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Subject: Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on President Trump's Head of State Meeting with President Bolsonaro of Brazil

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
March 7, 2020


Via Teleconference

12:04 P.M. EST

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi, everybody. Thank you for joining. This call will be on background to a senior administration official, so any attribution needs to be marked as so. The call is embargoed until the conclusion of the call. We will have some brief remarks and a couple of Q&A. And with that, we can go get started.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you so much. So let me put this working dinner, which is what it’s going to be tonight, in context. Obviously, President Trump will welcome President Jair Bolsonaro to Mar-a-Lago for a working dinner, along with a group of advisors in this dinner.

To put it in kind of a greater context, you know, last year, we welcomed -- President Trump welcomed President Bolsonaro to the White House for a working lunch at that time. And there’s a historic list of deliverables that was announced at that time, many of which have now been followed up upon in this new historic relationship that the United States has with Brazil and the historic relationship, frankly, that President Trump and President Bolsonaro have.

Last Monday, President Duque from Colombia visited the White House, had a working visit at the White House. Last year, as well, he did. You all would be remiss to find -- and I don’t believe it's ever happened in history, whereby two years in a row, the President of Colombia and the President of Brazil were invited to the White House or, in this case, the White House (inaudible) working dinner to have meetings with the President of the United States at this level, which goes to show, really, the historic -- two things -- the historic relationship that the United States currently has with both Colombia and Brazil. And also, one of the things that brings us together is the nature of the crisis in Venezuela and, really, the -- as I said before in calls -- the fact that President Trump has been really the first President since the Cold War to raise an issue in the Western Hemisphere as a national security priority, which is what we're seeing with Venezuela, which is probably the worst
humanitarian and security crisis the Western Hemisphere has faced in modern times.

So I think that goes to show that, all around, regionally, just in the last year and a half, the President has had 13 -- 13 working visits with heads of state from the Western Hemisphere. That too is historic and unprecedented, which goes to show really the unprecedented engagement that President Trump has had toward the Western Hemisphere.

President Bolsonaro’s team will be following up with a visit to Washington, where more historic engagements will take place. We’ll be signing, with Brazil, and America Cresce energy and infrastructure finance framework during this visit that his team will then have to Washington. Brazil will be the eighth country with which we’ve signed one of these frameworks on energy and infrastructure finance, so almost a third of the region now has taken part in the America Cresce initiative.

But obviously, at the top of tonight’s dinner and discussion will be the crisis in Venezuela; will be, obviously, the economic relationship with these countries, which -- between both of our countries -- which will be followed up with this America Cresce framework signing, which is really important.

We will continue discussion. We're very eager to try to pursue and find an avenue for some type of trade deal with Brazil. Obviously, the issue of our commitment and President Trump’s commitment of support to Brazil on its OECD membership. As its last year, obviously we've already made Brazil a non-NATO member ally and kind of lifted its profile in that sense. We’d even like to upgrade that further in the next step of the NATO Alliance, per se. And we're even going to discuss issues of forest conservation and all of those.

But that kind of gives you a feeling of the breadth of the relationship. It highlights the importance of the region for President Trump. There's been a very consistent view of obviously, you know, kind of the concern of issues very far away that President Trump uniquely (inaudible) our foreign policy beginning at the Western Hemisphere -- not having the Western Hemisphere being an afterthought, as we've seen in previous administrations, but really having it be at the forefront of our foreign policy priorities.

The 13 engagements over the last year and a half alone and the two years in a row of engagements with Colombia and Brazil and the historic partnership we’re creating there really is a north-south axis -- you know, kind of just taking it from that regard, with what we're seeing in China, with the Wuhan virus and (inaudible). But obviously, those are issues that also concern, which will be discussed -- that also concern the relationship, but also highlight why it's important that our primary relationship, frankly, should be from the north to south.

I think the United States and Brazil are the anchors of that north-south axis, of that north-south relationship. The commercial ties, the supply chains, et cetera -- they're being north-south is good for our national security, it’s good for the economy, it's good for helping stem illegal migration flows. It's really a win-win all around for the region. And we’d really like to focus in on that north-south engagement, per se.

And finally, you know, it's kind of consistent with the President's view of the Western Hemisphere is this focus on, you know -- especially the Americas being for America, meaning, you know, all of us -- with a capital “A” -- for all of the Americas.

And it's really kind of a part of the Trump doctrine that you've seen already and heard of. He just mentioned at the Latino Coalition speech this past week, you know, that we have the opportunity for this to really be the first fully free, democratic hemisphere. And that's a goal that we all aspire to: the first fully free and democratic hemisphere in human history. That’s obviously an aspiration that we all have in that regard.

And I think that the other thing that we agree on and will continue to be fleshed out in the weeks and the months to come is in regards to the role of external actors -- really, kind of a Monroe 2.0 doctrine, whereby, you know, we’re no longer worried about the 19th century European colonialism in the Western Hemisphere, but there are still external actors, that, frankly, are incompatible with a lot of the values and the things that bring the entire Western Hemisphere together, meaning -- being mostly, obviously, the Chinese and Russian involvement in the Western Hemisphere.

