BACKGROUND PRESS CALL
BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS
ON PRIME MINISTER ABE’S VISIT TO THE WHITE HOUSE
12:04 P.M. EST
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi. Today’s briefing will be on background. You may quote the official as a senior administration official. With that, I will turn it over to our senior administration official.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thanks, and hi, everyone. So just before we get started with Q and A, I’ll just say a couple words. I think that in the first few weeks of the Trump administration, you can see the importance that President Trump has placed on our alliances in the Asia Pacific. Alliances, in his view, are central to our security and prosperity. At the end of the day, America is great because of our alliances, and the U.S. recognizes that we have tremendous interests across the region. The President has already spoken to several of his counterparts across the region, including Japan and Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
I joined Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on his first trip as Secretary of Defense to Korea, as well as to Japan last week, and Secretary Mattis’ words and deeds, I think, really went a long way toward reassuring our allies that we stand with them, shoulder to shoulder, 100 percent, and that we’re seeking to strengthen what are already longstanding and major and important alliances.
So it’s really in that light that Prime Minister Abe is visiting, arriving tonight in Washington for a visit that’s going to stretch into the weekend. He is only the second head of state to visit President Trump since his inauguration.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Minor clarification. Minor clarification. Wouldn’t he be more properly described as a head of government?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you — because of the emperor. So, and he is also — or is it because of the Queen actually, in the UK?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, right, exactly. And Theresa May is head of government and — right.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I hear you. So it’s not the first time that he’s met Prime Minister Abe. Prime Minister Abe was the first leader to (inaudible) President Trump after the election. They’ve had already a number of conversations, and I think that that really makes clear the importance that the President is placing on that relationship and on the U.S. role in the Asia Pacific region.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right, are you ready for questions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. Let’s open it up.
Q Hello? Hey, sorry, the operator was talking, I couldn’t hear. It’s Margaret Talev with Bloomberg. Thanks for doing the call.
First of all, just hoping you can walk us through his schedule. What time is the news conference? What’s happening tomorrow versus Saturday, yadda yadda? I also am wondering if you can address — do you expect any deliverables and/or any reportable developments on nuclear power, on high-speed rail, or on anything bilateral trade-ish, TPP-ish?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right, okay. So I think you’re going to get the precise schedule through my colleague’s office. So I’m not going to go into extreme detail just out of fear of giving you bad —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: To clarify that, you’ll get it through main press.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But just some of the highlights — the Prime Minister and his delegation are going to meet with President Trump in the Oval Office tomorrow. They are going to have a conversation that’s going to cover a very wide range of subjects dealing with the bilateral relationship, the security piece of the relationship, as well as the economic, and also talking about matters of mutual interest regionally and globally as well.
After that, there is going to be a working lunch. It will be a slightly larger grouping of people. And that lunch will probably delve more deeply into the economic piece of the relationship. And from there, the President and the Prime Minister are going to travel down to Palm Beach, where the Prime Minister and his wife will be guests of President Trump for the weekend. And I imagine that there will be a fair bit of golf involved, as well as more time together eating and just relaxing really down at Mar-a-Lago.
Q News conference?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The second part in terms of deliverables — I’ll leave it to the Japanese to talk in more concrete terms about what might be announced in the way of concrete deliverables on the economic side. But I can tell you that the U.S. and Japan represent together 30 percent of the world’s GDP. We share an interest in sustaining a strong global economy, ensuring financial stability, and ensuring job growth in both countries. And Prime Minister Abe is well acquainted with President Trump’s priorities, which you could sum up in three words — jobs, jobs, jobs — when it comes to the economic relationship.
And so I think that they’ll have pretty in-depth discussions about the overall relationship as well as reaffirming the interest in seeing a free and rules-based trading order in the region. But I’ll leave it to you and your colleagues in the press to extract from the Japanese any concrete deliverables that might come.
