THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hey, everybody. Well, thank you all for being here. We just finished a series of meetings, beginning with a very productive discussion with President Jóhannesson. We’ll be heading today to an important meeting with the Prime Minister.
But it’s a great privilege for me, as Vice President of the United States, to be here in Iceland, an ally of the United States, a founding member of NATO. But it’s especially a privilege to be here in the 75th year marking Iceland’s independence.
The relationship between Iceland and the United States is defined by an economic exchange in two growing economies, but also, it’s defined by a critical, strategic alliance that sees to the defense of both of our nations and at a time when the Arctic region is becoming more important, virtually by the day — when we see more Russian activity in the region; when we see more Chinese ambitions across the Arctic region.
The strong ties not just through NATO, but that have long existed between the United States of America and Iceland are more important than ever. And I’m truly honored to be here, to meet with the leaders of this nation.
It’s also, frankly, very humbling for me to stand here today at this historic place. A place where, in 1986, an American President walked down those steps and took a stand against not just a Soviet leader but a Soviet empire. And history records that that stand began an unraveling that saw the collapse of the Berlin Wall and, ultimately, the collapse of the Soviet Union.
This is a place that is important to the history of Iceland, but let me tell you, this is a place that’s important to the history of the free world. I saw that writ large just a few days ago, as I had the privilege of representing President Trump in Warsaw, with the leaders of some 40 other nations that celebrated the collapse of the Soviet Union, the endurance of the people of Poland, not just through World War II but through years of communist tyranny that would follow that.
Pope John Paul II’s speech on the square, where we stood just a few short days ago, began a process in Poland that then was accelerated by the stand that President Reagan took here in Reykjavik.
And to be able to be here, within days of where I had the privilege to represent my country in Warsaw, in that historic place, is deeply humbling for me. So I have a great sense of gratitude to Iceland for the role that you play in this part of the world. Gratitude to Iceland for the strong economic and strategic relationship that we enjoy today.
But I’m also — my heart is filled with gratitude for Iceland and for leaders, past and present, who continue to take such a strong stand for freedom in this alliance that’s so well remembered and celebrated in this historic place.
So, with that, I’d be happy to take a few questions. Please.
Q My name is Aline (ph) from Channel 2 News, Iceland. I wanted to ask if you think it was a mistake to close the military base in Keflavik in 2006, and what the U.S. intentions are in terms of military strategy here in Iceland.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I’ll be traveling to Naval Air Station Keflavik in just a few moments. And we’ll be talking to some of the personnel that are still rotating through that region. And I’ll be carrying back to President Trump the input that we have, as well as my conversation with the Prime Minister later today.
Look, the United States of America is absolutely committed to partnering with Iceland and ensuring that we have the resources and the personnel, in combination with Iceland, to provide for our security in this region. It’s absolutely vital, absolutely necessary. And we’ll be examining those very questions when we visit Naval Air Station Keflavik later today.
Q Mr. Vice President, does the Trump administration still stand with Prime Minister Johnson as he faces the Brexit turmoil?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: The United States of America stands with the United Kingdom in its decision to leave the European Union. That was a decision that was made by the people of the United Kingdom in a referendum, now the better part of three years ago.
I’ll be traveling tonight to London. I’ll be meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and discussing just that. I know there are literally votes underway in Parliament as we stand here today.
But the position of the United States is, we recognize this is a complex issue. During our visit to Ireland yesterday, we were reminded of the challenges that the Republic of Ireland faces, having a contiguous border with the United Kingdom. We remember the historic accomplishments of the Good Friday Agreement.
But make no mistake about it: America respects the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, respects the will of the people of the United Kingdom, and we respect and support the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union.
And we will continue to express that support and hope to see the European Union and the United Kingdom come together around that negotiating table that Prime Minister Johnson spoke of just a few days ago, and reach an agreement that will meet the needs of the aspirations of the people of the United Kingdom and also provide for an orderly — orderly Brexit.
AIDE: Last Question.
Q What action should be taken to address China and Russia in the area? Which steps should be taken? What action?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, first, let me begin by saying what I told the Foreign Minister today: The United States is grateful for the stand Iceland took rejecting China’s Belt and Road financial investment in Iceland. We truly believe that it is essential that we strengthen the ties that bind nations across this region of the world. And for Iceland to take that stand was an important step and one that we greatly welcome.
But there’s no question that China is becoming more active in the Arctic region, both economically and strategically. And Russia’s actions in the Arctic region are decades in the making, but they’re increasing.
So now is the time for us to strengthen our alliance, to strengthen our cooperation for security, and rejecting the Belt and Road Initiative, as Iceland did recently. But also, as I urge today — I encouraged Iceland to also recognize the profound issues that arise from any free nation, embracing the technology and equipment of Huawei. Huawei is essentially a Chinese company that, under Chinese law, is required to turn over all of the data that it collects to the Chinese government and the Communist Party.
And the reality is we don’t believe that that’s consistent with the security of free nations. We don’t believe it’s consistent with the privacy of people that enjoy freedom in nations like the United States and Iceland. And so, I urged the Foreign Minister today, as I will the Prime Minister, to join us in calling on nations across this alliance to reject that Huawei technology.
The United States is taking a strong stand on free and fair and reciprocal trade with China. We just had a new round of tariffs that we announced that were imposed on China. President Trump will continue to take a strong stand until we see China begin to open their markets and begin to recognize the international rules of commerce that govern the interaction between Iceland and America, and nations all across the globe. And we remain very hopeful.
But we’ll always put security first. We’ll always put preserving our security and prosperity as paramount. And Iceland’s stand and hopefully Iceland’s additional efforts in this regard, working with our military and making other decisions like that, which I encourage, will be a part of that.
Q What is that like with Russia though? I mean, what do you want the U.S. to do? What do you want this country to do when it comes to Russian incursion, as you guys have described it, in the Arctic?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Look, we’re standing in a place where a Soviet leader came together with an American leader at a time of great world tension. And what we had in the 40th President was a leader who was willing to draw a line and say: This far and no farther. When President Reagan and President Gorbachev, I’m told, walked out of those doors, Gorbachev said to him, “I don’t know what more [we could do].” And history records that Reagan said, “You could’ve said yes.”
Well, today, in 2019, America has another President who is absolutely determined to make it clear that we are with our allies, like Iceland; that we’ll stand shoulder-to-shoulder for our common defense, for our prosperity.
But we also have an American President in President Donald Trump who’s willing to take a strong stand, just as our 40th President did, and say to Russia that we are going to defend our security and defend our interests in the Arctic region. We’re going to work to build partnerships with nations like Iceland and all of our partners across NATO to ensure that the United States and our allies have our security preserved as more activity develops in the Arctic region in the years ahead.
But we also have a President in President Donald Trump who’s made it very clear to China that the days of massive budget deficits — in some years, 500-billion-dollar budget deficits between the United States and China — the days of intellectual property theft, and forced technology transfer, are over.
As President Trump said not long ago, the era of economic surrender has ended. And we have a President, as we did back in 1986, who is willing to take a strong stand. And while I recall that, in 1986, it created great concern around the world when President Ronald Reagan walked away from this place, but look at what happened: Communism fell. The Berlin wall fell. The people of Russia were able to shake off the scourge of communism. Eastern European nations were freed. And it was an extraordinary accomplishment in history, but it was all derived from resolved American leadership and what happens when freedom-loving nations stand together.
And I’m happy to say to the people of Iceland — our strong allies and friends for all of the 75 years since Iceland’s independence — is: You have such a leader in President Donald Trump, and you have such an ally in the United States of America. We’re with you.
So, thank you all very much.