The following is a transcript of remarks made by President Trump alongside President Sergio Mattarella of Italy on Wednesday at the White House:
12:53 P.M. EDT
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thank you very much. Today, it is my honor to welcome President Sergio Mattarella of Italy to the White House. We’ve known each other for a while. We’ve dealt with each other for a while. And we’ve had some really great conversations. We’ve had a very productive discussion throughout the day with our staffs and representatives. And I look forward to hosting the President and his daughter, Laura, at a reception for Italian-Americans this evening. I look forward to that very much.
The United States and Italy are bound together by a shared cultural and political heritage dating back thousands of years to Ancient Rome. Over the centuries, the Italian people have blessed our civilization with magnificent works of art, science, philosophy, architecture, and music. On Monday we paid tribute to the Italian explorer who led a voyage of discovery to the New World, a gentleman known as Christopher Columbus. And to me it will always be called “Columbus Day.” Some people don’t like that; I do.
Today, the United States and Italy draw strength from our cherished heritage, as we work together to safeguard our people and promote prosperity.
As NATO Allies, our countries cooperate closely on a wide range of critical defense issues, including the protection of our nations against radical Islamic terrorism. The problem is that Italy is only paying 1.1 percent, instead of the mandated 2 percent, which, by and of itself, is a low number. It should be probably 4 percent. Anywhere from 4 to 5 percent. Only 8 of the 28 NATO countries are paying the 2 percent, meaning 20 of the countries are delinquent in the payment to NATO. And they have been for many years.
Germany is at 1.3 percent, at most, depending on calculations. Spain is at less than 1 percent. Turkey, believe it or not, is almost current, almost paid up.
And I want to just thank Secretary General Stoltenberg because he is going around saying that President Trump was able to raise over $100 billion last year, which is true. But it’s still only a large fraction. It’s a still a large fraction of the amount of money that’s owed by many of the countries that aren’t paying their dues.
We hope that Italy will boost its defense spending in order to meet NATO’s minimum 2 percent of GDP. And I will say that they have just purchased -- and we learned about it today -- 90 brand-new, beautiful F-35s. The Strike Fighter program is doing phenomenally well.
One of our major challenges and the challenge facing NATO today is instability in the Mediterranean and North Africa areas. And much of the volatility in that region stems from the violence in Libya, which is very close to Italy’s borders. The President and I were talking about that at great length. A big problem. The ongoing Libyan conflict has led to a migration crisis, placing significant and unfair burdens on Italy, in particular.
I’ve asked that the European Union get much more involved because they’re not involved enough. That’s a problem for the European Union. They do very well with us on trade. They had a trade surplus with the United States, over the last five or six years, of about $150 billion a year. They have to get more involved and help Italy.
The Italian government has stepped up as a leader to fight this illegal immigration. We urge also our NATO and European partners to take firm action to halt illegal immigration and uphold sovereign borders. Immigration control is critical to national security and essential to the wellbeing of our citizens. Nations must be able to vet, screen, and properly manage entry and admission into society.
You know the legislation that we had passed. We have absolutely no help from the Democrats on our borders. Absolutely nothing. The closure of loopholes, which would be very easy to do, they refuse to do. They want open borders, and Italy doesn’t want open borders. And we’re not going to have open borders. And our numbers are very good.
I want to thank also Mexico and the President of Mexico for the great help they’ve given us. They’ve helped us much more than the Democrats.
Here in the United States, we’re taking dramatic action to secure our borders, shut down smuggling networks, and speed the removal of illegal immigrants. We’re moving the MS-13 gang members out literally by the thousands. They’re getting out. We’re dropping them out of our country and they can’t come back.
And what we’ve done with Guatemala and Honduras and El Salvador is, they tell me, close to a miracle -- the agreements that we’ve signed. They accept them back and they keep them back. It’s a much different relationship than we’ve ever had with those three countries, and I want to thank the leadership of those three countries. We’ve been working well -- very well together.
Our message is clear: If you enter illegally the United States, you will be promptly returned home. They’re all returning home. It takes a long time because we’ve had years of people coming in, staying, and that’s the end of that.
President Mattarella also discussed the steps we must take to enhance commerce and economic growth between our two countries. Our nations are already investing nearly $70 billion in each other’s economies. Without the burdens, as unfair as they are -- imposed by the European Union -- we would actually have a much higher number than $70 billion, between Italy and the United States. However, we can do more and we can achieve fairness and reciprocity, which we don’t have right now.
