Press Gaggle by Vice President Pence
Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good evening everybody. First, let me thank General Lori Robinson, who leads NORAD, and the entire team here at Elmendorf Air Force Base. Elmendorf, Fort Greely, and other facilities across Alaska represent the bulwark of our missile defense in the United States and I’m very grateful for the leadership that the General provides here, along with her senior team. Also grateful to be joined by Governor Walker.
The great partnership between the Alaska National Guard and the military here at Elmendorf contributes to the safety and security of the American people every day. At a time of increased provocations and threats of a ballistic missile from the rogue regime in North Korea, the work done here at Elmendorf with Missile Defense Command as well as NORAD is more important than ever.
And I was pleased to reflect today with senior leadership here on the progress that President Trump and our administration secured last year of an additional $5 billion in missile defense funding over and above existing appropriations, and also the provision of 20 additional ballistic missile interceptors that will be added to the resources that are already on the ground here.
Missile defense begins here in Alaska. And the American people and the world should know that our nation is secure, our nation’s defenses from potential inbound missile attacks is the best in the world, and it’s because of the extraordinary personnel here, the extraordinary partnership with the state of Alaska, and the ongoing commitment of the American people.
What I told General Robinson today and her whole senior team is that this Commander-in-Chief has their back. And our Nuclear Posture Review reflects on the vital importance of modernizing our nuclear forces, and missile defense is part and parcel of what President Trump is committed to doing to make the strongest military force in the world stronger still.
So as I prepare to travel to the Indo-Pacific — traveling tomorrow to Japan, and then onto South Korea — I thought it was altogether fitting to begin here at Elmendorf, the first line of defense for the American people in missile defense, to have an opportunity to be briefed in real time on the work that’s done here. But also, most importantly, to extend the gratitude of the American people to all of the men and women who staff and operate all of these extraordinary facilities and aircraft that keep our nation safe.
So, with that, I’d be happy to take a few questions.
Q Mr. Vice President, Elise Labott with CNN. Thank you. Today in Peru, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was asked about whether there might be any talks with the U.S. delegation and the North Korean delegation. And this morning, we were told by the White House, “No.” Secretary Tillerson said, “We’ll see.” He was really noncommittal. I mean, he has favored diplomacy.
There has been a relative period of calm from North Korea that this administration has been looking for. Do you envision any communication with North Korea, even if not yourself on this trip? And if not, how do you see this, kind of — you know, North Korea coming to the Olympics and this relative period of calm moving diplomacy forward? Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, first and foremost, President Trump asked me to travel to the region for several reasons. Number one, to strengthen the relationship between the United States and our allies in Japan and South Korea. We’ll be meeting in the coming days with Prime Minister Abe, with President Moon, and we’ll be talking about the strength of our alliance. And I look forward to reinforcing the important priority that President Trump and the United States places on the relationship with these two nations.
Secondly, we’ll collectively be reiterating our commitment, between the United States, Japan, South Korea, and a broad range of allies and partners around the world to continue to isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically until they abandon their nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions.
All options are on the table. But we will reiterate this week — standing beside Prime Minister Abe, standing beside President Moon — the solidarity of all these nations, and nations around the world, to continue to bring maximum pressure on an increasing basis on the rogue regime in North Korea to achieve the global objective of a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Lastly, I’m traveling to the Olympics with my wife and with our delegation certainly to cheer on American athletes, but also, quite frankly, we’re traveling to the Olympics to make sure that North Korea doesn’t use the powerful symbolism and the backdrop of the Winter Olympics to paper over the truth about their regime. A regime that oppresses its own people. A regime that threatens nations around the world. A regime that continues its headlong rush to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and use those to threaten its neighbors and even threaten the United States of America.
We’ll be telling the truth about North Korea at every stop. We’ll be ensuring that whatever cooperation that’s existing between North and South Korea today on Olympic teams does not cloud the reality of a regime that must continue to be isolated by the world community, and it must be brought to a place where it ends its provocations, it ends its development and possession of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile weapons.
