James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:21 P.M. EDT
AIDE: Hi. Just want to restate the ground rules. Today’s briefing is off camera, on the record, and the audio is not for broadcast. It is embargoed until the end of the briefing.
And with that, I will turn the podium over to —
Q Can you make this on — can you make the audio available? Because it puts radio at a disadvantage.
AIDE: It is off camera, not for broadcast. Those are the ground rules.
And now I’m going to turn it over to General H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn. Thank you.
GENERAL MCMASTER: Good afternoon, everybody. Next Wednesday, President Trump will depart on the second foreign trip of his administration. He will travel first to Warsaw, Poland to meet that country’s leaders and speak to the Polish people. He will continue on to Hamburg, Germany for the G20 and for meetings with many world leaders.
While this trip is short, the agenda is packed. I’ll run through the objectives and the schedule, and then turn it over to Gary, who will walk you through the President’s agenda for the G20.
First of all, the primary objectives are three: To promote American prosperity, to protect American interests, and to provide American leadership. These three objectives tie together every engagement President Trump has with foreign leaders, whether here in the White House, as you saw with the strengthening of our strategic partnership with India during Prime Minister Modi’s visit on Monday and we’ll see tonight and tomorrow with the strengthening of our alliance with South Korea during President Moon’s visit.
Additional objectives for the trip include, first, to strengthen American alliances. America First, as Gary and I have stressed in the past, does not mean America alone. President Trump has demonstrated a commitment to American alliances because strong alliances further American security and American interests.
While there are no official NATO meetings on this trip, the President will meet with many NATO leaders, and he will reiterate both America’s commitment to NATO’s common defense and his expectation that all countries share responsibilities and burdens for that defense. We’ve seen countries strengthen their defense budgets in response to the President’s call. When we all do more, our alliance becomes stronger and our countries are all more secure.
Second is to reassert who we are. Traveling to Europe, especially to Central Europe, which had its identity forcibly submerged for so long, is a great way to demonstrate what binds us together not just as an alliance, but as people. America has been influenced by many nations, but we share Europe’s commitment to liberty and rule of law in particular.
Third is to continue to forge a common understanding of threats. We saw the President make great progress in Saudi Arabia on denying terrorists safe havens, cutting off their funding, and discrediting their perverted ideology. He’ll continue to build on that work while also addressing other threats, including attempts by revisionist powers to subvert the global order that undergirds our common security and economic prosperity.
The fourth is to develop a common approach to Russia. As the President has made clear, he’d like the United States and the entire West to develop a more constructive relationship with Russia. But he’s also made clear that we will do what is necessary to confront Russia’s destabilizing behavior.
Fifth is to expand economic opportunity for Americans. Did I skip — I think I skipped — no, okay. Again, I’ll let Gary cover most of this, but from a foreign policy perspective the President’s goal will be to make clear, even to our allies, that America cannot tolerate unfair trade and economic practices that disadvantage our workers and our industries. We’re prepared to act where necessary, but we hope to resolve our differences in ways that benefit all sides and are based on really a drive toward reciprocal trade and economic relationships.
The sixth is energy. We want to create robust, open and fair markets that drive economic growth and leave no countries hostage to energy-market manipulation. We are committed to the energy security of our allies and partners, and to the diversification of energy sources, supplies and routes. The President’s America First energy plan will help us achieve all of these objectives.
The seventh is environment and climate, which Gary will cover as well.
Now, just a brief look at the schedule. In Poland, the President will meet with President Duda, the leader of a staunch NATO ally and of a nation that remains one of America’s closest friends. He will speak to 12 Central European, Baltic, and Western Balkan leaders at the Three Seas Conference. His remarks will focus on infrastructure development and energy security, highlighting, for instance, the first shipments of American LNG into Poland earlier this month. He will also meet with Croatian President Grabar-Kitarović who is the co-host of the Three Seas Conference.
Then he will give a major speech to the Polish people at Krasiński Square, epicenter of the 1944 Warsaw uprising against the brutal Nazi occupation. He will praise Polish courage throughout history’s darkest hour, and celebrate Poland’s emergence as a European Power. And he will call on all nations to take inspiration from the spirit of the Poles as we confront today’s challenges. He will lay out a vision, not only for America’s future relationship with Europe, but the future of our transatlantic alliance and what that means for American security and American prosperity.