America’s trade deficit with Italy accounts for about 20 percent of our nearly 150- to 170-billion-dollar -- probably, according to some estimates, could even be 178-billion-dollar -- annual trade deficit with the European Union. We welcome Italy’s support for a mutually beneficial trade agreement with the EU that ensures a level playing field for American workers. And it hasn’t been that for many, many years.
I could solve the problem instantly, but it would be too hard. It’d be too harsh. It would involve tariffs on European products coming into this country. And for right now, we’re going to try and do it without that. But that would solve the problem instantly because the United States is not being treated fairly.
We also welcome Italy’s participation in combatting predatory trade and investment practices worldwide, especially in technology. We must work together to shield our intellectual property, critical infrastructure, ports, and data security. I applaud Italy’s recent commitment to use only safe and trustworthy technology providers, components, and supply chains, especially relating to the 5G networks. We will work together to take further steps to secure the technology of the future.
And, speaking of 5G and how it relates to China, we’ve done a rather incredible trade deal -- especially right now, phase one -- for our farmers and for the finance industry, financial services. And it’s been really quite amazing.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Excuse me? Is there a problem back there?
It’s been quite amazing. The level of receptivity has been much different than in the past. China and myself -- our representatives, their representatives -- have made a deal from $40 [billion] to $50 billion in farm products, agricultural products. People said we were hoping for $20 [billion].
So, China has been good. And they’ve already started purchasing, by the way. That’s already started. The agreement -- we hope to have it signed sometime prior to Chile. We’re going to Chile -- President Xi and myself. We’ll probably do a signing over there, of phase one, assuming it all gets finished up, which we think it will.
There’s been a lot of goodwill between the United States and China over the last period of time. So we’re signing from $40 [billion] to $50 billion. And that will -- because it was incorrectly reported in the press, shockingly -- that will take place -- it’s already started taking place. They’re already purchasing a lot of farm product.
All of the banking regulations and all of the financial services, all of the other things that are included -- and there are many other things in phase one that I won’t talk about now -- but all of that is moving along rapidly. Bob Lighthizer is with us someplace here, and he is in the process of getting it completed. Have a great staff of people working on both sides.
Mr. President, it’s a true pleasure to host you in our nation’s capital -- you and your family -- and your deeply personal relationship to your country; you love your country so much. Just in speaking to you for a short while, I see how much you love Italy, and I can understand that. It’s really an inspiration and a testament to the patriotism and pride of the Italian people. Great spirit for Italy.
America is grateful to have true friends and allies in the citizens of Italy. We have such a great relationship with the people of Italy. The United States is, likewise, thankful to be home to more than 16 million Italian-Americans.
Tonight, here at the White House, we’ll celebrate our deep and abiding friendship with Italy and the really incredible Italian people.
The U.S.-Italian alliance is stronger than ever before, and we’re going to be celebrating that tonight with you, Mr. President. So I look forward to that very much, in a little while. And in the meantime, thank you very much. And we’d love to have you say a few words. Thank you.
PRESIDENT MATTARELLA: (As interpreted.) I want to thank President Trump very much for his invitation and for the welcome, both to myself and to my entire delegation.
The relationship between the United States and Italy are marked by a deep friendship and by common interests, both strengthened by the presence here in the U.S. of so many Americans of Italian descent. That’s another reason why I’m so happy to be here on this visit, in October, dedicated this year, again, to Italian heritage.
I’d like to go back to what President Trump was saying when he mentioned Christopher Columbus, who opened up new horizons. He got to know and connected continents, which ignored one another. And based on the role the U.S. has in the world, it seems to me that he did a good job back then.
To Italy, the U.S. is not only a fundamental ally, it is also a country with which it shares the same path of democracy, a country which shares the same values of freedom, of the protection of human rights, of the respect for minorities, of the rule of law.
Italy’s international vision is based on the pillar, which is the Atlantic Alliance, which then, over time, also led to European integration of the European Union, which was a consistent process. These are two essential elements in our foreign policy and in our cooperation.
We are united. The U.S., Italy, and Europe are united due to our history, due to our common references, due to the culture we share, and due to the very intense human relations we have between our fellow citizens.
As President Trump mentioned earlier, we talked about NATO. And NATO is, first and foremost, a community of values, which Italy recognizes and to which Italy participates with a great deal of conviction and very factually.
