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The President's News Conference With Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Brey of Spain

September 26, 2017

President Trump. Thank you very much, everybody. Please be seated. Good afternoon. I'm greatly honored to welcome President Mariano Rajoy of Spain, and it's a great honor to have you at the White House. Thank you very much. We've just concluded a very productive conversation on a crucial range of economic and security issues.

Hurricane Maria Recovery Efforts

Before we begin, I'd like to take a moment to send America's hearts and prayers to the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Both have been devastated—and I mean absolutely devastated—by Hurricane Maria, and we're doing everything in our power to help the hard-hit people of both places, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. And a massive effort is underway, and we have been really treated very, very nicely by the Governor and by everybody else. They know how hard we're working and what a good job we're doing.

As we speak, FEMA, our great first responders, and all available Federal resources, including the military, are being marshaled to save lives, protect families, and begin a long and very, very difficult restoration process. I have directed all relevant departments and agencies to assist in the response and recovery effort.

As Governor Rosselló just told me this morning, the entire Federal workforce is doing great work in Puerto Rico, and I appreciated his saying it. And he's saying it to anybody that will listen. Our team has been incredible after having gone through Texas and then Florida, with other stops along the way. And he further went on, he said, "And through the Trump administration's leadership, the relationship between FEMA and my team is very, very strong." I will be going to Puerto Rico on Tuesday. I'll also be going to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Over the last several weeks our Nation has been tested by the destructive force of Mother Nature, but we will respond to it with an even mightier force: the resolve of the American spirit. Texas, Louisiana, and Florida are in really good shape and moving along well. We thank all of the first responders and volunteers who have risked their lives. And that's what they did: They risked their lives.

To all of those impacted by the trouble and these horrible hurricanes and storms that have affected and impacted our country, I thank you. The recovery process will be a very, very difficult one. We will get through this, and we will get through it together. We will be stronger. We will be bigger. We will be better. Thank you very much.

Spain-U.S. Relations

The United States and Spain are great friends and close allies. Our bonds, culture, and commerce go back many centuries. Our schools teach American children about Spain's history of exploration. Our museums treasure beautiful Spanish works of art. And your country's contributions to architecture, music, and film are admired all over the world. It's a greatly admired country. The deep relationship between our two people is a strong foundation for lasting cooperation. On behalf of the American people, I want to express our support and extend our prayers to all of those affected by the vile terror attack in Spain last month. I want to assure the people of Spain that America stands with you in confronting this evil that threatens all of humanity. We will continue to deny the terrorists their funding, their territory, and any form of support for their wicked ideology.

In this common fight, America greatly appreciates Spain's contribution to the coalition to defeat ISIS. Spanish troops and police have trained more than 30,000 members of the Iraqi security forces. We also thank the Spanish people for being such gracious hosts to the American servicemembers stationed at Spanish bases.

The United States and Spain together face many critical dangers and challenges, from North Korea to Iran to Venezuela. We thank Spain for its recent decision to expel its North Korean Ambassador and for standing with us in our efforts to isolate the brutal North Korean regime.

It is time for all responsible nations to join forces to isolate the North Korean menace. North Korean nuclear weapons and missile development threaten the entire world with unthinkable loss of life. All nations must act now to ensure the regime's complete denuclearization.

I appreciate the United Nations Security Council voting twice, unanimously—15 to nothing, twice—to adopt hard-hitting resolutions against North Korea. I have recently issued tough new sanctions against those who do business with this outlaw regime, and I applaud China's latest action to restrict its trade with North Korea. And in particular, I applaud China for breaking off all banking relationships with North Korea, something that people would have thought unthinkable even 2 months ago. I want to thank President Xi.

Here, in the Western Hemisphere, we have seen the heartbreaking tragedy of Maduro's socialist rule in Venezuela. Spain has been especially helpful in promoting the interests and well-being of the Venezuelan people, and we thank you for your efforts.

We hope our friends in the EU will soon follow the United States, Canada, and many Latin American nations in sanctioning the Maduro regime. We need everybody involved. The citizens of Venezuela have endured immense suffering, poverty, starvation, and dangerous political unrest under Maduro's oppressive socialist regime.

