LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday morning “respect for human dignity,” which includes protecting religious freedoms, is paramount for the U.S. government and the State Department.
Pompeo gave an exclusive interview to Kentucky Today before speaking at the McConnell Center’s Distinguished Speaker Series at the University of Louisville.
Religious freedom has a direct link to human dignity, Pompeo said.
“The freedom for every human being to express their personal belief system, without risk that the government will impose penalties on them, is so central to human dignity,” he said. “At the President’s direction, we spend a lot of time working on religious freedom, religious liberty all around the world. We've hosted two ministerial meetings — bringing in foreign ministers and leaders from around the world — to celebrate and work on the expansion of religious freedom. One of them was the largest diplomatic event ever at the State Department.”
Pompeo mentioned specific reports of human rights violations in Iran and China as focuses of the work.
“You have authoritarian regimes that deny these basic freedoms to their people,” he said. “We see it all across the world. We see it in China today with the Chinese Communist Party persecuting people of religious faith – Christians and a million Muslims held in awful conditions in the western part of China. These are leaders that don't value religious freedom in the way that America does.
“Our administration does our best to try and help those religious minorities, wherever we find them, wherever they're oppressed, whether that threat is coming externally to a country or as being put upon the people by their own leaders.”
He acknowledged the process is not as clear cut, particularly with countries who have trade and economic relationships with the United States.
“It is the case that there are often conflicting signals that come from countries where you have to work with nations that are imperfect,” he said. “They don't have it right. It doesn't mean you don't talk about it. It doesn't mean you don't raise these issues with them. It doesn't mean you don't try and improve them and bump them along, encouraging them to move forward.”
Pompeo said his role is to help other countries “move in a direction that is ever increasing toward freedom and liberty.”
Pompeo said foreign trade is used to help the American people while getting the attention of foreign governments in the examination of their human rights policies. “Those are the tools of American foreign policy with the primary aim of making sure that we continue to protect the freedoms here in America and create opportunity for the American people,” he said.
Pompeo reflected on the work of the State Department in 2019, noting some high points and first mentioning Israel, which the Trump Administration has firmly stood behind. The strong stance has had an influence on others, he said.
“I think our willingness to stand up for the defense of Israel has permitted many of the nations there to come to a deeper, fuller understanding and relationship with Israel,” Pompeo said. “I think we've increased stability as we move forward inside the Middle East.”
Pompeo said work being accomplished in Central and South America through the Trump Administration has assisted countries who were headed toward socialism to turn back to democracy.
“Take a look at Venezuela as an example. We've identified this. We haven't fixed it yet, but we've made material progress in identifying a pathway for the Venezuelan people to have their basic needs fulfilled and a modicum of freedom in a place that they did not have it,” he said.
The Secretary also said the work that has been accomplished in Iran is of significant humanitarian value.
“The previous administration, when the Iranian people took to the streets to protest — just simply to demand a little bit of space, to take care of their families, to work, to keep their own money, to not go off to far distant places, to fight and die for the theocracy or the kleptocrats that were stealing the Iranian people's money — refused to stand up for them. And this administration is just the opposite,” Pompeo said. ”We've recognized that the Iranian people are noble and deserve human dignity and we've defended them.”
Pompeo, 55, became the 70th U.S. Secretary of State in April 2018. He was the seventh U.S. Secretary of State to speak at the McConnell Center.
“I'm proud of the work American foreign policy is doing in each place that we take an active role in,” he said.