Italy has always contributed very intensely to NATO missions and operations and with a great deal of effectiveness. And we have substantially supported the activities of the Alliance.
And I’d like to remind you of the fact that besides being the fifth contributor to NATO, Italy is the second contributor in terms of the troops it devotes to NATO missions. And after the U.S., we rank number two in the number of troops participating in NATO operations, along with all of the other missions we perform through the U.N. and in the coalition against terrorism, which has developed in recent years.
And I’d like to remind you of the fact that, as we speak, six Italian F-35s of the Italian Air Force are patrolling the skies over Iceland, within the framework of a -- of the second NATO mandate as a way of ensuring peace and security.
Italy has constantly reiterated that the transatlantic spirit has to be nurtured, protected, with all of our strength in all the dimensions of the relationship we share. And with this spirit in mind, we hope -- I hope -- that with the new five-year parliamentary term within the new European Union, we can foster our cooperation on trade between the U.S. and the EU.
We are aiming to define solutions that can strengthen our relationships because commercial trade tensions are to the benefit of no one. We feel that imposing tariffs on one another mutually is counterproductive and it damages both of our economies.
And I’d like to add that we share, with the U.S., the belief that the WTO should be reformed as a way of making it more efficient and more effective.
And as President Trump mentioned, we talked about Syria. We are deeply concerned with Turkey’s offensive in the northeastern part of Syria. And this attack, in a limited number of days, has already caused a number of casualties and tens of thousands of refugees and displaced people. And there are plenty of victims amongst civilians as well.
This is an attack which also has another risk, namely that of offering new space -- which was unthinkable a few days ago -- to ISIS and to its criminal terrorist activities in Syria, in the Middle East, but not just in the Middle East; also in other continents around the world.
Italy, in line with the EU’s position, condemns the Turkish operations, which are ongoing.
We have also talked about Libya, and we talked about this topic, as all of the other topics, with the spirit of friendship and in very tangible way. The current situation in Libya is a source of deep concern to us, and we are convinced of the fact that the violence and the military attacks can destabilize all of North Africa. It increases the threat of terrorism, and it contributes to creating an environment which fosters all kinds of illegal trafficking. And, of course, it jeopardizes the production of energy in that country. And, most of all, it denies the Libyan people the possibility of finding a peaceful solution, which it deserves after so many years.
We talked about our relationships with China, together with President Trump. And through an open dialogue with China, we want to defend the world order based on clear rules, with the U.N. at the center of the world order, and an open and fair market, one which complies with the principles of the World Trade Organization.
And from this point of view, we discussed two topics: namely, security concerning new technologies. And I’m referring to 5G. Italy has been paying close attention to our national security requirements. It has paid close attention to it and it will continue to do so.
We also underlined the need to have a level playing field in trade and in investments so that there can be a fair and healthy trade relationship. There needs to be an access to the market which doesn’t discriminate anybody. And we need to be able to protect intellectual property for all of the economic players involved without any theft of technology.
All of these topics were discussed with a full spirit of friendship, with a great deal of cooperation, along with many other topics. And this opportunity was also an excellent opportunity to reiterate the friendship between the U.S. and Italy and the very strong relationship between our two countries within the framework of the Atlantic Alliance. And for that reason, I want to thank President Trump very much for our meeting, for our talks, for your welcome.
And I’ll be seeing you again this afternoon on the occasion which will be filled with a great many elements of meaning and importance.
Thank you, Mr. President. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thank you. Thank you. Well, thank you very much, Mr. President. And the WTO, the World Trade Organization -- as everyone knows, we just won seven and a half billion dollars because of unfair trade practices. And that will be distributed in a fair way throughout various countries in Europe.
And we’re talking to the President about that as it pertains to Italy. He thought we were a little bit harsh on Italy, and we don’t want to be harsh on Italy. We’ll never do that. So we’ll look at that very strongly. We will look at that for you. That was one of the requests made. And we will be taking a look at that.
Please. How are you?
Q Thank you, Mr. President. I wanted to ask about Turkey. Did President Erdoğan’s decisions surprise you? And if they did not surprise you, would you make the same decision as you made before in removing U.S. forces?
And I guess we just heard that UAW and GM may have been able to work out a deal. If I could get your reaction to that and what that might mean for the U.S. economy.