With regard to any interaction with the North Korean delegation, I have not requested a meeting, but we’ll see what happens. President Trump has —
Q Are you saying that, if an opportunity presented itself, sir, that you might avail yourself to, at least, greet any North Korean official that’s there and —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say, President Trump has said he always believes in talking, but I haven’t requested any meetings. But we’ll see what happens.
But my message — whatever the setting, whoever is present — will be the same. And that is that North Korea must once and for all abandon its nuclear weapons program and ballistic missile ambitions. And it must accede to the wishes not only of nations across the region and the United States, but nations across the world, to really abandon those ambitions and enter the family of nations.
North Korea can have a better future than the militaristic path and the path of provocation and confrontation that it’s on. Better for its own people, better for the region, and better for peace.
PARTICIPANT: You have one down in front of you.
Q Rebecca Palsha with Channel 2. We always hear that Alaska is the forefront of defense against North Korea. Do you think that’s accurate? And are we prepared for something like that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Alaska is the home of missile defense, for all intents and purposes, in the United States, particularly with regard to the rogue regime in North Korea. And Alaska is ready, and America is ready.
But I’m very pleased to report that, as a result of President Trump’s leadership and the strong support of the Congress, we’ve added an additional $5 billion over the current appropriations for additional missile defense. Right here in Alaska — additional 20 missile interceptors that will be on the ground.
We’re going to continue to support the mission here at Elmendorf. We’re going to continue to support the mission at Fort Greely, and all over Alaska. NORTHCOM, NORAD, our missile defense forces here, are vital to our national defense and the world should know that they’re ready.
PARTICIPANT: We got to go (inaudible.)
Q Yeah, (inaudible.) Last time you made this trip to Japan, North Korea launched a ballistic missile. Are you seeing any indications at this time of — or, it seems to be, there may be a cooling off or some sort of rapprochement between the North and the South. Are you seeing any indications of any provocations from the North around the Games? And if not, why not?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we know that the North is planning a major military parade, I think, the day before the Olympic Games, which sends a very different message than the message of cooperation and friendship that they’re projecting to much of the world.
I’ll be visiting with our forces in Japan. I’m here at Elmendorf Air Force Base, and we’re simply going to communicate a message of American strength and a message of American resolve. And not just American resolve, because I’ve traveled throughout the region — in Japan, and in South Korea. We will be expressing the resolve of nations, allies, partners across the region and across the world that the time has come for North Korea to once and for all abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions, to set aside those programs and embrace a better future.
It is an urgent message. It’s a message that I’ll be delivering in every setting that I’m given an opportunity. The world needs to hear, again and again, the truth about what North Korea is today, the oppression of its people, the disregard of human rights, the threats and provocations across the region and across the world that come from its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions.
But the world also needs to hear that, if they will choose a different path, there’s a better future for the people of North Korea and the people of the Korean Peninsula with a nuclear-free future.
Q One question on the stock market.
PARTICIPANT: Quick. Very quick.
Q President Trump frequently touts the success of the stock market as a sign of his own administration’s success. Obviously, you saw, today, the market dropped by nearly 1,200 points. What should the American public read into that, generally? And then also what it says, if anything, about the Trump administration?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we couldn’t be more proud of the fact that the stock market has increased by thousands of points since Election Day 2016. But today’s sell-off represents what is, very likely, simply the ebb and flow of our stock markets, and we recognize that.
The most important numbers to focus on are the fundamentals. And the fundamentals of this economy continue to be very strong. In the last jobs report, 200,000 more jobs created; unemployment at a 17-year low. Probably the most encouraging number, for me, as a former governor that watched how stubborn the wage number is in this country, is seeing wages rise by 2.9 percent.
The most recent report should give every American — that this economy is on the move and they can be confident that the President is going to continue to advance the kinds of policies — rolling back excessive taxes, regulations, freeing up access to American energy like ANWR here in Alaska — that are going to continue to contribute to that very real momentum that is obvious in the fundamentals of our economy today.