I’ll let Gary cover the details of the G20. I’ll just note that while in Hamburg, the President will meet with many world leaders, including Chancellor Merkel of Germany, the host of the G20, Prime Minister May of the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Abe of Japan, President Moon of South Korea, President Xi of China, President Putin of Russia, President Peña Nieto of Mexico, President Jokowi of Indonesia, and Prime Minister Lee of Singapore, among others.
With that, I’ll turn it over to Gary.
MR.COHN: Thank you. Thank you, H.R.
Let me go through the G20 quickly, because there’s a lot of overlap with what H.R. just talked about. I won’t go through the individual meetings but I’ll touch on the major broad themes here.
The President’s primary objectives of these meetings is to work with our partners to jumpstart the world economy. Economic growth around the world has been far too weak for far too long. It’s important that leading economies of the G7 take steps in their own countries to strengthen economic growth, but also to work together to address economic challenges that cross all of our borders.
Here at home, the President has embarked on a strong pro-growth agenda featuring deregulation, tax reform, and infrastructure investment. On the trip, he will support G20 countries continuing to proactively use all the tools at their disposal — monetary, fiscal, and structural — to strengthen growth in their countries. Importantly, the G20 also needs to do more to address global imbalances, especially from overcapacity in industrial sectors.
Which brings me to trade, and I’ll repeat something H.R. said: On trade, no less than on alliances, America First does not mean America alone. The goal of U.S. trade policy is to expand trade in a way that are free and fair. Insisting on fair trade is the best way to ensure the long-term strength of the international trading system. We look forward to engaging in free and fair trade with the G20 economies. The United States stands firm against all unfair trading practices, including massive distortions in the global steel market and other non-market practices that harm U.S. workers. We ask the G20 economies to join us in this effort and to take concrete actions to solve these problems. But let us be clear: We will act to ensure a level playing field for all.
On energy, the President remains committed to working with world leaders and private sectors on sound environmental policies and on innovative technologies. We have been mindful of the fact that, while renewables have a role to play, we cannot achieve the growth or anti-poverty agenda we want without strong contributions from clean fossil fuel technologies which, in the United States, is a global leader.
On climate, the President looks forward to discussing his decision to leave the Paris Agreement with the other G20 leaders. He’ll make clear that he has decided to leave the agreement because it was a bad deal for the United States, but that he is open to reengaging in the agreement or a new agreement if it makes sense for the American people.
Another focus of the G20 will be famine and other global crises. We are focused on the crisis in South Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen, and Somalia, and recently announced that the United States would provide more than $329 million in additional humanitarian assistance in this crisis — bringing the total U.S. humanitarian assistance here to nearly $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2017. The United States is one of the largest donors of humanitarian assistance here. The assistance we provide represents the best of Americans’ generosity and goodwill. It will also improve our national security by helping to stabilize insecure regions while building strong relations with nations and people around the world.
Finally, the United States is pleased that the G20 will have a focus on women’s economic empowerment. We believe that gender equality and women’s empowerment is vital in today’s labor market. We are advocating for more equality and equal access to the workplace, financial services, and the labor market with quality employment for women and men all throughout the world.
With that, General H.R. McMaster and myself are happy to take your questions.
Well, that was quick. (Laughter.)
Q Hey, Gary. A couple of questions for both of you. One on Russia and one on climate. Can you talk about the meeting with President Putin? What are the President’s objectives in that meeting? And will he bring up Russia’s interference in the 2016 election? Either of you.
GENERAL MCMASTER: Well, there’s no specific agenda. It’s really going to be whatever the President wants to talk about. And that’s — and he will talk with many other leaders during the conference as well.
Q And does he want to talk about election interference? Is that something he plans to bring up?
MR. COHN: We don’t have an agenda set up for these meetings right now. As you know, these meetings are a week away. We’re still finalizing schedules. So agendas for meetings have not been set up at this point.