And, Mr. President, if I could ask you about the digital tax. Did the two of you discuss a possible digital tax as it relates to Amazon and Google? What progress were you able to make on that front? Thank you very much.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: No, President Erdoğan’s decision didn’t surprise me because he’s wanted to do that for a long time. He’s been building up troops on the border with Syria for a long time, as you know.
Our soldiers are mostly gone from the area. We only had 26, 28 -- but under 50. We think it’s probably 28, but under 50 soldiers, and -- which is a very tiny force.
And it didn’t surprise me at all. This is -- they’ve been warring for many years. It’s unnatural for us, but it’s sort of natural for them. They fight, and they fight long and they fight hard. And they’ve been fighting Syria for a long time and on the border; that’s the border with Syria. And I say, “Why are we protecting Syria’s land? Assad is not a friend of ours. Why are we protecting their land?”
And Syria also has a relationship with the Kurds -- who, by the way, are no angels. Okay? Who is an angel? There aren’t too many around. But Syria has a relationship with the Kurds. So they’ll come in for their border, and they’ll fight. They may bring partners in. They could bring Russia in. And I say, “Welcome to it.” Russia went into Afghanistan when it was the Soviet Union, and it became Russia. It became a much smaller country because of Afghanistan. You can overextend, you can do a lot of things, but, frankly, if Russia is going to help in protecting the Kurds, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. But it would be led by Syria.
And Syria doesn’t want Turkey to take its land. I can understand that. But what does that have to do with the United States of America if they’re fighting over Syria’s land? Are we supposed to fight a NATO member, in order that Syria, who is not our friend, keeps their land? I don’t think so. But Syria does have a relationship with the Kurds.
The thing that’s common is that everybody hates ISIS. Now, the PKK, which is a part of the Kurds, as you know, is probably worse at terror and more of terrorist threat, in many ways, than ISIS.
So it’s a very semi-complicated -- not too complicated, if you’re smart -- but it’s a semi-complicated problem. And I think it’s a problem that we have very nicely under control.
We have two countries wanting their land. We have one country that wants land perhaps that doesn’t belong to them because they want to have a 22-mile strip of, they call it, “freedom.” They call it a lot of things. They want to get terrorists out. You have another country that says, “You can’t have our land.” And they’re going to have to work that out.
Now, with that being said, Vice President Mike Pence is going there. He’ll be leaving either late tonight or tomorrow. And he was going to leave yesterday, but they have to have certain security done. He’s a very important man in our country. And he’ll be leaving with Secretary of State Pompeo. We already have representatives there negotiating with Turkey. We’ve put massive sanctions on Turkey, and we have additional sanctions on Turkey.
And when I ran, I ran on the basis we’re going to bring our great soldiers back home where they belong. We don’t have to fight these endless wars. We’re bringing them back home. That’s what I won on. And some people -- whether you call it the “military industrial complex” or beyond that -- they’d like me to stay.
One of the problems I have, and one of -- for instance, with the witch hunt, you have people that want me to stay; they want me to fight forever. They do very well fighting. That’s what they want to do: fight. A lot of companies want to fight because they make their weapons based on fighting, not based on peace. And they take care of a lot of people. I want to bring our soldiers back home. We’re not a police force; we’re a fighting force. We’re the greatest fighting force ever.
I spent $2.5 trillion over the last almost three years, rebuilding our military. When I took it over, it was a mess. It was an absolute mess. It was totally depleted. You know that, and a lot of people know that. Honest people all know that. When I was thinking about having to do something, one of our generals came in to see me and he said, “Sir, we don’t have ammunition.” I said, “That’s a terrible thing you just said.” He said, “We don’t have ammunition.” Now we have more ammunition than we’ve ever had. We have more missiles. We have more rockets. Our nuclear has been totally updated, and, in some cases, new. Hopefully to God we never have to use it, but we have the most powerful nuclear base, by far, in the world. And we have things that we never had before. We have a great modern military, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to waste it. It doesn’t mean we’re going to deplete it, like we did before with these crazy, endless wars.
So, Turkey and Syria will hopefully work it out between themselves. Hopefully, ISIS will be guarded. I told -- I spoke with, as you know, a wonderful man yesterday -- a general -- from the Kurds. You all know who I’m talking about. Some of you have seen the letter that I put out to Erdoğan. I gave it to him -- President Erdoğan. And some of you have seen it. With the general, I said, “Listen, don’t open those doors and let them out just to create more havoc so that we come in.” Because some of those doors were just opened. “Let’s create some havoc and some political exposure for the President of the United States.”
