Background Briefing on the President's Trip to France, 7/11/2017
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:32 P.M. EDT
AIDE: Good afternoon. For your recording purposes, this background briefing on the President’s upcoming foreign travel is off-camera and not for broadcast. Attribution for your briefing is senior administration official. This information will be embargoed until the conclusion of the briefing and we’ll release a transcript afterwards.
Okay, so open remarks and when my colleague calls on you, please identify who you are, and your outlet, so he knows who he's speaking with. Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for being here. For the next few minutes I’d like to brief you on the President’s upcoming trip to Paris later this week.
The President will arrive in Paris midmorning on Thursday, July 13th to conduct meetings with President Macron of France and to participate the next day in annual Bastille Day celebrations at the invitation of President Macron, and the First Lady will also accompany.
On arrival on Thursday morning, the President will move to the U.S. Embassy for a meet-and-greet with embassy staff and also with U.S. participants who will be in the Bastille Day festivities on the following day, Friday.
Following the meet-and-greet, he will have a working lunch with senior members of his delegation and senior U.S. military leaders participating in the ceremonies. They include the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Joseph Dunford; the Commander of U.S. European Command and the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Mike Scaparrotti; and the Army Vice Chief of Staff, General James McConville.
Later in the afternoon, the President and First Lady will be greeted by President and Mrs. Macron at the Hotel Invalides. And while there, they will be hosted for a tour of the tomb of Marshal Foch, who was the Supreme Allied Commander at the end of World War I, the French National War Museum, and also the tomb of Napoleon.
The tour will be followed by bilateral meetings with President Macron and his senior advisors. The meeting will focus on Syria and counterterrorism topics. We also anticipate the two Presidents, in the introductory one-on-one meeting, will also share perspectives from the recent G20 meeting.
The bilateral discussion will be followed by a press event where President Macron and President Trump will make remarks followed by questions from the media.
Later that evening, the President and the First Lady will be hosted for a private dinner by President and Mrs. Macron.
On Friday, July 14th, the President and First Lady will participate as guests of honor in the annual Bastille Day ceremonies on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. This is the French National Day.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the entry of American troops onto French soil and into World War I. As they do every year, French troops from all of the French military services will participate. This year will also feature participation by U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines from the Army’s 1st Infantry Division -- of note because this was also the first U.S. unit to enter France and actually participated in the Bastille Day festivities in 1917 and was the first U.S. unit to go into combat -- the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which is also based in Europe; the 10th Mountain Division; U.S. Army Europe’s 7th Army Training Command; sailors from U.S. Naval Forces Europe; airmen from U.S. Air Forces Europe; and Marines from U.S. Marine Forces Europe.
The U.S. Air Force demonstration team, the Thunderbirds, will also participate and conduct a fly-over during the ceremony. And there will be one U.S. naval aviator who will pilot a French Rafale fighter plane as part of the festivities. Three U.S. veterans of the Normandy invasion will also be present.
At the conclusion of the Bastille Day ceremonies, the President and First Lady will depart.
So that’s a quick overview of the President’s trip. I’m happy to take your questions at this time. Yes, ma’am.
Q I had two questions, sort of unrelated. On climate, you did mention that those were the subjects. So is that just completely off the table, or is the President going to entertain any discussions on that? Obviously very contentious with President Macron. My second question has nothing to do with that, so I can wait until after you answer that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right, sure. The conduct of the bilateral session which is scheduled for something like an hour, an hour and 15 minutes, is based on topics that were coordinated with the French President. It’s entirely possible that President Macron will raise the issue. And if he does, the President has spoken on the issue a number of times and he’ll be ready to engage in that as well.
Q I mean, did they discuss that enough during the G20 Summit? Is that why it’s not being prioritized this time around? Or is there any reason?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I can’t speak for the French. They asked to focus the discussion on Syria and CT, but it’s entirely possible that it may come up on the margins.
Q Got it. Totally unrelated topic, but since we have you, the BBC was reporting today that President Trump will not have an official visit to the UK this year -- maybe not a state visit either. We’re trying to kind of determine what the plan is. He said he’s going to go last week. So if you don’t mind, if you have any clarity on that, that would be great.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, what we know about that is that the United Kingdom has extended an invitation for a state visit, the President has accepted, and the timing is being worked out between the two governments right now.
