Monthly Archives: June 2017

Nobel Peace Laureate Stresses Need for Greater Civil Society Involvement in Push to End Occupation of Palestinian Lands, in Keynote Address to June Forum

Breaking decades of diplomatic paralysis would require greater involvement by civil society in pushing Governments to take action to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, the 1997 Nobel Peace Laureate said today, the second and final day of the June Forum.

“Power never concedes without pressure,” Jody Williams, Chair of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, said in her keynote address on the role of civil society.  As the Forum discussed the costs and consequences of the occupation born of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, she added:  “If Governments do not take action, we will help them.”  Erecting a “wall of shame” would require Governments to “come running” in order to salvage their reputations, she said.

“How many decades do people have to give diplomacy a chance?” she asked.  “It’s an absurdity at this point.”  The relationship between Israel and the Palestinians could only be described as a “total asymmetry of power”, she emphasized.  How could a State say diplomacy must be given a chance even as it continued to steal land and vital resources, such as water, from the Palestinian people?

Waiting for meaningful action by Governments had not produced much, she continued, contrasting that with the crucial role played by boycotting and banning goods produced in the Israeli settlements built on occupied territory.  A list of Governments and companies purchasing goods from those settlements would help people understand where they could make the biggest impact, she said, stressing that boycotting products from the settlements would hit Israel where it mattered.

“It is not that anyone wishes ill on the Israeli people,” she said, asking whether they would really feel inclined to change their stance and, more importantly, their Government’s policies, if they did not feel some sort of discomfort.  Why would they do anything to change the situation when they were so comfortable?  There was need to exert pressure on Israel and Israelis to end the occupation, she said, declaring: “Stigmatization, making people pariahs, brings about change.”

Ms. Williams said it was disturbing that the State of Israel did not allow Palestinian narratives to be heard, adding that it was such subjugation that allowed the occupation to continue.  “Palestinian people have a right to tell their stories,” she affirmed, describing Israel’s entrenchment as an occupation of the mind.  “Because people disagree with Israel’s oppressive policies does not make them anti-Semitic,” she added.

Recalling her personal history of activism spanning almost five decades, she said that it ranged from protesting against the United States war in Viet Nam to marching against that country’s intervention in Nicaragua.  Emphasizing that she could not sit back when any Government treated others as less than human, she said such actions were becoming increasingly evident in the United States, particularly with President Donald Trump’s travel ban.  Imposing a state of fear was less about security and more about silencing opposition and dissent, she emphasized.

The Forum also held three panel discussions today — on “Enforcement of international law and accountability: How to make a difference?”; “The Gaza Strip: an integral part of the State of Palestine”; and “Beyond occupation: in search of a just and lasting peace”.

Panel I

Moderating the morning panel discussion, on “The Gaza Strip: an Integral Part of the State of Palestine”, was Robert Blecher, Senior Adviser and Acting Programme Director, Middle East and North Africa, International Crisis Group.  It featured the following panellists:  Majeda Alsaqqa, Programmes Director, Culture and Free Thought Association; Mohammed Azaiza, Field Coordinator, Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement; Noura Erakat, Assistant Professor, George Mason University; Tania Hary, Executive Director, Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement; and Nuriya Oswald, International Advocacy Coordinator, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.

Mr. BLECHER opened the discussion by asking the panellists to describe the current situation in the Gaza Strip, focusing particularly on what was not known to most.

Ms. OSWALD, noting that international engagement usually occurred after serious spikes in violence, said there had been no sustained international engagement in Gaza.  All the issues at hand should be understood in the context of human rights and international legal obligations, she added.

Mr. AZAIZA recounted his experience of living conditions in Gaza, reporting that millions of litres worth of sewage were dumped into the sea every day.  New diseases were discovered every year and most of them certainly resulted from swimming in contaminated water.  That impacted access to safe swimming for children lacking other recreation alternatives.  Furthermore, the inconsistent electricity service affected hospital conditions as well as the agricultural sector, he said.  “The lives of 2 million civilians in Gaza are not a game.”

Ms. ERAKAT said that, unlike the aftermath of a natural disaster, the effects of Israel’s naval blockade and land siege on Gaza were reversible.  The blockade could be considered a political, human rights, humanitarian and military issue with appropriate solutions available for each analytical framework.  What threshold did the crisis have to reach for the blockade to be lifted without preconditions?

