2:05 P.M. EDT
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thank you very much. Thank you. I’m honored to welcome my new friend — we got along very well right from the beginning — Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to the White House.
Mr. Prime Minister, I want to begin by congratulating you once again on your tremendous victory in Italy. It was something that all the world was watching, and it excited the people all across Italy and, I can tell you, all across the United States, as well. Congratulations.
In your election, the Italian nation has reaffirmed the great traditions of sovereignty, law, and accountability that stretch all the way back to Ancient Rome. This proud heritage sustains our civilization and must be always defended.
Today, Prime Minister Conte and I are pleased to announce a new strategic dialogue between Italy and the United States that will enhance cooperation on a range of issues. This includes joint security efforts in the Mediterranean, where we recognize Italy’s leadership role in the stabilization of Libya and North Africa. They’ve been terrific.
Both the Prime Minister and I are focused on the urgent need to protect our nations from terrorism and uncontrolled migration. Our countries have learned through hard experience that border security is national security. They are one and the same.
Like the United States, Italy is currently under enormous strain as a result of illegal immigration. And they fought it hard. And the Prime Minister, frankly, is with us today because of illegal immigration. Italy got tired of it. They didn’t want it any longer.
The people of Italy have borne a great part of the burden for Europe through the course of the migration crisis. I applaud the Prime Minister for his bold leadership — truly bold — and I hope more leaders will follow this example, including leaders in Europe.
The Prime Minister and I are united in our conviction that strong nations must have strong borders. We have a solemn obligation to protect our citizens and their quality of life. My administration is working hard to pass border security legislation, improve vetting, and establish a merit-based immigration system, which the United States needs very, very importantly, very badly.
As far as the border is concerned — and personally, if we don’t get border security, after many, many years of talk within the United States, I would have no problem doing a shutdown. It’s time we had proper border security. We’re the laughingstock of the world. We have the worst immigration laws anywhere in the world.
In our meeting today, the Prime Minister and I discussed ways to enhance our cooperation in the fight against terrorism. That also has to do with border security. I want to thank the Italian people for Italy’s contributions to counterterrorism and operations in the coalition to defeat ISIS, where we’ve had a tremendous success, as you know, and in NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.
The Prime Minister and I also agree that the brutal regime in Iran must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon. Never. We encourage all nations to pressure Iran to end the full range of its malign activities. The United States welcomes the partnership of Italy in these vital efforts.
Today we are also addressing the crucial issue of trade and commerce. We are working closely with our European partners, including Italy, to ensure fair and reciprocal trade. A few days ago, I met with President Juncker of the European Commission. We had a great meeting. Following that meeting, we announced a breakthrough agreement to remove trade barriers and increase United States exports of agriculture, energy, and other goods and services to the European Union.
Now is also the perfect time to expand commerce between the United States and Italy. America’s booming economy — we’re setting records in so many categories — creates enormous opportunities for investment. Likewise, I recommend investment in Italy. It’s a great place with great people. I look forward to working closely with the Prime Minister to open up new commercial opportunities that will reduce our trade deficit substantially and increase our mutual prosperity.
Mr. Prime Minister, we discussed our shared goal of combatting unfair foreign trade practices from non-market economies. They’re brutal, but we’re winning. These abuses include subsidies, excess capacity, intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, currency devaluation and distortion caused by state-owned enterprises. In this area, like so many others, cooperation between Italy and the United States can make a tremendous difference not only for our countries, but all over the world. And it’s making a big difference, and we’re making a big difference — tremendous difference — on trade and on fairness. But we also have to be fair to the people of the United States and the taxpayers of the United States.
Mr. Prime Minister, thank you again for joining me for these important discussions. We are both outsiders to politics. Can you believe it? We are outsiders to politics. I look at all these wonderful politicians. And we’re both determined to protect the rights and needs interests and dreams of our citizens. And we will do that.
I look forward to partnering with you to build on the incredible friendship between our countries and to creating a brighter future for both the people of Italy and the people of United States.
