Press Gaggle by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan
Mexico City, Mexico
10:10 A.M. CST
MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, guys, all for being here today. It’s Monday, January 9th. We are in the bilateral portion of the North American Leaders’ Summit program today with our bilateral meeting with President López Obrador. When I say “our” bilateral meeting, I actually mean President Biden’s bilateral meeting.
We had the opportunity to do a pretty extensive background briefing that went through the critical substance and the agenda that we’re trying to pursue, both with respect to our bilateral engagements with Canada and Mexico and in the trilateral format of the leaders’ summit.
So I’m not going to go into great detail. I’ll just say that, today, with President López Obrador, President Biden is looking to dive deep on a set of issues that are priorities for his administration, including continued close coordination on migration questions. And we have been obviously in extremely close touch with Mexico on the announcement President Biden and the administration made last week with respect to expansion of the parole program.
We also will spend a considerable amount of time today, both in the bilateral and inside meetings that members of our Cabinet will be holding, on how we can enhance and elevate our cooperation on fentanyl.
And President López Obrador and President Biden will have the opportunity to discuss questions related to supply chains, to clean energy cooperation, and to a larger economic vision of North America that involves high labor standards, high environmental standards, and as much positively reinforcing economic activity as possible that allows the United States to be the manufacturing powerhouse that President Biden has talked about but also is a win-win for Mexico and Canada, and reduces our dependencies on other countries and other parts of the world who don’t necessarily share the same values that we share with our partners here in North America.
There will be a lot of other issues on the agenda: broader law enforcement cooperation, questions related to how we move forward a common agenda to combat the climate crisis, health, people-to-people ties, and so much else.
But these areas in particular — migration, fentanyl, and integrated supply chains and the increased strength of North America’s manufacturing and innovation powerhouse in critical sectors, including in the clean energy sector — these are the areas, I think, where you will see the greatest amount of focus.
The final point I would make: This trip is a good opportunity for President Biden to deepen his personal engagement with President López Obrador and Prime Minister Trudeau. Yesterday, he had the opportunity to ride with President López Obrador from the airport back into town, which gave them the chance to just have a one-on-one chat on kind of how they’re seeing the world right now, what’s on their minds. I think they both got a lot out of it.
And then, this evening, they will have the chance to all meet together with their spouses for a personal dinner. So that’s an important dimension to this as well.
And let me leave it at that, and I’m happy to take your questions.
Q Jake, can you talk a little bit about something that President López Obrador said this morning about being willing to accept potentially even more than 30,000 migrants from the U.S.? Is that something that you guys are talking about? Is that something that you hope to have a deliverable by the end of this summit?
MR. SULLIVAN: This has been an iterative process. Obviously, we began with a focus on how we could stand up a parole program for Venezuelans a few months ago, in 2022. We’ve now expanded that to Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Haitians. We’ve established numerical targets. We are in the early days of the implementation of that. And we will see how that goes and then make determinations about where to take the next step.
So I don’t think we have a fixed number in mind. And by the end of this summit, we’re not going to have a new agreement as a deliverable here. What we need is to see how the program announced last week works in practice; what, if any, adjustments need to be made to that program; and then we can talk about taking the next step.
Q When you talk about next steps, does that include additional countries or adjusting the members for those four countries? Or either/or?
MR. SULLIVAN: At no point have we placed a conceptual limitation on which countries could be in or out, or a numerical limitation on how to think about the scope of this program. What we’ve done is taken a hard look at what’s possible, given the resources, the processing, and the realities of what we’re facing, both in terms of migration flows and encounters at the border, and then taken steps consistent with those factors at a given point in time.
So, again, we took our first step in October. We’ve taken our second step in January. There is no reason to believe there won’t be a third step at some point; we’re open to that.
But, again, we really, really need to see how this particular phase of our cooperation with Mexico and this program for these four countries works in practice. And then we can make determinations about next steps.
Q And briefly, can you say whether the presidents discussed the dispute over Mexican energy policy, which has been a thorn in trade ties for some time, in either the limo ride — or does he plan to discuss it over the next couple of days? What is President Biden’s message to President López Obrador on that issue?
MR. SULLIVAN: I’m not going to read out the conversation in the limo because I think that was a personal conversation between the two of them. I’ll let each of them speak to it, to the extent they feel comfortable doing so.