Ms. HARY said Israel’s policy on Gaza and the West Bank was one of separation and distinguishing between residents of the two, but there was often no coherent policy.  Rather, there were different tactics arising from inertia, which also functioned as a means of maintaining perpetual control over the West Bank.  Such management reinforced those with annexation goals for the West Bank, he said, adding that the situation in Gaza was a cruel experimentation project to test the breaking point of 2 million Palestinians.

Ms. ERAKAT added that the absence of a coherent policy, in addition to inertia and containment, were, in combination, an attempt to separate the question of Gaza from the rest of Palestine while obfuscating the politics underpinning the situation.

Ms. ALSAQQA noted that although the situation of Gaza was very different from that of the West Bank, those living in the latter territory were not better off.  The focus should be on accountability to stop the blockade.  “I was born under occupation; I have never lived as a free Palestinian,” she said.  Discussions, toolkits and reports issued by organizations were frustrating because many were benefitting from the situation.  Palestine should not to be discussed as a humanitarian cause because everyone knew what was happening, she stressed.  “We are not asking for a gift from the world; we are asking for our rights.”

Ms. OSWALD added that a narrative of Gaza as separate from Palestine was a dangerous aspect of the policy that hampered the Palestinian right to self-determination and a cohesive political system.

Mr. BLECHER then asked what options the panellists were pursuing in the political realm, accountability and other areas.

Ms. HARY said most Israelis were aware of the situation but did not see their Government as accountable.  The problem was that no options were being presented to the Israeli public.  There was much potential in Palestine, an important motivator for people who might be overwhelmed by the humanitarian situation, she said, adding that the courts were also an important platform, even though they were not the place from which to seek a remedy.

Ms. OSWALD noted that all cases documented by the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights had enjoyed complete impunity under Israel’s justice mechanisms.  The Center would be satisfied if that country was willing to hold perpetrators of serious violations to account, but since that was not the case, they were working with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, she said.

Mr. BLECHER then asked whether anyone should have faith in international justice mechanisms to secure a remedy for the situation.

Ms. ERAKAT said that structurally, the Court did not apply to the world, and several African States were withdrawing completely from the Rome Statute as a result.  Therefore, its mechanism and structure were already unstable, she said.  Other available mechanisms did not have to go through “political firewalls” to be effective, such as sanctions, but the political will to undertake them was missing.

In the ensuing discussion, a speaker from Al Mubadara said large parts of the international community were complicit in the blockade because they were allowing it to continue.  It was misleading to blame Hamas because the restrictions had started in 1991, he pointed out.  Israel and most of its people did not consider Palestinians equal human beings, a situation that could not be addressed by focusing on individual cases, he emphasized.

A speaker from Al-Haq asked about the role of natural gas in the continued closure of the Gaza Strip.

A representative of B’Tselem asked for comparisons to other crises of access around the world.

An independent activist asked whether civil society could launch a “mass case” against the blockade.

Ms. HARY noted that thousands of individuals saw their lives changed over time, but it was necessary to work in parallel to bring about policy change.

Ms. OSWALD said the Center for Freedom of Movement was pursuing cases of arms trade and major bombardment.  Civil society’s role was to remind the international community that they were paying attention.  On natural gas reserves, she said that was something to follow and understand as a political issue.

Ms. ALSAQQA reiterated that accountability was the path to change.

Mr. AZAIZA added that Gaza’s youth deserved a better life, adding that their education and economic potential must be considered.

The representative of Nicaragua said he agreed with the points made, adding that the situation had become a vicious cycle of building and rebuilding, which allowed Gazans merely to survive rather than realize sustainable development.

A participant from the United Methodist Church observed that, in the context of prior calls for sanctions against Israel, and the lack of will on the part of Member States to take action, it was up to civil society to ensure boycotts and divestment.

A participant from Combatants for Peace asked why Hamas had not been able to resolve the electricity and other problems.

Another participant noted that some of the points made implied that a two-State solution was the best one, and asked whether the panellists felt that was the case.

A participant from media outlet Arabic Daily/Al-Quds Al-Arabi asked whether it would be possible for a civil society delegation to visit Gaza regularly and report back to the United Nations.

Ms. HARY said Palestinian leaders were also engaging in an experiment on Gaza, using residents as bargaining chips in the political struggle.  The electricity issue was not just about the Palestinian Authority finding money, but about exerting pressure to achieve political goals.  That did not absolve Israel, she said, while emphasizing that other actors were also involved.

Ms. OSWALD cited Egypt’s humanitarian obligations in controlling the crossing at Rafah.  She stressed that there could be no compromise on lifting the closures, because they defined collective punishment and constituted a serious violation of international law.

