SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So a quick few points just that I would like to make. Obviously, the last couple weeks in the region have been a reaction to the Jerusalem decision. We’ve seen a lot of the emotions that have been kind of displayed on that. I think that this trip is part of kind of the ending of that chapter, and the beginning of what I will say is the next chapter.
I think that a lot of people in the region, they really respect the President. They really like this administration. We’re working well together. They know what our big priorities are. Number one priority there is countering Iran; defeating ISIS and terror; and then combating the extremist ideology, which we continue to have very active and strong relations with, with a lot of the countries in that region.
So they know after this that the President will keep his word. He’s not going to be doing things like the past administration. They know that he is very serious and focused on his objectives, and we will continue to pursue it.
And so I think that just the great relationships we’ve built in the region is strong. I think that the Vice President, obviously, is the President’s best emissary that he is sending. So sending him to show the strong support and relationship with Israel is important, but also sending them to Egypt, where they’re such a great partner in countering terror, I think that’s just a very strong statement as well.
So I think that this will just refocus a lot of people on the region that, obviously, we still continue to be focused on a peace process. And how we ultimately bring that situation to a conclusion, but Iran, ISIS, terrorists, and countering the extremist ideology are still the big priorities in the region, which we continue to work with all of the Muslim countries there very closely on achieving those objectives.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Do you just want to just give a little thought on heading to Egypt and for the press?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure, can you hear me?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. So as my colleagues — Egypt plays a central role in the region. Egypt is the most populace Arab nation in the world. The United States-Egyptian alliance has been strong for decades, and they remain an important and critical partner for regional security.
We’ve obviously been working very closely with Egypt as they fight ISIS, especially in the Sinai, and as they fight terrorism broadly.
Historically, Egypt has also played a very important role in peace efforts. In fact, this month marks the 40-year anniversary of President Anwar Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem. His courageous leadership has led to 40 years of sustained peace with Israel.
President Trump and President el-Sisi have developed a very strong relationship over the several bilateral meetings and working visits they’ve had this year.
President el-Sisi joined President Trump at the historic summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, earlier this year as one of 54 Arab and Muslim leaders, and he strongly affirmed his support for working with all of those countries and us — not only in defeating terrorism, but ensuring that we tackled the funding of terrorist organizations.
I think the Vice President is going to be bringing a very strong message from President Trump. This is going to be the Vice President’s first trip as Vice President to an Arab nation. I think it’s particularly important that he’s choosing Egypt as that first nation. And he’s sending a very strong signal that Egypt is an incredibly important partner and that we have many issues to discuss with Egypt that we work on together and I think that they will have a really open dialogue about concerns on both sides. And I think President el-Sisi — at least as I’ve talked to his team — is very much looking forward to welcoming Vice President Pence for a very substantive bilateral meeting.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great, thanks. How about Israel? Colleagues, you want to talk high level about the specific Israel visit?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just before my colleague gets into it, I just want to say the President said last week, we remain as committed as peace as ever. And as we said, since the President’s Jerusalem announcement, we anticipated reactions like the ones going on in the region, but are going to remain hard at work on our plan.
So to that end, my colleague will be traveling to Israel next week for meetings related to the peace effort. He’s going early in the week, before the Vice President.
In addition, he will meet with Fernando Gentilini, who’s the European Union Representative on the Quartet. And given the timing, my colleague will stay on for the Vice President’s visit to provide any relevant support. And I’ll turn it over to my colleague.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure, good morning everybody. I look forward to seeing you on the Israel portion of the trip.
So the Vice President is going to reinforce the President’s bold, courageous, and historic announcement regarding Jerusalem. As the President said, we remain dedicated to the peace process. We understand that the Palestinians may need a bit of a cooling-off period, but that’s fine. We remain very hard at work, which is why I’m going back there. There’s a lot of dedication, both from the team here and the missions on the ground to getting this deal done. I think everybody realizes that a U.S.-led peace process is the only way forward. So we will be ready when the Palestinians are ready to reengage, but in the meantime, there’s plenty to do. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thanks. So we’ve got a few minutes left here. I know a lot of you are working on stories, so let me open it up to some questions.
Q This is Jeff Mason. I’ll kick it off. Thanks, everybody.
My question is for any of you about how you proceed with the Palestinians and whether the Vice President will encourage, during his visit to Egypt, al-Sisi and the Egyptians to put some pressure on the Palestinians to come back to the table. And how will you actually message the fact that you’re serious about the peace process when the Arab partners that you’ve worked so hard to develop these relationships that your colleague mentioned are really upset about the Jerusalem designation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, we don’t believe pressure works. The President has said he’s not going to impose a deal on either side. We think it’s appropriate for the Palestinians to digest what has happened. And once they review the President’s remarks clearly, they will realize that nothing has changed in terms of being able to reach an historic peace agreement.