And with that, I just want to again thank you very much for coming to the White House. It is my great honor. Thank you.
PRIME MINISTER CONTE: I wish to thank you, President Trump, for this kind invitation, for this warm hospitality, only two months after the formation of my government. I take it as a sign of the special attention to Italy and to me as well.
Donald, forgive me, but I don’t want to renounce the privilege for speaking in my wonderful language now.
(As interpreted.) Before all, I would like to remember with solidarity to all the families and all the members of the families, to the victims of the fires that took place recently in California. I’d also like to say a very, very affectionate hello to all of the friends from NIAF.
So our relationship is a very long one. It goes way back. And today we have strengthened it even more, and I’m extremely happy about this. And with this very fruitful encounter here at the White House, we have made another step ahead in order to intensify our cooperation, our work together, to make it even more adequate vis-à-vis the geopolitical, economic situation in the world.
From June 1st, there’s another element that brings us even closer, the United States and Italy. My government and the Trump administration are both governments that represent change. They were chosen by citizens in order to change the status quo and to improve their life conditions.
There’s so many things that bring us together, that unify us, in Italy as in the United States. We are doing what we had promised during our electoral campaign, and we are working in order to give answers to the expectations of our citizens so that we won’t disappoint them and we don’t betray our mandate.
In Italy, in the United States, we are proving that change is possible. Donald and I have concentrated on a number of topics, and we both have agreed upon and reached the following results, which, in part, were already mentioned:
Today, we will have made a great step ahead. We will start working in Italy. It’s a directorship booth, as it were, in the Mediterranean between Italy and the United States. I would say that we’re almost twin countries in which Italy is becoming a reference point in Europe and a privileged interlocutor for the United States, for the main threats and challenges that we have before us, terrorism, and for all the crises that we see in the Mediterranean and, in particular, in regards to Libya.
Secondly, the American administration also recognizes that Italy has a leadership role as a promoter country that will lead to the stabilization of Libya. And of course, this with the great respect for the Libyan population.
With the United States, we will be working in order to reach these results, and we will decide what needs to be done in view of this result. I am truly thankful to you, Donald, for your support.
Thirdly, in terms of immigration, I also described to President Trump the innovative approach that Italy has put forth. And the European Union now has a responsibility to not leave the weight of the management of immigration on the shoulders of the countries of first arrival, like Italy is.
And as you heard President Trump say, we appreciate this contribution which is provided by the Italian government, which is providing good results. We are talking about an approach — a multi-level approach in order to try to resolve the phenomenon of immigration — not because of an emergency, but because this is a structural approach.
I want to underline this is in line with the position of President Trump, which goes from the respect and dignity of people to make sure that fundamental rights are protected, and it wants to make sure that these rights aren’t trampled over, because these people are in the hands of criminal bands.
I also want to underline that the world day for the exchange of human beings is going to be celebrated.
I also told President Trump that I’m very satisfied for the understanding that was reached very recently between ourselves and the President of the European Commission, Juncker. I believe that this understanding is fundamental and that we start — we have to work upon it immediately, bringing our efforts together to make sure that European, American, Italian citizens receive the benefits of a more equitable trade relationship which is completely reciprocal.
And once again, as far as Russia is concerned, you know that Italy is favorable to a dialogue with Russia, but Italy also considers that the dialogue between the United States and Russia is fundamental so that we can have positive results in a more global perspective for stability and security purposes.
In terms of energy security, President Trump and I also found ourselves in agreement with the need to make sure that there is a greater diversification for the sources of energy and to make sure that the roots — the energy roots — are diversified as well.
And finally, I personally am sure that we can increase and improve the relationship with the United States at all levels, and in particular, in space and aerospace fields. We already have a great partnership between the Italian Space Agency and NASA, so we hope that aerospace will bring together American technology, Italian technology, so that we can launch new aircraft that cross the atmosphere and will be able to bring the United States and Italy together in an hour and a half.
