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Pompeo says he carries 'perfect message' of press freedom in Kazakhstan

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    Agence France-Presse

Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan   /   Mon, February 3, 2020   /   01:08 pm
 Pompeo says he carries 'perfect message' of press freedom in Kazakhstan One step ahead: United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (second left) arrives at the European Union headquarters in Brussels on Monday. The US secretary of state is visiting Brussels to discuss the Iran nuclear deal, after the United Kingdom issued a stark warning about the risk of conflict erupting “by accident” in the Gulf. (AFP/John Thys)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday during a visit to Kazakhstan that he carried a "perfect message" of global press freedom, following a bitter feud with US media.

A key ally of President Donald Trump, Pompeo has often echoed the president's disdain for the media. 

More than a week ago he reportedly lost his temper with a National Public Radio (NPR) journalist who asked him whether he owed an apology to the former US ambassador to Kiev, Marie Yovanovitch.

The ambassador's abrupt removal was a focus of Trump's impeachment for abuse of power, and also led to criticism of Pompeo for failing to stand up for her.

The feud followed Pompeo to Nur-Sultan near the end of a tour to Europe -- including Ukraine -- and Central Asia.

While speaking to a journalist on the Kazakh team for Radio Free Europe, Pompeo talked about the "good work the State Department does to train journalists in press freedoms."

The journalist then asked Pompeo what message his own attitude sent to countries -- including Kazakhstan -- that "routinely suppress press freedom." 

She referred to his "confrontational" interview with NPR and noted that the State Department had subsequently banned another NPR journalist from the secretary's plane for this overseas trip, which included a meeting in Kiev with Ukraine's President Volodomyr Zelensky.

"It's a perfect message about press freedoms," Pompeo said.

Reporters are "free to ask questions," he added, despite NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly's accusing him of shouting, swearing, and suggesting Americans don't care about Ukraine after she asked about Yovanovitch.

"It's wide open in America. I love it. I hope the rest of the world will follow our press freedoms," Pompeo told the Kazakh journalist.

Pompeo insisted that his exchange with Kelly had not been "confrontational," despite having issued a statement accusing the journalist of lying twice and calling the media "unhinged in its quest to hurt President Trump and this Administration."

He also justified excluding NPR's Michele Kelemen, a veteran diplomatic correspondent, from the plane for his trip.

"With respect to who travels with me, I always bring a big press contingent," he said.

Under Trump, the State Department has halved the number of journalists allowed to fly with the secretary compared to previous administrations.

"We ask for certain sets of behaviors, and that's simply telling the truth and being honest," Pompeo said.

"When they'll do that, they get to participate, and if they don't, it's just not appropriate -- frankly, it's not fair to the rest of the journalists who are participating alongside of them."