Via Conference Call
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon, guys. Some of you I’ve met before. For folks I haven’t met, look forward to seeing you on Saturday. For the purpose of the Vice President’s upcoming trip to Seoul, to Tokyo, to Jakarta, and to Sydney, we’re going to explain, lay out the administration’s policies to our allies, to our partners in the Asia Pacific region, and to develop some personal connections with key interlocutors as we conduct economic dialogues and business relationships and business listening session.
A couple of key themes that you’ll see reinforced throughout each visit with our alliances — that we are fully committed to our security alliances, especially in the face of our evolving security challenges. And you’ve seen the nuclear threat of North Korea, and we’ll reinforce those security alliances.
Also, a purpose of the visit — its key theme is our economic engagement — that withdrawing from the TPP shouldn’t be seen as a retreat from the region. Quite on the contrary, that our economic presence in the region and during continues to grow; our commitment to APEC, our existing bilateral agreement. And we’ll talk about the new economic dialogues with Japan, and as you saw with President Xi Jinping with China. And our economic presence in the region is enduring. We’ll talk about how to level the playing field and how to maximize growth for the United States.
And then I would say the third theme that we’ll reinforce is our partnership — partnerships with our key countries, for example, Indonesia; partnerships with key institutions like ASEAN; those organizations that help advance our efforts in defeating ISIS; those organizations that assist with the denuclearization of North Korea; and then just upholding the rules-based order.
Do you want me to go through some of the key meetings or messages with those meetings?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, I think that will be good.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. I’ll try these in chronological order, but bear with me if they’re a little bit out of order. Our visit with the Acting President, as we go into Seoul, the Vice President is going to reaffirm our commitment — ironclad U.S.-ROK alliance. And the Vice President is going to underscore intent — we’re going to continue to consult with the Republic of Korea on North Korea’s efforts to advance its ballistic missile and its nuclear program. So that will be critical as we sit down with the Acting President.
Kind of similarly with the key heads of state as the Vice President talks with Prime Minister Abe, he’ll underscore about the alliance and building on the discussion that the President had here, underscoring the alliance that they continue to serve as the cornerstone of peace and security in Asia and, obviously, as a platform for our global cooperation. The Vice President, I would anticipate, he’ll exchange views with Prime Minister Abe, and will talk security, economy, and regional issues.
You might have heard, as well, we’ll have our U.S.-Japan economic dialogue kick off. We discussed with the Deputy Prime Minister Aso and then also when Prime Minister Abe was here at the White House, down at Mar-a-Lago. So the Vice President is going to kick off the U.S.-Japan economic dialogue there in Tokyo with Deputy Prime Minister Aso, as we agreed to back in February. We agreed to the structure and the goals of the dialogue and kind of the kickoff of that dialogue going forward.
When we get to Indonesia with President Widodo, the Vice President is going to reaffirm our strategic partnership with Indonesia, thank him for their leadership on counterterrorism, and he’ll underscore the importance of their partnership on regional security challenges, again, like North Korea.
We’re going to meet with the ASEAN Secretariat, and we’re also going to meet with the permanent rep for the ASEAN Secretariat. It’s the 40th anniversary of our relations, and the 50th anniversary of ASEAN. So the Vice President will reaffirm and talk through some ways maybe to, perhaps, strengthen those strategic partnerships.
When we get down to Sydney, meeting with Prime Minister Turnbull and members of his administration, the Vice President is going to reaffirm our enduring presence in the region. We’ll thank Australia for its partnership in addressing global issues, and they’ll continue to discuss our bilateral trade and investment relations.
You heard from my colleague that at many of the stops we’re going to have business listening sessions and some remarks, so the Vice President is going to host smaller listening sessions with business leaders and then have some opportunities to speak to some of the larger business audiences to emphasize our administration’s economic agenda, focusing on free and fair trade.
And then a common theme again, you’ll see with the security alliance events. As my colleague mentioned, we’ll have an opportunity to address the troops at the USS Ronald Reagan, and bring those security discussions at each of the stops with the two leaders, and, as we talked about, rebuilding our U.S. military and the commitment to our alliances and our partners in the region. And then the people-to-people events, we’ll have great opportunity to get out and we’ll have a few events there separate from the national security and the economic dialogue that some other events underscore — shared history, shared values, religious freedom, entrepreneurship. So we’ll do that in every country.