Ms. ERAKAT said it was dangerous to consider who was better able to manage Gaza because that meant, in effect, participating in the enclave’s administration rather than demanding that the closure be lifted.  Israel was administering a one-State reality, increasing the onus on civil society to pick up the mantle where Governments had failed, she emphasized.  Boycott, divestment and sanctions were the only significant methods of pressure in that regard.

The representative of Egypt said that the Rafah crossing’s function was regulated by the Access and Movement Agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which had been suspended some years ago.

Panel II

Mona Khalil, Legal Adviser and Independent Diplomat, moderated the afternoon panel discussion “Enforcement of international law and accountability:  How to make a difference?”  It featured the following panellists:  Wesam Ahmad, Head of Legal Research and International Advocacy, Al Haq; Dalit Baum, Director of Economic Activism, American Friends Service Committee; Muna Haddad, Lawyer, Civil and Political Rights Unit, Adalah; Hagai El-Ad, Executive, B’Tselem; and Omar Shakir, Israel-Palestine Director, Human Rights Watch.

Ms. KHALIL asked questions of each panellist, covering such issues as how to make a real difference in the Middle East; challenges faced by human rights organizations trying to access Gaza; how activists handle accusations of anti-Semitism; and the role of corporate responsibility and the international obligation to exert pressure on Israel.

Ms. BAUM, citing the “tremendous” international effort to promote business guidelines, including the United Nations’ own Global Compact initiative, said that such efforts arose from the idea that corporations must respect human rights.  Corporations were, in fact, risk-averse and very sensitive to public opinion, he said, adding that no corporation wanted its logo or brand tarnished by controversy.  Despite international efforts to develop guidelines based on human rights principles for corporations to follow, Governments still operated with impunity.  Companies like Hewitt-Packard, which had very extensive guidelines on human rights, were still involved in oppressive Israeli actions, she noted.  However, corporations were responding to threats of being placed on lists.  “They need some kind of watchdog, and unfortunately it was civil society providing it,” she added.  As for the “worst of the worst” companies, continually involved in human rights violations, she said they must face sanctions.

Mr. SHAKIR said Israel had maintained a generalized travel ban on Gaza for the last decade, and some 2 million people there were prohibited from travelling.  “This is a blanket policy.”  Organizations and individuals performing critical human rights work were not allowed to enter or exit Gaza, and that included local Palestinian groups as well as international organizations.  Such policies were not driven by security needs but rather by the need to impose collective punishment.  Israel had only once granted Human Rights Watch access to Gaza since 2008, he noted, adding, however, that it was not the only Power restricting access.  Egypt was also doing so, and its actions had exacerbated the situation in Gaza, he said.  Hamas had also failed to protect human rights workers, and in some cases had even engaged in harassing them.  He warned against viewing Israel’s restrictions in isolation, pointing out that they were part of a larger polity intent on hampering the efforts of human rights watchdog organizations, including those inside Israel.

Mr. EL-AD, noting that it had been 50 years since the occupation and six months since the adoption of Security Council resolution 2334 (2016) — which called for a halt to settlement expansion — said that, unfortunately, Israel had not complied.  Although Article 5 of that text also called upon all Member States to distinguish between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967, they had not complied either.  “If Member States do not take the resolution seriously, then why should Israel?” he asked.  It was time to review the compliance of Member States with that resolution.  Recalling also that the text called upon the Secretary-General to report back to the Council on compliance, both reporting periods had yielded a short sentence essentially stating there was “nothing to report” on implementation of Article 5.  While it was still early in the implementation period, now was the time to put substance and meaning into the resolution, he emphasized.

Ms. HADDAD, describing the status of several investigations examining the killing of Palestinian civilians, said almost 50 per cent of such cases were stuck in the examination phase, meaning they would not even move forward as investigations.  It was clear that no one would be held accountable, she said.  More recently, there had been an escalation of violence in East Jerusalem and the implementation of a “shoot-to-kill” policy.  Israel’s Supreme Court, to which several cases had been referred, was highly unlikely to interfere in the decision and judgement of military and police forces, she said, noting that it was very rare for someone on the Israeli side to be held accountable.  The situation was also bad for Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, she said, pointing out that there was no accountability even when Israeli officials concluded that excessive force had been used.