What I will say is that the question of energy policy and the consultations over energy will be on the agenda, will come up between the two leaders on this trip. I want to leave it at that because those are sensitive conversations. They’re best done behind closed doors. But the President certainly comes with that as a key part of his economic agenda here.
Q Can I follow up? Can I follow on the — just the energy part? In talking to U.S. energy companies, they’re frustrated at the pace of these negotiations, consultations. The deadline — it expires, it’s been extended.
They are urging this White House to take the next step of calling a dispute panel, saying that there’s evidence that that is necessary. Is that something the U.S. is considering? And kind of what — what would need — what are the preconditions you would need to see in order to kind of call a dispute panel?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, I’m not going to negotiate in public or telegraph next steps in public. I’ll just say that we remain in close touch with all of those energy stakeholders. We remain in close touch with both Democrats and Republicans on the Hill. In fact, I’ve spoken with members just this morning on this issue, to keep them up to date on what we’re doing.
And as I said before, this will be a topic between the leaders here in Mexico, but I don’t want to get ahead of their opportunity to discuss this. I would just say that we think consultations have helped clarify both the nature of U.S. concerns, have identified some potential pathways forward, but we’re not there yet. And we’ll make determinations about next steps based how things unfold here in the coming days and weeks.
Q Can I ask about Brazil? Does the President have any plans to speak to President Lula da Silva after yesterday’s events?
MR. SULLIVAN: We don’t have a scheduled call, but I do expect the President will speak with President Lula at some point in the coming period. “Period” undefined because, as of now, there’s nothing scheduled.
You saw the President speak out very plainly and clearly yesterday. And so, there is absolutely no doubt about where President Biden or the United States stands on this assault on democracy, democratic institutions, and the peaceful transfer of power.
And so, we will continue to make sure that the United States speaks clearly with one voice on this issue, and then sort out, you know, when the right time is for the two leaders to talk.
Q Can you talk broadly about the implications of what happened in Brazil and what the administration’s next steps might be?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, first, we have expressed confidence because we believe it. The demo- — the democratic institutions of Brazil will hold, the will of the people of Brazil will be respected, the freely-elected leader of Brazil will govern Brazil and will not be deterred or knocked off course by the actions of these people who have assaulted the — the instruments of governance in Brasília, including the Congress, the Presidential Palace, and the — and the Supreme Court.
So we think Brazilian democracy is resilient, strong, and will come through this.
Q What about Bolsonaro? Do you know if he’s still in the U.S.?
Q And will you send him back?
MR. SULLIVAN: We’re not, as far as I know, in direct contact with Bolsonaro. So I can’t speak definitively about his whereabouts. We have not, as of now, received any official requests from the Brazilian government related to Bolsonaro. Of course, if we did receive such requests, we’d treat them the way we always do: We’d treat them seriously.
Questions related to visas, as you all know, are the province of State Department. They’re governed by legal modalities. We are careful about not speaking about individual visa cases in public and certainly not from the White House. So I would have to defer to my colleagues at the State Department on that issue.
But, again, I would just emphasize that we have not, as of yet, received any requests — official requests from the Brazilian government related to this issue.
If and when we do, we’ll deal with it. And if and when we have any information to provide, we will do it. But I anticipate that that information will end up getting provided by the State Department, not coming from me at the National Security Council or coming from the White House.
Q Would you act absent of request from Brazil? Is it fair for me to — to deduce from what you were saying that you’d need them to reach out first, essentially?
MR. SULLIVAN: I don’t want you to take that as the implication. I’m just saying, A, they —
Q I understand.
MR. SULLIVAN: — you know — (laughs) — they haven’t made a request. B —
Q Separately —
MR. SULLIVAN: — on the question of visa status, I’m not going to speak to the visa status of any given individual. That’s the province of the State Department. I don’t want to link those two things that there is a predicate to any kind of action.
The United States takes actions on visas all the time for all kinds of reasons. But on this particular case, this particular individual, again, I have to proceed with extreme caution in terms of how I talk about it because of the legal issues and the precedent issues involved, and so will allow discretion to be the better part of valor and refer this over to the State Department.
Q Jake, on the topics for the summit — you know, migration, supply chain, fentanyl — is — are there any things we can expect, any announcements coming today out on those discussions? Or is this just, you know, continued discussions on these issues?
