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Background Briefing by a Senior Administration Official on President Trump's Visit to Tokyo, Japan

November 05, 2017

Hotel New Otani
Tokyo, Japan

5:17 P.M. HST

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. Good evening, everyone. Good to see some of you are as jetlagged as I am, who have traveled over here with the entourage.

So what I thought I would do is just talk a little bit about this leg of the President's five-stop tour through Asia, the schedule that he's had today and also tomorrow for this visit to Japan, and talk a little bit about the broader purposes of this stop.

The President's three overriding objectives for the entire trip -- and this is the longest trip by an American President to Asia in more than a quarter of a century -- is, first, to strengthen international resolve to denuclearize North Korea. Second is to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region. And third, a matter also near and dear to President Trump's heart, is advancing America's prosperity.

And so he's arrived on his first stop -- it's no accident that his first stop in Asia, of his presidency, is here in Japan, which serves as the cornerstone of security and stability in the region -- a longstanding alliance. And the President had a chance to address U.S. and Japanese servicemen and women at Yokota Air Base -- he gave a speech -- and then flew off to spend the afternoon with Prime Minister Abe. Very informally played a round of nine holes of golf with him and also with the specially invited guest, Matsuyama-san. I'm told the three of them did not keep score but had a very good time out there. And the President -- really just enjoying each other's company and talking a little bit about and previewing some of the issues that they're going to be talking about in a more formal setting tomorrow.

So, quickly, just to run through tomorrow's schedule: The President is going to be at Ambassador Hagerty's residence. Tomorrow morning, he's going to have remarks to U.S. and Japanese business leaders. The President is then going to do a meet-and-greet at the U.S. embassy here in Tokyo, and then motorcade to the Imperial Palace, where he'll have the honor of making a state call on His Majesty, Emperor Akihito. And the First Lady will accompany him in visiting the Emperor.

He will then attend an Honor Guard ceremony and have a working lunch after that with Prime Minister Abe. The President is then going to meet with families of Japanese citizens who were abducted by North Korea, and the First Lady is also going to attend that meeting as well.

They will have a joint press conference afterwards -- that is Prime Minister Abe and the President will. They'll have some additional meetings with a broader U.S. delegation that's accompanying the President here. And then there will be a banquet tomorrow night. And then the next morning he'll head -- the President will head to Seoul for his state visit there for the following two days.

So just to give --

Q: I'm sorry -- Seoul tomorrow night, not the next morning?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, it's the following morning, yeah. Exactly. He'll wake up and head to Seoul.

So on sort of those three key areas that the President -- those themes that the President's trip is built around, I think what you're going to see here in Japan is a very broad set of subjects that the two leaders are going to discuss that really are going to speak to how deep and wide this longstanding alliance is. They're going to be talking about areas of security, economics, scientific and cultural cooperation, health.

And the U.S. is, of course, committed to helping Japan strengthen its defense. They'll be talking about ways to do that in some concrete terms; talking about Japan expanding its roles and augmenting its capabilities. They'll, of course, be talking about trilateral cooperation between Japan, South Korea, and the United States in areas like anti-submarine warfare and ballistic missile defense. They'll be talking about cyber cooperation, particularly in light of some of the North Korean provocations in the cyber realm. It's not only in missiles and nuclear devices, but also in cyber. And the U.S. and Japan are tightening their cooperation to deal with those kinds of threats.

The President and Prime Minister Abe will pick up where Vice President Pence and Deputy Prime Minister Aso left off after their second round last month of the U.S.-Japan Economic Dialogue. They'll be talking about sort of the future of the U.S.-Japan trade relationship.

That relationship has grown, even in the time since President Trump has taken office, and it's pretty amazing just in terms of the overall scope of investment ties between the two countries. Japan has more than $400 billion of investment now accumulated in the United States, and that figure grows by 9 percent each year. Japan employs 850,000 American workers, and we'll be looking at ways to continue with those two-way investment flows.

So, with that, maybe I'll pause there just to field some of your questions.