We truly feel that the Western Hemisphere is the hemisphere of the Americas, for the people of the Americas, and -- first and foremost, per se. So I think that's also very important.

In regards to Venezuela, just one more thing: I know there's going to be consistent -- you saw, obviously, the action on (inaudible) trading by the President. I think in the days and weeks to come, there's going to continue to be escalation towards the maximum pressure that we seek and that we’ve set out as our policy. Hopefully, we don't have to get ever to 100 percent maximum pressure, but we are all dedicated, along with our allies -- Colombia and Brazil, in particular, but also the rest of the Lima Group members -- to achieve that democratic transition and free and fair elections in Venezuela.

As a colleague in the State Department recently stated, you know, this is a -- March has turned out to be -- gave it a good name of “Maximum-pressure March” because there is -- we're moving that direction and you’re going to continue to see actions in that direction.

So with that, I'll conclude and open the line for questions.

Q Hi, this is Jeff Mason with Reuters. Two questions for you. One, can you give us just a sense of how this meeting was set for this weekend, the reason for the timing here in Florida? And secondly, you mentioned that fighting forest fires would be one of the topics that might be discussed. Can you expand on that a little bit, given the President's, sort of, skeptical views about climate change?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, so in regards to the first question, obviously -- so President Bolsonaro was actually also going to be in Miami because he was going to be visiting South Com on Monday. And like I said, we'll be doing the signing in D.C. (inaudible) with the America Cresce framework so President Trump decided to host him in Mar-a-Lago for a working dinner. It is what ended up being the best and most convenient way for both leaders to get together, which obviously is something that they both sought. And it goes to show -- and it's another way to magnify the importance of this North-South axis of the United States and Brazil and this historic relationship between both.

To clarify on the second question, I didn’t say anything about forest fires. I said that both countries continue to work and have been working on forest conservation, which, you know, kind of as the United States -- we recently, at the World Economic Forum, have been working on this One Trillion Trees Initiative and things of the sort. I think, obviously, forest conservation is something that is important to all of us, but it's not something that we politicize, as we've seen actors that -- from other sides -- that have sought to politicize the issue. This is something that, obviously, we all want and we all seek. And it's a topic of conversation as is kind of our wide bilateral agenda.

Q Hi, it's Darlene Superville from the Associated Press. I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit more about the discussion that's going to take place around Venezuela. Brazil recently pulled its remaining diplomatic corps out of Venezuela and some consular staff. So, should we be expecting any kind of announcements or proposals out of the meeting with regard to Venezuela?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, I think this meeting, just like the meeting with a President Duque last Monday, continues to highlight the importance that the Venezuela crisis has for its neighbors, has for the United States, the scale of priorities in our foreign policy and our national security whereby the President places Venezuela, and the importance of us working in conjunction, particularly the three countries, towards a solution in that regards.

So we've -- we've really prioritized, kind of, the alliance of the three countries -- being, obviously, some of the biggest -- but as well as the rest of the Lima Group partners in having joint solutions.

But the crisis continues to escalate because of Maduro's recalcitrance, because of the continued repression, and because of the continued security threat that we viewed, essentially, as a narco state. We continue to see the narcotics flows being sponsored by the Venezuelan regime coming out of Venezuela; its continued harboring of terrorists -- Colombian terrorists; and, as affects the Brazilian border, its repression of indigenous groups -- of the Pemon Indians, in particular; and the actions taking place there across -- on the border with Brazil are all of great concern to us.

So we will always work with our Colombian and Brazilian allies on a solution to this crisis. But like I said, we are going to continue maximizing pressure. I've stated in different calls on Venezuela that I think we're somewhere around -- hovering on the 60 percent of where maximum pressure can get, and we'll continue to move in one direction. However all of that can change and can change dramatically if simply we were able to have free and fair internationally observed presidential elections in Venezuela.

So we all strive for a very simple goal and obviously at these meetings, I'll continue to highlight that. But let me be clear, and the President has been very clear: He actually stated it again this week that we have a lot of plans, there's a lot of coordination that is taking place, but that the Maduro tyranny, as which is -- I'm quoting from the State of the Union -- needs to be and will be smashed and destroyed if there's not a pathway towards free and fair democratic elections in the near future -- presidential elections in near future.

Q Hi, this is (inaudible) of BBC News Brazil. And my questions are: (Inaudible) timeline for negotiating a free trade deal between Brazil and the U.S.? And what would the timeline look like from the U.S. perspective?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So I don't have any announcements to make in that regard. What we do want and the President has stated before is that we are very interested in seeking some sort of trade deal with Brazil and we continue to engage with the government towards that goal. But that is definitely a goal. You know, we'll (inaudible) and we are continuing to kind of move all the wheels that need to be moved in that direction. We'll see, kind of, obviously, where today's conversation goes forward.