Q Just on climate, I want to get you on that. Because Angela Merkel is now saying that she is not going to overlook tensions with the U.S. when it comes to the Paris Agreement. You noted just now, and the President has noted, he wants to renegotiate this Paris climate deal. In what concrete ways does he expect to do that, given what it took to get the deal in the first place?
MR. COHN: Well, look the President has been very clear on climate and on Paris. He cares very much about the climate. He cares about the environment. But he has to enter into a deal that’s fair for the American people, the American workers. He’s done everything he’s done based on job creation, economic growth in the United States.
Q Then what will he ask for?
MR. COHN: He’s going to ask for a fair and level playing field. We cannot be in a position where the United States is cutting and cutting emissions while other countries continue to grow until 2030. That doesn’t seem like it’s a fair and level playing field. We want a level playing field, just like everything else. We’re looking for fairness across the board in the agreement.
Q Can I ask you about the Russia meeting a little bit, to follow up on that? Do you see that as a full-fledged meeting, as a bilateral, like we’ve been reading that the President wants? Or is it just a pull-aside? What’s the format of the meeting?
MR. COHN: Well, look, in the G20 meetings as a whole, the world leaders are gathered. We will have pull-asides, we’ll have bilaterals. As I said, the schedule is being formalized right now. We would imagine that the countries that H.R. talked about, we would be planning on bilateral meetings. But they’re during the G20 meetings. So these are not long, long meetings. These are bilateral pull-asides during the G20.
Q I want to follow up. Gary, in that sense — because Merkel, May, Abe, Moon — they all fall into a category where the President has had meetings with them before. I would assume you would have a formal agenda. Putin is different from that. Is the Putin one going to be a separate bilateral — 10, 20, 30 minutes — not just something that is a chance encounter in the context of the G20? That’s what we’re trying to drive at, that it doesn’t fit into this other category. You have to —
GENERAL MCMASTER: Indonesia is in that.
MR. COHN: Indonesia is in it. Singapore is in there. There’s countries at the G20 that, yes, we have met with before, some we’ll meet with tonight for the first time, and there’s other that we will have a second or third meeting with, and they’re the countries that are important to us because of economic relationship, military relationship, a lot of different reasons for us having meetings with them. There will be a more formal schedule as we get closer. But I think you should assume that most of these countries we’re going to have sort of bilateral meetings set up in advance — probably not a formal agenda of what’s on the schedule, but a formal agenda of what time these meetings will happen in a bilateral situation.
Q — for Russia, as well?
MR. COHN: Yes, yes.
Q So the President has laid out to NATO countries some of the things they need to do vis-à-vis meeting their 2 percent GDP investment in defense. Does he have a similar set of things to ask Moscow, to ask Putin — to say, we need to see you do these trust-building measures before we can normalize relations?
GENERAL MCMASTER: Well, our relationship with Russia is not different from any other country in terms of us communicating to them, really, what our concerns are, where we see problems in the relationship, but also opportunities. Secretary Tillerson, obviously as he does with all countries in the world, has the lead for that and has been engaged in a broad, wide-ranging discussion about irritants, problems in the relationship, but also to explore opportunities — where we can work together in areas of common interest.
So it won’t be different from our discussions with any other country, really.
Q Given the assaults on press freedom by the ruling party in Poland, the Law and Justice Party, is the President concerned about assaults on a free press, and former communist countries backsliding as it were? And do you think that making this the first — making Warsaw the first stop on the President’s trip to Europe might send the wrong message, that he endorses such assaults on a free press?
GENERAL MCMASTER: I don’t think there’s a danger of that at all. I think Poland is a clear choice for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s one of our staunchest allies. It is a NATO ally that will meet and exceed its pledge to go over 2 percent from the Wales conference. It is in many ways a front-line NATO nation in connection with threats on the Eastern flank. It is a country that has partnered with us and had been a great ally during combat missions in Afghanistan and in Iraq, as well. And so this will be — the President will emphasize themes about the past, what Poland has gone through as a nation, what they’ve achieved to fight to be part of Europe. He’ll talk about what Poland is doing now and how our relationship can be strengthened in that context.
But what he’s really going to talk about I think is also the future — the future of America’s relationship with Poland, with Europe, the importance of transatlantic relationships generally. In the economic context, what Gary has talked about, which is free and fair trade, access to energy.