Q: I just wondered whether you could elaborate a bit on the free and open Indo-Pacific concept and tell us how the Chinese should regard that. A lot of people will tell you that, fundamentally, this is a strategy about containing the rise in China. And so I'm wondering whether there's a way -- maybe you could tell us, should the Chinese view it that way?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. Containment, certainly not. I think that what you're seeing is -- and one of the themes that you're going to hear throughout this trip and afterwards -- is that the United States is a Indo-Pacific power. We've been one since the dawn of our Republic. Our security and our prosperity depend on the United States maintaining access for free flow of commerce to this region, because we're a Pacific nation.

And a free and open Indo-Pacific speaks to that vision, that we want to see the continued stability. We want to reaffirm our commitment to the continued stability of this region, allowing for freedom of navigation, allowing for the marketplace and free markets, really, to drive the prosperity of this region.

And the U.S. is looking at ways that we can signal and follow through on this longstanding -- really, centuries-old commitment. It's not just an accident of World War II that the United States is in this region the way that we are -- that we have longstanding alliances, security treaties with five countries in the region, and very close security and economic partnerships with others.

We have strong and growing ties with India. We talk about an Indo-Pacific in part because that phrase captures the importance of India's rise. It captures the importance of the maritime free commons that allow our security and our prosperity to continue.

Q: Thanks for this. Just looking ahead a little bit to the APEC Summit, the President indicated today on Air Force One he's expected to meet with President Putin on the sidelines, in part to get help in dealing with North Korea. Can you explain what you expect that discussion to look like; what you expect Putin's role and Russia's role to be when it comes to confronting the North Korean threat?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, Russia borders North Korea. They are also very concerned, I think, with the direction that North Korea is leading the region toward -- into this crisis. And, naturally, Russia should have a role in that future. Russia has obligations as a U.N. member to upholding U.N. Security Council resolutions, all of them going back and, of course, to include the two significant increases in sanctions that were passed in 15-0 votes by the U.N. Security Council resolution earlier this year.

And so I'm sure that that's going to be a primary subject -- or topic of conversation when the two of them meet.

Yes, sir.

Q: When it comes to trade and North Korea on this trip -- the two obvious priorities -- how does the President intend to kind of balance those two items on the agenda? In which ways is he willing to make certain trade-offs on trade in order to get concessions on North Korea and, vice versa, the extent to which he worries that perhaps the trade aspects might get in the way of some of what he's calling for in North Korea?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure, sure. I don't anticipate trade-offs. The United States isn't going to barter away our interests on the trade front in order to make gains doing what the entire world has, more or less, obligated itself to do, and that is to contain and confront the threat from North Korea. So I don't see a comingling of those two issues.

Q: Hasn't the President suggested that there is a comingling, though, in the past?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, someone had mentioned --

Q: Not in particular?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was raised with a reporter I was talking to just the other day. The President is very much focused on China as the leading trading country -- or the leading trading partner of North Korea; is very much focused on making sure that China lives up to all the obligations under the U.N. Security Council resolutions, but also to do more than that, to go further.

This is something that -- a problem that we think the Chinese are coming around to realizing is a severe strategic liability for them. North Korea is not a strategic asset; that is a relic of Cold War thinking. And, of course, China has done much more than it has ever done, and we're cooperating more closely with China than we ever have on this subject. And that's something that you'll see reflected in the meetings between the Chinese leader and President Trump.

Yes, sir. In the back.

Q: I'm just curious whether President Trump and Prime Minister Abe will talk about this U.S., Japan, Australia and India alliance this time. And is this sort of containment to China? And what's the reason to form this alliance?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, I don't think there's such a thing as containing China, by the way. I mean, if you look at President Xi Jinping's own comments in his speeches around the 19th Party Congress, he talked about China taking center stage.

So on the question of cooperation between allies and partners, the U.S. is always talking very closely, from the leader level all the way down to our close allies, Australia and Japan. That is longstanding. We, of course -- we do not have a security alliance -- none of those countries have a security alliance with India. India is an increasingly important security partner, no doubt. It's natural that they should be, given that they are really, sort of, conceptually the western edge of the Indo-Pacific region; the United States making up the eastern edge of that.

