New York, New York
5:13 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: This is the quietest I think I’ve ever seen this group of people.
The President has had a full day of engagements on his first day of the U.N. General Assembly. This morning, he spoke by phone with the President of China on the need to keep the pressure on North Korea.
At the U.N., he participated in a meeting and gave remarks on reforming the United Nations as an institution so that it better lives up to the founding ideas.
The President supports the Secretary-General’s reform agenda for the United Nations, and was pleased to join nearly 130 countries and support a big, bold reform to eliminate inefficiency.
The President then spent some of time with his national security team going over tomorrow’s address to the General Assembly, which will be his first. I know you heard from a senior White House official on that earlier, and as a reminder, those comments are embargoed until 9:00 p.m. tonight. If you didn’t get that, let our press team know and we’ll make sure we send you the transcript.
In the afternoon, the President participated in two bilateral meetings, one with the Prime Minister of Israel and the other with the President of France. We’ll have readouts of those meetings shortly.
Tonight he will host a working dinner with key Latin American leaders to discuss the crisis in Venezuela. And we’ll also have a readout of that dinner.
Tomorrow will be another big day, but before we get to tomorrow, I’d like to introduce Brian Hook. Brian is the Director of Policy at the State Department and Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State. He participated in today’s meetings and engagements and can give you more detail on those.
The ground rules are that Brian will speak on the record but off camera, and his remarks are embargoed until the conclusion of the briefing. He’ll be happy to take questions from you guys specific to activities ongoing here at the U.N. If you have questions beyond that scope, the press team is happy to follow up with you after by email or phone. As you know, we’re here and happy to help.
So with that, I’ll turn it over to Brian. Thanks, guys.
Q It’s embargoed until the end?
MS. SANDERS: Yes, embargoed until the end.
Q On the record?
MS. SANDERS: On the record, but off camera.
MR. HOOK: Hi there. Good to be with you. Why don’t I start first with Israel, which was the first of the two meetings that the President had.
The President and Prime Minister Netanyahu had a very good meeting. They reviewed progress on shared priorities, especially around Iran and Syria. They also discussed the Middle East peace process.
The President reaffirmed America’s unshakable bond with the Jewish state. He is committed to Israel’s security. They discussed at length countering Iran’s malign influence in the region. And in Syria, they discussed defeating ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups.
They discussed the Middle East peace process. The President believes that peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is possible. He is deeply committed to achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. He and his team have continued deliberations with leaders on both sides on potential steps to reach a comprehensive peace agreement. His team recently had multiple meetings with leaders in the region, and obviously a good deal of work remains to be done, but discussions remain serious and constructive.
On the France meeting, the three topics that were primarily discussed were Iran, countering Iran’s malign activities, especially in Syria; they discussed Hurricane Irma; and they also discussed the Paris Agreement.
President Trump considers President Macron a very, very good friend. They actually spent the first part of their meeting reminiscing about the President’s trip to France and talked at length about the Bastille Day Parade and celebrating America’s oldest alliance and discussing, when he was there, commemorating America’s entry into World War I.
With respect to Iran, they both share the same concern and high priority around countering Iran’s malign activities in the region. And one of the things that’s common to both the meetings with the French and the Israelis is this deep and abiding concern about Iran’s activities in Syria, and broadly — whether it’s in Yemen or Syria, Iraq, Lebanon.
One of the things they discussed was not allowing the “Lebanization” of Syria, and — this is in the meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. But it was common to both meetings, discussing the kind of work ahead to address Iran’s work around ballistic missiles, the nuclear program, and its range of destabilizing activities in the region.
The President of France thanked the President for the relief that the United States provided in the context of Hurricane Irma, and these are two countries who were both hit very hard by the recent hurricanes. And so they discussed St. Maartens and St. Barts; and as I mentioned, Iran, climate and Paris, and they discussed briefly the Middle East peace process.