MR. SULLIVAN: There will be a series of deliverables that will come out as part of the results of the North American Leaders’ Summit sessions tomorrow. So, I’ll talk to Karine and Adrienne about how to make sure that we brief you up on those individual elements maybe at some point later today.
They will not be formally announced today, though, because they are part of the — the trilateral program tomorrow.
Q Can I just ask one more about Brazil? A number of the figures who were involved in January 6th were online yesterday sort of fanning the protests that were happening in Brazil. Does the U.S. see any formal or informal link between those who have may have been behind January 6th and what happened on the ground there, either directionally, monetarily, or more just support generally?
MR. SULLIVAN: I don’t have any information in that regard. If we get — gain such information, we’ll be sure to share it with you all. But as of now, I’ve got nothing on that.
Q And how did the President’s trip to the border yesterday inform how he’s going to approach talks about migration, if anything? Did it — you know, is he going to broach that subject a little differently than he would have before the visit to the border?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, the trip to the border had two major dimensions to it, as you know — one to do with the issue of immigration, the other to do with the issue of fentanyl. And he had the opportunity to see, very practically, the ways in which a combination of highly trained personnel and technology can help interdict the flow of fentanyl across the border.
And he will certainly relay his experience from the border to President López Obrador and talk with him about ways in which the U.S. and Mexico can cooperate more effectively, can deploy technology more comprehensively, can increase the level of cooperation between Mexican law enforcement personnel and U.S. law enforcement personnel, not just at the border but at every step along the fentanyl supply chain.
And then with respect to immigration, he had the opportunity both to see firsthand the physical border itself, but also engage with NGOs and faith leaders and others involved in supporting migrants who are seeking asylum in the United States, require services as they go through their process.
And I think that gave him a more granular view of something he very deeply understood at a policy level, but there’s just no substitute for being able to have the engagement with those service providers on the frontlines who could help describe to him, you know, the real practical realities of how to support the basic needs of migrants, from food to shelter and other things.
So, I don’t think that will lead him to a different vector in the policy conversation with President López Obrador, but it will give him a more fully formed picture to be able to paint for the Mexican President as they talk about the next steps on migration.
Q Why didn’t he meet with any migrants when he was down there? It was note- — noteworthy, at least to the press pool, that he met with, obviously, law enforcement, met with folks that — you know, advocates, but no migrants.
MR. SULLIVAN: I think from his perspective, where he really wanted to focus was on those groups that we are supporting who are providing essential services to migrants. And that’s a combination of local and national groups. It’s a combination of NGOs and faith-based leaders, including the bishop. It’s a combination of government and non-government.
And so, for him, having the opportunity really to get that granular understanding was the most important thing. And, you know, this President’s commitment to supporting the basic dignity of migrants to have a humane migration policy that treats each and every one of them as a human being, I think, has been well-proven over the course of the past two years.
What he has really looked for on this trip to the border was deeper insight on the real practicalities of how U.S. program dollars and the elements of the U.S. migration policy are going to provide the necessary services. That’s where he wanted to focus his attention. That’s what he was able to do. And I think he feels that it was a very productive set of engagements at the border that, again, as I said before, helped him form a more vivid picture of what it is that we have done and what we need to do on an ongoing basis.
Q Do you expect the situation in Haiti to be discussed? And can you give us the latest on that? There have been talks, particularly with the Canadians and the Americans, about what can be done to build some sort of multilateral force. Have you ruled out U.S. troops being involved in that? Can you give us the latest on that front?
MR. SULLIVAN: The question of supporting basic stability in Haiti, ensuring that the provision of essential goods — fuel, food, medicine — to the people of Haiti, this will certainly be a topic of conversation, both in the trilateral and in the bilateral with Prime Minister Trudeau. And the two leaders will talk about some of these proposals, which had been floated at the U.N., which have been floated in informal circles as well, about how we could provide some sort of multinational security support to the Haitian National Police.
The United States believes that finding a country to help lead that effort is important. So, I’ll leave it at that for now. I want to give the President and the Prime Minister the opportunity to talk it through. But this is going to be a significant priority for us in that bilateral meeting.