Q What are you guys hoping to accomplish with this trip? Obviously it’s really short. Is there anything by way of deliverables that you could expect? Or what’s the goal here?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, let’s keep in mind what the, sort of, centerpiece of the trip is, which is the French National Day and its celebration of the 100th anniversary of U.S. forces entering World War I -- an entry which was really decisive, historically. The French Army had sustained horrendous losses over three years of war; Russia had just fallen out of the war because of the Bolshevik Revolution, so a million German forces were being transferred to the Western Front. And so while we certainly didn’t win the war by ourselves, the American contribution was decisive in the outcome of the war.
So I think that’s the primary reason of this particular visit at this particular time. The national guest of honor, the nation which is the guest of honor, is the United States for this year’s Bastille Day celebration, and the President and First Lady have been invited as guest of honor for that. And so, of course, while there they’re going to use the opportunity to discuss topics of mutual interest, but that’s really the centerpiece of this visit.
Q We saw the President and President Macron talking a lot on the sidelines at the G20. They seemed to spend a significant amount of time together, and you seem to mention that as separate from the Syria and counterterrorism things. So I’m wondering if there were specific policies or topics that they were going to want to follow up on in this bilat.
And then, secondly, if you could kind of put the President’s visit and how you see it into, I guess, the broader context of what President Macron has been trying to do in his, sort of, first months in office. Obviously, President Putin was visiting a few weeks ago. He's kind of had a number of these big events. Just kind of maybe some insight into how you -- what you see as some of their reason for wanting to do this.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Pretty broad question. Of course, the President is going to be prepared to discuss a wide range of topics. I think that goes without saying. But we expect most of the discussion to focus on what's going on in Syria right now, and then the French and American cooperation both inside the alliance and bilaterally with respect to that, and counterterrorism issues not only in Syria, but in other places.
I think I'll just leave it at that. Yes, ma'am.
Q You said the two leaders would be sharing perspectives from the G20. Can you elaborate on that? What specifically -- which specific perspective does President Trump hope to share with President Macron?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, what I mean by that is both leaders had a number of pull-asides and bilateral exchanges with other heads of state. And what we expect is that President Macron and President Trump, when they have their private one-on-one session, will probably ask each other about those: What were your impressions of your meeting with, I don’t know, Prime Minister May or President Putin, or whatever. I think that's highly likely.
And then, after the one-on-one session, they will move into a group session where their senior advisors will come in and they'll get on with the more formal agenda. That's what I meant by that.
Q Can you characterize the dynamic between President Macron and President Trump during those G20 meetings, and whether the issue of migration came up, and if that's something that they're going to talk about during this visit?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t believe they had a formal bilateral session at the G20. And the reason is because they've spoken at length a number of times before and knew they were going to be meeting in Paris this week. So that's the -- I guess that's the answer to that.
More generally, I would characterize the relationship between the two of them as being very positive. I've personally been present at a number of phone calls between the two of them. I see the chemistry as being very good. There are some issues where we see the world a little bit differently, but many issues where we see the world more or less the same. The French are and have been, and will be, very close security partners of ours who cooperate in many different domains and on many different issues. And I think the relationship, still in its early stages, is a very, very good one.
Q Can I follow up on that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure.
Q There was a lot made of the body language between Macron and Trump in their two handshakes. There was one at the G20, too, where they had this sawing motion, this sort of strong handshake. Is there anything larger to say about that? Are they rivals? Are they entering into a rivalry here in any way? Can you expand on that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t want to get into characterizing body language. I do share with you -- my personal observation has been that their chemistry is quite positive and very good. President Macron really is an innovative, charismatic guy who's trying to do some different things in France, and his political party didn’t exist a couple of years ago. So in that respect, he's been a real trailblazer. And I think both of them think they have some things in common in their experience. Obviously, many differences, but some things in common. So I see it as a very positive developing relationship.
In the back. Yes, ma'am.
Q Can you talk about -- are you expecting any sort of protests at all during the President's time there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Always possible. But President Macron has indicated he doesn’t expect to see anything of particular note on this, certainly nothing like we see at all the G20 events.