Together, Spain and the United States hope for peace, for the restoration of democracy, and for the release of all political prisoners. Wherever socialism spreads, misery follows. The people of Venezuela deserve a future of freedom. These are great people.

In the economic arena, we support trade that benefits both Spain and the United States, which means it must be fair and it must be reciprocal, such an important word. It hasn't been used very much in the United States: reciprocal. Spain is the 10th largest investor in the United States, and I commend Spanish business leaders for their confidence in America and the American worker. And considering the fact that our stock market has just hit alltime highs, I think they probably like the United States very much right now.

This is a time for both tremendous opportunity for our world, but also serious dangers. As I said at the United Nations, which future really is up to us. If we empower our citizens, serve their needs, and appeal to all that is best in the human spirit, then I have no doubt we will succeed like never, ever before. Mr. President, I look forward to working with you to build this future of prosperity and peace for both Spain and for the United States of America. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President.

Prime Minister Rajoy. Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. I would like to start by expressing my solidarity—that of my government and that of the Spanish people—with the people in the U.S. Government after the terrible events President Trump just referred to and that took place in Texas, Florida, and other U.S. regions and Puerto Rico. We hope and we wish that even if what happened can't be changed, we hope that in the future we can do as best as possible for everyone.

President Trump and I had a working meeting today, which was very productive. And we went through our bilateral relations. Spain and the United States are two great partners. We share values, democracy, freedom, respect for human rights, the rule of law. And we have institutional, cultural, corporate ties which are very important.

Relations between the two countries have been excellent, and we must continue to work to strengthen those relations even more, especially in the economic arena. That's why our priorities to—of strengthening the economy and job creation are key. Trade between the two countries is growing sustainably. The United States is our second top trading partner outside of Europe. The United States is our top destination of exports outside the European Union.

And regarding investments, it's the second top destination of Spanish investments and the top investor in Spain. For many years, Spanish companies have invested in the U.S. They're creating many stable and high-quality jobs in different sectors, such as the financial industry and energy. And this has been possible thanks to the establishment of subsidiaries in the United States by 600 Spanish companies, and they will continue to create jobs. That's why they follow closely investment opportunities in the United States, and they can contribute their technology and their experience to the United States.

I've also given details on—to President Trump on Spain's role in different crises, which are important to us all. For instance, he referred to our participation in the coalition against Daesh and the crisis due to nuclear proliferation in North Korea.

Combating terrorism was something we talked about at length. Spain has a longstanding experience in this area. And just like the United States, we've been hit by jihadi terrorist attacks in—on our soil. Both countries have—agree on antiterrorist policy, and we cooperate very closely on police, military, and intelligence areas. I've also said that I'm sure that we still have to do a lot in the area of intelligence. We need to improve the coordination mechanisms in the area of cybersecurity or preventing recruitment and financing of terrorists.

I've also underscored Spain's role as a member of the global coalition against terrorism and our deployment in Iraq, which is very large. We're the fourth-largest contributor, and we've trained over two—32,000 officers. In addition to that, I've told President Trump that we would increase our commitment with the new phase after the fall of Mosul by contributing a new financial package to rebuild Iraq.

We also have long relations in the area of defense, both in NATO and bilaterally with the Spanish bases, which are used by both our countries in Rota and Moron, which are increasingly important strategically. Our defense agreement goes back to 1988. At the time, Spain was in the backseat of the alliance; right now we're at the forefront: Daesh, Sahel, Libya. So the defense and security relation is excellent, but we want—would like that to spill over into other areas of the bilateral relation. President Trump and I have gone through the political and economic situation in our countries.

Regarding the international situation, we've agreed that the challenge by North Korea to the nonproliferation regime is an intolerable violation of international legality. And I've expressed the full support of the Spanish Government to the stepping up of sanctions, as approved by the United Nations the other day. As we know, the European Union is working on new additional measures, and in that context, Spain will continue to press for a firm, common stance supportive of the U.S. and its regional allies.

I've also reminded President Trump that the Spanish Government has taken measures that have reduced the diplomatic presence of North Korea in our country. President Trump has thanked me for the firm position my government has taken and the measures we've adopted.