Q My question is about whether the Senkaku Islands will be on the agenda and whether President Trump, given his track record of being willing to break from previous U.S. policy, would be considering taking a different position on the sovereignty of the Senkakus, particularly in light of his effort to create leverage in negotiations with China.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Got it. Brian, good to hear your voice. So on the Senkakus, the standing U.S. policy has been that the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, Article 5 of that treaty does apply to the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which we recognize as being administered by Japan. That certainly is the Trump administration’s policy, as well. And I can — I would expect certainly for you to hear on that subject and in fairly concrete terms that President Trump is committed to that treaty and it extending. We oppose any unilateral actions that would seek to undermine Japan’s administration of the islands.
As for the question of sovereignty, that is really something that I would not expect to see addressed in this visit.
Q Thanks for doing the call. I wanted to get a question on color that shapes how Prime Minister Abe became the recipient of this sort of informal summit, the first of this President, how that came about, and whether or not that means that the President will have more sort of unfettered time to talk about issues in a sort of different context than he would in the White House.
And then I didn’t hear you address whether there would be a news conference — to Margaret’s question.
And just lastly on the question of trade, kind of dovetailing with what Brian was asking with respect to China, are there things on the agenda that would allow the Trump administration to move forward with the Japanese on any sort of bilateral trade agreement that would supplant TPP?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Got it. Okay, so in terms of color about how this summit came about, I think that it was a natural result of the foundation that was laid before the inauguration with Prime Minister Abe’s early visit. And it was the natural result of the President’s belief that our alliances are central to our success, both in terms of security and prosperity in the region.
As to whether there will be other meetings that follow a sort of — a casual format, or what you call “unfettered” time together, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case. The President does have a — believes in getting to know leaders that he knows he’s going to be spending a lot of time dealing with. And on relationships that are important to him, he believes he can get the measure of the people through more informal settings. And so I imagine that he’ll make use of time outside of Washington, D.C., with leaders from time to time.
As for a news conference, my colleague can confirm, but, yes, there will be a press conference tomorrow after the — I believe it’s after the meeting in the Oval Office.
And on trade discussions, the President I think has made pretty clear that he believes that bilateral agreements are really the way to go for the United States, that in a bilateral agreement you can negotiate terms that are more favorable to the United States than you can negotiate in a multilateral agreement, where sometimes you’re held to the standard of the weakest link in the compact.
So I’m not going to get ahead of discussions tomorrow to see where discussions go. But I think that this is a first — it’s really a first summit since they’ve come into office, so they’re going to be talking on a pretty wide range of subjects and certainly touching on possible paths forward with relation to the overall economic relationship. But we’ll leave it at that.
Q Thank you so much for the call, guys. And thank you for giving me an opportunity to ask a question. What I wanted to ask you is, there is a certain attempt to forge closer ties between Japan and Russia. There has been recently a meeting between President Putin and Prime Minister Abe. And we see a general — I don’t know if I want to use the word rapprochement between the two countries — well, certainly something like that is taking place. I wanted to ask you — does the Trump administration have any objections to that? Or do you encourage that? How do you view those bilateral attempts between Russia and Japan? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks very much. We certainly understand that Japan, as a neighbor of Russia, puts high importance on its own bilateral relations with Russia. And the United States respects that and isn’t seeking to interfere with Prime Minister Abe’s priorities in his dealings with Russia. But I’ll leave it to Prime Minister Abe and his government to talk in detail about that bilateral relationship.
Q I wanted to ask if you had any specific item that the President is expected to push Prime Minister Abe on. For example, currency manipulation does seem to be a subject of those around him that has been stressed throughout TPP negotiations from the Republican side. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, I mean, the President’s comments the other day about currency manipulation weren’t the first comments he’s made about his views on that subject. I think that over the course of a long weekend together, the two leaders are going to cover a pretty broad range of subjects. I don’t think that’s necessarily a — I can tell you that’s not something that’s at the top of the list, but whether it comes up naturally in conversation, we’ll see over the course of that meeting.
Q Hi, this is Kyle Cardine from Fuji TV. First, I wanted to ask, yesterday Sean Spicer said he would take the question in regards to who was paying for Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Mar-a-Lago. And also we have one more from our bureau chief.