We were the ones that contact- -- we were the ones that got ISIS. We’re the ones that took care of it -- specifically me, because I’m the one that gave the order. Because when I came in, under President Obama, ISIS was a disaster all over that area. I was the one that got them. We were the ones that captured them. And I will say this: that Russia, Iran, Syria, and to maybe a slightly lesser extent, Turkey, they all hate ISIS as much as we do. And it’s their part of the world. We’re 7,000 miles away.
I campaigned on bringing our soldiers back home, and that’s what I’m doing. That includes other places too; many other places. Statutorily, it takes a period of time. Diplomatically, it takes a period of time. But, you know, we’re in many countries. Many, many countries. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many. I know the exact number, but I’m embarrassed to say it because it’s so foolish.
We’re in countries -- we’re protecting countries that don’t even like us. They take advantage of us. They don’t pay. Nothing. You probably saw -- some of you wrote and covered the fact that we’re sending some additional troops to Saudi Arabia. That’s true. And I appreciate the fact that I negotiated, for a short period of time -- a matter of minutes -- with Saudi Arabia, and they’ve agreed to pay for the full cost of all of that deployment, and more. Much more. A very rich country; they should be paying. And so should many other countries be paying if they want this kind of protection.
Same with NATO. We’re at 4 percent, and other countries are at 1 percent. And certainly, a European country benefits much more than we do with NATO. I mean, it’s there for a reason. And perhaps we benefit, but not nearly as much as the European countries. Some people say we don’t benefit at all. We put ourselves at harm’s way. But we do that for Europe, but then they treat us badly on trade. Not fair.
So I would say that we’re in a great position. We’re doing what I said. We have two countries that are going to argue over their border. Hopefully they’ll work it out. We’re going to try and work it out. I think our Vice President, who’s a very capable man, will do well tomorrow. He’s going to meet with President Erdoğan. Or, President Erdoğan said he wouldn’t meet with anybody, and he took that back just a little while ago. And he said, “No, I will.” And I think they’ll have a successful meeting.
If they don’t, the sanctions and tariffs and other things that we’re doing -- we will do and are doing to Turkey -- will be devastating to Turkey’s economy. I got Pastor Brunson home. Nobody else could do it. The previous administration tried very hard. They were unable to do it. I did it very quickly. And let’s see what happens, but I think we’ll be successful.
But we got to get out of the endless wars. We have to bring our troops back home. I go to Walter Reed and I give out Purple Hearts; just did it on Friday. I see the incredible soldiers coming home to Dover, coming home in a coffin, on areas that we have nothing to do with -- we have nothing to do with. And it’s heartbreaking.
I sign letters all the time to parents whose son was shot in different places in the Middle East, mostly. It’s very heartbreaking to see. Very heartbreaking. So, I’ve said it. And it’s through strength, not through weakness. Much harder to do what I’m doing. I could be like all of these others: “Oh, just leave them there. Leave them there.” No, I can’t do it. Much easier for me -- much -- probably politically better for me just to say, “We’ll leave a lot of people there and we’ll fight.” They don’t even know what they’re fighting for. It’s much more difficult, politically. It’s not politically expedient; it’s just the opposite.
And I have people, even on my side, they want to fight. I say, “Why are we fighting?” “I don’t know.” They don’t even know.
So you have Syria and you have Turkey, and they’re going to argue. Maybe they’re going to fight it out. But our men aren’t going to get killed over it.
And just one other thing, they’ve been fighting for hundreds of years. This has been going on for hundreds of years. So it’s a long answer, but I think I’ve got much of it out. Thank you very much.
Q Sure. Thank you. Mr. President, I was asking if the two of you discussed a possible digital tax, and where that discussion might be going, in particular, as it might relate to Google and Amazon and others.
Thank you, sir.
PRESIDENT MATTARELLA: (As interpreted.) Yes, I understood the question. No, we did not talk about this. And of course, this is an open issue. It’s very important. It is being discussed in a number of different international contexts, so that this important issue can be discussed and solved.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: By the way, the digital tax, I have to say, is interesting because I did discuss it with another European Union member, namely France. And France is basically doing the digital tax. And I’m no fan of those companies. They were against me. Somebody said I lost maybe 2 million votes, maybe more, because of Facebook. But these are American companies. And whether you like it or not, they’re great, big, American companies. And I’m not happy with the digital tax, where France, and European Union is taxing our companies. And, as you know, we imposed a big tax on French wine because of it.