This is a project that I’d like to speak in detail with the American administration. I thank you for your attention.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Maybe we’ll go with Saagar, please. Saagar Enjeti. Thank you. Daily Caller.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. To follow up on what you were saying about the shutdown, sir, are you saying that you would be willing to shut the government down in September if it does not fully fund $25 billion worth of your border wall and also deliver all of the immigration priorities that you listed in your tweet? Or are you leaving some room for negotiation there?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I’ll always leave room for negotiation. But this has been many years; this isn’t just Trump administration. We’re new. This has been many years, even decades. We have immigration laws. We have border security. We have all sorts of things going on that are — it’s disgraceful. We are doing a phenomenal job. We’re setting records. But we have laws that don’t work. So we’re working around those laws, and it’s unfortunate.
I have to take my hat off to the Border Patrols, for the law enforcement, to ICE, which really has been maligned by the Democrats. The job they do — they go into these MS-13 nests — nests of bad, bad people — killers, in many cases. And they go in there fearless, and they do an incredible job. And they get them out. They either go to jail or they get out of the country. So I want to just take my hat off to ICE and the brave people that have really been maligned by the Democrats.
We need border security. Without a border, as this gentleman can tell you also — because the Prime Minister really was — it was a very big factor in his win, and other people’s win in Italy — but it was a big factor in my win. We need border security. Border security includes the wall, but it includes many other things. We have to end the lottery. We have to end the chain. The chain is like a disaster. You bring one person in, and you end up with 32 people. We have to end these horrible catch-and-release principles, where you catch somebody, you take their name, and you release them. You don’t even know who they are. And then they’re supposed to come back to a court case, where they want us to hire thousands of judges. The whole thing is ridiculous. And we have to change our laws, and we do that through Congress.
So I would certainly be willing to close it down to get it done. As you know, we are already approving things in various bills, including we’re going to be taking care of the military. We always put the military and law enforcement very high. But I would be certainly willing to consider a shutdown if we don’t get proper border security. Thank you.
Q Sir, just to follow up on that quickly: Is the $25 billion a red line for you?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I have no red line, unlike President Obama. I just want great border security. Okay?
Q Mr. Prime Minister, here in the United States, amongst our commentariat, there was a consensus that the President’s appearance at the G7 and NATO damaged our relationship with those institutions. As a member of both of those institutions, what is your assessment of the President’s appearance at both?
PRIME MINISTER CONTE: (As interpreted.) Both at the G7 and NATO — at NATO, we had a very fruitful exchange of views and opinions and oppositions. I think that all the positions and stances — which are expressed with clarity and provide a contribution in order to review well-established positions — are more than welcome. There is a fruitful exchange. We had a fruitful exchange, both at the G7 Summit and at NATO Summit, in different frameworks.
We, for instance, in the framework of G7 Summit, we agreed on the need for reforming the WTO, the system of the WTO. It’s a years-old system, which considered China as an emerging country. You can understand that applying those same rules after years with the privileges granted to an emerging country clearly means having a system which is not well-functioning and it’s not well-rational.
At NATO, there was a clear stance taken by President Trump, which I personally share. Fairly, he expressed a position and the need to rebalance the expenditure, which is borne traditionally by the United States, which is very disproportionate. These are absolutely reasonable positions and stances, and I personally take them into great account. And I will be, personally, the carrier of the message, and I’ll try and make the others understand these positions, as well. We must negotiate with the United States to find the balance in the interests of Italian citizens, American citizens, and European citizens.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: We also, just to add to that — but I do want to thank you for what you just said, because it’s been very unfair to the United States. We had a very good G7 meeting. That’s where Giuseppe and I became friends. I think we were probably more closely aligned than anybody else in the room. But it was a great meeting. In every respect, I would say it was very good. And NATO in particular — I went to NATO, and NATO was essentially going out of business, because people weren’t paying and it was going down, down, down. You just have to look at the line. I came along last year, and in a fairly nice tone, I said, you got to pay. And they paid $44 billion more. And this year, I said it in a little bit stronger tone, and they’re paying hundreds of billions of dollars more over the years. And NATO will be strong again.