Regarding Venezuela, we've exchanged views on the worrying totalitarian direction the country is moving in and its impoverishment with the implications that has in the humanitarian area. We've noted that there's a need to sustain international pressure on the Venezuelan government so that it commits to negotiations which will enable us to find a democratic, negotiated, and peaceful solution to the current crisis. I've also reminded President Trump that Spain and the EU have spearheaded the adoption of sanctions, which were first individual and targeted.

So we've gone through the political and economic situation of both our countries. Spain and the United States are two democracies, friends, and allies with many common values and interests. And we've agreed to work together in the area of the defense of those values with a comprehensive and cooperative vision.

I would like to thank the warm welcome that was extended to us by President Trump and his team at the White House. And I would also like to underscore the friendship that exists between the United States and Spain. Thank you.

President Trump. Thank you very much. Thank you.

Steve Holland, please. Reuters. Don't get nervous, Steve. [Laughter]

National Football League National Anthem Controversy/Hurricane Maria Recovery Efforts in Puerto Rico/Federal Response to Recent Hurricanes

Q. There's some concern that you were preoccupied with the NFL instead of dealing with Puerto Rico. Why isn't that a fair assessment?

President Trump. Well, I wasn't preoccupied with the NFL. I was ashamed of what was taking place, because to me that was a very important moment. I don't think you can disrespect our country, our flag, our national anthem. To me, the NFL situation is a very important situation. I've heard that before about, was I preoccupied? Not at all. Not at all. I have plenty of time on my hands. All I do is work.

And to be honest with you, that's an important function of working. It's called respect for our country. Many people have died, many, many people. Many people are so horribly injured. I was at Walter Reed Hospital recently, and I saw so many great young people, and they're missing legs, and they're missing arms. And they've been so badly injured. And they were fighting for our country. They were fighting for our flag. They were fighting for our national anthem. And for people to disrespect that by kneeling during the playing of our national anthem, I think, is disgraceful.

So I will also say that—again, I read you part of his quote—but the Governor of Puerto Rico is so thankful for the great job that we're doing. We did a great job in Texas, a great job in Florida, a great job in Louisiana. We hit little pieces of Georgia and Alabama. And frankly, we're doing—and it's the most difficult job because it's on the island. It's on an island in the middle of the ocean. It's out in the ocean. You can't just drive your trucks there from other States.

And the Governor said we are doing a great job. In fact, he thanked me specifically for FEMA and all of the first responders in Puerto Rico. And we're also mentioning with that the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was devastated. So we are totally focused on that.

But at the same time, it doesn't take me long to put out a wrong, and maybe we'll get it right. I think it's a very important thing for the NFL to not allow people to kneel during the playing of our national anthem, to respect our country, and to respect our flag.

Okay? Thank you.

Q. If I could ask the Prime Minister—if I could ask you, Prime Minister, a question: Is it going to take a war to rein in North Korea? And what is your advice to the President on dealing with this?

Prime Minister Rajoy. No one wishes for there to be a war anywhere in the world, but it's true that the recent events in North Korea with implications in the neighboring countries—very important countries—means that we all have to be forceful. And those of us who defend the values of democracy, freedom, and human rights have to let North Korea know that it isn't going anywhere in that direction.

For the time being, sanctions have been adopted. Spain will support any political decision which will contribute to putting an end to this situation, which has nothing to do with the principles and values most of western and global democracies defend.

Catalan Independence Referendum

Q. Thank you. Jose Emil Blanco from EFE. We don't know whether during your conversation you discussed the Catalan situation. And this is a question for President Trump. Do you support what the Spanish Government is doing regarding Catalonia? And I'd like to ask the President of the Spanish Government whether he fears there might be a unilateral declaration of independence in Catalonia, and what would the Government do then?

President Trump. Well, I think that Spain is a great country and it should remain united. We're dealing with a great, great country, and it should remain united. I've been watching that unfold, but it's actually been unfolding for centuries. And I think that nobody knows if they're going to have a vote. I think the President would say they're not going to have a vote. But I think that the people would be very much opposed to that. I can say only speaking for myself, I would like to see Spain continue to be united.