Mr. AHMAD, referring to the “absurd” argument that the work his organization was doing was somehow anti-Semitic, said Israel was using that term to shut down any criticism of its policies.  “We must not be silenced by this attempt to silence criticism of Israeli policy by calling it anti-Semitic,” he added.  It was very important to push back against attempts to transform the dispute into a religious conflict, which it was not.  Israel’s criticism of the application of international law as somehow being anti-Semitic was dangerous, he warned, emphasizing that any attempt to silence the international law system was very short-sighted.  “What is the alternative?” he asked.  “What is the world to do if using international law is out of bounds, even with the State of Israel?”

In the ensuing discussion, other panellists joined the conversation on claims of anti-Semitism.

Mr. EL-AD called such accusations a propaganda line perpetuated by the Government.  They claimed that diaspora Jews who rejected the occupation must be “self-hating” Jews and that non-Jews opposing it must be anti-Semites, he said.  “This is not random, this is systematic and we need to reject it,” he emphasized.

Mr. SHAKIR noted the insidious attacks launched against Israeli human rights groups, adding that supporters of the Israeli authorities had sometimes infiltrated them.  Palestinian human rights groups faced more severe challenges, he said, pointing out that deterring the work of activists had a severe chilling effect on ordinary Palestinians.

Ms. HADDAD said that although many civil claims had been submitted by residents of Gaza, Israel continued to claim exemption from any responsibility.  The Civil and Political Rights Unit continued to challenge that claim in court, but “people are not optimistic”.

Mr. AHMAD, responding to a question about how to re-inspire cross-border action that could overcome religious, national and territorial divides, emphasized the importance of finding creative ways to overcome divisions.  “Money knows no religion or politics or territory,” he said, noting Ms. Baum’s point on the need to hold businesses accountable.  There was an economic structure in place that allowed the reaping of benefits by a select few in Israeli society, he said, stressing that it was important for Israeli citizens to ask whether the conflict was being perpetuated to line the pockets of a few, and whether the Jewish religion was being exploited for that purpose.

Mr. SHAKIR, responding to a question about how to keep young people inspired in a region fraught with tension, said there was hope because a number of States and organizations continued to speak out and engage.  “History has a way of providing opportunity to overcome hopelessness.”

Ms. BAUM said that “stepping in” had given her hope, adding that she usually asked young people:  “What are you working on to make the world better?”  She said current events in the United States were giving her much hope because people were resisting and coming up with new ideas.

Responding to a question about immediate practical steps that Palestinian people could take to make the occupation exhausting for Israel, she said the occupation continued because it enjoyed tremendous support and impunity.  “People of the world are obliged to stop that.”

Ms. KHALIL said it was up to the Israeli people to influence their politicians.

Mr. EL-AD said the world’s conscience had rejected slavery and apartheid, but had yet to reject the occupation.  “That starts right here at the United Nations,” he vowed.

Panel III

Moderating the second afternoon panel discussion — “Beyond Occupation:  In Search of a Just and Lasting Peace” — was Helena Cobban, President, Just World Educational.  It featured the following panellists:  Mustafa Barghouthi, Secretary-General, Al Mubadara (Palestinian National Initiative); Diego Khamis, Youth Board President, Club Palestino Santiago de Chile; Jessica Nevo, Coordinator, Pre-Transitional Justice Programme, Coalition of Women for Peace, Zochrot; Rebecca Vilkomerson, Executive Director, Jewish Voice for Peace; and David Wildman, Executive Secretary, General Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Church.

Ms. COBBAN opened the discussion by introducing the panellists and asking them to make opening remarks.

Dr. BARGHOUTHI said the occupation continued because of the imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians, United States support for Israel and the complicity of many in the international community.  Popular Palestinian resistance, including diplomacy, was the way forward, he said, adding that boycott, divestment and sanctions constituted some of the most effective methods of resistance.  They translated international solidarity into a material factor helping to change the balance of power, he said, calling for unity amongst Palestinians and for the reintegration of all Palestinians, including those in the diaspora.

Ms. NEVO said one of the issues facing peacebuilding was that arms were maintained by men, but peace was considered through the male perspective.  The Coalition of Women for Peace sought to change that, she said, noting that Zochrot’s aim was to promote acknowledgement and understanding of the Nakba (catastrophe).  Apology was a primary tool in the official discourse of responsibility around the world, she observed, encouraging Israelis to use official apology as a form of pre-transitional justice.

Ms. VILKOMERSON said that while the United States, including its Jewish community, played a key role in supporting the occupation, the Jewish Voice for Peace represented a broader shift in opinion.  Increasing numbers of the American Jewish community who identified themselves as liberal had begun to express views sympathetic to Palestinians, she said.  Noting that legal institutions were inherently political, reflecting the vast imbalance between occupier and occupied, she said it was the role of grass-roots organizers to envision new frameworks altogether.  The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement created pressure to tip that balance of power, and Jewish Voice for Peace sought to reach and convince those in the United States already fighting inequality in other areas to do the same when in relation to Israel and Palestine.

