Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders
Issued on: March 9, 2018 James S. Brady 2:17 P.M. EST James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Happy Friday.
Q Happy Friday.
MS. SANDERS: We are once again seeing strong evidence that the American Dream is back and real under President Trump's leadership. Based on today's jobs report, the President's economic policies of historic tax cuts and deregulation are working.
The Obama administration was losing around 1,000 jobs a month in the manufacturing industry. But since the President's election, manufacturing jobs have increased by 275,000.
Over 300,000 jobs were created in February alone, bringing the total number of jobs created since President Trump was elected to nearly 3 million.
The Federal government is getting out of the way, and the American people are innovating, building, and creating jobs.
In other news today, the President has pardoned Kristian Saucier, a Navy submariner. Mr. Saucier was 22 years old at the time of his offenses, and has served out his 12-month sentence. He has been recognized by his fellow servicemembers for his dedication, skill, and patriotic spirit.
While serving, he regularly mentored younger sailors and served as an instructor for new recruits. The sentencing judge found that Mr. Saucier's offense stands in contrast to his commendable military service. The President is appreciative of Mr. Saucier's service to the country.
With that, I will take your questions. John.
Q Sarah, what are the considerations that are under discussion for the location that this meeting between the President and Kim Jong-un would take place?
MS. SANDERS: Yeah, as we said last night, a time and place have not yet been determined. We'll certainly make those announcements when more decisions and more information is available on that front.
Q But what are the considerations that are under discussion for where this could take place? I mean, you wouldn't - I take it you wouldn't want to have it in downtown Pyongyang.
MS. SANDERS: Yeah, and we're not going to have those conversations between me, and you, and the press. Those will be conversations that take place at a much higher level, and, certainly, outside of this room.
Q And just if I could -
MS. SANDERS: Sure.
Q The South Korean national security advisor said that the U.S. responded positively to a South Korean request for a waiver on the steel tariffs. Could you tell us where you are on that?
MS. SANDERS: As the President's proclamation said yesterday, there were two countries that were specifically excluded, and there would be the opportunity for us to negotiate on matters of national security with other countries. And we're going to be doing that with a number of different countries.
Q Sarah, does the President think that Kim Jong-un is sincere about talking about denuclearization?
MS. SANDERS: The President is hopeful that we can make some continued progress. Look, what we know is that the maximum pressure campaign has clearly been effective. We know that it has put a tremendous amount of pressure on North Korea. And they have made some major promises. They've made promises to denuclearize. They've made promises to stop nuclear and missile testing. And they've recognized that regular military exercises between the U.S. and its ally, South Korea, will continue.
The maximum pressure campaign, we're not letting up. We're not going to step back or make any changes to that. We're going to continue in that effort, and we're not going to have this meeting take place until we see concrete actions that match the words and the rhetoric of North Korea.
Q But does he think that Kim Jong-un can be trusted as a negotiating partner?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we're not in the negotiation right now. We've accepted the invitation to talk, based on them following through with concrete actions on the promises that they've made.
Q And if I could just ask you just one other thing. Lindsey Graham said about this news. He said, "A word of warning to North Korean President Kim Jong Un - the worst possible thing you can do" with Donald Trump, in person, is to meet with him "in person and try to play him. If you do that, it will be the end of you - and your regime." Is Lindsey Graham reading the President correct on that? Is that a correct -
MS. SANDERS: I think that Lindsey Graham knows that President Trump is one of the best negotiators. And certainly, I think that he has great confidence in his ability, and is glad that he'll be the one at the table for the United States. I think Senator Graham has been on the other side of that, and certainly knows the capabilities and the determination of President Trump.
Q Sarah, why did the President accept this invitation without any preconditions? For example, without demanding that the North Koreans release the three Americans that are being held there.
MS. SANDERS: Look, that's something that we're going to continue advocating for and pushing for. But let's not forget that the North Koreans did promise something: They've promised to denuclearize, they've promised to stop nuclear and missile testing, and they've recognized that we're going to continue in our military exercises.
Let's be very clear: The United States has made zero concessions. But North Korea has made some promises. And, again, this meeting won't take place without concrete actions that match the promises that have been made by North Korea.
Q And I wanted to follow up on that because you just said that now. Do you think that a two-month time period is enough time to make sure that they will actually fulfill those promises? He said he wants to do it by May.
MS. SANDERS: Look, we're working on the determination of the time. But let's not be lost in the fact that this didn't happen overnight. This maximum pressure campaign and this process has been ongoing since the President first took office.
For the first time in a long time, the United States is actually having conversations from a position of strength, not a position of weakness, like the one that North Korea finds itself in due to the maximum pressure campaign.
Q Does that mean it might not be May?
MR. SANDERS: Again, we haven't set a time or a location. Those things have yet to be determined.
Q Sarah, you said they promised to denuclearize. Did they promise to denuclearize or did they promise to talk about denuclearizing?
MR. SANDERS: The understanding, the message from the South Korean delegation is that they would denuclearize. And that is what our ultimate goal has always been, and that will have to be part of the actions that we see them take.
