Remarks by Vice President Pence in Press Gaggle Before Air Force Two Departure
Yokota Air Base
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Before we leave for South Korea, let me say a few words and we’ll take a few questions.
We’re completing what we believe has been a very successful visit to our (inaudible) here in Japan. (Inaudible) very productive and substantive discussions with Prime Minister Abe, with the leadership of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. And it’s a great honor being here and touring Yokota Air Force Base. Being around the men and women of the Armed Forces of the United States and Japan is deeply inspiring.
I came here to Japan to renew the strength of our alliance, to restate our strong commitment to stand with the people of Japan for our common security.
And now we’ll board Air Force Two and we head to South Korea, the (inaudible). (Audio difficulties.)
We’re very much looking forward to the Opening Ceremonies tomorrow night. But lastly, as I did here today, we’ll continue to seize every opportunity to ensure that North Korea does not use the powerful imagery and backdrop of the Olympics to paper over an appalling record of human rights and a pattern of developing weapons and conducting in the kind of missile launches that are threatening our nation and threatening neighbors across the region.
We’ve delivered that message consistently here in Japan, and we’ll continue to deliver that in North Korea — or in South Korea, in every appropriate setting. But it should be an eventful couple of days. And again, we appreciate all of you traveling along, and I’d be happy to take a few questions.
Q Sir, the speech you made today, some might interpret it as preparing men and women for war. Was that your intention?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We’re standing in a country that has literally seen ballistic missiles overfly their land twice in a single month. And they’ve seen multiple ballistic missiles land within their economic zone, in the Sea of Japan. American Forces Japan and the Self-Defense Forces of Japan are ready for any eventuality, and we will continue to make it clear to all parties that the United States and our allies in this region stand ready at a moment’s notice to defend our people and defend our way of life.
The message today is very much an affirmation of that reality and that truth. But we truly believe that peace comes through strength, as President Trump has said many times, and that our continued hope is, by advancing a maximum pressure campaign of additional economic sanctions that we announced yesterday, additional diplomatic pressure, we’ll be able to resolve the issues facing the Korean Peninsula peaceably. But all options are on the table.
And reflecting on — and, in a very real sense, affirming — American readiness and our allies’ readiness is an important of that.
Q Mr. Vice President, you opened the door to a potential meeting at the Olympics with the North Koreans on Monday. Today, a North Korean official says they have no interest in dialogue with the U.S. Your response? And would it be problematic if South Korea decided to meet the North Koreans?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say we haven’t requested a meeting with North Korea. But if I have any contact with them, in any context, over the next two days, my message will be the same as it was here today: North Korea needs to, once and for all, abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions. And the pressure will continue on them, economically and diplomatically, until that’s accomplished.
We’ll also make it very clear that the United States of America and our allies are fully prepared to defend ourselves and defend our freedom and our people. So we’ll see if any kind of a meeting comes about in any context.
But I can assure you my message will be the very same as what I said here at Yokota Air Base, the very same as what I said in Tokyo yesterday, and that is: The time has come for North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions, set aside this long pattern of deception and provocation, and then, and only then, can we begin to move forward to a peaceable outcome on the Peninsula.
Q Sir, turning back home, I was wondering if you could comment on the allegations against Rob Porter, the President’s Staff Secretary. When were you made aware of those allegations and how? And then, additionally, there are reports now that General Kelly and others at the White House have been aware of these allegations for several months and have been trying to deal with that and protect him. Do you believe the President is being well served by his senior staff?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say, we’re standing at Yokota Air Force Base in Japan; we’re on our way to the Olympics. And I learned, as I awoke this morning, of those developments. And so we’ll comment on any issues affecting White House staff when we get back to Washington.
Q Can I just briefly follow up on that and ask — this is now a number of times when you’ve found out — you’re the Vice President and you’re number two in the administration — where you found out about something very late, after a number of other senior staff, below you even, in the West Wing have found out about it. Again, I understand we’re standing here, but can you comment on why you often seem a little bit out of the loop of some of this major news?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You know, it’s a great honor for me to serve as Vice President. President Trump has been incredibly generous with the responsibilities and opportunities he’s given me to serve, representing the United States on the foreign stage, as we have here in Japan, as we will later today in South Korea, and of course at the Olympics, and also being involved in the legislative process. And I’m very grateful for that.
But we’ll leave those White House staffing matters for when we get back to Washington.
Q Just a quick follow, back on North Korea. First of all, you mentioned that you spoke with the President this morning.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I did.
Q Has there been any additional instructions in terms of what’s going on in the region right now, with North Korea and a possible meeting? And could you just give us a little flavor of the dynamics going on with this possible meeting? Even despite their rhetoric, were the North Koreans, kind of, sending messages through the South that they’d like to meet? Are the South Koreans trying to get you to meet? I mean, how did — you know, there’s just this wind in the air about you meeting with them. And how did that, kind of, come about?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, as I said a few days ago, I haven’t requested a meeting.
Q Exactly. But how — so how did the idea come?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, I’ll leave that to others to discuss. But let me say that, at this point in time, we’re headed to the Olympics, and there may be a possibility for any kind of an encounter with North Koreans, whether it be informal or whether it take the form of a meeting. As I said, we’ll have to wait and see exactly how that unfolds.
But what I want to assure the American people is that, as the President said, while we always believe in talking, our message is going to be exactly the same as it was here in Japan. It’s going to be exactly the same as President Trump delivered in his State Union Address, and that is that North Korea must end this long era of deception, provocation, of developing nuclear weapons, threatening the region and the wider world. And if they don’t, while all options are on the table, we’ll continue to bring greater and greater pressure to bear until we achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Q Mr. Vice President, there’s no secret there’s been tension between the Moon administration and the Trump administration over their engagement with North Korea. The two administrations have different visions about where this engagement should go. How do you plan to address that with President Moon when you meet him? And is there a way to get back on the same page between the Trump administration and the Moon administration?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: President Trump and President Moon enjoy a very strong relationship. Spoke by the phone last week. And I’m very much looking forward to the time that we’ll have in our bilateral meetings today and in meetings yet this evening.
But, look, let me assure you, the relationship between the United States and South Korea is strong. We are committed to freedom. We are committed to our common defense. And I trust that when I meet with President Moon today, that we’ll reflect on all of those agreements and that common purpose, even as we also reaffirm our commitment to continue, well beyond the Olympics — when the Olympics are long a distant memory — to continue to isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically so that we can achieve what the world has longed to see, which is a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.
Q Would you advise Mr. Moon against meeting with the North Koreans? He’s considering that at the moment, according to South Korean news reports.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I will tell you that I look forward to visiting with President Moon tonight and talking about our common interests and our common commitment to freedom. But I also look forward to being with President Moon just to celebrate the Olympics.
As the President said this morning, South Korea has done an incredible job getting ready for these Winter Olympics. It’s going to be a great celebration, a great testament to a free and prosperous nation. And I look forward to sharing a great experience and great memories with President Moon.
The backdrop of his discussions with North Korea about joint Olympic efforts will, I expect, be a topic. But at the end of the day, I know that we’re going to reaffirm in our discussions the strong alliance between the United States and South Korea, and it’s an alliance that will grow economically and grow strategically. And it’s my great privilege to be able to reaffirm that.