Mr. WILDMAN stressed the importance of naming the wrongdoing of individuals and institutions contributing to the conflict, citing his own contribution to arms shipments as a United States taxpayer.  He recalled that the veto cast by the United States to block Security Council action against apartheid regimes around the world had made boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts the main recourse for civil society.  However, such efforts only worked when those involved stayed the course, he emphasized.

Ms. COBBAN, affirming that boycotts did work, cited their use by Zionists in the United States to block discourse on the Palestine question.

Mr. KHAMIS said Israelis could not consider ending the occupation a concession or favour; it constituted compliance with international law.  Israel’s policies to disconnect members of the Palestinian diaspora and make it difficult for them visit their homeland was a violation of their rights, he said, emphasizing that members of the diaspora must “keep the flame alive” and make visible the Palestinian people’s tragedy.  He said that as a Chilean, he could demand that his country’s Government take action on the issue, and he urged others to do the same.

Dr. BARGHOUTHI added that civil society should also pressure Governments to recognize Palestine and contribute to the strengthening of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.  He called for bringing more people to Palestine, saying there was no substitute for seeing the reality.  “It only takes a few hours in Hebron to understand what apartheid means,” he added.  It was also important to inform people about the correct narrative, because of Israel’s effort to falsify history as well as current events.

Ms. COBBAN asked Ms. Nevo how Zochrot’s work was affecting Jewish and Israeli thinking.

Ms. NEVO said denial played a key role in maintaining the colonial settler mindset.  Zochrot countered it by trying to reinstate names that had been removed, including the names of villages.  For example, the meaning of “Nakba” was now becoming mainstream in Israel.

In the ensuing discussion, a representative of Al-Awda:  The Palestine Right to Return Coalition asked if the panellists would consider engaging in efforts to counteract the United States and Israeli role in prosecuting Palestinians involved in the anti-occupation movement.  What steps could be taken in respect of donations to settlements?

A speaker from the Palestinian Federation of Chile said that country’s Jewish community was mainly Zionist and had accused her group of terrorism.  She asked how to counteract that situation.  She said that visiting Palestine was important to the Jewish community but she and her family had not been allowed to do so.

A representative of Save Israel Stop the Occupation recalled that Ms. Vilkomerson had discussed in an interview how the occupation also affected Israelis, noting that her statements today had been more pro-Palestinian.  Turning to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, he asked whether it must the whole of Israel.

Ms. COBBAN explained that the movement was not centrally controlled, but those pursuing it could choose to boycott the State of Israel or the settlements.

Mr. WILDMAN, addressing the question of criminalization, said churches and others were challenging the tax-deductible status of groups making donations to settlements.  Many Israeli generals were already afraid to travel to certain countries for fear of arrest and extradition, he noted.

Dr. BARGHOUTHI, addressing the matter of making terrorism accusations, said Israel provoked incitement against any activity supporting Palestine, but it was important not to be defensive in the face of such accusations.  He urged the speaker to publish information about those prevented from entering Palestine because that practice was not well-known and constituted a grave violation of human rights.  Noting that some people chose to boycott the settlements, he called for a complete boycott of Israel.  In the case of South Africa, he recalled, the boycott had negatively impacted black South Africans as well because it affected their economy, but it had ultimately benefitted them.

Ms. VILKOMERSON added that the idea that pursuing boycott, divestment and sanctions would hurt Israel was a false assumption.  In the case of South Africa, the movement had not sought the end of the State but its transformation.  That was the kind of transformation called for in Israel.

Remarks by the President Signing an Executive Order on the National Space Council

Roosevelt Room

3:13 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, very much.  You don’t mind if I do that?  Get rid of it.  (Laughter.)  

Thank you very much to our great Vice President and also for the fantastic job that Mike has been doing.  

The future of American space leadership — we’re going to lead again.  It’s been a long time.  It’s over 25 years, and we’re opening up, and we are going to be leading again like we’ve never led before.

We’re a nation of pioneers, and the next great American frontier is space.  And we never completed — we started, but we never completed.  We stopped.  But now we start again.  And we have tremendous spirit, and we’re going to have tremendous spirit from the private sector — maybe in particular from the private sector.