Q Thank you. A couple for you. First, I know that Secretary Mattis has been asking NATO partners to pony up troop contributions for the new strategy. Does the United States at this point have everything it needs from France, or will the President be asking President Macron directly for troop contributions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President is consistent in this message whenever he meets NATO as a body, or whenever he meets his counterparts among the NATO allied nations. France is currently spending 1.8 percent of its GDP, so it's very close to the 2 percent target that was agreed at Wales in 2014. And their numbers are trending in a positive direction, and they've assured the President that they have every intention of meeting the Wales targets, which are supposed to be met by 2024.
I sort of remind the audience that France is far and away one of the largest and strongest military members of the alliance and spends an awful lot of defense right now, and carries a heavy load in the counterterrorism fight, in particular in places so that really we don’t have to. So when you consider that the Sahel, for example, is half the size of the United States, and the French are carrying on the counterterrorism effort there with 4,000 or 5,000 French soldiers, I mean, their contributions are great.
I think the President is happy with where France is and doesn’t see that as a particular issue.
Q And then, on a lighter note, are there cultural sights that the President would like to see while he's in Paris?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, he's not going to be there very long, but, yeah, I think what he's going to see at the Invalides is going to be great. That's where the French President would like to take him. So there's going to be a real photo opportunity there. And then, if you've ever been on the Champs-Élysées for Bastille Day, it's pretty spectacular. There's not a lot of time, given the meetings that they've scheduled for the President to see other sights.
Q Thank you, sir.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You're from where, please?
Q Oh, I'm from NHK Japan. So we're hearing reports that Chancellor Merkel is going to be meeting with President Macron on July 13th in Paris, before the meeting with Trump. Is there any possibility that President Trump will also have the opportunity to meet with Chancellor Merkel, or that the three of them will be able to meet?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I don’t think so. That's not on the schedule right now. We're aware that President Macron and his senior team are meeting with Chancellor Merkel and her senior team all through the morning of the 13th. I think they finish at something like 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon. But there's no plan right now.
The President, as you're aware, met at some length with Chancellor Merkel at the G20.
Yes, ma'am, right here.
Q Is there going to be any discussions of any trade issues while they're there? T-TIP? Any bilateral? Any trade at all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Always possible. There's an hour and 15 minutes blocked. They may run a little bit longer than that. Obviously, the President is always ready, willing and able to talk about issues of importance to the American worker and to the American economy. And there's every possibility that it will be raised. But we've been asked to focus on preparing, and the President has been focused on preparing specifically for Syria and CT topics.
Q Thank you, sir. From your understanding with the conversations that President Trump and President Macron have had so far, do they view the threat posed by radical Islamic terrorism in the same way?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think there's a lot of commonality in their worldview and in their perspective. I don't know if I would go so far as to say that it's an identical perspective, because obviously the French experience is different from ours. But broadly speaking, I would say they see the threat in much the same way. Yes.
Q Also, just to follow up -- after the events on the Champs-Élysées, President Macron is traveling down to Nice, France --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He is.
Q -- for the memorial associated with the events of last year -- the terrorist act last year. Did President Macron extend an invitation to President Trump to go down with him to Nice as well?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, no, he did not. Although the President will address that event, I think, in his remarks.
Q Tara McKelvey, BBC. I know that the U.S. and France have had a close military relationship in the past, and it seems like you're trying to build on this. So could you tell us a little bit of what the President has said about France? Like, is he looking forward to the trip to Paris? How does he see the relationship between the two countries?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: When the President -- President Macron asked him if he would -- so they extended a formal invitation, a written invitation, and then, in a subsequent phone call when President Macron asked him to come, he was excited to tender the invitation in person, and President Trump was very excited to respond to it and to accept the invitation. So, yes, I think he's very excited. The First Lady is very excited. Anytime that you can go visit a couple like the Macrons in the City of Light, it's pretty tremendous.
On this particular day, however, it's got added significance. So I think the President is excited and very much looking forward to that.
Q Ayesha Rascoe with Reuters. There was some talk after the G20 that the U.S. was a bit isolated, especially on issues like climate change. Do you feel like -- or does the administration feel like this trip to France is, at all, a way of showing that the U.S. is still engaged in international issues and still kind of leading on the world stage?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the U.S. is engaged in international leadership. It is engaged on the world stage. The President -- every leader at the G20 came in with a request to meet personally with President Trump. So I think that that pretty much says it all right there.
Q I'm Jackie from CBS.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi, Jackie.