And if you speak to Secretary General Stoltenberg, I think he’s the biggest fan of Trump, because he said, “We couldn’t collect money until President Trump came along.” And he said, “Last year, we collected $44 billion, and this year the money is pouring in.”
But it’s like the Prime Minister said: We really — talk about imbalance — we were treated very unfairly. The United States was treated very, very unfairly. Because we’re shouldering anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of the cost of NATO. That’s not fair. It’s not fair. Especially when you take Germany, and Germany is paying 1 percent — a little more than 1 percent — and they’re buying and paying tremendous amounts of money to Russia. So we’re supposed to protect countries from Russia, but they are paying Russia billions and billions of dollars for the energy. Not good. Not a good situation. And I let it be known.
So the bottom line is, the NATO countries are now paying a lot more money, and NATO has become a lot stronger because of it. And I appreciate your answer. Thank you.
PRIME MINISTER CONTE: (As interpreted.) Sorry, Donald, may I add something? I’m saying that, as a person who has great — huge experience as a lawyer, you have a President who is a strong supporter and advocate of the interests of the American people and the American country. He’s a great negotiator.
And I’m told there is Maria Luisa Rossi Hawkins from Mediaset Group who wants to ask a question.
Q My question goes to President Trump. And the question is, sir: Despite its terrific potential, the Italian economy underperforms regularly. Given your stellar success in the U.S. economy, what do you think would reignite the Italian economy? And what role do you think the EU should play in it?
And, President [sic] Conte, do you think President Trump’s formula would work in Italy as well?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I can answer. The biggest thing Italy needs is great leadership, and they have it right now. I really, honestly, believe the Prime Minister is going to do a tremendous job on economic development, in addition to borders. You know, for economic development, you need borders also. But you have a man that’s going to do a terrific job. I have no doubt about it at all.
He knows how to sell. He knows how to promote, really, a great product, because they make among the greatest products. I won’t mention their names, but they are great. I have some of them. And Italy makes great product, and I think it’s going to do very well economically. And we’re there to help. We have had record numbers. I’ve been here for a little more than a year and a half, and we’ve had record numbers. We’ve had record — we’ve had numbers that nobody believed possible, especially if you look at one particular fact that was not reported very much. Trade deficit — $52 billion reduction in the trade deficit for the quarter. And I think probably Steve Mnuchin, Treasury, is here, and Mike Pompeo. I think nobody would have thought that would be possible so quickly. $52 billion reduction in the trade deficit for the quarter.
I think that Italy is going to be able to do the same thing. Slightly different numbers, but the same thing.
Q And what role should the European Union play in the matter, sir, in the re-ignition of —
PRESIDENT TRUMP: You’re asking me what?
Q What role do you think the European Union should play in the re-ignition of —
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, that’s up to them. I don’t want to get involved in that.
Look, the European Union — Jean-Claude and I had a fantastic meeting last week. We were having a hard time, and then I did mention tariffs on cars, and we got along very well. Very well. I think they’re going to treat us very fairly, and we’re going to treat them fairly. But as you know, it’s been a one-way street. The European Union has totally taken advantage of the United States. We can’t let that happen. Not fair to the United States.
And, by the way, Italy has a $31 billion surplus with the United States, meaning we have a $31 billion trade deficit with Italy. And we discussed that, and we’ll work something out. We’re going to work something out. Okay? Thank you.
PRIME MINISTER CONTE: (As interpreted.) As far as I’m concerned, I’m very envious — very envious of the records and the growth figures of the American economy. We discussed this before with Donald. Somehow, these are systems which cannot be compared because their magnitudes — orders of magnitudes which are very different. But at the same time, I’m envious but ambitious at the same time. As a government leader, I’m ambitious for my economy to do a lot — much more than what was done in the past. We are preparing a series of structural reforms, which we will be submitting to the attention of our European partners.