That’s the summary of the two meetings, happy to take any questions.
Q With respect to the parade, it sounds like it’s something the President is thinking about quite a bit. So I’m wondering — is the State Department being consulted about it? And do you have a view on the brandishing of U.S. military power down on Pennsylvania Avenue and how that might affect the world?
MR. HOOK: Well, President Trump said to President Macron that it was a very inspiring parade — the way it was executed, how they did it, the way they presented France’s military history. He said the spirit of France was brought alive by the parade.
And he, I think, took away a lot of good examples from that. What will happen in the future — unclear. But he was very inspired by it.
Q Do you think it’s needed? Does the State Department think it’s needed to have something like that in Washington, D.C.?
MR. HOOK: Don’t have a comment on that, just that the President was very inspired by the parade.
Q Brian, can you flesh out what you mean by a “Lebanization” of Syria, and the degree to which the post-battlefield discussion about Syria and Iraq occurred in these two meetings?
MR. HOOK: Iran takes advantage of failed states, and civil wars, and wars generally. It is the kind of environment that is conducive to activating their proxy network, and they are doing that in Syria. And it is the policy of the United States to deny them that space in Syria and to do what we can to prevent Iran from establishing any deep roots in Syria.
And so this is a concern identical to — the Israelis have the same concern. And so it’s something that we’re very focused on. We are in the process of destroying and defeating ISIS. And as we’re also working toward stabilizing Syria, there will be a period then — post-civil war. And we are keeping a very close eye on Iranian activities in Syria and working with our partners, as best we can, to deny Iran the space to organize in Syria, whether it’s against us or it’s against the Israelis.
Q Brian, the U.S. has until the middle of next month to certify the Iran deal. Should we — the President said today that we would find out soon his thinking on this. Is this something we should anticipate in some form to come during the United Nations visit here? Or what should we be anticipating in terms of any sort of declarative statements about the status of that?
MR. HOOK: Well, I don’t want to preview the President’s speech tomorrow, but Iran is something, as I said, that is a foreign policy — a national security priority for the United States.
With respect to the JCPOA, there is an INARA certification coming up on October 15th, and that decision is still under review by the President with the Secretary of State and his national security cabinet. So I don’t want to prejudge that decision. It’s still another month or so away, but the policy is under review.
But I will say that, on Iran, we are taking a comprehensive approach to the range of Iran activities — its threat network, its ballistic missile systems, its nuclear program. And that is something which I think is very much needed after the Iran deal.
I think the Iran deal became a proxy for an Iran policy, and we are trying to take a comprehensive approach and bringing in all of Iran’s activities — terrorism, nukes, missiles, regional instability — so that we’re not substituting the Iran deal for an Iran policy.
Q Did President Trump speak with Prime Minister Netanyahu about what he thinks should be the endgame of the peace process? And did he mention if he supports the principle of a two-state solution?
MR. HOOK: What we have been — what the President has been talking about in the context of Middle East peace is trying to avoid bumper stickers and slogans around this. He does not want to impose a solution. And what he’s really trying to do is work as a facilitator to find a solution that both sides can accept. Ambassador Friedman has talked about it in terms of a win-win for both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
He does want to take a new approach, and when you look at the changes in the Arab world — and he talked a lot about this on his trip — his first international trip where he first started in Saudi Arabia and then went on to the Vatican and then Israel — you do have changes in the Arab world. And I think specifically there is a growing recognition of the common threat from Iran. And — you have a new administration, you have a different mindset in the region, and that, I think, is creating an environment that is more conducive to a peace agreement.
But the President very much believes that this is propitious time and an important time. You’ve got an environment broadly that is very conducive to negotiations. We’re taking a new approach. He’s got a great team who is working on this with Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt and Ambassador Friedman, Dina Powell. They recently made a trip to the region, and they’re meeting with all sides. And this is a way of trying to facilitate; it’s a facilitation role and not imposing a solution on the outside.