Q You just spoke in pretty glowing terms about the city of Paris, which isn't the way the President has spoken of the city in the past. He said it's not what it used to be. Will he clarify those remarks at all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I don't think the President is going to clarify earlier remarks. From everything that I've seen and everything that I've heard, the President has got very positive feelings about the city of Paris, and the people who live in Paris, and the French nation more generally.
Q Well, he spoke pretty disparaging of the city during the campaign.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not in a position to characterize that. I can only tell you what I've seen and heard since I've been here.
Q Okay. And then, just once more, is there a reason that this visit was prioritized? I'm sure he gets lots of invitations to visit other countries.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there are few allies that are closer that France. And I think when President Macron asked, the President was happy to accept.
Q Can you tell us which administration official principals are going to be accompanying the President on this trip?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. The White House Chief of Staff will accompany, the National Security Advisor, and the Homeland Security Advisor will accompany. We will also meet Chairman General Dunford in Paris.
Q Just a point of clarification. This will be a press conference with questions -- two questions each. Is that --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right. I think both President Macron and President Trump will make brief remarks, perhaps 10 minutes each. And they'll be followed by two questions for President Macron and two questions for President Trump -- is the format.
Q Does the U.S. have a position on an EU Army and just defense integration, period? I ask that because you said they would be talking about Syria. We've been told that they'll be talking about the military. And I'm wondering what the position is on that, especially with respect to NATO.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. I think our position about an EU Army can be pretty simply summed up. Where additional European security measures and capabilities can be brought to bear in the service of American interests and European interests -- and, of course, they're conjoined in so many ways -- then I think we support it.
Where an EU Army might evolve over time and become, in some ways, a competition to the NATO Alliance -- which we see as the primary security provider for the transatlantic union -- then I think we might have some questions and we would want to engage on that.
Q Can I just ask you a (inaudible) kind of question? Can you describe whether the President has ever talked about his previous visits to Paris? Is there any color that you can add about him ever rhapsodizing about visiting Paris before? And also, will he return to the White House or will he return to New Jersey?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, I'm not in a position to characterize or add color to that particular question. And I wish I could, but I'm just not in a position to do that. He's going to return to the United States --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t think that (inaudible) put out yet.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know if they nailed that down.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't say yes, but we'll keep you posted.
AIDE: We have time for two more questions and then we have to wrap things up.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Or zero, if you don’t have any.
AIDE: Or zero. (Laughter.)
Q With President Trump requesting that NATO countries spend more on defense, that could benefit the French industrial complex significantly. Is that a piece of the conversation? Is Donald Trump going there to try to make sure that big countries also buy American weaponry as they ramp up, and not just go to the French?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. You know, part of the conversation that usually gets left out is that there's a 2 percent goal, but there's a 20 percent goal. And the 20 percent goal is just as important. And that's a commitment to spend at least 20 percent of national defense spending for NATO allies on actual capability, on equipment. Right? Because there are lots of things that you can spend defense funds on that would mean very little in the way of actual capability for NATO. And the French are very serious about that.
You probably saw, from the President's trip in Warsaw, the announcement that the Poles are going to do a big buy of our Patriot Air Defense Missile System and also the HIMARS system, which is sort of a long-range rocket artillery system.
So where it makes sense, where there's a market, and where's there's interest in American technology -- which is the best in the world -- then, yes, the President is going to press that. But these are national decisions. Of course, France has its own military industry as well, and they're going to take that into account also.
Q Thank you. Jake Turx, Ami Magazine. You had mentioned just earlier that part of the trip is to highlight World War I. And my question is, is there any particular message that the administration might want to be focusing in on, particularly draw any parallels between World War I and any events that are going on in the world today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thank you very much. I'm sure the President will mention that -- address that in his remarks. So the fact that we participated in such a major way in World War I, side by side with the French, is a clear parallel to what we're doing today. We still live in a dangerous world. We still live in a world that has many, many threats.
The French were strong allies -- so, with us in Afghanistan, in the Gulf War. There were with us in the Korean War, as well. So we have a long history -- not always marching in lockstep, but real friends and real allies. And so there are clear parallels to our partnership and our alliances 100 years ago and today, no question about that. That's a big part of why the President is going to be there this week.
I think that's all we have time for. Thanks very much.
3:55 P.M. EDT