And I think that hits the highlights.
Q Justin from Bloomberg. I have two separate questions. One was on the South Korea portion, and obviously the North Korea issue is kind of looming over that. So I’m wondering if you can talk at all about whether the Vice President will be talking about some of the military options that the White House has been apparently considering in relation to North Korea, and also give kind of an update on the state of the THAAD deployment and how soon it might be operational — if that’s going to something that’s talked about.
And then sort of separately, on Japan and the economic talks, I’m wondering if you could, I guess, generally talk about what some of the Vice President’s priorities are going to be, but specifically wondering if he’s going to advocate for U.S. pharmaceutical companies. I know President Trump has talked about wanting other countries to kind of pay their fair share, and Japan has been one where they’ve been really hit hard by price cuts. I know that’s a lot, but that’s all I got.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATON OFFICIAL: I can take the North Korea and THAAD. And I don’t my if my colleague is over there with you that can hit the pharmaceutical question. But I can take the first two, if you’d like.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Please do.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So to reference the military option, obviously the Vice President and the President have been in close collaboration with Secretary Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Dunford, General McMaster and the entire National Security Council as we develop not only for South Korea and the region, but as it relates to all of our national security strategy, but with particular emphasis on the belligerency of North Korea — absolutely we’ll be discussing that with our allies and partners at every stop. And we’ve got some military options already being assessed, but we’ll work that as we sit down in discussions with General Brooks, the commander there on Peninsula.
THAAD, I would imagine, would come up in the course of those discussions. Obviously, they’ve got an election that’s coming up in the next few weeks, and that has been a domestic issue for the South Koreans. But from the military standpoint, I would imagine it would come up probably on their end, but we’re prepared to address that as well. It’s a critical point for the defense of South Korea in recognizing it’s not an offensive weapon, it’s there to prevent rockets slamming from the North Koreans. I would imagine both of those will come up.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATON OFFICIAL: As it relates to the question on Japan and pharmaceuticals, the Vice President’s goal in this is really to establish a bilateral framework that the future discussions — to lead and guide the future discussions in the coming month — do not see it getting at industry-specific level. This is going to stay very high level, anticipating just identifying the framework in the areas in which we’ll go forward. But I don’t think it’s going to get into specific industry-level at this time (inaudible) continue.
Q Could I just follow up on one of the answers to Justin’s questions? Can you just clarify what you mean by military options with regard to North Korea? Are we talking about kind of changing force posture, moving pieces around the border? Or are you considering something more substantial?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATON OFFICIAL: No, we won’t talk specifics of our strategy. Obviously, in our commitment to the Republic of Korea, we consult with them as well — those discussions, as part of the broader assessment with the National Security Council, so we wouldn’t get into the weeds in the military setting. That is the purview of the Secretary of Defense. But in the broad national security discussions, we’d welcome the dialogue between the Vice President and the South Korea’s leadership, but just as a continuation of dialogue that’s already been in place.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, and the only thing I would add, too — the President has been very clear that, you know, under his leadership that we are not going to telegraph future potential moves one way or the other when it comes to military or national security issues. That’s just not something in a public area that we’re just going to engage in at any time.
Q Hi, it’s Roberta from Reuters. I wanted to ask two things — one about Japan and one about Indonesia. In Japan, will the Vice President discuss at all any plans that the Trump administration may have to pursue a bilateral trade deal with Japan? I know you said that they’re going to be sort of high-level discussions, but is that kind of one of the goals that he wants to discuss?
And then, in Indonesia, in the discussions about business issues and free and fair trade, does the Vice President intend to discuss the ongoing dispute between U.S. mining company, Freeport, and the Indonesian government?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So in terms of the first question, which was involving the free trade agreement, again, this is establishing a framework for future discussions. The President has made very clear that we are looking for free, balanced, and fair trade with all of our allies and partners. And that is in the spirit and faith that we are moving forward. We have a longtime relationship with Japan. It is the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the Asia Pacific region, and so we’re going to work together in the mutual interests of both. And really, in terms of — and so that’s the framework which we will move under.
As it relates to the issue in Indonesia, we’re going to discuss the business environment in Indonesia in a general sense, but it would not be appropriate, if that came up, for us to comment on something that is currently going through in a private business matter.
