Subject: Background Press Call on the Arms Trade Treaty

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
April 26, 2019


Via Teleconference


** 1:34 P.M. EDT

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, everybody. Thanks for joining. We've got a short call today just to go into a little bit more detail on the announcement the President made. I'm joined today by [senior administration official], as well as [senior administration official].


This briefing will be done on background. Attribution is to a senior administration official. And the contents are embargoed until the end of the call. We will start, and I will pass off to [senior administration official] to lead us off.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, thank you very much. As many, if not most of you know, a short time ago, the President announced that he does not seek -- does not intend to seek the ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty. He signed a letter asking the Senate to return the treaty, and he announced that the United States, in the coming days, will submit to the Senate the -- excuse me, to the United Nations, the appropriate paperwork to revoke the signature of the United States from the treaty.

The Arms Trade Treaty was signed by the United States in September of 2013 under the prior administration. It entered into force in December of 2014. The prior administration waited until December of 2016 to submit the treaty to the U.S. Senate. It currently has 100 states-parties, but other countries that are not a party to the treaty, you include 17 of the top 25 exporters of arms, including countries such as Russia and China -- which gets to one of our concerns about the treaty: It does not -- the United States already has significant controls in place to regulate our conventional arms transfers. Other countries do not. So, other countries that do not have the same kind of responsible rules in place that we do are ungoverned by the treaty, but we would be governed by the treaty.

Additionally, the treaty -- one of the concerns about the treaty is that it is opening for amendment in 2020. There are significant concerns about proposals that are out there in discussion in the NGO and other communities for how to use that amendment period to further constrain what countries like the United States might do to undermine our sovereignty.


Additionally, there is the well-understood concern of what the treaty does to expose the Second Amendment rights of the American people to risk. For these reasons and others, the President made the decision that he did today to announce the intention not to seek the ratification of the treaty, to notify the Senate of his request that they return the treaty to him.

And in the coming days, the United States will formally notify the United Nations of the revocation of the signature of the United States to the treaty.


Q Hello, this is Kyle Mazza from UNF News. So my question is, what are the next steps after this announcement from the President? What is going to happen forward from here?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, as I said, the President signed a letter today to inform the Senate of his decision and to ask the Senate to return the treaty to him. And, in the coming days, the United States will deliver to the United Nations, as the treaty depository -- the originating body -- a letter indicating the United States decision, the President's decision to revoke its signature and to ask the depositary to take the appropriate steps to so reflect that decision that we do not intend to become a party to the treaty.


Q (Inaudible) with Associated Press. Some of the people who are criticizing this move are saying that the Arms Trade Treaty really just wouldn’t require the United States to do anything, but it definitely would require the rest of the world to raise their own activities and standards, something that approaches what we already do. And so, they're thinking that it didn’t really affect what the United States would do anyway. And I have follow-up question.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, I think -- so we would disagree with that for a couple of reasons, and I'll just list the top two. Reason number one: As I tried to get at in my opening remarks, some of the top exporters of conventional arms, like Russia and China, are not parties to the treaty. So when you say that it would require the rest of the world to come up to our standards, it wouldn’t. Many of the other leading arms exporters are not parties to the treaty, so they would not be constrained.


The second reason, or one of the other additional reasons for the President's action today is the treaty amendment process. There are already a litany of proposals out there for what parties intend to do to seek amendments to the treaty that could very well have additional constraints, or attempt to impose additional constraints on the United States.

And if you're watching what’s playing out in the UK, for example, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade has sued the United Kingdom partly under the treaty because of their transfers of arms to Saudi Arabia.


The United States already has -- and we take a back seat to no one in terms of the responsible rules and practices in place to govern our conventional arms transfer policy. That will remain in effect after the President's action today with respect to the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty.

Q Can I have a follow-up?


Q Oh, okay. I'm sure you've seen the stories about -- in the Post and other places -- about how Trump has ordered the administration to start trying to come up with a proposed INF Treaty that would involve Russia, China, and the United States. Is this what's happening behind the scenes? They're working on some kind of a threesome?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, that's not the point of the call today.