I’d like to extend a special welcome to an American hero who’ve I’ve known actually for a long time, Buzz Aldrin, who is with us today.  (Applause.)  Known him a long time.  Thank you also to Astronauts Benjamin Drew and David Wolf and former NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz for being with us and for working with us on exactly what we’re doing today.  Thank you all very much. We appreciate it.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  (Applause.) 

We’re also joined by our great Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, who spent the morning negotiating trade deals with South Korea.  And as you know, that trade deal is coming due, and it actually came due a couple of weeks ago.  And I think we’re going to make a good deal, right? 

SECRETARY ROSS:  We’ve made some progress.

THE PRESIDENT:  I think so.  That’s what the word is.  And good for both countries.

Also distinguished members of Congress are with us, and leaders of several of America’s great aerospace companies.  

Today, we’re taking a crucial step to secure America’s future in space by reviving the National Space Council after it was — has been dormant almost 25 years if you can believe it.

During the campaign, Vice President Pence promised that our administration — because Mike is very much into space — would revive the National Space Council, and with this executive order, we’re keeping that promise.  Feel very strongly about it.  I’ve felt strongly about it for a long time.  I used to say before doing what I did — I used to say, what happened?  Why aren’t we moving forward?

Today’s announcement sends a clear signal to the world that we are restoring America’s proud legacy of leadership in space.

Our Vice President cares very deeply about space policy, and for good reason — space exploration is not only essential to our character as a nation, but also our economy and our great nation’s security.  

Our travels beyond the Earth propel scientific discoveries that improve our lives in countless ways here, right here, at home:  powering vast new industry, spurring incredible new technology, and providing the space security we need to protect the American people.  And security is going to be a very big factor with respect to space and space exploration.  At some point in the future, we’re going to look back and say how did we do it without space? 

The Vice President will serve as the council’s chair.  Several representatives of my administration will join him including the Secretaries of State, Defense, Commerce, Transportation, and Homeland Security; the Chairman of the great — I’ll tell you, he’s doing a fantastic job, always working, always fighting, and winning — winning big against ISIS, that I can tell you, seeing what’s happening there — the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Advisor, NASA, and the Director of National Intelligence. 

The council will also draw the expertise of other White House offices as well as insights from scientists, innovators, and business leaders from across the country.  Many business leaders that want to be a big part of this.  I think the privatization of certain aspects is going to play a very crucial role, don’t you think?  They are truly into it.  This coordination will be accomplished through an advisory group that is being convened by today’s executive order, which I’ll be signing in a minute.  

The National Space Council will be a central hub guiding space policy within the administration.  And I will draw on it for advice and information and recommendations for action.  And the Vice President, myself, and a few others are going to pick some private people to be on the board.  I will say that’s not easy because everybody wants to be on this board.  People that you wouldn’t have believed loved what we’re doing so much they want to — some of the most successful people in the world want to be on this board.    

The human soul yearns for discovery.  By unlocking the mysteries of the universe, we unlock truths within ourselves.  That’s true.  Our journey into space will not only make us stronger and more prosperous, but will unite us behind grand ambitions and bring us all closer together.  Wouldn’t that be nice?  Can you believe that space is going to do that?  I thought politics would do that.  (Laughter.)  Well, we’ll have to rely on space instead. 

Every launch into the skies is another step forward toward a future where our differences seem small against the vast expanse of our common humanity.  Sometimes you have to view things from a distance in order to see the real truth.  It is America’s destiny to be at the forefront of humanity’s eternal quest for knowledge and to be the leader amongst nations on our adventure into the great unknown.  And I could say the great and very beautiful unknown.  Nothing more beautiful.  

With the actions we are launching today, America will think big once again.  Important words:  Think big.  We haven’t been thinking so big for a long time, but we’re thinking big again as a county.  We will inspire millions of children to carry on this proud tradition of American space leadership — and they’re excited — and to never stop wondering, hoping, and dreaming about what lies beyond the stars.

So, I just want to tell you that we are now going to sign an executive order, and this is going to launch a whole new chapter for our great country.  And people are very excited about it and I can tell you, I’m very excited about it.  Thank you all very much.  (Applause.)  

(The order is signed.)
COLONEL ALDRIN:  Infinity and beyond.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  This is infinity here.  It could be infinity.  We don’t really don’t know.  But it could be.  It has to be something — but it could be infinity, right?

Okay.  (Applause.)  