Q So, sorry, just to clarify — does that mean the Vice President will seek to avoid talking about it because it’s an ongoing issue?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn’t be surprised if it came up, but it is something, obviously, that the Indonesian government and the company are working through their issues. And so that would be — that’s the level that that would be handled at.
Q So he doesn’t plan to weigh in on it one way or the other? That’s what you’re saying.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m sorry. I missed that.
Q Sorry, so the Vice President wouldn’t plan to weigh in on it one way or the other; he would want it to be left between the company and the government?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The one thing that I would suggest is that — as companies internationally are looking to potential investments in Indonesia, they obviously look to see how the business climate, the business environment is in terms of its relationships overall. So I think it would be (inaudible) of that structure and how it might be viewed by potential investors who might be weighing various options for investment in Southeast Asia, it would come up, obviously, in terms of how it would relate toward that.
Q Hi. It’s Ken Thomas with AP. On South Korea, do you expect the Vice President to talk about potential sanctions on North Korea or firms that do business with North Korea?
And then separately, there’s obviously an election coming up in South Korea in May. Do you expect the Vice President to meet with any or all of the major candidates running to become the next President of South Korea?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Ken, this reference to sanctions is just — it’s another tool at our disposal. I would imagine again that the South Korean leadership may raise that as a point and we’re prepared to address that. Obviously, we’ve been working here collaboratively with the National Security Council, again, to look for a wide range of options for North Korea, one of which, to no surprise, would be sanctions. So if that is raised, we’re prepared to discuss it. This would not — not open the dialogue with that, but that is, obviously, a tool at the administration’s disposal.
In reference to the election, yeah, we’ve chosen not to — we’re going to meet with the current Acting President and not the presidential candidates. The election is coming up and we feel confident that the free and fair elections with the South Korean people — whomever they choose as their President — that we’ll be able to work on behalf with the administration and continue to move our relationship forward.
Any other questions?
Q Hey, guys. It’s Dana Bash. I just have a quick question, just broadly, about South Korea and whether or not the Vice President is going to be coming — carrying a specific message, obviously in private, but even maybe more so in public about America’s support for South Korea and the region, obviously, given the saber-rattling and everything we’ve been seeing happening in the North. I mean, is there anything specific and concrete that he’s going to deliver either rhetorically or even more?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The thing I would tell you is I think the overriding message that the Vice President will be taking on a national security side to South Korea is that our long alliance between the U.S. and South Korea is the linchpin of peace and prosperity, that the President takes national security as a top priority, and that we have an ironclad commitment to all of our allies in the Asia Pacific that we take their defense very seriously, and that is unwavering.
Q It’s Andrew again from AFP. If I could just ask how you’re kind of approaching the possibility of North Korea testing either a nuclear device or missile on the day, or just before, we’re taking off. Like, what kind of contingencies are you making? Would you expect that it would alter the substance or the actual logistics of his trip, of the Vice President’s trip?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, first and foremost, the administration has been very clear — the President, you’ve heard again, of the actions — options available against North Korea — and our allies in the region. They’ve telegraphed a bit. It’s not a surprise that the anniversary is on Saturday. Traditionally, in the big parade — rolls out his weapons and his mock weapons. So we’re anticipating that. The intelligence community is obviously keeping the President and the Vice President well informed on activities in the region, and the Defense Department and other partners have developed those options.
So, safety first, but do we anticipate it? Possibly. But are there options already developed? Absolutely. Unfortunately, it’s not a new surprise for us. He continues to develop this program. He continues to launch missiles into the Sea of Japan. So with that regime it’s not a matter of “if,” it’s “when.” So we’re well prepared to counter that.
Q Can I ask another quick one just on Australia? Because it hasn’t come up. I’m wondering if the Vice President will have a message on the refugee deal. Obviously that was kind of a big point of contention in the President’s first couple of weeks. So I’m just wondering if you guys are planning on, I guess, having any concrete new news on that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn’t anticipate any new news on that front. I mean, obviously, it’s entirely appropriate for a new President to ask questions about agreements struck by his predecessors, especially when it could involve the safety and security of the American people. But the United States is living up to its agreements, and the President is confident that the necessary vetting procedures are in place to protect Americans while, at the same time, accepting refugees through the deal struck by the Obama administration.
So I wouldn’t anticipate anything other than — anything additional coming up in that respect.
4:33 P.M. EDT