Q Hi, Kristina Anderson, AWPS News. So, I was wondering if there's been any consultation with some of our allies who might have already signed the treaty, and whether what the thinking is about the impact that our revoking signature might have on their participation in the treaty going forward, and whether this might start some sort of domino effect of rising problems with arms trade in the world. Thank you.


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, two points. One, we have had consultations with allies. We will continue to have consultations with allies in the days ahead, as you would expect after -- before and after any presidential decision.

You know, with respect to the concern that you articulate that others may -- there may be some sort of question of how other countries will respond to the U.S. decision. I think what my comment would be is, the United States already has the, probably, what are the leading standards for how we deal with conventional arms transfers. We would be happy for other countries around the world to follow our example and adopt their own similar national laws.


Q Hi, guys. This is Russ Read with the Washington Examiner. You mentioned there was some concern regarding potential amendments in 2020. Can you elaborate on which specific amendments are giving you the greatest concern?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I don't want to give airtime to any of these amendments. They're out there. They're discussed. There's policy papers. It doesn't take much to look at what's being proposed in the NGO community.


So I'll let them pitch their own proposals. But again, I think our point would be the treaty poses risks to the constitutional rights of Americans. We already have the leading national laws with respect to arms exports.

This treaty would therefore accomplish nothing to further U.S. policy goals, and only therefore exposes us to risks, whether to our sovereignty or to the constitutional rights of the American people.


Q Hey. Dan Spinelli from Mother Jones. My question is, if you are expecting other countries to adopt the sufficient protocols the U.S. has, how can you be sure that they're doing that? And are there any other types of diplomatic protocols you are doing to make sure that other countries are adopting these types of standards that are as stringent as the U.S.?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, for example, I would offer you the Missile Technology Control Regime. The U.S. is a party to numerous bilateral agreements with countries. Every time we sell them arms, we impose our rules, our laws, our processes on those sales. We are party to multilateral regimes, whether it's MTCR, whether it's Wassenaar, or whether it's the Australia Group, that -- where we work with like-minded nations to control, whether it's arms or things that could be of a dual-use nature that could be used as arms.


So I think our record is pretty sterling in this regard. And when you look at this U.N. treaty, where countries like Russia and China are not a party, the President's calculus was, quite rightly, that this treaty imposes risks but no gains.

Q Hey, guys. This is Justin Fink from Bloomberg. I understand that your concerns with the treaty seem to be maybe what could be passed in an amendment down the road. But were there any objections that you had to the actual types of the treaty as it was submitted by the Obama administration? Would it adversely affect the rights of U.S. gun owners in any substantive way?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, yeah. So, I mean, our belief is that it posed unnecessary risks to the Second Amendment rights of the American people for no apparent gain, given our national laws that we already have in place to govern conventional arms transfer policy. And we would welcome other countries to follow our leading national example.

Q Hi. I'm Hideki with NHK Japan Broadcasting Corporation. This treaty is a treaty which Japanese government has been supporting for a long time. So I'm just wondering whether President Trump will be talking about this treaty with Prime Minister Abe tonight.


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, I'm not going to get into discussions that two leaders will have. They have a very good relationship and a very open relationship.

Q Ted Bromund, with the Heritage Foundation. Given the U.S. un-signature of the treaty, will the U.S. continue to attend ATT conferences of states-parties? And will the U.S. continue to pay into the Secretariat ATT fund in any way?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're happy to follow up with you on that. There are various issues that we have to deal with when we un-sign a treaty like that. And those mechanics are still working out. I'd (inaudible) to get into our internal processes.

I think the President was pretty clear today as to his intention with respect to the treaty, but you do point out a couple of the mechanics that we're still deliberating on.


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right, that's all the questions we have time for today.

Thanks so much for joining. As a reminder, this is on background. Attribution is to a senior administration official.


And now that the call is concluded, the embargo is lifted. Thanks so much for your time.

END 1:50 P.M. EDT



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