Two, I do not want the tax reform to be set aside. It was a leverage in this country for economic growth. And it, generally, it represents — if well constructed, it represents a leverage for economic growth. By working also on streamlining and simplifying red tape, administration regulations, we are trying to eliminate corruption pockets. We are trying to speed up the civil trials, the procedures — the proceedings. They are all sectors that, together with the citizenship income, which will support those people who lose their job to find a new one. These are all the reforms that we consider to be a positive element to represent an economic leverage for our country, which can then try and reach the growth.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I do think this: One of the biggest things that we’ve done — obviously the massive tax cuts, but maybe equal too — would be the tremendous cuts in regulation. And I know Italy well, and they have a lot of regulation, and I have no doubt that the Prime Minister, Giuseppe, will be working very hard on that.
But I think — Giuseppe, I can say from our standpoint, one of the most important things we did was cutting massively these horrible regulations. And I believe so strongly in the environment. I want the cleanest air, the cleanest water, the cleanest everything — the best everything. But you had 10 regulations for every point, in some cases. It was ridiculous. It would take many years to get a highway or a road approved. We have that way down. We have it down to two years, and it will hopefully be down to one. And it may get rejected. But at least it’s going to go quickly.
So we want regulation, but it’s got to be cut to a minimum and do the trick. And I think that Italy will follow suit. I know they’ve looked at it very strongly and they’re going to follow suit.
Okay? Thank you. Thank you very much.
Roberta Rampton of Reuters, please. Roberta? Hello, Roberta.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. You spoke a bit about Iran today and your discussions, and I’m wondering if you could tell us what you think Iran needs to do to reduce some of the tensions.
And you’ve met with the leaders of North Korea and Russia. Are you prepared also — are you willing to meet with President Rouhani? And under what conditions? And have there been any preliminary discussions about something like that?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I’ll meet with anybody. I believe in meeting. The Prime Minister said it better than anybody can say it: Speaking to other people, especially when you’re talking about potentials of war and death and famine and lots of other things — you meet. There’s nothing wrong with meeting. We met, as you know, with Chairman Kim. And it — you haven’t had a missile fired off in nine months. We got our prisoners back. So many things have happened. So positive.
But meeting with people — I had a great meeting, in my opinion. Of course, the fake news didn’t cover it that way. But I had a great meeting with President Putin of Russia. I think it was a great meeting. In terms of the future, in terms of safety and economic development and protecting Israel and protecting everybody, I thought it was a great meeting.
Great meeting with NATO. I just explained NATO. I just explained NATO. Hundreds of billions of dollars more money will be paid into NATO, the coffers of NATO. And much already has.
So I believe in meeting. I would certainly meet with Iran if they wanted to meet. I don’t know that they’re ready yet. They’re having a hard time right now.
But I ended the Iran deal; it was a ridiculous deal. I do believe that they will probably end up wanting to meet, and I’m ready to meet any time they want to. And I don’t do that from strength or from weakness. I think it’s an appropriate thing to do. If we could work something out that’s meaningful, not the waste of paper that the other deal was, I would certainly be willing to meet.
Q Do you have preconditions for that meeting?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: No preconditions. No. If they want to meet, I’ll meet. Anytime they want. Anytime they want. It’s good for the country, good for them, good for us, and good for the world. No preconditions. If they want to meet, I’ll meet.
Q Prime Minister, I wanted to ask if you and the President — you talked about the need to stabilize Libya. I wanted to ask if you and the President discussed working together on energy production in Libya in some way. Did you discuss oil production in Libya? Do you see a way for the United States to become involved there, perhaps with Italy’s help?
PRIME MINISTER CONTE: (As interpreted). We discussed the problem of stabilizing Libya and obviously of the security to be guaranteed for the whole of the Mediterranean area.
You see, it’s not only a problem of the migration routes. Many of the migration routes from African countries concentrate in the Libyan area. But it’s also problem of security in general. Because, for instance, through the migration routes, foreign fighters might reach the European territory, agents who could carry the terrorist threat.