Prime Minister Rajoy. The decision to unilaterally declare independence is not something I would—it's not a decision I would make. It's a decision which will have to be made or not by the Catalan government. I think it would be very wrong. And I think that right now, when everyone knows that the referendum can't take place because there isn't an electoral committee, there isn't a team at the Catalan government organizing the referendum. There aren't ballots; there aren't people at the voting stations. So it's just crazy. All this will lead to is noise. But certainly, there can't be a valid, democratic referendum with guarantees—with minimum guarantees.

I think the—what would make sense in a situation such as this is to go back to common sense and put an end to this whole story. The only thing it's doing is generating division, tensions, and it's not contributing in any way to the citizen situation. So I want this to be resolved as soon as possible. And I want us to go into a new stage where the rule of law, dialogue, and common sense will prevail. Thank you.

President Trump. Thank you. Major Garrett. Yes, CBS.

Q. Good afternoon, Mr. President.

President Trump. Yes, hi.

North Korea/Hurricane Maria Recovery Efforts in Puerto Rico

Q. The day began in Puerto Rico with government officials saying mayday and talking about the threat of death mere hours away. Are you truly satisfied with what the Government has done so far in Puerto Rico? And can you tell the people there that things are actually going great when government officials there are warning of imminent death of many people there? And you have a special meeting this afternoon. Are you contemplating the deployment of special naval assets or air assets to Puerto Rico to redress the problems there?

And on North Korea, very quickly, the Foreign Minister said you have declared, effectively, war on North Korea. And the North Korean Government has threatened to shoot down or aim at American planes flying in international airspace. I would like your reaction to both of those.

President Trump. Okay, well, I'll answer the second one first. We're totally prepared for the second option, not a preferred option. But if we take that option, it will be devastating—I can tell you that—devastating for North Korea. That's called the military option. If we have to take it, we will.

He's acting very badly. He's saying things that should never, ever be said. And we're replying to those things, but it's a reply. It's not an original statement, it's a reply. But the things that he said over the last year—and if you look back, the things that he said to past administrations—North Korea is a situation that should have been handled 25 years ago, 20 years ago, 15 years ago, 10 years ago, and 5 years ago, and it could have been handled much more easily. You had various administrations—many administrations—which left me a mess. But I'll fix the mess. So we'll see what happens with North Korea.

As far as Puerto Rico is concerned, I think just the opposite. We have had tremendous reviews from government officials, as we have in Texas and Louisiana, and as we have in Florida, as you know, from Governor Scott and Greg Abbott. Great Governors. And this morning the Governor made incredible statements about how well we're doing.

We understand it's a disaster; it's a disaster that just happened. The grid was in bad shape before the storm. And Puerto Rico didn't get hit by one hurricane, it got hit by two hurricanes, and they were among the biggest we've ever seen, with the second one being even worse. I mean, the second one hit Puerto Rico as a category 5. I don't believe anybody has ever seen that happen before: hit land with that kind of velocity. The Governor has been extremely generous, and I appreciated it. We right now have our top people from FEMA, and they have been there. We are unloading, on an hourly basis, massive loads of water and food and supplies for Puerto Rico.

And this isn't like Florida where we can go right up the spine or like Texas where we go right down the middle and we distribute. This is a thing called the Atlantic Ocean. This is tough stuff.

The Governor has been so incredible in his statements about the job we're doing. We're doing a great job. Don't forget, their police force has been decimated, because many of the police in Puerto Rico have lost their homes. So, sure, they want to be police, but they also want to be able to watch their families and find their families, and they have to live. So we're also very much involved in security in Puerto Rico.

Q. You said——

President Trump. So everybody has said it's amazing the job that we've done in Puerto Rico. We're very proud of it. And I'm going there on Tuesday. Now, with all of that being said, record—if you look at the amount of water dropped on that island, between the two hurricanes—and the first they just barely got by with, but they were devastated. And the second was a complete wipeout. I mean, this was a place that was destroyed.

So I think we've done a really good job. We're continuing to. We are literally unloading, on an hourly basis, water, food, supplies. We have our top people from FEMA and our first responders and everybody else. We're going to be deploying Navy ships—they've already been deployed. And we are going to do far more than anybody else would ever be able to do. And we're—it's being recognized as such, but it is a tough situation.

