The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 29, 2019
BACKGROUND PRESS CALL
BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS
ON PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP'S
TRAVEL TO THE NATO LEADERS SUMMIT
11:04 A.M. EST
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I just want to thank everyone for being here today, Friday after Thanksgiving.
Just up front, this call is going to be on background, attribution to a senior administration official, and there will be an embargo on the contents of this call until it's completed.
Here's the run of show for today. Our first -- our speaker will be [senior administration official], and he will provide an overview of the President's trip. And I will follow with an overview of the President's key events and bilats. And after that, we'll take some questions.
So with that, over to you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, and thanks everyone for listening in. This is a celebratory Leaders Meeting, in many ways. The President is greatly looking forward to it. This is the most successful alliance in history. It remains instrumental in guaranteeing the security and prosperity and freedom of our allies.
The President, as you know, has been committed to making NATO stronger and ready to face today's threats and tomorrow's challenges. This is why he places such an emphasis on encouraging all allies to live up to their commitments and increase defense spending, in line with their Wales commitments.
I have to say, for a priority that United States has had for -- since at least the 1960s -- the President has been spectacularly successful. Since he has taken office, the Allies have added over $100 billion in new spending. In 2016, only four Allies spent 2 percent of GDP on defense. Now, there are nine, and following through their implementation plans to get the 2 percent, we expect there to be eighteen by 2024. This is tremendous progress, and I think it is due to the President's diplomatic work.
However, there are continuing challenges that NATO needs to face: China, above all. China is actively seeking a great presence and more influence across the globe, including in NATO's area of responsibility. It is offering cheap money, cheap investment, and critical infrastructure, including ports and electricity grids. It is seeking to trap nations in debt, and thus bring diplomatic concessions that way. And it is looking to undermine the rules-based international order and skirting, in some cases, (inaudible).
5G, as you know, is another area where NATO has to be vigilant. This is a priority of the President. Trading security of our telecommunications networks and privacy of our personal data for savings is not in any of the Allies’ interests. This is an issue we continue to socialize and raise with our NATO partners, and we will certainly be discussing it at the summit today.
Lastly, while we welcome our European Allies doing more and spending more on defense, we have to continue to socialize that EU defense initiatives not undermine or duplicate those of NATO, and that procurement and defense industrial issues are open to United States and U.S. companies.
We are stronger together. The transatlantic relationship is in a very, very healthy place. And I think that will be the message, loud and clear, at this 70th anniversary of NATO.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, thank you. Before we go into Q&A, I just want to provide an overview of the President's key events and bilateral meetings. So -- and I will speak slowly so that folks can take notes.
On Tuesday, December the 3rd, the President will have a working breakfast with NATO (inaudible) -- with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg. We will be having a bilateral meeting with President Emmanuel Macron of France, and we'll be going in that evening to the NATO Leaders Reception, hosted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
On the 4th, we are looking at the official welcome ceremony. The NATO Leaders Meeting Plenary Session, a bilat with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, and then a working lunch with representatives of the following nations: Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Bulgaria, and the United Kingdom.
Additionally, we're looking at meetings with Prime Minister Frederiksen of Denmark and Prime Minister Conte of Italy. And I just want to -- I just want to also caveat that we are also working on additional bilats, and those will be announced once they are confirmed.
Okay, that's all I have. And so at this time, Operator, I'll go and hand off you for moderating Q&A.
Q Hi, thank you. Christina Anderson. Thank you for doing this call. Kristina Anderson, AWPS News. Last week, the NATO ministers voted to declare space another domain, along with the other standard domains: air, land, and sea, and cyber. Will there be discussion about space as a domain and the framework to promote cooperation between the NATO Allies going forward? Will this take place at the Leaders Meeting also? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, Christina, thanks for that. No, I think this is a really interesting and exciting point. As you know, the President has stressed space as a domain in his administration. NATO's adaptation of it is one more example of NATO addressing new challenges. We have already been discussing with our Allies how this works, how this looks, some of the conceptual issues. I expect -- yes, I expect that it will come up during the Leaders Summit.
Q Good morning. Thank you for doing the call. This is Dmitry Kirsanov with TASS. I wanted to ask if there will be a discussion at the NATO Summit about (inaudible) relations with Russia. And if that's going to be the case, and if President Trump is going to raise this issue during his bilats what is he going -- what is he planning to tell his counterparts? Thanks so much.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, thanks, Dmitry. I suspect NATO's relationship with Russia will certainly come up. You know, none of NATO's measures are intended as a threat to Russia. For example, you know, the four NATO battle groups in the eastern part of the Alliance are relatively modest in size and can't compare to the very large conventional ground forces that Russia has on the ground. Those are fully in line with our international commitments.