And so there are a lot of important things for us to emphasize in connection with the future of our relationship with Poland and with Europe.
Q Does any of that have to do with attacks on free press and free expression in Poland?
MR. COHN: So let me just answer the question in G20 terms as well, because it’s interesting — in the G7 as well as the G20, we go through these arduous communiqué writings. And we as Americans have fought very vigorously to protect intellectual property rights and to protect freedom of speech in Internet. And we’ll continue to do that. We’ll continue to defend that. We did it in the G7 communiqué; we’re going to do it in the G20 communiqué.
So that’s just where we stand.
You back — the young lady. Yeah, you.
Q Thank you.
MR. COHN: No, behind you. The young lady.
Q I wanted to ask you about this — the comments you made about steel. As you know, they were expecting an omnibus trade deficit report by the end of the week, and there’s also this ongoing 232 investigation by Commerce and Treasury. That seems to tee you up perfectly for a conversation with China and Japan about trade deficits. Do you plan on releasing that information ahead of the G20 and presenting it there?
And then, secondly, on LNG, if you could just talk about — will the President be offering or brokering any additional deals to backstop European needs in that respect to get them independent from Russia and a reliance on Russian energy?
MR. COHN: So I’m not sure when the Commerce Department is going to release their final report on the steel industry and what’s been going on there. They have been working on it for quite some period of time, so it’s in draft or final drafting forms. They will be delivering it to the White House at some point.
But the premise of that report will — we will use that as an opportunity to talk with many of our trading partners around the world. What’s going on in steel — I mentioned steel in my remarks specifically, because if you look at the G7 communiqué, there has been consensus among our G7 allies that there is overcapacity and there’s dumping in steel. So I think there’s uniformed consensus among all of our G7 allies that we do need to deal with the steel problem specifically.
On LNG, what the President is committed to do is the President is committed to have a deregulated environment here in the United States where LNG facilities can get licensed, we can license more pipeline systems so we can be in the business of exporting LNG. It’s not the President’s job to broker LNG supply contracts. It’s the President’s job to make sure that the U.S. authorizes facilities to be built in the United States because they need federal approval. And then once those facilities are built, hopefully those facilities enter into long-term supply contracts around the world. Because, uniquely, the rest of the world needs something we have, which is our huge supply of LNG.
Eamon, in the back.
Q Thanks, Gary. If you could, could you give us your sense of the state of the relationship between the United States and Germany right now? We’ve had a couple of smallish flash points recently. We see reports that Chancellor Merkel might be preparing to press the U.S. on Paris. We see this moment where Secretary Ross was cut off in mid-speech. How do you see the relationship right now between the United States and Germany?
GENERAL MCMASTER: Okay, the relationship with Germany is as strong as ever. And, of course, there are going to be differences in relations with any country, and we’ll talk frankly about those differences. The President enjoys those conversations.
But what we should remember about a relationship with Germany and other allies is that we agree on 95 — at least — percent of the key issues, and we’re cooperating every day on those issues. That cooperation, I think, is stronger than ever, and really our common concerns in security in economic development — in our relationships economically.
So I think that — to answer your question, the relationship is as strong as ever.
Q Do you see that as a snub of Secretary Ross?
Q Yes. In terms of —
MR. COHN: We’ll get you next.
GENERAL MCMASTER: We’ll get you next. Go ahead, sir.
MR. COHN: Go ahead.
Q So in terms of the North Korean question, what more do you think that the President and this administration can do to pressure China? It seems like you have come to the point where you’re realizing that China is not going to do more without more coercion, so what more can you do on that front?
And then a second question, with regards to Russia: Do you feel like the President is taking seriously the question of Russian meddling in the 2016 election? And do you think — and what has he done to actually address that issue, which a number of senior U.S. officials have raised as a threat on U.S. democracy?
GENERAL MCMASTER: So, first of all, on North Korea and China’s relationship with us and with others and working on the North Korea problem — there are really three key things that came out of the Mar-a-Lago summit that I think are critical for us to build on.