And so I think today they did have a good discussion about it, and I think they’re both pleased with the kind of progress — this is very early stages, and we shouldn’t expect major breakthroughs right now or detailed proposals quite yet. But that team that I just described with President is focusing a lot of energy around that.
Q How much time did the Israeli-Palestinian issue take up of the meeting? And is the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu on the same page of taking the next step towards relaunching negotiations?
MR. HOOK: I didn’t keep a stopwatch, in terms of just how long everybody discussed each subject. As I said, they spent a lot of time talking about Iran and about Syria — Middle East peace.
I would say it was an equitable distribution of topics. I think each was given the time necessary needed to kind of give it full justice. So, it was a very good discussion.
But these discussions are so regular, it wasn’t a lot of time that had elapsed because the trip that Jared and his team recently made was only a few weeks ago. And so, we’re in regular discussions with the Israelis.
Q Going back to the meeting with Macron. You said that you’re taking a more regional approach, you’re looking more at the totality of Iran’s behavior. Can you talk about any of the specifics that you discussed at with the French about what they might be willing to do, I guess, on the sidelines of the deal?
MR. HOOK: What’s that last part? I didn’t understand the last part.
Q Just what agreements are the French willing to make in the context of the JCPOA and that you’re looking to strengthen the policy?
MR. HOOK: The President believes that the JCPOA is deeply flawed, and he did share his views with President Macron about how he believes the deal is flawed. And they talked about the sunset, the lack of a sunset, and the kind of advantages that this deal — this one-sided deal — accrues to Iran.
And so the President was very candid with him about what he thinks of the shortcomings of the JCPOA. He said that, as I said earlier, he told him that it is under review, and that they are taking a hard look at the October 15th decision, and more broadly how to fix the Iran deal.
But they also did discuss this integrated strategy that I was talking about earlier. When you look at the support for terrorism, the ballistic missile program, destabilization in the Middle East, and other aggressions — I mean, France has been on the receiving end of Iran’s aggressive actions. And so they feel this acutely.
And so I felt like there was a lot of agreement about the areas of focus. And so I think that was very encouraging. The discussion was very encouraging about Iran.
Q Can you talk a little bit more about the conversation about the Paris Agreement with President Macron?
MR. HOOK: On the Paris Agreement, the President talked through that he believes it’s just simply unfair — that he thought other countries, particularly China, received a better deal than the United States negotiated. And he talked about the consequence of the Paris Agreement for American workers, American industries, and the American economy.
I think the United States and France do have differing views on the benefits of that agreement to our two countries. But they did both discuss — I think there is agreement, the President talked about this, about clean air, clean water, protecting the environment, and promoting economic growth. The President believes that we can achieve these things. He does not believe that the Paris Agreement is a framework to achieve those goals around clean energy, protecting the environment, and promoting economic growth.
He did say that he’s very proud of America’s record on clean energy and on being a leader in clean technology. And he wants to work with France and other countries on technology and policy innovations that balance this need for both protecting the environment and for economic growth.
Q If I may, was there any discussion about maybe renegotiating the Paris deal? I know that the President has said he’s open to that if it’s more fair to America’s workers. Did he lay out any of those parameters?
MR. HOOK: The President focused repeatedly, in their meeting, on fairness. And it was a theme that he returned to again and again — that he thought that it was badly negotiated. He also thought the Iran deal was badly negotiated. And so he has inherited the Paris Agreement and the Iran deal.
And he thinks that if you — I think he is very open to considering a number of different options, as long as they are fair to America’s interests, which include promoting the economy, protecting the environment — a range of those things.
And so, as I said, I do think that there is an agreement on the priorities. He doesn’t think that the Paris Agreement is the best vehicle to achieve the priorities around protecting the environment because it advantages other countries, especially China, more than it helps the United States.