So we think that the Egyptians and others, of course, can encourage them, but this visit may not be the right time to stress any kind of pressure from either side.
As far as the Arab countries with whom we have developed a trust, they may disagree with the decision, but I think the relationship goes well beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And I think they are still eager to help us get through this, based on all of our conversations with them both before and since the announcement.
Q This is Jenna Johnson, with the Washington Post. I’ll jump in next. When the Vice President first announced this trip, he was planning on talking a lot about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. I’m just curious if that’s still going to be part of his messaging. Does he have any plans to meet with any Christian groups while he’s there? And why was the trip to Bethlehem scrapped?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure, I can cover that. Yes, he will address it on the trip. Right now, I think the meetings are as I read off. It’s mostly just the leaders — el-Sisi, Netanyahu, the President of Israel, and then the speech at the Knesset.
We are not planning to travel to Bethlehem, but it will be a topic that will be addressed both in private meetings and then in his interaction — I think. And when we talk to the press while we’re over there, he will talk about improvements and the changes to the process on getting relief to groups that are fighting the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the region.
Q Hi, this is Margaret Brennan, from CBS.
So two questions: When do you expect to have a proposal? I know you’re saying there’s no pressure, but I want to know the timeline on your peace proposal. And if you could talk a little bit about what the ask is of el-Sisi regarding the Americans who remain in prison there, and whether he’s going to talk about the upcoming election and allowing it to be an open one.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure, I’ll jump in first to answer your questions about a timeline. It’s probably the most-favorite question of every reporter. We aren’t setting any kind of deadlines or timeframes. There’s one thing I’m sure of in this job, is that any deadline we set, we will blow past. So I know everybody wants to know it, but unfortunately I can’t give it to you. When it’s ready, we will air it, I promise.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, Margaret. So I don’t want to get ahead of specifics that the Vice President may raise, but I think as you know, we have always made this a priority issue. We’ve talked about this with our counterparts in the Egyptian government, and we continue to do so. And we, as you know, in the past, have had success in working with the Egyptian government to release American citizens that have been detained.
Q And what about the election? Sorry, and the election and the question about Shafik running.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, I’m not going to get ahead of what the Vice President might talk about. But we always encourage the Egyptian government to work on having open elections. And this is something that we’ve commented on many times with them, and it came up in just recent discussions that we’ve had in setting up the trip.
Q Hey, it’s Jeremy Diamond. Hey, guys. So first of all, a two-parter here. First of all, on the peace process. With the Vice President now no longer going to the West Bank and with his speeches in Israel focused on the Knesset and emphasizing the Jerusalem decision, how is the Vice President going to address Palestinian concerns? And in what way will he tailor any of his messages to their concerns and the unrest in the region in the wake of the Jerusalem decision?
And a question with regards to Egypt, if you could talk about how the Vice President is going to address North Korea and that discussion with Egypt during his trip there. Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, sure. So the Vice President will reiterate what the President said in his remarks, which is that he is fully committed and dedicated to peace, which is the concern of the Palestinians.
I don’t think there’s anything more that needs to be said about that. We consistently message that we are here to reach an historic peace agreement, and we have lots of people working really hard here to reach that goal.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that one of the things that we have seen in the last several months is an unprecedented level of international cooperation on the isolation of North Korea.
Many, many, many countries around the world have either degraded their diplomatic relations or completely cut them off. And I think this is something that, frankly, is said in almost every bilateral with countries that have diplomatic relations with the North Korean or are doing any business with the North Koreans.
And so we absolutely raised this issue. President Trump raised this directly with President el-Sisi in the bilats that he has had with him. And I do believe this will be an issue that we’ll speak to the Egyptians about. And we are seeing the beginning of cooperation, not just from the Egyptians, but from many countries around the world.
Q Just quick follow-up. Is the administration currently satisfied with the level of Egyptian cooperation, with regards to North Korea? Or do you believe that there’s more that can and must still be done?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t want to get ahead of what might be raised in the meeting.
Q Hey guys, it’s Margaret on the call — the other Margaret.
Hi, guys. So can you talk about a couple of things? At one point, you thought there might be some tech-related announcement. I don’t think that’s on the schedule anymore. Is that off for now? And can you talk a little bit about, kind of, the surprise factor or the political calculus, in terms of whether the overall reaction is essentially what you guys had expected once you realized that President Trump was going to make the announcement prior to this trip. And is this what you planned for, or are you having to kind of react and reshuffle the approach as you go?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So on the tech side, there wasn’t a planned announcement. He was going to have a reception with some tech leaders and business leaders while we were in Israel. That won’t happen simply because of the kind of shorter schedule that we have. So there wasn’t going to be any kind of formal announcement coming out of it. It was just a chance for him to get some feedback and ideas while he was in the region because of his position in the Space Council.
