Roosevelt Room

1:49 P.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, thank you all for being here.  It’s my great honor to welcome the Board of Directors of the Council of Americas board here to the White House.

We’ll be discussing the priority of the Western Hemisphere.  For this administration, it is a priority that was reflected in my travels last year, when President Trump directed me to travel through South America.  Our administration has been engaged on security issues, on economic issues, on advancing freedom across our hemisphere, and will continue to be.

It was my great honor to represent the United States of America at the Organization of American States earlier this week, but also at the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru.

And it’s a great honor to be able to welcome great leaders of this outstanding board, representing some of the leading business interests across the Americas.  And it’s an honor to welcome you here on behalf of the President.

Now, let me say, though, that this is a momentous week for America on the world stage.  Yesterday, the world watched as President Donald Trump kept his word to the American people and withdrew the United States of America from the deeply flawed Iran nuclear deal.

The American people awoke today to the encouraging news that, thanks to the President’s strong leadership, three Americans are on their way home from captivity in North Korea, and the President and I will be welcoming them to the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base later tonight.

And today, I trust, is one more example of President Trump’s commitment to demonstrate each and every day that America first doesn’t mean America alone; that we are committed to advancing the interests and the ideals of the American people across this hemisphere and across the wider world.  We will continue to do so in a way that reflects the engagement of the United States of America on behalf of the interests of our country.

I want to thank Chairman Gluski for the hospitality today, but also for welcoming key members of our Cabinet to the Council of the Americas presentation yesterday.  And as I said at the OAS earlier this week, our administration is focused on advancing prosperity, security, and freedom of people across the Western Hemisphere.  When it comes to freedom and democracy, the United States of America is standing with freedom-loving people who are suffering as we speak in Venezuela, who continue to struggle under the weight of tyranny in Cuba and Nicaragua.  We will continue to stand for freedom and stand up to their oppressors.

Now, when it comes to security, we’ve been strengthening our partnerships with nations across the region to combat organized crime, root out corruption, stop the flow of illegal drugs and dangerous criminals across our hemisphere into our own country.

We’ve also been working to advance economic growth all across the new world.  And the business leaders gathered here give evidence of that and of the partnership between the American people.

It’s extraordinary to think that the United States is the top trading partner for this hemisphere.  We are, by far, the single largest source of foreign direct investment in the region.  And President Trump and I remain committed to finding ways that we can forge even more successful, more prosperous, more free and fair trade relationships across this hemisphere.

Today is really a meeting about hearing from business leaders across the Western Hemisphere about how we can continue to strengthen the ties that bind us in this new world.  But let me say, at our very core President Trump and I, and our entire administration, are committed to a vision that this is to be a hemisphere of freedom.

As I said at the OAS earlier this week, we are going to continue to work to expand economic freedom, to expand political liberties all across this hemisphere so that the ideals of those that have carried this nation forward, and the people that have fought for freedom across the Western Hemisphere throughout our history will finally be realized when we can say that every nation in the Western Hemisphere cherishes and upholds freedom and democracy.

With that, Chairman Gluski, I’d welcome you to share a few words, and welcome.

MR. GLUSKI:  Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President.  And thank you very much for hosting this luncheon.  The Council of Americas is an organization that for 50 years has been promoting understanding among the countries of this hemisphere, from Canada down to Tierra del Fuego.  We very much are aligned with spreading, let’s say, the ideas of freedom at an individual level, freedom for countries, better relations, better commercial relations, as well.

So on behalf of everyone in the Council of the Americas, I want thank you for your personal leadership, coming to the Summit of the Americas, and for the great participation that we’ve had in our conference over the last couple of days.

So thank you very much.  And I’d like to pass the word to Susan Segal.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Susan.

MS. SEGAL:  Thank you very much, Andrés.  Thank you, Mr. Vice President.  Thank you for hosting us today.  Thank you for your support yesterday.  And thank you for your commitment to the hemisphere.  This, as far as we’re concerned, we believe firsthand that North America, South America, the hemisphere can be the most competitive region in the world.  When you think about the demographics, you think about innovation, you think about the opportunities for trade and integration, we have such an opportunity.

And freedom in Venezuela is critical.  We need to fix Venezuela.  But the opportunity in Latin America for the United States and for Canada is just enormous.

And so thank you again, Mr. Vice President, for being here, for looking very carefully at NAFTA, and the support in what happens there.  But thank you so much for hosting this lunch.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  You bet.  Susan, thank you.  And, Andrés, thank you so much.  And to all the members of the board, I look forward to a great discussion.  I can say that we are continuing good-faith negotiations over improving the North American Free Trade Agreement.  We remain very hopeful that we’ll be able to achieve that end.

But make no mistake about it, this President and this administration believe that the Western Hemisphere is now, and always should remain, a priority of the United States of America in advancing prosperity across this hemisphere, economic growth, and the advance of freedom and democracy as a priority for this administration.

So thank you all for being here.

Q    (Inaudible.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  The United States of America will not stand idly by while Venezuela crumbles into dictatorship and oppression.  As I said at the Organization of the American States, we are calling on the Maduro regime to restore democratic institutions, to set aside this sham election that is approaching in the coming days, to restore democracy in their country, and to open their nation to humanitarian aid.

When my wife and I traveled through the region a year ago, we met with a handful of some of the 2 million people who have fled their home country of Venezuela because of deprivation and starvation and hospitals not having basic medical needs.

President Trump is absolutely committed to doing what is necessary, working with our allies in this region, to restore democracy in Venezuela, and will remain focused.

Q    Mr. Vice President, this administration seems to be very committed in helping countries such as Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba.  But what about countries such as El Salvador, where the violence with gangs seems to be increasing?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Last year, our administration hosted a conference in Miami on just the issue of the Northern Triangle.  We brought together nations from across the hemisphere to find ways that we can focus new resources on restoring security and restoring civility and, ultimately, economic growth in the Northern Triangle.  It remains an enormously important priority for us.  Obviously, corruption and crime drives transcontinental migration, as well.

And so, make no mistake about it, beginning with the conference last year, we’re continuing to work in very close concert with allies across the region to, again, advance the principles of honest government and safety and security, and we’ll continue to pursue that.

Thank you all.

END

1:59 P.M. EDT