So, just to answer your question, Kevin, I’m not happy about the fact that they are taxing our companies. I’m not a fan of those companies, but if anybody is going to tax those companies, it should be the USA. It shouldn’t be France and the European Union, who have really taken advantage of the United States. Okay? Thank you very much. Good question.
Okay, you can pick somebody, Mr. President.
Q (As interpreted.) A question for President Mattarella: As far as Syria is concerned, in recent days, you talked about the risks Europe runs in terms of not responding to the situation. In recent days, some European countries, including Italy, have discussed the possible ban on selling weapons to Turkey. Do you think this can be an adequate way to respond to the situation, also considering that Turkey is, and continues to be, a member of NATO?
(Speaks English.) Mr. President, I would like to ask you, on September 27, Attorney General Barr has been in Rome to meet with Italian intelligence officials. I would like to know if you personally talked with Prime Minister Conte to arrange this meeting, which kind of information Attorney General Barr was looking for, and if you were satisfied from the information the Italian intelligence gathered for you. Thank you.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I don’t know the details; I just know that our country is looking into the corruption of the 2016 election. It was a corrupt election, whether it’s Comey; or McCabe; or Strzok or his lover, Lisa Page -- the two great lovers. There was a lot of corruption. Maybe it goes right up to President Obama. I happen to think it does.
But you look at Brennan, and you look at Clapper, and you get some real beauties. I know that they’re looking into the corruption. Obviously, the IG report is coming out soon, so we’ll find out.
I don’t know anything about the meeting, but certainly, it would be appropriate. Because the word is -- and you read it in the same papers that I do -- that they did go to other countries to try and hide what they are doing. Italy may have been one of them. So you’ll really have to ask Attorney General Barr. Okay? Thank you.
PRESIDENT MATTARELLA: (As interpreted.) Yes, Turkey is a member of NATO. And that is something very important, of course. I’d like to remind you of the fact that currently, there is an Italian contribution to Turkey. We have an anti-missile system, which Italy has been having in Turkey for a number of years within the context of a NATO mission.
And the Latin said, “Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas,” which means, “Something more important than my friendship is the truth.” The relationships and friendships and alliances, of course, don’t mean that we can’t say that the Turkish attack on Syria is a serious mistake. So we condemn that attack, with no hesitation whatsoever, due to the reasons I mentioned earlier.
The solution, of course, doesn’t lie in sanctions. And if the situation continues, sanctions will be inevitable. And Italy has made announcements, as had the European Union. The only solution is to stop all military operations and to retreat from that area as a way of stopping all of the dangers that I mentioned earlier.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Jon, go ahead.
Q You know, I want to pick up on what you -- your comments on Turkey and Syria.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Sure.
Q Even after all you have seen -- ISIS prisoners freed, all the humanitarian disaster -- you don’t have any regret for giving Erdoğan the green light to invade?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I didn’t give him a green light.
Q Well, did you tell him to? Did he defy --
PRESIDENT TRUMP: That’s the same thing as you just -- you know, when you make a statement like that, it’s so deceptive. Just the opposite of a green light. First of all, we had virtually no soldiers there. They were mostly gone. Just a tiny little group. And they would have been in harm’s way. You have a massive army on the other side of the border.
But more importantly, I didn’t give him a green light. And if anybody saw the letter, which can be released very easily if you’d like -- I could certainly release it -- but I wrote a letter right after that conversation -- a very powerful letter. There was never given a green light. They’ve been wanting to do that for years and, frankly, they’ve been fighting for many, many years.
And when you ask a question like that, it’s very deceptive, Jon. It’s almost as deceptive as you showing all of the bombings taking place in Syria, and it turned out that the bombing that you showed on television took place in Kentucky. So, you know, and I’m not even sure that ABC apologized for that, but certainly it was a terrible thing. I’m looking at this -- I say, “Wow, that’s pretty bad” -- and it was in Kentucky. It wasn’t in Syria. So I don’t know what you’re going to do about that, but I think ABC owes an apology.