We didn’t discuss in detail other problems. Certainly, it is our intention to respect the Libyan population. We are not driven by economic interest. We are not driven by the problem of energy supply. Our interest, and from this point of view, I can announce — but I already said that we are going to organize, in agreement with President Trump, I’m going to organize a conference on Libya. We would like to deal and discuss all of the issues relating to the Libyan people involving all of the stakeholders, actors, protagonists in the whole of the Mediterranean. We are going to discuss economic aspects but also social aspects; the protection of civil rights; the problem of constitutional process, of issuing and passing laws (inaudible) to enable Libya in particular to get to democratic elections in a condition of the utmost stability.
I’m told that Ilario Lombardo from La Stampa wants to ask a question. Thank you.
Q (As interpreted). I have a question to President — Prime Minister Conte, and then a question to President Trump. There are three pending issues on the table with the American administration. One of them is sanctions to Russia. Since Italy — the two main government parties in Italy said that they want to lift the sanctions on Russia, what’s the official position by the government, since the American administration is asking for these sanctions to be kept?
The other two points are the TAPI gas pipeline. The American department asked to continue with the work, while there are some ambiguous positions in Italy in relation to this project. And the F-35 program — what is Italy going to do? Will Italy confirm the program? Thank you.
PRIME MINISTER CONTE: (As interpreted.) I’m going to answer in relation to sanctions on Russia. I’m going to repeat what I said before because I’ve already taken a stance in all of the international summits. I’m going to be boring, but this confirms that the position of the Italian government is not changing in this respect.
We are open to dialogue with Russia. We do believe that Russia plays a fundamental role in all international geopolitical crises. So thinking that Russia can be kept out of a dialogue — as President Trump said, if we want to solve problems, we cannot choose the counterparts to deal with. We must accept and sit at the table, and negotiate and have dialogue with those who aren’t, in reality, our counterparts.
As far as the sanctions system specifically is concerned, I’m well aware and I said that a system stemming from the Minsk agreements as the outcome, and is connected to the implementation of the Minsk agreements — so it is clear that it is unthinkable today to lift overnight those sanctions.
However, exactly because we are open to dialogue with Russia, the positon of my government has been stated straight away is to make sure that the system of sanctions doesn’t affect the civilized — the civic society doesn’t affect the economy of the small- and medium-sized enterprises in Russia. Italy, from this point of view, has a tradition of intense economic relations with Russia, in this respect.
So in order to stress once again with a final statement: Sanctions against Russia are not, and cannot, represent an end.
Second issue: Trans Adriatic Pipeline. I discussed this with President Trump and I reported to him that my government is fully aware of the fact that this is strategic work in terms of energy supply to Italy and to the south of Europe and the Mediterranean area.
We are perfectly aware of the fact that this can provide a contribution also in the renewal of the energy system and the elimination of coal, which is part of our program. And at the same time, I correctly informed President Trump that there are some uncertainties by local communities, the communities where the pipeline will land.
Since problems must be faced directly, and not trying to avoid them, once back to Italy, as soon as possible, I will discuss the issue with the competent ministers and I will go and meet the local mayors, the local communities, trying to find a solution which will take into account the concerns of local communities.
As far as the third point is concerned, F-35, as you know — do you know this is a program which was decided in 2002 — that the agreements were signed in 2002? So it’s a big period of time in terms of talking about needs for defense and security. As a government, we are responsibly evaluating this file. As you know, there is already a process of orders being issued, which has taken place. And these orders are issued much earlier because the work is really complex.
So we will continue to follow this file, and we’ll make all the necessary choices in a very cautious way, in view of the needs of defense and security, being fully transparent with our partner, the Trump administration.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thank you very much. Sanctions on Russia will remain as is.
As far as a pipeline is concerned, I’d like to see a competing pipeline. So, Mr. Prime Minister, I hope you’re going to be able to do that competing pipeline. And we are already talking to the European Union about building anywhere from 9 to 11 ports, which they will pay for, so that we can ship our LNG over to various parts of Europe. And that will be more competition.
But the sanctions on Russia will remain as is.
Okay, thank you very much everybody. Thank you. Thank you.
PRIME MINISTER CONTE: Thank you.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thank you very much.
2:42 P.M. EDT