THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
BY PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER
- SPICER: Wow, we got a full house today. Good afternoon. It’s good to be back with you. Apparently I was a little missed.
We’re one week out from the President’s first foreign trip, so I wanted to make sure, as we prepare for that trip, that I bring out National Security Advisor, General McMaster, to give you a preview of what the team has been doing to prepare for the President’s trip. Our goal is to kind of start that process now, and then next week bring the General back and give you a more detailed update as to what the President is going to be doing in each of the areas, and some of the highlights from the trip. We’ll, obviously, additionally, have background briefings for you as well to give the team that’s going to be traveling, the press corps, some logistical updates.
So without further ado, General McMaster.
Q Will you take questions after?
- SPICER: Yes, Jeff, I will be glad to take your question. In fact, if you’d like, you get to go first today.
GENERAL MCMASTER: Thank you, Sean. Good afternoon, and Happy Mother’s Day weekend, everybody. As you all know, in exactly one week the President will embark on his first trip abroad since taking office. Today I’d like to explain the President’s objectives for his visits to the Middle East and to Europe, and also preview a bit of the schedule.
The trip has three core purposes. First, to reaffirm America’s global leadership. Second, to continue building key relationships with world leaders. And, third, to broadcast a message of unity to America’s friends and to the faithful of three of the world’s greatest religions.
The President prioritizes building strong relationships, as you see here, every day with world leaders as a way to strengthen our alliances. And he’s been successful. You can see that in his diplomacy with a range of leaders, from Prime Minister May to President Xi.
President Trump understands that America First does not mean American alone — to the contrary. Prioritizing American interests means strengthening alliances and partnerships that help us extend our influence and improve the security of the American people.
This trip is truly historic. No President has ever visited the homelands and holy sites of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslims faiths all on one trip. And what President Trump is seeking is to unite peoples of all faiths around a common vision of peace, progress, and prosperity. He will bring a message of tolerance and of hope to billions, including to millions of Americans who profess these faiths. The President will focus on what unites us.
The President’s trip will begin in Saudi Arabia, home to the two holiest sites in Islam. He will encourage our Arab and Muslim partners to take bold, new steps to promote peace and to confront those, from ISIS to al Qaeda to Iran to the Assad regime, who perpetuate chaos and violence that has inflicted so much suffering throughout the Muslim world and beyond.
He will lead the first steps toward a stronger, more capable, and more robust security partnership with our Gulf, Arab, and Muslim partners. And he will develop a strong, respectful message that the United States and the entire civilized world expects our Muslim allies to take a strong stand against radical Islamist ideology, an ideology that uses a perverted interpretation of religion to justify crimes against all humanity. He will call for Muslim leaders to promote a peaceful vision of Islam.
The President will then travel to Israel. With President Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu, he will reaffirm America’s unshakeable bond to the Jewish state. With President Abbas, he will express his desire for dignity and self-determination for the Palestinians. And so to leaders and peoples alike, across the entire trip, he will demonstrate his hopes for a just and lasting peace.
In Rome, the President will be honored to accept an audience with Pope Francis. He looks forward to paying his respects and to discussing religious freedom, ways to combat religious persecution, human trafficking, and cooperating on humanitarian missions across the globe.
He will also pay his respects to the Italian people by meeting with President Mattarella, the head of state and one of America’s most important treaty allies and trading partners. He will also see again Prime Minister Gentiloni, who is hosting the G7 conference in Sicily.
From Rome, the President will continue to Brussels for the NATO Leaders meeting. There, he will reaffirm America’s commitment to the Alliance while stressing the need for members to pay their fair share, to shoulder responsibility, to share burdens, and for the institution to continue on the path of strengthening the Alliance.
President Trump will end his trip in Sicily for the G7 meeting in Taormina, where he will promote American economic leadership and also address unfair trade practices. He will remind our friends and partners that we are eager to explore further ways to address threats to our mutual security, from North Korea to Afghanistan to the broader Middle East.
Before leaving, the President will visit Naval Air Station Sigonella, where he will thank our wonderful and courageous servicemen and women, ally personnel and family members for their sacrifices to keep us safe.
And across the trip, he will meet our diplomats, the staff at our embassies who represent us so well across the world.
Lastly, just a few words on how this all came together. The impetus for this trip came from the President himself, and he has been fully engaged from the beginning — setting objectives, overseeing the planning. The President is receiving regular briefings from his Cabinet and from our senior staff here on the national security side and on the economic side as well.
Most of the leaders the President will meet on this trip, as you know, he’s already met in person or certainly by phone. These relationships are off to a very strong start. And the trip is an opportunity to broaden and deepen those relationships. The administration continues to be in close contact and consultation with Congress, and we’re drawing on the expertise across the Senate and the House in preparation for the trip, as well.
And finally, this really is a team effort. The White House and National Security Council staff, the National Economic Council continue to work closely with our Departments of State, Treasury, Defense and others to fulfill the President’s objectives and ensure smooth execution. On behalf of the President, I express the whole administration’s thanks for all the hard work it takes to organize a trip of this scope and of this importance.
So the President and all of us are looking forward to the journey. And with that, I’ll take a couple questions.
Q General McMaster, how is this President viewed among our Arab allies — Saudi Arabia, UAE and others — compared to his predecessor?
GENERAL MCMASTER: Well, I’ll just say, the President’s leadership has been welcomed — welcomed enthusiastically. There was a perception that America had largely disengaged from the Middle East in particular, and that disengagement coincided with this humanitarian and political catastrophe in the region. And so now there’s a broad recognition among all of our partners in the region that American leadership is necessary to help address this catastrophe and to begin to move the region toward the peace, security, and stability that the people there so deserve.