Q Lindsey Graham just said of your remarks that you made in the Oval Office that if you keep talking like that, quote, “This will be a disaster worse than Obama’s decision to leave Iraq.”
PRESIDENT TRUMP: No, Lindsey Graham would like to stay in the Middle East for the next thousand years with thousands of soldiers and fighting other people’s wars. I want to get out of the Middle East.
I think Lindsey should focus right now on judiciary, like the Democrats -- the Do-nothing Democrats, as I call them, because they’re doing nothing. They’re getting nothing done. They’re not getting USMCA done -- between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. They’re getting nothing done.
And I think Lindsey should focus on judiciary. He ought to find out about what happened with Comey, what happened with McCabe, Lisa, what happened with Peter Strzok, what happened with President Obama, what happened with Brennan. That’s what Lindsey ought to focus on. That’s what the people of South Carolina want him to focus on. The people of South Carolina don’t want us to get into a war with Turkey -- a NATO member -- or with Syria. Let them fight their own wars. They’ve been fighting for 1,000 years. Let them fight their own wars. The people of South Carolina want to see those troops come home. And I won an election based on that. And that’s the way it is, whether it’s good or bad. That’s the way it is.
And if you look at this country, I’d be willing to bet anything -- political instinct -- that that’s what the country wants. I’m going to get involved in a war between Turkey and Syria, especially when, if you look at the Kurds -- and again, I say this with great respect: They’re no angels. If you look at PKK --
Q What do you mean by that? What do you mean (inaudible)?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Take a look at PKK. ISIS respects PKK. You know, why? Because they’re as tough or tougher than ISIS. You take a look at a lot of the things having to do -- you have to say it -- nobody wants to say it. We’re making the Kurds look like they’re angels. We paid a lot of money to the Kurds. Tremendous amounts of money. We’ve given them massive fortunes. And you know what? It’s wonderful. They fought with us. But we paid a lot for them to fight with us.
But, just so you understand, we were the ones that captured ISIS. People let some go; they opened a couple of doors to make us look as bad as possible.
We have a situation where Turkey is taking land from Syria. Syria is not happy about it. Let them work it out. We shouldn’t be over there.
And you should get your accounts correct. And you shouldn’t be showing up buildings blowing up in Kentucky and say it’s Syria, because that really is fake news.
Yes, please. Ask a question.
Q But you don’t think the country is worried about -- about ISIS? I mean you mentioned earlier that you think some of the countries might hate ISIS more than the United States.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Oh, absolutely. Russia. Russia hates ISIS. Russia hates ISIS as much as the United States does. Iran hates ISIS. I mean, we’re fighting a war for Russia. We’re fighting a war for Iran. If you look at Syria, Syria hates ISIS. We’re over there killing ISIS and we’re killing -- don’t forget, we’re 7,000 miles away. So we’re killing ISIS. We’re 7,000 miles away. Russia is much closer. Iran is right there. Turkey is right there. They all -- they all hate ISIS. Turkey a little bit less so, but the others, very much.
Russia had a plane blown up by ISIS. Russia wants nothing to do with ISIS. Russia is tough. They can kill ISIS just as well, and they happen to be in their neighborhood. And all I’m saying is this: I’m not going to lose potentially thousands and tens of thousands of American soldiers fighting a war between Turkey and Syria. Syria is not our friend. Assad is not our friend. That’s the way it goes.
Please, ask a question to the President.
Q But -- but, Mr. President, you said you withdrew 28 troops.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Twenty-eight. They say it was 28. We thought it was 50, but it was about 28 -- 26 to 28 troops. All accounted for, nobody injured --
Q And what has happened since the --
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Listen: All accounted for. Nobody injured. Nobody missing. It’s really nice.
Q But, look what’s happened since those troops were withdrawn, and since you had that conversation with President Erdoğan.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: You know, what’s happened? No American soldiers have been killed. That’s what’s happened. And other people will go in -- and very easy to recapture those people that, probably, the Kurds let go to make a little bit stronger political impact. And that’s okay. I fully understand it, but that’s the way it goes.
We’re bringing our soldiers back home. And we’ve done a great job. We were supposed to be in Syria for one month. That was 10 years ago. And we’ve been a police force. It’s time to bring our soldiers back home. That’s the way it is. We’ve had no soldiers injured or hurt. That’s because I’m President.
And we’re the boss. Just remember that. We have the most powerful military in the world, by far.
