced hope Tuesday that the Trump administration would soon lift onerous visa restrictions slapped on Africa’s most populous country, which said it was “blindsided” by its ally.
On a previously scheduled visit to Washington, Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama said he sought more information on President Donald Trump’s latest immigration crackdown announced last week which targeted Nigeria and five other countries.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meeting Onyeama, said that Trump took action partly due to the “terrorist threat” in West Africa, where Nigeria has fought alongside the United States against Islamist extremists.
Nigeria remains a “strategic partner” but Trump restricted visas as it has “room to grow in sharing important national security information.”
“I’m optimistic that’s going to happen,” Pompeo told reporters.
Striking a diplomatic tone, Onyeama said his talks were “very gratifying” but acknowledged, with a smile, that Trump’s move caught Nigeria off-guard.
“We were somewhat blindsided by the announcement of the visa restrictions,” Onyeama said.
He said that Nigeria had already been looking to address US concerns, such as providing information on suspected terrorists and embedding electronic data into passports.
“We know, and the US officials have also confirmed, that we have been able to tick most of those boxes,” he said.
The lingering problem, he said, involved how to handle lost and stolen Nigerian passports.
He said Nigeria was putting in place a system that would make data from such passports “immediately available” to all members of Interpol, the global law enforcement body.
“We hope to have that up and running very soon,” he said. “Hopefully, once that has been achieved, we look forward to being taken off this visa restriction list.”
Trump came to office vowing to impose border restrictions and notoriously was quoted as using a vulgar epithet for African and other developing nations that send immigrants to the United States.
Unlike a controversial order days after he took office that essentially banned entry to citizens from a number of Muslim-majority countries, the latest restrictions primarily involve foreigners who seek to immigrate rather than visit.
Along with Nigeria, Trump imposed the curbs on nationals from Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Sudan and Tanzania.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has traveled to Colombia to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an opposition lawmaker said Sunday.
Guaido’s move comes amid an overture by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro for direct negotiations with the United States on an end to crippling US sanctions.
Opposition lawmaker Stalin Gonzalez told AFP that Guaido, who is recognized by the United States and more than 50 other countries as Venezuela’s acting president, will meet in Bogota with Pompeo.
The US secretary of state is scheduled to arrive in the Colombian capital on Monday at the start of a Latin American tour.
Guaido has been barred from leaving Venezuela since proclaiming himself acting president a year ago after the National Assembly declared President Nicolas Maduro a “usurper.”
He defied the travel ban once before, in February 2016, when he secretly traveled to Colombia and then visited several other countries to marshal regional support for his challenge to Maduro.
The United States has been Guaido’s leading international supporter but the opposition bid to force Maduro’s ouster has stalled.
Guaido has headed the National Assembly for the past year but faced a challenge early this month from Maduro supporters over his re-election.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Maduro said he was comfortably in control and ready for direct negotiations with the United States.
“If there’s respect between governments, no matter how big the United States is, and if there’s a dialogue, an exchange of truthful information, then be sure we can create a new type of relationship,” Maduro told the Post.
The socialist leader said he was ready to hold talks with the US to negotiate an end to sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump intended to throttle the South American country’s oil industry and force Maduro from power.
Maduro indicated that, if Trump were to lift sanctions, US oil companies could benefit immensely from Venezuela’s oil.
“A relationship of respect and dialogue brings a win-win situation. A confrontational relationship brings a lose-lose situation. That’s the formula,” Maduro said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday he was “outraged” by another missile attack on an Iraqi airbase where US forces have been stationed, as neighboring Iran signalled a wish to de-escalate tensions.
“Outraged by reports of another rocket attack on an Iraqi airbase,” Pompeo tweeted. “These continued violations of Iraq’s sovereignty by groups not loyal to the Iraqi government must end.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday’s rocket attacks, in which the Iraqi military said eight missiles wounded two Iraqi officers and two airmen.
The US has previously blamed such attacks on Iran-backed groups in Iraq.
The Al-Balad base had held a small US Air Force contingent as well as American contractors, but most were evacuated following a sharp rise in friction between the US and Iran over the past two weeks, military sources told AFP.
Al-Balad is the main airbase for Iraq’s F-16s, which it bought from the US.
Military bases hosting US troops have been subject in recent months to rocket and mortar attacks that have mostly wounded Iraqi forces, but also killed one American contractor last month.
That death set off a series of dramatic developments, with the US carrying out deadly strikes against a pro-Iran paramilitary group in Iraq as well as a convoy carrying top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani outside the Baghdad airport.
Pro-Iran factions in Iraq have vowed revenge for those raids.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday said that the Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani was planning imminent action that threatened American citizens when he was killed in a US strike.
Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) foreign operations arm, was killed by an air raid on Baghdad international airport.
“He was actively plotting in the region to take actions — a big action, as he described it — that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk,” Pompeo told CNN.
“We know it was imminent,” Pompeo said of Soleimani’s plot, without going into detail about the nature of the planned operation.
“This was an intelligence-based assessment that drove our decision-making process,” Pompeo added.
The top US diplomat spent the day calling officials worldwide to discuss the killing, which brought a promise of “severe vengeance” from Tehran.
Among those he phoned were Chinese politburo member Yang Jiechi, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, Pakistan army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, the foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and Russia and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
Pompeo also spoke with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a key ally whom he thanked for Riyadh’s “steadfast support and for recognizing the continuing aggressive threats posed by” the IRGC, the State Department said.
Separately, Pompeo designated as a “foreign terrorist organization” Aas’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), a group it says is “extensively funded and trained” by the IRGC, and also blocked its assets and those of two of its leaders.
“AAH and its leaders are violent proxies of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo said.
“Acting on behalf of their masters in Tehran, they use violence and terror to further the Iranian regime’s efforts to undermine Iraqi sovereignty.”