3:10 P.M. EDT

Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, 6/30/2017

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:30 P.M. EDT

MS. SANDERS:  Good afternoon.  Happy Friday.  I have just a couple things I want to highlight here at the top before we get into questions.  We had another bad Obamacare news piece come out today out of Ohio.  Premier Health Plan is withdrawing from the state’s exchange, leaving 20 more counties with no insurance plans on the Obamacare exchange.  That’s on top of the 14 bare counties in Nevada we talked about yesterday. 

For the thousands of Americans now left with no choice when it comes to health insurance, these announcements are more than just words and numbers — it means that they will have to make tough choices when it comes to medical care for themselves and their families.

The President is determined to give these families a better option.  News like this is why it’s so important we repeal this failed law before it collapses completely.

Earlier today, Agriculture Secretary Perry — I’m sorry, Perdue sliced a Nebraska prime rib at a ceremony in China, formally marking the return of American beef to the $2.5 billion Chinese market after a 13-year hiatus.  I strongly encourage you all to take a look at the pictures of the Secretary and representatives from the American and Chinese industries standing around a pretty tasty-looking piece of prime rib, particularly going into this holiday weekend.  This is great news for American ranchers who now have access to the $2.5 billion Chinese beef market.  

Also this morning, the Department of Health and Human Services announced approximately $15 million that will be going to women, infants, and their families who have had or are at risk for lead exposure in Flint, Michigan.

President Trump promised during the campaign that he would address Flint’s water crisis quickly and effectively, and his Cabinet is hard at work keeping that promise to the people of Flint.

In the VA, Secretary Shulkin was in New York to unveil the LUKE bionic arm, the world’s most advanced commercial prosthetic that was made possible by VA research.  The LUKE arm is the product of nearly eight years of testing and research, and represents the amazing advances in technology that are possible when the government works in partnership with the private sector to care for our nation’s heroes.

The LUKE arm has the potential to significantly benefit the lives of veterans and others with upper extremity amputations, and the Trump administration was proud to be part of its rollout today.

Finally, yesterday John Gizzi asked if the United States was sending a delegation to the funeral service of the former German chancellor on the 1st of July, and I wanted to give an update, as I said I would get back.  We are sending an official delegation, which will be headed by the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, who is the former United States Ambassador to Germany.

And with that, I’ll take your questions.  And, folks, in honor of the Fourth of July, let’s try to save all our fireworks for Tuesday.  (Laughter.)  

John Roberts.

Q    Sarah, the President tweeted this morning about healthcare. 

MS. SANDERS:  He did.

Q    In which he said that if the senators can’t get a bill on repeal and replace together, then maybe the best idea would be — as Ben Sasse and Rand Paul have suggested — split them up into a repeal and then a replacement later.  This really runs counter to what the President has been promoting all through the campaign and earlier this year where he insisted that the two things had to be done, if not simultaneously, at least very close to each other.  What is the basis for his change in thinking on this particular point?

MS. SANDERS:  The President hasn’t changed his thinking at all.  I mean, he’s campaigned on, talked about since he was elected repealing and replacing Obamacare.  We’re still fully committed to pushing through with the Senate at this point.  But we’re looking at every possible option of repealing and replacing Obamacare.  We are focused on doing that.

As I said earlier, there is another large amount of counties that now have no Obamacare provider, and so we’re continuing to work hard to repeal and replace Obamacare, and that hasn’t changed.

Q    So how does it square this idea with repeal it now, replace it later with what you had said on repeated occasions before that these things needed to be done very close to each other in order to maintain continuity of coverage for many Americans?

MS. SANDERS:  Again, we’re still focused on trying to push through where are, and we’re going to continue moving forward and making progress on that front and looking at repealing and replacing Obamacare.  The bottom line is, we’re focused on the end product here, and that is to repeal and replace Obamacare with healthcare that works for all Americans.


Q    Sarah, in terms of putting some more specifics on the replacement part, one of the issues that they’re having is you got 11 or 12 senators now who are not happy with what’s going on with Medicaid — they can deal with some of the repeal elements.  Can you give us the most specific — you were asked about this a couple of days ago — the most specific articulation of what you want to see in terms of Medicaid?  And do you agree with some of these senators who think what’s in the Senate bill, in terms of Medicaid phasing out, is, to point a phrase, too mean?

MS. SANDERS:  I think the President, again, is very focused on protecting those who are currently in the program.  That’s certainly a big priority for him, is making sure those people are protected and also adding additional resources.  That’s part of the Senate bill as it currently stands.  That’s something we would be most likely supportive of doing.