Q Is that before or after the meeting?
MR. SANDERS: We'd have to see concrete and verifiable actions take place.
Q Before the meeting?
MS. SANDERS: Yes. Yeah.
Q Sarah, isn't the President giving Kim Jong-un exactly what he wants, which is respect and stature on the international stage?
MR. SANDERS: Not at all. I think that the President is getting exactly what he wants. He is getting the opportunity to have the North Koreans actually denuclearize.
Look, you have to remember, nothing is changing from the United States' position. We're going to continue the maximum pressure campaign. We're going to continue working with our allies and partners to do that. And we're going to continue to ask them to step up and do more. Nothing is changing from our side when it comes to this conversation.
Q But there's no guarantee this will be any more than a photo op? Kim Jong-un gets his equal footing, in his view, on the world stage, with the leader of the free world, and the President gets nothing.
MR. SANDERS: I certainly disagree with - I definitely don't think that the President is getting nothing, when we've already said - and, frankly, I've said it many times since walking in here in the last 10 minutes - that the President will not have the meeting without seeing concrete steps and concrete actions take place by North Korea.
So the President would actually be getting something, and, frankly, the world would be getting something. If we can get to a place where North Korea is denuclearizing, that is a massive step and it's something that will make the entire globe much safer. And even President Moon has said that this is because of the leadership of President Trump.
Q And one small follow-up question, which is - and I apologize for that - which is, given the economic news and the North Korea news, what words would you use to describe the President's mood right now?
MR. SANDERS: The President is in a great mood. The President has been in a great mood because we've had not just a successful couple of days; we've had a successful year. And we're very focused on making sure we have seven more.
Q Sarah, thank you. Top officials at the White House and at the Pentagon seemed to be taken by surprise by the announcement. Was this done in a haphazard way?
MR. SANDERS: Not at all. As I said, that this has been part of an ongoing campaign that's been going for over a year. And just because some of the individuals that may regularly leak to the press weren't involved in the conversation doesn't mean that the appropriate parties that lead those agencies were not in the room and not part of that discussion.
Q But the President came here to the briefing room, though, before reaching out to the President of China. Is that appropriate? Should he not have reached out to his international partners first before making an announcement here?
MR. SANDERS: Look, we had ongoing conversations with leaders across the world. The President simply said there would be an announcement. He had several conversations with world leaders, both last night and today.
Q Were you aware he would make this decision beforehand?
MR. SANDERS: Again, the President had conversations with a few world leaders, both last night and today. This is something that all of these countries have been working together on and something that we're going to continue to work with our allies and partners on.
Q And was the Secretary of State aware that he was going to make that decision, Sarah?
MR. SANDERS: Yeah, and the Secretary of State's deputy was in the room at the time these conversations went on. So it's absurd to pretend like they weren't part of this process and haven't been part of this process all along.
Q Sarah, to follow on what Peter was asking, how will the President and the United States be able to verify this before the meeting? How will they be able to verify the denuclearization?
MR. SANDERS: That's something that will be determined through the national security and intelligence community. Certainly not something I would read out to you guys from here.
Q The President has said repeatedly that previous Presidents, his predecessors, have mishandled this and misplayed this. Why can he be so confident that this is the right move, when, just in October, he was telling his own Secretary of State it would be a waste of time to talk directly?
MR. SANDERS: Well, I think it's really clear that they've misplayed it, or we wouldn't be in the position that we're in. The President wouldn't be having to clean up the mistakes of the previous three administrations. The President is getting promises out of North Korea that haven't been made in any recent years. And again, we are going to continue the maximum pressure campaign to make sure that they follow through on these commitments.
Q Who would he like to have with him -
MR. SANDERS: Sorry, I'm going to keep moving.
Q If I could just ask, who would he like to have with him at the meeting? The Secretary of State? I mean, there is not an ambassador now in South Korea. Does he plan to step up more before this meeting?
MR. SANDERS: Look, the President has an incredible team that is surrounding him, both from the National Security Advisor, Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the intelligence community. But at the end of the day, the ultimate person to lead that negotiation - or that conversation and be at the table will be the President.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. The North Korean government has made promises before; they've reneged on those promises in two prior administrations. What's different now? Why should we trust Kim Jong-un now?
MR. SANDERS: Again, because the United States is going to continue that maximum pressure campaign. We are making no concessions and we are not going to move forward until we see concrete and verified actions taking place by North Korea. We are also operating from a position of strength that we haven't had in previous administrations due to the maximum pressure campaign - not just by the United States.
Let's not forget that a lot of our allies and partners, like China, South Korea, Japan, have stepped up and done infinitely more over the past year due to the President's leadership than they have in the previous administrations.
So this is a collective effort to put that pressure on North Korea, and it's going to continue. North Korea is in a place of weakness, and that is certainly recognized by the promises that they've made through this conversation.
Q Kim Jong-un has starved his own people, he's murdered his own people. You could say he's responsible for the death of Otto Warmbier. Why put him on the same stage as the President of the United States?