Q Is the U.S. interested in Canada being that country?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, Canada itself has expressed interest in taking on a leadership role. What exactly the terms and parameters of security support looks like, what it means in terms of boots on the ground, as opposed to other forms of support to the Haitian National Police — including support we and the Canadians have already provided through equipment, vehicles, et cetera, intelligence — that, the two presid- — the two leaders will discuss. And I will let them discuss it before trying to lay out further for you what it is that — you know, that the U.S. is looking at from the point of view of what’s needed on the ground there.
I just — what I don’t want to do is jam anybody. So, I want them to be able to have the conversation.
Q We reported a couple months ago, as others had, that the notion of U.S. soldiers, as opposed to maybe trainers or police or whatever, was unlikely. Do you think that’s fair still?
MR. SULLIVAN: The U.S. has had multiple experiences with military operations in Haiti. And a solution that does not involve a major U.S. military operation in Haiti is a — certainly the place that we are looking to try to produce an outcome that is sustainable, durable, delivers basic security for the people of Haiti but does not go down that road.
Q Can I ask about Ukraine? I wondered if there were concerns about potential GOP budget cuts on defense.
And then I also wanted to ask about this op-ed that Condoleezza Rice and Bob Gates wrote in the Washington Post the other day, suggesting that, you know, we’re running out of time, or, I guess, Ukraine is running out of time, and the time for the U.S. to send in more substantial aid is upon us. I kind of wondered your thoughts on that take.
MR. SULLIVAN: Just the timing on the Rice-Gates piece, which I thought was a very interesting piece, was propitious in a way, because it came, I think, within 24 hours of the United States announcing the single largest, most expansive, most impactful transfer of weapons since the beginning of the conflict — more than $3 billion to include Bradley Fighting Vehicles and a number of other capabilities.
So, if the question is, should we be moving fast and decisively to support Ukraine with the tools it needs to win this war, and Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates answered that question “yes,” well, we also answer that question “yes.” And I think we have now shown that we’ve walked the walk as well as talked the talk.
I did find it interesting that in the course of all of that, they also noted that they didn’t think M1A1 tanks made sense. So, the one weapon system they actually identify in the piece is the one they say, “Well, maybe not that one.” (Laughter.)
On the issue of potential defense budget cuts, we’ve requested $37 billion because we thought — in the omnibus last year — because we thought that’s what would be necessary to get us through the fiscal year. Congress actually plussed that up to $45 billion. That is money that has been appropriated. That is money that we are beginning to obligate. And I do not see that money getting taken away from us. And, therefore, our ability to have the resources to support Ukraine with both the security assistance it needs, as well as the economic, humanitarian, and energy assistance it needs, is confirmed. It is there. It is rock solid through nearly all or all of 2023, based on that plus-up that Congress gave us.
Q How do you think the U.S., in general — Americans — are feeling about the, you know, U.S. support for Ukraine? Are Americans still behind it, or have you noticed it sort of changing tide? Are people getting sick of it? From where you sit, do you feel as though, you know, the country is behind the notion to support Ukraine still?
MR. SULLIVAN: I do think so. And I think to focus on what I believe is actually a distinct minority of a single party to conjure this narrative that somehow there are deep divisions or a genuine threat to enduring American support for Ukraine is misplaced. Because I think the vast majority of Democrats and Republicans who are elected officials and the vast majority of the American people continue to strongly support the policy of providing Ukraine the means to defend itself against Russian aggression. And I think that cuts across all parts of our country, people from all walks of life, because people understand what’s at stake here.
And I have not seen a significant shift in that opinion on the part of the American people. And I think that kind of goes to their basic insight and wisdom about the risks, costs, and consequences of the U.S. walking away from its commitments to Ukraine and walking away from standing up strongly to Russia.
Q Can I ask about Iran?
Q Mexico has blocked —
Q Oh, sorry. On Iran, just a few really quick ones. First of all, the new leader of Israel says he wants to end the JCPOA. I just wanted to get a check-in on the status of the JCPOA. Is it dead in the water?
And then, just the U.S. reaction to the plans to execute 13 Iranian protesters. I know I’m all over the map on Iran today.
And then, just thirdly, can you just delve a little bit more into what the U.S. is doing to stop Iran from getting drones to Russia?
MR. SULLIVAN: Prime Minister Netanyahu said he doesn’t support the JCPOA?