And this is a region that encompasses half of the world's people, more than a third of the world's economy. Eventually, it's going to be pretty soon half of the world's economy. And this is a region that includes China, it includes Japan, the Korean Peninsula, Northeast Asia. It includes Oceania, with our close partner, New Zealand and Pacific Islands, and our longstanding ally, Australia, in the south. India to the west; the United States the east.

And, of course, the crossroads of it all is Southeast Asia, and that's one of the reasons that the President is going to spending a lot of time on this trip in Southeast Asia. The longest leg of this trip is going to be in Vietnam, and he's going to spend almost as much time in the Philippines, attending a whole variety of summits -- APEC; he'll be at the U.S.-ASEAN Summit. He'll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of ASEAN's birth, as well as the East Asia Summit when he's there.

Yes, sir.

Q: Can you shed some light on the deliberations that went on with the decision to attend the EAS Summit? Last we heard, you couldn't keep the President out of Washington forever, and now the President says it's the most important part of the trip. So what went on to get to where we are?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was some rearrangement of what the -- there was going to be a stop on the way back, and we decided, as long as we're there, why not spend a little bit of extra time and then just take a straight shot back to Washington. So he'll be arriving -- it won't add much to the overall length of the trip the way that we've rearranged it.

But I think the President -- the more he's engaged with leaders in the region, the more he's heard from leaders in the region -- that they would love -- really wanted to see him at that summit. And so he said, hey, this makes sense, let's do this. And he's very pleased that he's going to be there for that last stop.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: Hi, Margaret Brennan from CBS. I have a question. You said earlier, on North Korea, the focus is on being able to contain and confront the threat from North Korea. Is containment actually one of the focuses right now, versus denuclearization as a precondition to any kind of engagement? Can you explain that a little bit? Because there are plenty of people right now who are saying the cat is out of the bag; just get to some sort of conversation where you can actually assess what's happening on the ground there rather than refuse to have any kind of --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good. No, I'm glad you asked that. I do want to clarify that point. The United States -- there's been an element of containment going all the way back to 1953. So containment is not some -- this is not -- my using that word does not in any way suggest that we are moving in any direction other than toward the complete and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea.

Containment is still an operative concept going back for 67 years now because -- 64 years -- because North Korea's goal is not to simply acquire these horrific weapons to maintain the status quo in the Peninsula, it is seeking these weapons in order to fundamentally change that status quo. Its primary goal, as stated -- and the press doesn't often reflect what North Korea itself is saying -- their goal is to reunify South Korea. These weapons are part of the plan to reunify with South Korea.

So there is a constant element of deterrence and containment and resolving this by denuclearizing the Peninsula.

Q: But you're still willing to have some sort of conversation about that? I mean, last we heard, there were no direct talks. So how do you get what you just laid out?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So the President's strategy -- and this strategy is in complete alignment with our allies, South Korea and Japan, and, increasingly, the entire world -- is to maximize pressure. It is a diplomatic and economic campaign to maximize pressure on North Korea, to show -- really to convince the leadership in North Korea that the one way out for them is to start reducing the threat and to move toward denuclearization.


Q: David Nakamura, with the Post. I'm wondering if you can -- I think, maybe on one of the conference calls, you talked a little bit about the families of the abductees having met maybe with you in Washington.


Q: Can you give a little more color about did you personally broach to the President and what his reaction was. And then, tell us a little bit about what the President expects to say to the families and what that message is to the world. Is it trying to emphasize the North Korea threat in a different way, a more human way, than nuclear weapons?

And one other point on that: The Japanese official who briefed reporters in Washington a few days ago said he thought the Obama administration -- President Obama, even though he met with some of these families, he didn't have the greatest interest, maybe, in following through with them, and that maybe they had greater hopes for President Trump. I'm wondering if President Trump will talk about Otto Warmbier and sort of tie it in that way, and what he can do for these families or what he hopes to make a point of.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, I had the opportunity to meet with families earlier this year and brief the President on it, and he was very interested in their stories. He opted to include the story, of course, of young Megumi in his speech at the U.N. General Assembly a couple of months ago. And so he wanted to meet some families here.