Q Going back to the JCPOA, you spoke a bit about what President Trump said, but what did President Macron say about his position on the JCPOA? Is he open to reopening it? Is he okay with President Trump decertifying it? Is he open to supplemental agreements? I mean, could you please be specific on that front?
MR. HOOK: That’s a question for President Macron. I don’t want to speak for him. His team is best — I mean, I really don’t want to speak for him. He was in the meeting and he’s got a team, and I don’t want to misspeak or miscapture. You really should ask him.
But they did — I’m telling you, they had a very good discussion about it. But I don’t want to explain France’s position on the JCPOA. They’ve done that publicly. And so, they had a good discussion about it.
Q But broadly, though — you said that they had differing views on climate change, on the Paris Agreement. Would you say, broadly, they had differing views on the Iran deal?
MR. HOOK: They actually spent most of their time talking about Iran’s terrorist activities in the Middle East. Now, they did discuss the Iran deal, but there really is a need for us to take a comprehensive approach to Iran, and he really understood that.
And so, this was not a one-sided discussion about the JCPOA. It was a very helpful discussion and a very encouraging discussion. Obviously, France, during the negotiation of the JCPOA, expressed some concerns about the deal. They still have those concerns. But it really is beyond just the Iran deal.
The Iran deal is an arms control political agreement. And it’s one piece of all of the issues that exist between Iran, the leading sponsor of terrorism in the world, and the rest of the world. And so, we were very encouraged that there is a convergence of views to take a comprehensive approach to what Iran is doing.
Q Following up on the climate change discussion, I understand that the President emphasized fairness, but there have been some questions, after Secretary Tillerson’s comments over the weekend and also after the meeting this morning between Gary Cohn and some other ministers about what would be considered fair terms for renegotiation. Can you outline what those would be and whether the President addressed that specifically?
MR. HOOK: They did not get into specific terms in this bilateral meeting on what — there wasn’t a detailed discussion about fairness, in terms of all of the elements of it. It was more of a discussion around how the President views it, but it was very broadly.
And he did — as I said, he emphasized fairness but it was not — there’s a lot to cover in a bilat, and there’s only a certain amount of time to go through these things. And so I think a lot of the details will end up being left to Gary and the NEC, which has been leading the interagency process on climate policy. And that’s something, probably, going to be worked out with Gary and his counterparts.
Q A question on Syria diplomacy. The French are pushing this idea of a new contact group. Did that come up in the discussion between the two Presidents? What’s the view from the U.S. side of this proposal? And, I suppose, the sticky bit — what’s the view about whether Iran could be a member of that contact group?
MR. HOOK: I’m trying to remember. On Syria, we have a lot of joint efforts in Syria with the French. We talked about the ceasefire and the de-escalation zone in southwest Syria. They talked about ways that our governments can work better together to continue enforcing the ceasefire and making it a success.
They talked about chemical weapons. The President discussed how important it was to enforce the international ban against chemical weapons. And the missiles — the 59 missiles that were sent into Syria — was meant to galvanize and sort of re-galvanize global opposition to chemical weapons and the use of chemical weapons.
And so they did discuss chemical weapons, and talked about the progress that they’re making destroying ISIS in its physical caliphate, preventing its return to liberated areas, and stopping ISIS fighters from returning to conduct attacks. That was —
Q But the contact group ideas that the French are floating — did that come up?
MR. HOOK: That was discussed very briefly.
Q I wanted to step back for a second, more generally, and ask you if you could help many of us understand a little bit about how the President is viewing his time here generally and his speech tomorrow, from a broad sense.
In terms of — we heard earlier today that the administration and the President is not interested in nation-building, not interested in using the military to promote democracy, not interested in telling other people how to live or what kind of governments they want to have. Does the President see his time here as promoting the United States just for — to try to prove the U.S. position in the world? Or does he see his time here and his speech as a way to reaffirm the U.S. as something to — as sort of a symbol of democracy and human rights and freedom around the world, as something other countries should strive for?