Q Mr. President, what is the view in Europe of the President’s decision to withdraw, so -- to make the abrupt decision to withdraw from Syria?
PRESIDENT MATTARELLA: (As interpreted.) I already answered a question regarding Syria. I’m not here to judge what other countries do, but to say what my country’s position is. And our position is one I mentioned earlier, on Syria: on the fact that we condemn what Turkey decided to do in recent days with no possible ambiguity.
Q (As interpreted.) Donatella Di Nitto of LaPresse. A question for President Mattarella: President Trump seems to being open on discussing the possible tariffs. So do you think it will be possible to avoid tariffs being imposed in two days’ time?
And a question for President Trump: Now, we all know your concerns concerning Huawei entering Italy’s security system. Are you satisfied with the measures that Italy decided to implement?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I’ll answer first. Yes, I am satisfied. They have been very accommodating. They weren’t at the beginning, and they have been since then.
And I want to just thank the Italian government and your Prime Minister, actually, in addition to the President. But, as you know, I had long conversations with my friend, and they were very nice.
So, I am very satisfied. And we just discussed the same conversation with the President. We’re very satisfied. Thank you.
PRESIDENT MATTARELLA: (As interpreted.) As far as the topic of tariffs is concerned -- tariffs following the WTO decision on the EU’s contribution, or the subsidies to the Airbus consortium -- I already mentioned what our belief is. Let me repeat it:
I think that within the transatlantic relationship, and with the friendship that there has always been between the U.S. and the EU, it would be preferable to discuss our respective positions so that we can find a solution which takes into account the requirements of both parties. And that’s wholly possible.
The alternative would be that of imposing tariffs. Currently, following the WTO’s decision concerning Airbus, there may be tariffs. And there may be tariffs in six months’ time concerning the subsidies given to Boeing. This is a mere race between tariffs and mutual tariffs. I think it would be best to meet and to deal with our mutual needs so that a solution can be found.
But if we don’t do this now, it will have to be done soon. And I believe it would be best to find a solution immediately, instead of imposing tariffs, which would lead to other tariffs and that would be a damage to both our economies.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, actually, the tariff situation is interesting because we just -- it’s like I said with China, and it turned out to be true -- we cannot lose a war of tariffs because the imbalance is so great between the United States and, in this case, the European Union. Also true with China. That turned out to be right.
We’ve collected tens of billions of dollars of tariffs. We’ve given some to the farmers, to make them even. And now the farmers are going to have a bigger contract than they ever thought possible. They won’t be able to produce even that much, but I think they will because they’re incredible, ingenious. As I say, jokingly, but probably not jokingly: They’ll just have to buy larger tractors, which is probably what they’re doing right now. But the farmers come out so well.
But in a war of tariffs with the European Union, the trade imbalance is so great that we can’t lose that because they do much more business than we do, and that’s unfortunate. But the word “reciprocity” is probably my favorite word. Of all of these words, all of the semi-complicated, complicated -- to me, not complicated at all -- things that we’re doing, it’s got to be reciprocal, and it’s not.
The European Union has taken tremendous advantage of the United States. Many of us come through -- one way or the other -- through the European Union. That’s the good news. The bad news is they’ve been very smart. They’ve been very smart. Jean-Claude has been brilliant. Now he’s leaving, but he’s been -- he’s been brilliant at really helping them and not helping us.
And so that’s changing now. But we can’t lose that particular war of tariffs because the trade imbalance is tremendous. It’s tremendous.
And if you look at what they don’t have -- the barriers that they put up; they put up tremendous barriers to our doing business in Europe -- tremendous barriers -- both from a monetary standpoint and what they call “nonmonetary barriers.”
It’s a very tough thing. Our farm products -- very hard to get them in. Our cars -- very hard to get them in. And yet, they send Mercedes. They send BMW. Then they send Volkswagen; Renault, in the case of France. So it’s a very tough situation for us for many years, but now it’s a very tough situation for them. Because I can remedy the situation very easily, and there really is not any financial counterattack. Hopefully, I don’t have to do that.
We are -- with all of the being said, we are talking. We’re talking with some new people in Europe, and I hope it’s going to be successful; that way, we don’t have to talk about it or worry about it because our relationship should be a great one. But we have to be treated fairly on NATO, and we have to be treated fairly on trade with the European Union.
Thank you all very much. Thank you.
END 1:41 P.M. EDT