Would you have a question for the President?

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, if I may sir, do you share President Trump's hostility toward the Venezuelan regime? And what is your opinion, generally, of his—that is to say, President Trump's—suggestion that U.S. military intervention might be required if the Venezuelan Government doesn't change course? Do you support that? And would you be an advocate within the EU for tougher sanctions against the Venezuelan Government?

Prime Minister Rajoy. Well, we're spearheading in the European Union a proposal to impose sanctions on Venezuela. What is happening in Venezuela is unacceptable. Venezuela, traditionally, was a democratic country, and at this time, it's no longer a democratic country. There are political prisoners in Venezuela. There are people who are in jail only because they think differently than Mr. Maduro. And I was the first Prime Minister to receive Lilian Tintori, who is the wife of Leopoldo López, who was jailed because Mr. Maduro didn't like him. But there were many others who were sent to jail.

In Venezuela, there was a parliament, and the Government has made up this other parliament which has its meeting next to the other parliament, and it enacts legislation. They've created a commission for the truth, which is an antidemocratic tool which only serves to judge people without respecting minimum human rights standards.

Venezuela is on the road to dictatorship unless that can be stopped. So all of us who share values such as democracy, freedom, and human rights have to do something. At this time, sanctions are important. It's important that there be an international coalition putting pressure on Maduro so that political prisoners are freed and democracy is restored, because this lack of democracy and the attack against human rights and freedoms are—come in conjunction with a economic—a terrible economic situation: with a 300-percent inflation rate, with problems supplying foods and medicines to people.

So it's a really tragic situation, and I think that we have—we, the United States and Spain—have a responsibility towards Venezuela. There are a lot of Spaniards living in Venezuela, and I'm worried about them, about them and the rest. But they certainly worry me. So I think that the international community should be forceful with regards to Venezuela.

Catalan Independence Referendum

Q. Thank you. Pilar Santos from El Periódico de Catalunya. I have a question for each of you. For President Trump: With the serious political crisis in Spain because of the referendum on Sunday, what solution do you think there is? Have you given advice to President Rajoy on this matter? Do you think there should be a dialogue between the Generalitat and the Government to find a solution?

And now a question for Prime Minister Rajoy. It seems that what you're doing in Catalonia—the way you're managing things in Catalonia—is having an impact on the budget. And I would also like to know whether you think that situation with the PNV party can be resolved, or do you think that there will—you will have to call early elections. Thank you very much.

President Trump. Well, I think the people of Catalonia have been talking about this for a long time. But I'll bet you, if you had accurate numbers and accurate polling, you'd find that they love their country, they love Spain, and they wouldn't leave. So I'm just for a united Spain.

I speak as the President of the United States, as somebody that has great respect for your President and also has really great—really great—respect for your country. I really think the people of Catalonia would stay with Spain. I think it would be foolish not to. Because you're talking about staying with a truly great, beautiful, and very historic country.

Prime Minister Rajoy. Thank you. We will be delaying the budgets in Parliament because we think that when we submit the budgets we will need the needed support to approve them. We're talking with different political parties, as you know, and I don't think we'll have any problems if we continue to work down this line. We will—I don't think we'll have any problems in approving them within a reasonable timeframe, but we are looking for a majority, just like we did last time round when we voted the budget.

At any rate, I'm not thinking at all about calling early elections as a result of what we were saying.

President Trump. Mr. President, thank you very much. Thank you.

NOTE: The President's news conference began at 1:56 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, the President referred to Ambassador to Spain Kim Hyok Chol and Chairman of the Korean Worker's Party Kim Jong Un of North Korea; President Nicolas Maduro Moros of Venezuela; Gov. Richard L. Scott of Florida; and Gov. Gregory W. Abbott of Texas. He also referred to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist organization, also known as Daesh. Prime Minister Rajoy referred to former Mayor Leopoldo López of Chacao, Venezuela, in his capacity as leader of the opposition party The People's Will. Reporters referred to Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong Ho of North Korea; and the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) of Spain. Prime Minister Rajoy and some reporters spoke in Spanish, and their remarks were translated by an interpreter.

Donald J. Trump, The President's News Conference With Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Brey of Spain Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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