And so what you’re seeing, I think, is a galvanizing effect of the President’s leadership in bringing those leaders together across the region, and bringing them together for a positive agenda — who’s against ending this catastrophe; who’s against confronting these terrorists or the enemies of all civilized people; confronting Iran, who’s participating in this cycle of violence; and to bring prosperity and peace to the region and the people who so richly deserve it.
Q You’re somebody who is crucial, obviously, in the intelligence community, somebody who’s leading the National Security Council. So I have to ask you: This week in particular there have been a lot of reports, including from our network, that intelligence officials are extremely concerned about how James Comey was fired. Do you believe that that threatens national security right now?
GENERAL MCMASTER: Well, I told Sean that I would pass all those questions to him, and he’ll be happy to answer that after this —
Q But this is a national security question, sir.
GENERAL MCMASTER: What I’d like to do is focus on the trip, and I’ll come back next week with more details of the trip, as well.
Q You said the President was — the impetus for the trip came from the President himself. Was it the President himself who decided to begin this trip in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam? And is there symbolic significance to that? And how many of our Muslim allies, how many countries, how many Muslim-majority countries will be represented at the meetings in Saudi Arabia?
GENERAL MCMASTER: Well, this was the President’s initiative, to begin the trip in the Middle East, hosted by King Salman and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And the King is going to bring together partners from across the region to meet with the President. So the answer to your question is — and I can answer in more detail next week, because it’s still coming in, the sort of final attendees, but he’ll meet with a broad range of leaders in the Middle East, of course, many of whom — most of whom he’s met already here, or by phone certainly. And we have the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Zayed is coming, for example, on Monday as well.
Q General McMaster, at the beginning of this very long week, we were hearing speculation that the President was considering thousands more troops for Afghanistan. When he goes to Brussels on Thursday of next week, what is the message to the NATO partners with respect to their commitment in this long fight?
GENERAL MCMASTER: Well, the key is that all of us have to be committed to achieving our fundamental objectives in Afghanistan. Americans know really better than anybody because the mass murder against our own country on September 11, 2001 originated with a terrorist safe haven and support base in Afghanistan. Recently, we have been engaged against ISIS or ISIS Khorasan in Afghanistan with highly successful operations there that you’ll hear more about in a press conference at the Department of Defense here in the near future.
But what has happened in Afghanistan is the Afghan army is taking the brunt of the fight against these transnational terrorists and the Taliban. And so we are working with our allies to figure out what more we can do to have a more effective strategy in Afghanistan, what are options we can bring to the President to be more effective in meeting our objectives in Afghanistan, and what more can we ask our allies to do which we’re asking them now.
So this is going to be, really, consistent with the President’s guidance to us.
Q Has the President decided that there should thousands more troops?
GENERAL MCMASTER: The President has not made a decision yet on a course of action. What we have done, which is what we have done in many cases on the North Korea problem set, for example, is we’ve consulted broadly across our government and with allies. The President wants to hear from our allies, as well. This is a President who listens to his allies and partners. He’ll have an opportunity to do so at the NATO Summit. He’ll have an opportunity to do so at the G7. And so what we’ll have at the end of the next few weeks here is an opportunity for a much more effective strategy for the problem set in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the region broadly.
Q General, if you could talk first about the evolution from the way the President campaigned, which was a more unilateral foreign policy, to this multilateral engagement that you’re emphasizing and the way that you’re rolling out this trip to explain that. And then, secondly, if you could also talk about the decision to send a delegation to the One Belt, One Road Forum in China, and what you hope to get out of that.
GENERAL MCMASTER: So America First didn’t mean America alone ever, I don’t know. And so what we have done is advanced the President’s agenda in national security by strengthening alliances by burden-sharing. Americans don’t have to do everything, don’t have to bankroll everything. And our allies and partners are grateful for, I think, the President’s leadership in asking them to do more.
So it’s an alliance in which each of the members are doing their fair share, who are shouldering the burden. Is it stronger or weaker? It’s stronger. So the President has done a great deal to strengthen our alliances. And America First didn’t mean America not leading. So for America to secure and advance its interests, that requires American leadership. And so the President’s leadership has been welcomed in all the places that he’ll be visiting on this trip, and his agenda I think that he laid out in the campaign is being operationalized and implemented by his Cabinet, primarily, with the assistance of our team here in the White House.
Q Two questions. First, there were reports out of Israel that President Trump may try to get Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas in the same room together while he’s there. Is that, in fact, the case? And also, to NBC News yesterday, the President said that General Mattis and his other generals would be announcing something on ISIS next week. And so as one of the generals on his administration, can you talk to that? Is there an announcement coming next week?
GENERAL MCMASTER: On the first part, it will be whatever the President wants to do. A lot of what we do in the National Security Council is try to keep up with the President. So you may have — no, I think —
Q Are the plans — have they tried to reach out to both of them to try to get them together
GENERAL MCMASTER: The final plans aren’t set yet. We can comment maybe more about that next week. But it will obviously be up to the President and those leaders about how he wants to engage with them. But he’ll engage with both those leaders there as part of the trip.
In terms of the campaign against transnational terrorist organizations and ISIS in particular, the President has asked us to do everything we can to defeat ISIS and, in particular, to ensure that we defeat ISIS in this so-called caliphate in the terrain that they’re endeavoring to hold on to in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas.
And what the President has also told us is he doesn’t want to telegraph what he’s doing tactically day to day. He wants the Department of Defense and our military commanders to be able to execute those campaigns consistent with his guidance, the policy and the strategy that he’s approved.
And so what we next will do will be an opportunity for our military leadership to lay out how they are executing the President’s guidance, the progress they’ve made in the campaign, and what remains to be done. And so that’s really the emphasis of the press conference next week.