Press Briefing by Ambassador O'Brien, Ambassador Grenell, Senior Advisor Kushner, and Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany | September 4, 2020
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room Washington D.C. September 4, 2020 1:50 P.M. EDT
MS. MCENANY: Hello, everyone. It's another historic day here at the White House. And I have with me Ambassador Ric Grenell, National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien, and Senior Advisor Jared Kushner to talk to you about the history that was made here at the White House today, and then they'll take a few of your questions.
AMBASSADOR O'BRIEN: Thank you, Kayleigh. Again, it was a great morning in the Oval Office with President Trump, President Vučić, and Prime Minister Hoti. We brought together - through the hard work of great diplomats, primarily led by Ric Grenell, acting at the President's direction - Serbia and Kosovo. And they've normalized their economic relations. This is a - the Serbia-Kosovo conflict has gone on for decades. They've been stuck, unable to move forward, for many, many years.
And the President, sometime ago, decided that we try - we needed to try something creative and try something new, break the deadlock and bring - try to move forward with the peace process with Serbia and Kosovo.
To have the Prime Minister of Kosovo and the President of Serbia together in the Oval Office was something - given the history of those two countries, and given the history of the United States with respect to Serbia and the conflict in the Balkans, is something that is quite remarkable.
And to have this happen just in the shadow - a few days after Jared and I were on the flight from Ben Gurion Airport to Abu Dhabi International Airport - the first commercial flight between Israel and a Gulf Arab state - it shows the sort of momentum that's coming.
One of the side benefits of the normalization of economic ties between Serbia and Kosovo, was a - the establishment of diplomatic relations between Kosovo, a majority-Muslim state, and the State of Israel. This is now the second time in less than a month that Israel has made peace with and has normalized its ties with a majority-Muslim country. It's - again, it's another really signal accomplishment of President Trump.
The fact that this has happened on the heels of a peace agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan, that it's happened in response - on the heels of last year, negotiating a peace - a ceasefire between the Kurds and the Turks, you're seeing a pattern here of the President being a true peacemaker.
And there's been plenty of criticism of the administration, but what's been interesting to me is: As the President has undertaken these historic initiatives and brought together a team to perform and deliver these accomplishments, others have even tried to take credit. I was just watching the Vice President - without making a political comment - the Vice President was welcoming these moves today.
But these things could only happen under a Trump administration and under the President's leadership - a "peace through strength" foreign policy and national security policy.
He put the pieces in place. And now we're reaping the peace dividend, and it's happened in the Balkans, it's happened in the Middle East, and we have more to come. I'll leave some of that to Senior Advisor Kushner to address in a moment.
So, with those opening comments, I want to turn the time over to the Special Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo - the Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo, Ambassador Ric Grenell. He'll have a few comments, and then we'll make ourselves available for some questions after Ric and Jared address you.
Thank you very much.
AMBASSADOR GRENELL: Thanks, Robert. I know there's a lot of reporters who have worked a long time in your industry, and for any reporter that has been working for more than 10 years, you will know this story. There was a terrible war. And this story has been lingering for decades. And so I really want to appeal to you all as journalists to dig deep on this story. This is one of those good-news stories that I'm not asking you to do anything but look at the facts and look at really what's been happening here. We've been working very hard on this agreement for a long time.
We had three agreements last year that went largely unnoticed by Washington reporters. And I just really have to say I think it's a shame when we - when we talk a lot about symbolism and we don't dig deep on these stories that last 21 years.
What we've been able to accomplish here by pushing the two parties together is truly historic. The way that this came about is that the politics were stuck. Everybody knows that. We've been fighting and talking about the same thing for decades. They have been fighting about the same symbolism, words, verbs, adjectives. It's been a nightmare.
And what President Trump said to me was, "They're fighting politically about everything. Why don't we give it a try to do something different and creative? Why not try to do economics first and let the politics fall - follow the economics?" That proved to actually be a formula that they were eager for. No one had been talking to them about this.
We have an establishment foreign policy team in Washington, D.C., that literally keeps pounding the same meetings and issues over and over.
I'm telling you that the only way that this agreement could have happened is from an outsider. All of the insiders in Washington said, "You're not talking about recognition, you're not talking about this symbolic word." And what we tried to do is ignore that, and, from an outsider perspective, go in and dig deep.
I ask you to look at this agreement and see all of the details that have been hard-fought negotiated that will move both economies and the entire region forward.
This is economic normalization. It's a first step. I think the Europeans are going to be very happy. We've been on the phone a couple of times with the national security advisor in Germany, the national security advisor in France to be - to brief them. We briefed them on the strategy. And we are briefing them again today on the details of this agreement.
This is something that I feel very strongly about. It will make Americans safer. It'll make American companies more prosperous. This is a region that's been largely shut out because of a perceived conflict. Whether or not there's been a conflict, there has been a perceived conflict. European businesses and American businesses largely have refused to go in and grow in these areas.
Now we will be able to open this up, whether it's in energy; water; construction of roads, railways, mines. These are all industries that are going to be opened up to European and, hopefully, American businesses to go in and help the people create an industry, which means creating jobs in the region, but also U.S. jobs - jobs for Americans and American companies.