It shouldn’t really be about pressuring China, it should be about working with China in our common interests. The first big thing that came out of Mar-a-Lago was a recognition that a nuclear-armed North Korea with long-range missile capabilities is a threat not only to the United States, not only to South Korea and Japan, but also to China. And there was clear acknowledgement by both parties, the United States and in China on that.
The second is a recognition that while China’s political influence with the regime might be limited, that they have tremendous coercive power in connection with the economic relationship and the trade relationships with North Korea. So China acknowledged that there is a lot that they can do in connection with convincing the North Korean regime that it’s in their interest to denuclearize.
And the third is critical — is that we agreed on a joint objective of denuclearization of the Peninsula. That’s a solid basis to work together on. There’s a lot more to be done, however. The President has told all of us — he has said that he will not tolerate a North Korean regime that can target the United States, that can reach the United States with a nuclear weapon. He just won’t tolerate it.
So what we have is a commitment to deliver to him a broad range of options and to do our best to work with everyone, including China, on this. So it’s not a question of pressuring China. It’s a question of working with China to do more about this problem so it doesn’t get to everybody wants to avoid.
Q Are we doing enough?
GENERAL MCMASTER: Well, I mean, none of us are doing enough. I don’t think China is doing enough now because the problem is not resolved. So the question is, how much more must we do together to address this, short of a military solution. So that’s the kind of discussions that we’ll continue to have with Chinese leadership as we work together with them — not pressuring them — but working with them.
On the second point on Russia. The President has asked us to work together across all departments and agencies to do, really, three things: to confront Russia’s destabilizing behavior — whether it’s cyber threats, whether it’s political subversion here in Europe and elsewhere — in the Balkans now. So confront Russia’s destabilizing behavior and to come up with a strategy to do that.
The second is to deter Russia, right? Because the worse thing — nobody wants a major power war, right? And so what is it that we have to put in place to be able to deter conflict.
And then the third thing is to foster areas of cooperation. What are the areas that we can identify in which we can work together with Russia, which is clearly in both of our interests? And there are a lot of problems in the world that fall into that category. North Korea, for example, is one of them; the fight against transnational terrorist organizations is another. So the need to deescalate the Syrian civil war, to defeat ISIS there, and to end that humanitarian catastrophe.
And so these are areas of discussion, again being led extremely well by Secretary of State Tillerson, and that will continue to be the focus of our Russia policy and strategy.
Q Okay, thank you, sir. You mentioned that the President will be speaking with the President of Poland. Will he also meet with other leaders of Polish political scene? And this speech in Warsaw is really highly anticipated. So what is the main message the President wants to deliver to the people of Poland?
GENERAL MCMASTER: Yeah, the main message is that America is with you, America understands that its interests align with the interests of the Polish people, and we are determined to do our best to work together on our common priorities and our common interests.
Across the three areas — the three main themes that I mentioned at the beginning — which is, first, to protect our security — this is Polish security, American security, our common security; to promote prosperity in terms of economic growth and development, and economic growth and development in a way that protects the environment, that advances our interests in the economic energy realm. And the third is to provide American leadership — American leadership to help connect Poland broadly, to keep Poland connected to what they fought for for so long, which is to be part of Europe. And for American leadership to be associated with the Polish-American relationship, the American-European relationship, and transatlantic relations generally.
MR. COHN: And, yes, he’s speaking to other Polish leaders. I’ve got to run to Energy Week. I’m on a panel at 2:00. I can take one last question.
Q Thank you, Mr. Cohn.
MR. COHN: You’re welcome, sir.
Q Very quickly, is the IMF going to come up at all when the meeting is held? During the IMF World Bank meeting earlier this year there was considerable discussion that there’s been nothing said from the administration about the IMF and whether the U.S. would continue the same policy which directly connects us to the bailout in Greece.
MR. COHN: Look, I don’t think the IMF directly will come up during the G20. The IMF will be there. They’re one of the participants at the G20. That said, I’m having discussions with IMF leadership, and we’ve got very amicable discussions with IMF going on.
Q Madam Lagarde?
MR. COHN: Yes. Okay, thank you, everyone.
GENERAL MCMASTER: Thanks, everybody.
1:48 P.M. EDT