But we’ll probably end up just setting up some sort of either follow-up call in the future or maybe a meeting here in the states if people are in town. But it’s definitely still something he wants to do in the future.
I can tackle the other one, unless my colleague wants to do it first. I would say that we anticipated this following the President’s announcement. I would say that we remained hopeful that meetings would still happen, and we’re pleased that the meeting with el-Sisi is happening. And I think that’s an important meeting. And as my colleague mentioned before, going to Cairo first — that being the first trip that the Vice President takes following the announcement — to Egypt, to the most-populous Arab nation, I think does send a message.
I would say that, as far as the meetings with the Palestinians, we put out a statement on that over the weekend that we felt it’s a missed opportunity. It’s again, them walking away from a chance to discuss the future of the region.
But I think my colleague can cover it more and has already talked about we are still committed to peace, and he will be there for meetings himself.
Q I just had a two-parter. Will the Vice President be visiting the Western Wall on an official visit? Or will he be visiting as a private citizen? And then does the Trump administration now consider the Old City to be part of Israel’s capital, given the recognition of Jerusalem? And then just separately, for your colleagues, does the Vice President plan to talk about foreign aid with these leaders in both Egypt and Israel? And does the administration see foreign aid — future foreign aid tied at all to participation in the peace initiative?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So as far as the visit to the wall, he is going to the wall as Vice President.
And then on the other question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I think we can’t envision a scenario under which the Western Wall would not be part of Israel.
Q That wasn’t clear. Sorry — can or can’t?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We cannot envision any situation under which the Western Wall would not part of Israel. But as the President said, the specific boundaries of sovereignty of Israel are going to be part of the final status agreement.
Q And so you consider — just to be clear on his visit, you consider that to be an official visit to the Western Wall since he’ll be going as Vice President?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. Ken, I’m sorry, did you have a question at the end there that we didn’t cover?
Q Yes, just separately for your colleagues on foreign aid. Does the Vice President plan to talk about foreign aid with the leaders? And does the administration view foreign aid as something that could be tied contingent to the peace process?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, Ken. I’m not going to, again, talk about what the Vice President may or not speak — or they discuss — after he meets with President el-Sisi and the other leaders.
I think that what we try to do with partners is work on the issues that we very much need to have an alliance on, including security and other issues. And of course, we’re talking with each of the leaders about peace in the region because it’s central to the future and central to American security, as well.
And we also have tough conversations about areas we may disagree and areas that have been covered in the past regarding military aid. I don’t think we like to talk about in the way the — in a demanding way, I guess is the way to put it. I think we have really honest conversations. We also have members of Congress who are watching closely what countries do when it comes to these different issues. And of course, we work closely with Congress on aid budgets, and these issues definitely come up and have come up, as you know, in the past in many of these meetings.
Q A question on Egypt, does the administration take a view on some of the security discussions going on between Russia and Egypt regarding basing rights and nuclear energy and so on?
Senior administration official, a question for you: Are the Palestinians still meeting you? They haven’t like cut ties completely, right?
And, senior administration official, I don’t know if off the record you can comment or just tell us whether there was any consideration given to going to Iraq or Afghanistan on the way home?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I couldn’t hear you. I’m so sorry. Could you just repeat that first part?
Q Sure, of course. I was just asking whether you take a view, the administration takes a view on the security discussions going on between Russia and Egypt regarding basing rights and nuclear energy and so on.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think you saw the — obviously, that Putin visited Egypt last week. They did discuss cooperation around nuclear energy. And I don’t want to get ahead of next week, but we certainly believe that we work incredibly closely and well with Egypt in the military partnership.
And Secretary Mattis had just been there two weeks ago, and they had a very good discussion about these issues.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And to my question, we have not met the Palestinians since the announcement. Of course, we continue to meet others in the region and Europe and elsewhere who are involved in the discussions, but we’ve not met the Palestinians since.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And we’re going to Germany on the way home.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right, I think we got everybody. Certainly, if there’s any further questions, we’ll be around, but I’m going to release my colleagues. I think if there’s any kind of final logistical questions, my colleague and I will stay on and —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I just want to say one, maybe, just closing thing, as many of the questions were how you balance working closely with an important security partner and a central partner in the region with many issues of concern around human rights, transparent elections, security partnerships with other countries, and how we think about that in the context of our support through aid and other things, I think Egypt, frankly, has been a country where we have really, I think, done a good job in balancing that — being very frank with our partners, being very honest, but also — and demanding certain things before we do continue to work with them in many areas.
But I also think we’ve tried to do this in a way that isn’t one that is not recognizing the important role that they play and how we work together.
And so I think that you’ve seen they’ve have been cooperating, certainly on the release of the detainee in Egypt — the American citizen in other areas. But we’re going to continue to press, while we work with them as a central partner.