Q He says it’s a bad agreement and he’s doing what he can to end it.
MR. SULLIVAN: I think that has been his pretty consistent position for many years now. In fact, he came to the well of the U.S. Congress to enunciate that position quite famously. And so, I don’t think there’s any surprise in the fact that he doesn’t like and has never liked the JCPOA.
We’ve made clear that our priority right now is not the JCPOA, that this is not the moment or the context to place priority on that.
We have also made clear that we continue to stand behind the commitment that we have made over successive administrations to ensure that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon. And we continue to believe that, ultimately, diplomacy is the best way to do that in the right context, backed effectively by international unity and the necessary pressure to sharpen Iran’s choices, including sanctions pressure that we have increased over the course of the past year.
So, we’ll have the opportunity to engage deeply with the new Israeli government on the threat posed by Iran. And I think we share the same fundamental objectives. And we will work through any differences we have on tactics the same way that we have over the course of the past two years.
We had Prime Minister Netanyahu for the early months, then we had Prime Minister Bennett, and then we had Prime Minister Lapid. One thing all three of those men had in common: None of them liked the JCPOA. All three of them felt very strongly about the need for us to coordinate closely on Iran policy. And Prime Minister Netanyahu, in his latest iteration, I think, will be no exception to that.
So, we really do look forward to engaging the Israeli government. I’ll be going to Israel, and that will be a substantial topic of conversation when I go.
MR. SULLIVAN: On the protesters, I mean, this is just the next example of the brutality of a government in Iran that is crushing its own people’s dignity, their freedom to speak out, and, in this case, their lives. Robbing the lives of people for peaceful protest is abhorrent.
And we have condemned the brutal repression of the Iranian government against its own people. And we have spoken out strongly in support of those people and their desire to express their own rights and dignity. And we’ll continue to do so. And we’ll continue to impose costs and consequences for that, alongside allies and partners. And we’ll continue to try to help the Iranian people have the means to be able to communicate effectively both with each other and with the world.
And then, on the question of Iran selling drones to Russia, I think you’ve seen, particularly in Europe, a substantial shift since this was exposed, in terms of the pressure that Europe is placing on Iran for the steps it’s taking to support Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine.
And we ourselves have imposed a number of different sanctions against entities in both Russia and Iran to try to make these transactions more difficult.
The way that they are actually carrying them out physically makes physical interdiction a challenge. But we will not stop at a variety of means of seeking to disrupt this type of ongoing military cooperation and to continue to increase the cost to Iran — in the court of public opinion, with respect to economic pressure — for deciding to go down a road where their weapons are being used to kill civilians in Ukraine and to try to plunge cities into cold and darkness, which, from our point of view, puts Iran in a place where it could potentially be committing — contributing to widespread war crimes.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: This is the last question.
Q So, just to quickly clarify: What is it about how they’re using them that makes it difficult — difficult to physically interdict?
MR. SULLIVAN: No, no, I mean the transfer of them —
Q Oh, I understand.
MR. SULLIVAN: — not the — not the drones themselves. The movement of them from Iran to Russia. Does that make sense? Not the use of them on the battlefield.
Q I understand.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Jarrett, you can have the last one.
Q Great. Mexico has resisted some efforts to get beefed-up U.S. intelligence on drug trafficking of fentanyl. What is the state of play of those discussions to get more — should we expect some movement on that tomorrow?
MR. SULLIVAN: Our hope and expectation is that President Biden will be able to emerge from the meetings over the next couple of days and be able to tell you that he does believe he has commitments for stronger cooperation on the fentanyl issue.
Now, we have a number of very specific practical requests, but, you know, we’ll make those requests not in front of the cameras and microphones but, you know, directly to our Mexican counterparts, including at the leader-to-leader level.
But I think President Biden has some confidence, based on the preparation for this summit, that he will walk away feeling like he has a commitment to enhanced cooperation in areas that can help us address this issue.
Q Just very quickly, just because he hadn’t read yesterday the letter from Governor Abbott. Has he read it? Is there any response to Governor Abbott that you care to share?
MR. SULLIVAN: I’ll leave that one to Karine because I haven’t talked to the President about the letter from Governor Abbott, so I’ve got nothing to share.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Thanks, everybody. Thanks, Jake.
10:40 A.M. CST