Q Hi, the President the other day said that Japan is sending hundreds of thousands of cars with big ships, but U.S. cannot sell its cars in Japan. But, in fact, there’s no importing tax in Japan, and also the Japanese car manufacturing companies are creating a lot of jobs here in the United States. How do you respond to this kind of Japanese government opinion?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m sorry, the line went a little fuzzy just at the end of your bureau chief’s question. I’m sorry, if you could repeat that.
Q My question is, the President said the U.S. cannot sell its own cars in Japan, but, in fact, there’s no importing tax in Japan for U.S. cars. And also, the Japanese car manufacturing companies are creating a lot of jobs here in the United States because they are producing most of the cars in the U.S. How do you respond to this kind of Japanese government opinion? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. Okay, so on who’s paying for the visit, I’d defer to Sean Spicer to get back to you on that, since I’m not directly involved with the logistics. I’m sure that whatever arrangement was made —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can address that. The visit to Mar-a-Lago is a personal gift of — I don’t know exactly how we’re phrasing it, but it’s something that the President is doing for the Prime Minister.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Got it. And on your second one, I would really — what I’d like to do is defer to my colleague who’s actually working on the economic piece in more detail than I am on this visit. And he’s not on the line, so my excuse to dodge the question — the import tax. But automobiles is certainly going to be an important topic of conversation in both directions, because it’s such an iconic and critical part of the Japanese economy. It’s of high interest to President Trump. And I’m sure that that will come up in discussion.
Q Hey, it’s Olivier Knox at Yahoo! News. I have a couple for you. The first one is, unless I missed it, the President has not yet spoken to Xi Jinping. Is there, beyond the sort of symbolic importance of this, are you sending a deliberate message by doing that? And then, specifically for you, what’s the President’s position in terms of North Korea in terms of a six-party-like approach or unilateral pressure?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So in terms of — you’re right that the President Trump has not spoken with President Xi Jinping. The two have exchanged letters. Xi Jinping had sent a congratulatory letter on the day of the President’s inauguration. And President Trump yesterday sent a letter to Xi Jinping really to wish President Xi and the people of China a happy Lantern Festival — the Lantern Festival is on Saturday. I recommend you going and getting those soup dumplings somewhere in the D.C. area — (laughter) — which is fun to do. And, of course, a prosperous and healthy year of the rooster, as well.
The President, in his note to Xi Jinping, stated that he believes that having a constructive relationship with China would be something that would serve the fundamental interests of both of our countries and really the region in the world more widely, and that he does look forward to discussing matters of mutual cooperation, as well as delving into some of the well-known differences in the relationship. So they are in contact.
To your second question about six-party talks and the like, I’d say that it’s right now premature to detail a North Korea strategy on the part of the Trump administration. And in time we’ll have more that we’ll be prepared to say about that. Japan and the United States both strongly urge North Korea not to take provocative acts. And, of course, were they to do so, that would be information that would feed into and inform a Trump administration approach to the DPRK.
Q The Japanese I’ve spoken with since the campaign have obviously been quite nervous about some of the rhetoric that they heard from the President back on the campaign trail about paying more for the bases and wouldn’t mind perhaps if Japan and South Korea built their own nuclear weapons. What is — how is the President going to assure Prime Minister Abe that the United States truly has its back and that there’s no need for the Japanese to worry that the United States isn’t going to be there for its defense?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. I think the way he’ll do it is both in words and in actions, and those words and actions are already taking place.
Secretary of Defense Mattis, who the President had asked to visit the region, made very clear statements about the strength of the alliance, that these alliances and our commitment to them are unwavering and really the cornerstone of prosperity, security and freedom in the Asia Pacific region.
So I think that you’re going to hear similar messages from the President himself. And I think that that will go a long way towards dispelling any doubts that may still remain, or Japanese and Korean and friends and other friends and allies throughout the region.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. Thank you for doing that. Thanks, everybody, for joining. We appreciate it.
12:30 P.M. EST