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Pompeo Says Human Rights Violations Won't Deter U.S. Engagement

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 3/13/2019 Nick Wadhams
Mike Pompeo wearing a suit and tie: Key Speakers At The 2019 CERAWeek Conference © Bloomberg Key Speakers At The 2019 CERAWeek Conference

(Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the U.S. will engage with other countries regardless of their human-rights record if it serves American interests, unusually frank comments on the Trump administration’s willingness to downplay the importance of values in foreign policy.

“The policy of this Administration is to engage with other governments, regardless of their record, if doing so will further U.S. interests,” Pompeo said in the preface of the State Department’s annual report on global human rights practices released Wednesday. He added that the U.S. recognizes its interests are best served if governments respect human rights.

Presidential administrations for generations have struggled to balance U.S. values against achieving foreign-policy interests, frequently setting aside vows to uphold human rights in order to achieve higher priority U.S. goals. But rarely has an official said so in such stark terms -- particularly in the preamble to a report meant to underscore the U.S. commitment to those freedoms.

For the Trump administration, maintaining the balance between values and interests has been particularly difficult in the case of Saudi Arabia, a longtime U.S. ally whose officials have been implicated in the murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi and blamed for widespread human rights abuses in the war in neighboring Yemen.

While Trump administration officials, including Pompeo, have said they will hold anyone behind Khashoggi’s killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul responsible, they’ve also said the importance of the U.S. alliance with Riyadh outweighs an outright break with the kingdom. They’ve declined to say publicly whether they think Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman knew about or ordered the killing, a possibility U.S. intelligence agencies consider likely.

In the report released Wednesday, the State Department acknowledged that Saudi government agents carried out Khashoggi’s killing. Yet while prosecutors have announced some indictments in the case, Saudi Arabia hasn’t “provided a detailed explanation of the direction and progress of the investigation,” the report said.

“In other cases the government did not punish officials accused of committing human rights abuses, contributing to an environment of impunity,” according to the report.

The Trump administration has focused its human rights complaints on adversaries such as Iran and Venezuela.

On Iran, Pompeo said Tuesday that the country is continuing “the pattern of cruelty that the regime has inflicted on the Iranian people for the last four decades.”

He also said that China is “in a league of its own when it comes to human rights violations.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Nick Wadhams in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Faries at, Larry Liebert

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