The last thing I'll say before we turn it over to Jared: The people of Serbia and the people of Kosovo are ecstatic about this agreement and are very thankful that there was an outside administration to look at this situation and not do the typical political thing. If we would have done the typical political thing and listened to all of the really smart people at NGOs and think tanks here in Washington, D.C., we would not have this agreement.
Take just a quick look at the criticism in the lead-up to this of what we should have been talking about and what we weren't talking about. It's all been squarely in the same, old political dialogue that was stuck, and I'm really thankful that President Trump challenged us to say, "Think differently. Think from an outsider's perspective." And that was the key to the whole thing.
So I really urge you to look at the details and see and talk to the leaders in Kosovo and Serbia. Ask them how this came about. Ask them how the process went. And I think you'll see that this outsider perspective of doing things differently is what worked.
MR. KUSHNER: Thank you, Ambassador Grenell, and incredible job working through this historic agreement, and Ambassador O'Brien.
This is just another chapter that this administration has been able to write towards making the world a safer and more peaceful place. President Trump, when he ran for politics, was not a politician. He sees things in a - through a prism that not a lot of politicians look through, which is: "How can I truly do things that will make people's lives better, make people find common interests and opportunities, and figure out ways to resolve conflicts that, quite frankly, politicians have allowed to go on for far too long?"
Today's breakthrough really is historic. And we have had so many historic things this week that we shouldn't be minimizing the significance of all the different things that happened.
I started the week with Ambassador O'Brien in Jerusalem where we met with the Prime Minister and then took the first-ever flight - commercial flight from Israel to United Arab Emirates. We broke that barrier, which brought a lot of hope to the Middle East.
And for the last years, I've been listening to a lot of people tell us and the administration all of the things we were doing wrong; why we were looking at this the wrong way. And what the President has done is he's reversed now 20 years of bad foreign policy in the Middle East where we've allowed our country to get trapped in a lot of these wars that, quite frankly, you know, don't do much for our country.
We have to make sure that we're keeping our country safe, and we need to figure out how we can get people in the Middle East and Europe to get along so that we can spend our resources and our treasure on building up our countries and building up our cities and helping our citizens.
And what you've seen through President Trump's first three and a half years is he's ended - he's trying to end a lot of these endless wars, he's making peace agreements, he's bringing people together, and he's bringing our troops back home to America, while figuring out how to get along with different countries and reducing the foreign threats that we have.
Second, this week, obviously, we were in Saudi Arabia, and then Saudi Arabia announced the historic opening of their air space, which again brings people in the Middle East closer together. And then, yesterday, Bahrain announced the same thing: that they'll be opening up their air space, which again will allow flights and better commerce and interaction between peoples to happen in the Middle East in a much quicker way.
Today, we announced another normalization with Israel, which, quite frankly, a lot of the divide between the anti-Semitism that we have in the world, the terrorism we have in the world comes from the notion that people are divided. And leaders will exploit divisions and religious differences to try and keep people divided, to cause conflict, often to maintain power for themselves that they mask in an ideological way.
This breakthrough, again, brings people closer and shows people in the world that anything is possible if we push for it.
And again, fundamentally, President Trump believes that no matter who you are, no matter where you're from, no matter what country you're in, all people want the same thing, which is they want the opportunity to live freely, live better lives, have economic opportunity, and live in peace.
And today, again, is another historic step forward that politicians have spoken about for decades but haven't been able to deliver on. And it's another victory for this administration and, really, for the world.
And so I want to give my congratulations to the people of Serbia and the people of Kosovo and to the people of Europe and also to the people of Israel who will, you know, reap tremendous benefits from this agreement.
So, thank you.
Q Ambassador O'Brien, the U.S. government determined the Russians are seeking to, quote, "undermine faith in the electoral process by spreading disinformation about the accuracy of voter data for expanded vote by mail." And President Trump has also said that states' voter data is not accurate, and he's telling people to not trust that their mail-in ballots are counted. So is the President helping Russia spread disinformation?
AMBASSADOR O'BRIEN: Well, I think what we have with - when it comes to elections and what the intelligence community has made very clear is that, first, you have China, which has the most massive program to influence the United States politically; you have Iran, and you have Russia. These are all three adversary countries that are seeking to disrupt our elections. Some of them prefer Biden. Some people say some of them prefer the President. My position is: It doesn't matter what these countries want; that any country that attempts to interfere with free and fair elections in the United States has to be stopped.
We've taken unprecedented action. The President has taken unprecedented action in funding the hardening of our election infrastructure, whether it's cyber or otherwise. Obviously, there are tremendous concerns about mail-in ballots. In the news every night, there seems to be another picture of some apartment building in some city with thousands of ballots stacked up in the foyer of the apartment building and that sort of thing.
So I think there are concerns about mail-in ballots. I think those concerns are very different than being concerned about foreign adversaries trying to influence our elections. And we've made a red line - we've made it very clear to the Chinese, to the Russians, to the Iranians, and others that haven't been publicly disclosed, that anyone who tries to attempt to - or anyone that attempts to interfere with the American elections will face extraordinary consequences.