But I think the one thing that you can say for sure is that there's clearly political will, by both President Trump and President Bolsonaro to do so and to have some sort of trade deal done. We just got to continue to unstick, really, decades of unfortunate bottlenecks that have that have taken place to that end. But if any two leaders can do so, it's President Trump and President Bolsonaro.

As I have stated in the past, you know, no matter how friendly any previous U.S.-Brazil relations has been, they’ve never really been all that friendly. This is really a unique relationship here, between both Presidents, between both countries. We're seeing that in the international arena. We're seeing that in the commercial arena. We're seeing that in defense cooperation arena. And so, you know, we're going to continue to unstick those bottlenecks and try to move forward. But there is absolute political will to find what is complementary for both countries and what's best for both countries. And the question is: What would that look like and what would that (inaudible) or could it be some type of mini deal, with (inaudible) deal -- Japan, et cetera?

But we're going to continue working towards that end, but have nothing to announce at this time.

Q Hi, thank you for the opportunity. Is it possible to do (inaudible) with the help of Colombia and Brazil or other kinds of military actions between the countries? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, obviously, our defense cooperation with Colombia and Brazil are extraordinary and anything in the region that we do, we count on our alliance completely. As I said and I've stated in many parts, hopefully we never have to get to that goal. Hopefully, we never have to reach those measures in our maximum pressure campaign. But the President has stated, over and over again, that all of those measures are on the table and all of those options are on the table.

If I can -- going back to the previous questions on the economic side -- I mean, I think that it's very important to not recognize, not only just the importance of this relationship, but the magnitude of what some -- of what it means, in this kind of north-south, U.S.-Brazil relationship and axis.

I mean, these are the two largest economies in the Western Hemisphere. The United States and Brazil are the two largest economies in the Western Hemisphere. The first -- the largest economy in the world. And Brazil -- always hovering on the eighth or ninth; it’s always they're competing with Italy. So really the magnitude of this would be huge.

From a trade perspective, the challenge is -- then also becomes huge, not only because it's, you know, really -- past decades of a lot of conflicts have been on the trade side in bottlenecks that have risen, but they're also very complementary economies. So we're trying to be, really, as creative and thoughtful as possible -- just recognizing the sheer magnitude of what some of -- of what a more formal trade relationship with both countries would look like.

Q Hello, this is (inaudible). Thank you for doing this. I would like to ask: Who is going to be with President Trump on the U.S. side? And talking about Chinese influence in the hemisphere, I would like to ask you if you are concerned with the chance of having Chinese companies operating 5G technologies in Brazil? And is President Trump is planning to ask anything from both Bolsonaro, as regards 5G technology?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So at the dinner tonight with President Trump, on the U.S. side, obviously it'll be the President; the National Security Advisor, Robert O'Brien; the CEO of our Development Finance Corporation, Adam Boehler; Senior Advisor Jared Kushner; Senior Advisor Ivanka Trump; and myself.

And in regard to Chinese influence on 5G: Absolutely. That is our concern in the United Kingdom. It's our concern in Brazil. It's our concern in Canada. It's our concern throughout the world. This is a priority for us. We have stated to the Brazilians, obviously, the importance for their own national security, for the privacy of Brazilian citizens, what it would mean -- the shared impact that that would have.

We strongly believe -- and, look -- and clearly, for there to be strong defense and intelligence cooperation throughout, with Brazil, you know, having the Chinese penetrate the 5G network, particularly through Huawei, would become a huge impediment. That’s just a fact -- an unfortunate fact. It's already having an effect in our relationship with the United Kingdom, and we've seen news reports and open source, obviously, about how that all needs to be recalibrated because of our concerns.

So this is really an issue of national security for us, and it should be an issue of national security for Brazil. Clearly, Brazil would not want the Chinese, through Huawei and other means, to endanger the privacy of civilian citizens nor of the national security infrastructure through their penetration of these networks.

Q Hi, this is Mario Parker with Bloomberg News. You mentioned upgrading the status with -- in regards to NATO. Can you explain that more? Are you looking for fully allyship there or full membership there? Can give a little bit deeper explanation there?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. Yeah, so there's -- the next level up is association, which -- the only other country in the Western Hemisphere that has kind of an association agreement with NATO -- a non-member association agreement with NATO -- is Colombia. So that would be, kind of, the next step up.

I know it's been discussed and it was discussed at the visit last year about Brazil having -- and the President had even mentioned about having it become a full-fledged NATO member. That's something that would really be historic and would change, really, a kind of international dynamic. And so I wouldn’t -- that’s nothing I would discard.

In the chain, though, the next kind of level and the next step would be an association agreement, similar to what Colombia currently has.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right. Thank you, Moderator. That will be it, everybody. Thanks for joining. We'll have a transcript of this call out later today.

In the meantime, if you have any follow-up questions, feel free to check in with me. And again, this call is embargoed until the conclusion of the call and all attribution is for senior administration officials.

Thank you very much.

END 12:29 P.M. EST


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