By contrast to NATO's defensive and proportionate deployments, Russia has shown a consistent disregard for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors. It is no wonder that so many countries are concerned about Russian threats to their security. Certainly that will be something that will be discussed at the Leaders Summit.
Q Hello, this is David Alandete, from ABC Spain. I wanted to ask about President Trump's position towards those countries that are the ones that are paying less for defense. (Inaudible) nation -- the case is specifically of Spain, Italy, and Belgium. And I wanted to know if Mr. Trump is expecting to meet with these leaders or is he going to push these less-investment countries towards spending more in the coming years? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the President, as you know, is going to be engaging a number of different leaders. For example, Germany is not paying 2 percent of its GDP in defense. And he will certainly be meeting with Chancellor Merkel.
I would point out though that even among most of the states that have not hit the 2 percent threshold, they are making progress. For example, Germany has added over $14 billion in new spending since 2016. For the first time -- Ambassador Grenell told us this a few days ago -- has announced a plan to reach 2 percent.
So we think those are marks of progress. But, of course, in that meeting, the President will be urging Germany and other countries to do more.
Q Thank you.
Q Hi, can you hear me?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q Yeah, hi. Thanks for the call. This is Sebastian Smith with AFP. Just a bit more on the Russia question. Does the President -- is he thinking more along the lines of what Emmanuel Macron seems to be saying, that Russia is no longer really the priority for NATO? Macron wants to look more to the south and to terrorism-type threats. Is Russia still a threat for NATO? Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think Russia will be an issue of interest and concern at the NATO Leaders Summit. While we have, I think, successfully worked to adapt NATO to address new challenges -- as you point out, like terrorism; and as I mentioned earlier, like China and 5G -- the territorial threats to sovereignty, as well as hybrid threats posed by Russia, are an issue a deep, deep concern for many Alliance members, and indeed for us. And certainly -- certainly that will be a high priority at this Leaders Summit.
Q Thanks so much.
Q Hello, it's David Charter from the London Times. May I ask: There's no bilateral you've announced with Boris Johnson of the host nation. What's the reason for that, please? Is it something to do with the election? Was that a UK request? And is President Trump actually going to appear at a press conference?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, David. As I mentioned, we're continuing to develop our bilats and that we’ll update accordingly.
Q Press conference?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Stay tuned. We might have more for you on that as it goes forward.
Q Yes, this is Mario Parker with Bloomberg News. Wondering if there'll be any bilat or other interactions between Trump and Erdogan, and what the President's message to him will be at the summit, particularly given the S-400 activation.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks for that. So we are not doing as you know, Erdoğan -- President Erdoğan was just here a few weeks ago. The President spent several hours in direct diplomacy with him then. We do not have a separate bilat scheduled for the NATO Summit. I suspect President Erdoğan will hear from many Alliance members that -- their concern over the activation of the S-400 radar.
We have been very, very blunt with him that that radar is inconsistent with Turkey's duties as a NATO member, and particularly its participation in a bilateral sense in the F-35 program. That message will be reinforced across the Alliance.
Q Thank you.
Q Hey, it's Tom Howell from the Washington Times. I just want to know if you're going to spend a lot of time on 5G technology, pushing for nations to resist Huawei, things like that -- if you can just give me a sense of whether that will feature.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. You know, the -- this has been a major push of ours. We are absolutely going to insist that our NATO Allies use trusted and reliable partners -- providers in their 5G networks.
This is not something they want, where they want to allow the Chinese Communist Party to be able to siphon off their citizens’ data or entry into their networks at all. So this is a very, very high priority for us. And the President's going to reiterate that message.
Q Hi, this is Lucía Leal with EFE News. I was wondering if there -- the President is planning to have any interactions at all with Prime Minister Sánchez of Spain. And secondly, President Macron said recently that the NATO was in a state of cerebral death. I was wondering if President Trump agrees with that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, there. You know, we are not currently scheduled, as my colleague noted earlier, to have a bilateral meeting with Spain, though we continue to engage them at a high level outside of this event.
With regard to the second part of your question, you know, there is a 70-year history here of the United States -- at least a 60-year history -- of the United States urging its Allies to pay more in the Alliance. There is concurrently a 60- or 70-year history, as Secretary Pompeo noticed, of contentious actors, (inaudible) France, with NATO. That is part of having Alliance of 29, soon to be 30, democratic nations. But I think, underneath all of the democratic politics hurly-burly, the Alliance members are fully in accord on the goals of their shared commitments in this institute, absolutely.
