“It seems to me it’s the other way around. We have excellent relations between our countries,” Zelensky said during a joint news conference with Pompeo in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.
Pompeo described Ukraine as a “bulwark between freedom and authoritarianism in Eastern Europe,” but he demurred when asked if Trump would invite Zelensky to Washington for a coveted White House meeting.
“We’ll find the right time,” Pompeo said. “President Zelensky will be welcome to come to Washington when we have an opportunity to do good things for both the Ukrainian people and the American people. We’ll get it done.”
After his election last year, Zelensky sought a White House meeting as a show of U.S. support as Ukraine battles Russian aggression. Although Trump told Zelensky he would invite him, White House officials never gave Ukrainian officials a date.
In the article of impeachment charging Trump with abuse of power, House Democrats have accused Trump of using a White House visit and U.S. military assistance as leverage in his effort to coerce Zelensky into opening investigations into a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
On Friday, Pompeo denied the Trump administration has set any conditions on Ukraine. And during his impeachment trial in the Senate, Trump’s defense lawyers have stressed that Zelensky had a personal meeting with Trump last fall as the Ukraine controversy was dominating headlines; the two leaders met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
“There’s no condition of the nature you described for President Zelensky to come to Washington and have that visit. It’s just simply not the case,” he said.
Pompeo said Ukraine has America’s full support in its war with Russia, saying the U.S. had provided more than $1 billion in U.S. military and security assistance to Ukraine since 2017 and that would continue.
“We’ll maintain support for a diplomatic solution to the Russia-instigated conflict in east Ukraine, and we’ll maintain financial support for Ukraine’s security,” he said. “We will never accept anything less than the full restoration of Ukraine’s control over its sovereign territory.”
Zelensky said he would be “ready to go (to Washington) tomorrow,” but that any visit should only be set when its in Ukraine and the U.S.’ strategic interests.
Pompeo arrived in Ukraine on Thursday at a particularly awkward time for him – and for the Trump administration, which is consumed with allegations that the president tried to pressure Zelensky for political favors.
Trump temporarily froze nearly $400 million in U.S. security aid that Congress had approved for Ukraine, around the same time of his controversial July 25 phone call with Zelensky. The move prompted accusations from Democrats that he misused U.S. foreign policy for personal gain. The Senate is weighing those allegations in its unfolding impeachment trial.
Pompeo’s recent statements about Ukraine have complicated his mission in Kyiv and exacerbated the already strained U.S.-Ukraine alliance. The State Department said Pompeo’s trip would highlight American support for Ukraine’s sovereignty as it battles Russian aggression, a message reiterated by Pompeo on Friday.
But the U.S. has no ambassador in Kyiv right now – in part because of the impeachment scandal – and Pompeo recently suggested that Americans don’t care about Ukraine. During a contentious interview with NPR last week, Pompeo grew irritated with host Mary Louise Kelly when she pressed him about Ukraine. After the interview, Kelly said Pompeo shouted and cursed at her.
“‘Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?'” Pompeo yelled, according to Kelly’s account, the substance of which Pompeo has not disputed. “He used the F-word in that sentence and many others.”
On Wednesday, Pompeo sidestepped questions about whether he would ask Zelensky in private about the two issues at the heart of the impeachment trial now unfolding in the Senate: former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden’s work for a Ukrainian gas company.
Trump asked Zelensky to investigate Biden, a leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. Biden’s son Hunter served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma, while his father was vice president. Trump and his allies have made unsubstantiated claims that Joe Biden tried to shield Burisma from scrutiny.
Asked if he would raise the Biden-Burisma allegations with Zelensky, Pompeo did not directly answer on Wednesday. He said he would focus on helping Ukraine root out “corruption” and repel Russian attacks.
“When we were talking about corruption, we talked about every element of corruption inside of Ukraine,” Pompeo told reporters traveling with him on the trip, which includes other stops in Europe and Central Asia. “I don’t want to talk about particular individuals. It’s not worth it. It’s a long list in Ukraine of corrupt individuals and a long history there.”
Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he’d be shocked if Pompeo pressed Zelensky on such politically explosive issues.
“I would think he’d be extremely cautious in his meeting with Zelensky,” said Miller, who has advised Republican and Democratic presidents on foreign policy.