MR. HOOK: I don’t want to get ahead of the President’s speech tomorrow, and so I won’t. This will be his first address to the U.N. General Assembly. The President has been working very well with the U.N. Security Council. We’ve used it in a number of different ways, especially, most recently, with North Korea.
And the U.N. Security Council resolutions — we often don’t get everything we want. They’re often diluted by members of the P5, but they are a force-multiplier to bring a global approach to global threats.
And so I would just say that, so far in this administration, the President has worked well with the U.N. Security Council to try to leverage it for the purposes that the U.N. Charter created, which is to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. And I think the President will, like most presidents, be talking about the ideals of the U.N. and its charter, and how we have worked with the U.N. Security Council to be addressing threats to international peace and security. But beyond that, I’ll let the President speak for himself tomorrow.
Q Thanks very much. I wanted to ask a broad question about these kind of multilateral agreements. The President seems to have taken the view that many of the agreements that were created before he came into office were kind of rubbish and he can do a better job. Why do you think that is? Why do you think he takes that approach?
MR. HOOK: In terms of the Iran deal and the Paris deal?
Q And I’m thinking NAFTA, I’m thinking T-PP, I’m thinking JCPOA —
MR. HOOK: In my space, in foreign policy, of the areas that you mentioned that I work on, are Iran and — specifically for me, around the Iran deal and JCPOA. And so Gary Cohn has been leading on climate.
I would just say that the President does not believe that these were well-negotiated. It’s really not a knock on multilateralism. I think it really is just a matter of negotiating. Whether it’s a bilateral or a multilateral or a trilateral deal, at the end of the day, the terms are what matters.
I think he focuses much more on the outcome than he does on the process. And so, I think he’s fairly agnostic on the process. In the case of the Iran deal, that was P5+1, and it was a — he believes that it was a very badly negotiated deal that does not advance America’s national security interests. And he thinks that — so it’s under review.
And so I really don’t think it’s anything particular about the process. It’s more about the outcome.
MS. SANDERS: We have time for one more question.
Q I better make it good. (Laughter.) This was sort of touched on earlier, but the idea of the framework of Paris not being the right way to move forward, but the idea that there could be some other way to move forward — I just don’t understand how to process that. I mean, does that mean that the U.S. is going to get back into a climate deal, it’s just not going to be called the Paris climate deal and are those talks proceeding apace?
And I’m going to take a stab at a speech question while I’m here. Did Secretary of State Tillerson have input into this speech — the writing of the speech, the shaping of the speech, the points that the President was making? Has he been a full part of the consultative process? And has the U.N. Ambassador as well?
MR. HOOK: Yes, he has. Secretary Tillerson — yes, he has.
Q And Haley as well?
MR. HOOK: I don’t know.
Q And on the Paris one?
MR. HOOK: On Paris — is it the question of what? I’m still not quite sure what you mean.
Q Maybe I’m reading too much into what you were saying. It sounded like you were saying that the U.S. believes in the goals of doing clean energy things that are environmentally sound, they just think that Paris itself is too flawed to be the right framework for it. So maybe we’ve all been thinking about this the wrong way. Instead of figuring out whether the U.S. is getting back into Paris, should we be trying to figure out whether there’s going to be something called, you know, “Manhattan 2018” or whatever?
MR. HOOK: Going back to what I said earlier about the outcome, I think the focus for the President, with respect to climate is getting a fair deal. He did say to President Macron that he looks forward to continuing discussions with him. He is, I think, open to a number of different approaches that properly balance protecting the environment, and protecting American workers, and promoting economic growth, and not giving an unfair advantage to other countries while America is disadvantaged.
And so I think there are obviously many different ways to reach an agreement around that. And we’ve seen various versions of that, whether it’s around the environment or national security or trade — any number of things. But the President is very open to an outcome that achieves fairness in the areas that I mentioned.
Okay, thank you.
5:43 P.M. EDT