Hi all – during today's flight from Tel Aviv to Rome, a senior administration official visited the press cabin for an off the record discussion. At our urging, they have agreed to put portions of that conversation on background, attributable to a senior administration official. See below for a transcript of that portion of the discussion.
An initial question addressed the viability of the two state solution and the administration's position on it.
"So basically the last, I think, four days have been very successful for us. We put a lot of time and thought and planning into what we were going to do and how we were going to do it. Trips like this don't just come together."
"The overall objective that we want to accomplish here is really try to find a peaceful way to create a new direction for the Middle East. Where it's gone for the last 15 years has not been a good direction and we have to figure out how we do change that direction so that we obviously can have less war and more opportunity people there to live a better life."
"The Saudi Arabia trip obviously was an amazing coming together of a lot of people who I think were all looking for an opportunity to follow the lead of what the president wanted to speak about."
"So I think this trip was a big success because it was unexpected. It went in the heart of one of the, I always say that the president is always at his best when he's doing big things that are unexpected. ... He was able to really go into Saudi Arabia, the custodian of the holy mosques, and then Donald Trump united the entire Muslim world in a way that it really hasn't been in many years. So it really was very historic in that regard."
A question about what the next steps are after the visit in terms of peace process
"With regards to where we go from here, that was very essential towards trying to reestablish America's credibility in the region."
"The first step there is to bring relationships that are warm and strong privately and bring them more public and also set forth a common set of principles that everyone wants to abide by. Now you have working together which is much stronger than everyone working alone in fighting the longterm battle against the ideology. So we want to not have to kill terrorists, we want to prevent terrorists from becoming terrorists and that's a very critical thing. You saw the center be opened, which we did a lot of work on, which will hopefully turn into a very effective tool down the road we'll be able to expand it and grow it and franchise it and that's very important."
"The agreement we got everyone to sign saying they are going to work very hard toward making the funding of terrorists in their country is also an amazing landmark and accomplishment. What we'll be able to do there is create a way to monitor and enforce and include the cooperation of all these different countries. And now that they have all signed on the dotted line our job is to say 'Hey, look, you're there, you're committed, and your standing with America and the rest of the world really depends on your ability to follow through with the agreement we signed."
"What it's basically done is create a new and strong relationship between America and the Muslim World."
"You can't just walk in on Day One and sign a deal that no one has gotten done in 35 years but we thought it was very essential to look at the work over the last 100-odd days and this trip is to do a lot of listening , build very strong relationships with all the different people, not just the parties involves, but all the people in the neighborhood. And also try to create a lot of momentum and optimism around the prospect for peace."
A question about timing
"The one thing that it probably will be is quiet and discreet. And hopefully the more we can build trust the more we can have open dialogues around these things in a way that has not happened before, I think that gives us a better chance of having success in this issue."
"I mean the reason why we're able to create this new Saudi relationship is because we were able to develop a lot of trust with them to be able to take on such a bold and ambitious idea to try and get these different commitments done each one of them historic and also to put together this summit, which was also historic so you take a lot of risk that you're going to be able to pull that off. And you can only do it if there's trust. And there's the same thing that's forming with governments all over the world is that in the backchannel discussions they're saying have been really better and stronger less politicized and more constructive than really at most times before."
In response to a question about what's different about relationships between Trump and these leaders and past presidents
"So we're very optimistic that we have the ability to do some very transformative things that will really surprise a lot of people."
"We're very focused on the substance of the actions and then ultimately on delivering results. And, you know, hopefully over time as we deliver results you'll see that we're doing a good job. And I think that this trip hopefully is a real example of that."
"To be able to do things that are so big, so bold, so impactful, there's so much potential future impact towards the objectives that everyone's spoken about for a long time but no one's been able to really create results on. I think you'll find that we have the ability to really accomplish a lot of things that people will be very surprised and happy with."
[On goals for the papal visit and other stops]
"He was invited by the pope and he's honored to go and meet the pope. It's somebody he has a lot of respect for.
"This maybe is helpful for your understanding how we view. We look for areas of common objectives and then we're willing to work with people who share these objectives who give us a higher probability to achieve them. We look at it and we say our job is to try to make the lives of the American people better.
"If we're creating more peace that makes the lives of American people better. If we're creating more economic growth in the world, that makes the lives of Americans better, as long as we're fighting for their interests in all of these things."
Q: Worried about what's happening back home and ongoing controversies?
"We're very focused on the objectives. We know that we're delivering on the promises that we made to the American people of creating jobs, trying to reshape the world order, we're putting America's place in the world as leaders back. I think people are really proud to see the American president making the strong statements, getting the great receptions he got and really unifying a lot of people in the world towards common objectives."
"We're very focused like laser beams on accomplishing the objectives we'd like to accomplish and trying to make sure that the people who voted for the president and even the people who didn't vote for the president are able to feel like like we're making their
More on the Vatican visit:
"We thought that this trip was essential to put together the Muslim faith, the Jewish faith and then the Catholic faith, the Christian faith. When you put it all together, you're really showing that this problem of radical extremism is one of the great problems of our time. By putting everybody together you can really build a coalition and show that it's not a Muslim problem, it's not a Jewish problem, it's not a Catholic problem, it's not a Christian problem, it really is a world problem.
"It's really kind of a good end of the first part of this trip which i think is really centered around sending a very strong message about americas new role in the world unifying against our common objectives and showing our partners that we're back.
And lastly about personal reaction to seeing the president at these stops, especially in Israel
"His unconventional style that's worked for him all his life I think has the ability to work for America and make a really big impact"