So, I think we take this as part of the hugger-mugger of democratic politics with the Alliance.
Q Hi, can you hear me?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I sure can.
Q Yes, I am (inaudible) from Sky News Arabia. I want to follow up on Turkey. You said that Erdoğan will hear from several members during this summit, their concern regarding the S-400. But also, there are several issues with Turkey: their invasion to northeast Syria, and we saw this exchange of statements between them and the French leader. To what extent do you think that issues of Turkey would be present during this summit?
And also, the second question, please. I want just to make sure that I have all the bilateral meetings that you mentioned. Can you repeat them, please? On the second day, especially. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: [Senior administration official], do you want to repeat the bilateral meetings?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. Ma'am, if you could just send me an email, please. I will be happy to clarify that for you on the second question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. Okay. So, on the substance here. Diplomacy is a game of addition, not of subtraction. That is a facile way of saying that the Alliance is stronger with Turkey -- fully in sync with Turkey, than out of sync with Turkey. That underpins the President's diplomacy with the Turks, and it underpins all of our desire at the very top level, which you saw leading up to the October 17th ceasefire, when the President sent most of his senior national security officials out to Ankara to negotiate with Erdoğan and his Cabinet on a ceasefire in Turkey -- in Syria, rather.
We believe that ceasefire is still holding. This is -- this has been widely confirmed. We are working with the Turks to allow humanitarian access to the area, to that box; to maintain security at the ISIS detention facilities; and to impose order and accountability on those proxy forces -- the TSO -- that the Turkish armed forces support, engage with.
So all of that to say, I'm not going to speak to the bilateral Turkey-France back-and-forth. But our approach on Turkey -- and I believe, which is shared by the vast majority of NATO members -- is very clear: direct engagement, working out the tough issues, holding them to their commitments.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Operator, we have time for two more questions.
Q Hi, this is Jordan Foster, with ABC. Can you hear me?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, sure can, Jordan.
Q Hi, thanks for doing the call. I wanted to ask: President Trump is often viewed as a disruptive force within NATO. But this year, President Macron has sort of been competing for that title, many observe. So I was wondering if you could speak to the, kind of, special bond between the two men. And going into this NATO Leaders Meeting, how do the two men relate to one another? Do they see themselves as sort of a unified force working for change? If you could speak to that relationship a bit?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, I think they have a great deal of respect for each other. You know, the -- they have different -- they have different priorities for the Alliance. The President wants to make it stronger and the burden sharing more equitable. I think President Macron is still, kind of, working out what he wants out of the group.
But -- but I think they have a healthy level of respect for each other. That will come out in their bilateral conversation; indeed, it comes out in every conversation they have.
We were saddened by the loss of 13 French soldiers recently in Africa as part of the great work the French do on CT missions elsewh- -- and other things outside of NATO down there.
But in terms of Macron's participation in NATO, I would simply refer you back to the Secretary's comment that the, kind of, one or two standard deviations removed of normal of Alliance discourse that sometimes we hear is really just well within the standard of democratic politics, and indeed of democratic politics at NATO over the last 60 or 70 years.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Last question, please.
Q Hi, there. It's (inaudiblr) with the Sunday Times. I wanted to shore up on a question about Mr. Trump and Boris Johnson. There's an election coming up in Britain. And I just wonder if the President has been briefed and warned not to speak about it. The Prime Minister today has said that he -- even though the President has said nice things about him in the past, that he should not endorse or say anything about the Prime Minister. Is that something that the President has been aware of, that he should avoid talking about the general election while he's in London? And is that a reason why there's no bilat currently scheduled? Or is that something you're still working on? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, that's something we're still working on, as my colleague noted earlier. I would point out, the President is very conscious -- he doesn't need briefings from us -- of the fact that we do not interfere, wade into other (inaudible).
Q He has said things in the past, though. I mean, he gave quite a splashy interview with The Sun about Theresa May the last time he was there. Is that a concern? Is that something that, you know, has come up that he should stick to?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. He's well aware of this. He also, as I suspect you know, likes Boris Johnson -- Prime Minister Johnson, personally. But he is absolutely cognizant of not, again, wading into other country's elections.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. Thank you very much. We're out of time, as we have to transition. Thank you, everyone for your time today. And this -- the embargo is lifted. And we will follow up with any details on bilats. Thank you so much.
END 11:31 A.M. EST