We'll wait to see what he discusses directly with them. But I think that you're going to see in that meeting, but also in his speech in Seoul, some focus on the often-overlooked question of the human rights conditions of North Korea. I heard one journalist recently described it as the most totalitarian state in the history of humankind. I don't think that's an overstatement. And the President is turning his attention to --

Q: Talking about the conditions for the North Korean people themselves in that speech you're talking about? Or will he talk about the -- some Americans who have been held captive --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Certainly the North Korean people themselves, but also the abuses have -- I mean, if you look at all the victims worldwide of North Korea's aggression -- whether it's bombing airliners or terrorist attacks abroad, or the hundreds of attacks that have taken place over the decades against U.S. and South Korean personnel, or the abductions of Japanese citizens and, of course, South Koreans who have been abducted over the years as well -- it would take a lifetime to be able to meet with all of the people who have been victimized by that regime and are still alive to talk about it.

So he's shifting -- or casting a spotlight, I think, in a way that's long overdue on the nature of that regime, and what that really means for their citizens and our own people in all of our countries.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: Just back on the East Asia Summit for a second. The administration did get a little bit of criticism initially when the President was not planning on attending a full summit, saying that the U.S. was sacrificing a leadership moment. Was that shared with the President? Was that part of his decision to stay? Or was there any sense that you guys may have underestimated the importance of this summit when you were initially planning this trip?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, certainly I noticed the criticism. I think it was overstated, given that the President all along was going to meeting with all of -- the leaders, all of the leaders who were attending the East Asia Summit. He was attending the gala dinner on the 12th. He was attending the meeting the next morning to launch -- the launch ceremony for all of those events.

But I think that he heard from friends and fellow leaders who said, "Hey, why don't you stay an extra day and maybe just" -- it happened in a conversation. He said, let's do that, let's do that.

Q: Was there anyone in particular he spoke with who swayed him?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Honestly, I'm not sure whether it was one particular conversation or person that persuaded him. But when I saw him and talked about it, he said, hey, this just makes sense.

So scheduling is not an easy thing when you're going abroad for the longest trip of a presidency. And now it's even just a tad longer. But he's excited that he's going to be at that.

Someone from the Japanese press corps as well, if there was --

Q: A question about Saudi Arabia. President Trump spoke to today with King Salman bin Abdulaziz. Did the issue of the --


Q: Saudi Arabia. About the phone call --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have a readout of the phone call --

Q: -- because there's been some major developments in the Kingdom, and I wonder if it --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I appreciate the question, but it's -- I'm not even going to be able to give you a useful answer, so I'm going to tap one other person.

Q: Thank you. So will the President designate North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism? And when can we expect that designation, if so? And can you go a little more in-depth about some of the topics that the President and Prime Minister Abe discussed today while they were golfing in terms of previewing tomorrow?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, so the administration and Secretary Tillerson and others in the administration are looking very closely right now at the question of whether or not to designate Korea as a state sponsor of terror. I would expect an answer very quickly to your question, but I don't have an answer for you right now, but very soon.

And on the golf -- you know, I know that trade was a subject of conversation between the leaders. They talked, as well, a bit about North Korea. They'll be talking in more depth about that tomorrow and also at their dinner tonight. They're having a restricted small dinner tonight with each other.

But, of course, this is a topic of all of their conversations, and they talk more frequently, I think, than any Japanese and American leader have ever spoken in the history of bilateral ties. The closeness of the relationship is unprecedented. And the degree to which U.S. and Japanese strategies are aligned, both on the Korean Peninsula but also throughout the Indo-Pacific, is also unprecedented.

Q: Any (inaudible) of a bilateral trade deal in those conversations today?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I have nothing more to add. I'm not sure of the details, but I know that trade was (inaudible).

Q: When you said "very soon," is that on this trip?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Stay tuned. I don't have the answer for you on that.

END 5:45 P.M. HST

Donald J. Trump, Background Briefing by a Senior Administration Official on President Trump's Visit to Tokyo, Japan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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