Q    How about sort of the specifics outlined in the CBO about the potential for, you know, 18 million — what is it — 23 million total, 15 million by next year.  Is that just too steep a drop-off for the President?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m sorry?

Q    In terms of the CBO articulation analysis of what would happen under Medicaid over the next three or four years, is that too steep a drop off in terms of Medicaid?  Does the President have any objection to what was in the Senate bill with regards to Medicaid?  

MS. SANDERS:  I haven’t had a direct conversation about a specific number.  Again, the priority is to protect everyone as best as possible and certainly those that are currently on the plan, and making sure that no one that is currently on that program gets taken off.  

Q    I’d like to follow up with that first.  Where did the President actually get the idea of separating them?  Was it through conversations with Senator Paul, or was it something that Senator Ben Sasse had said on the television program?   

MS. SANDERS:  I know people have been talking about this for quite some time.  I don’t know where, specifically, it may have come from.  But again, I’ve heard people talking about it for months.  I don’t think it’s new.


Q    And then I wanted to ask about the Election Commission.  Does the President have any thoughts on the fact that so many governors and other state officials have said they’re not going to comply with this request for public information for the Election Integrity Commission?  

MS. SANDERS:  I think that that’s mostly a political stunt.  We’re asking — this is a commission that’s asking for publicly available data.  And the fact that these governors wouldn’t be willing to turn that over — this is something that’s been part of the Commission’s discussion, which has bipartisan support, and none of the members raised any concern whatsoever. 


Q    Thanks, Sarah.  Let me expand upon the tweet that John had brought up.  You just answered his question in part by saying we’re still focused on trying to push through where we are; the bottom line is we’re focused on the end product here.  Is this potential splitting up of the bill, is that plan B at this point? 

MS. SANDERS:  Look, again, as I’ve said before earlier this week.  We’re not focused on plan B, we’re focused on the overall process of repealing and replacing Obamacare.  And the end result right now — we’re still very much focused on the direction we’re on.

Q    And Ben Sasse said in his letter, and on television had mentioned, the first Monday coming back — which is either — I believe it’s July 10th — as to the date as to when they should do it.  Does the White House ascribe to that date?

MS. SANDERS:  No.  As we’ve said before, we’re less focused on the timeline and, again, focused on making sure we get the best deal and healthcare plan possible.


Q    I wanted to ask about two separate policy things.  The first one is steel.  The President said today that he had secured some assurances from the Koreans on that.  I’m wondering if those were actual changes that we might see to KORUS or other trade agreements, or if it’s more “we’ll look at it and get back to you” type of assurance.  And then, broadly, if the report in — this morning was correct in that the President has determined he’s going to impose tariffs on steel.   

MS. SANDERS:  No, at this point the President has not made a final decision in regards to the tariffs issue.

Q    And on Korea?

MS. SANDERS:  On Korea, look, the President has been clear throughout the campaign and again during now, he’s looking for the best deal possible for American workers, specifically focused on reciprocal trade.  And that is the primary focus of the conversations that he’s had.  

Q    And then I have one on food aid.

MS. SANDERS:  Sorry, on what?

Q    Food aid.


Q    The President is moving to require all food aid to be sent on U.S. flag carriers, but it’s a policy that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have actually been moving away towards.  AEI, which is not a liberal group, said that it would make food aid costs 46 percent more, it may take 14 weeks longer to reach people, unlikely to create new U.S. jobs.  We heard yesterday from senior administration officials about the President sees foreign aid as an important part of diplomacy and wants to cut costs here.  So I’m just trying to figure out how this is not just kind of a bumper sticker strategy, but why this is actually a good idea for the United States.

MS. SANDER:  I’m sorry, what was the last part?

Q    Why this isn’t just a bumper sticker strategy of, you know, we’re putting it on U.S. ships, but why this actually makes sense from a policy standpoint. 

MS. SANDERS:  That’s something, honestly, I haven’t had a chance to dive into much, Justin.  But I’d be happy to circle back with you later today.


Q    Sarah, just to be clear, the preference of the White House is to go forward with the drafting of a repeal and replace in the Senate and see if that can pass.  That’s the correct position of the White House, right?

MS. SANDERS:  Correct, yes.  

Q    And so this idea of separating the two is only a backup, as an emergency, if this other process fails, correct?

MS. SANDERS:  Look, I think we want —

Q    The reason I ask —

MS. SANDERS:  No, I understand.  

Q    Is because if you take — if you separate them, as you know, one is reconciliation and the other one isn’t, which makes it much more difficult, and for people as you’ve identified in Nevada and Ohio, repeal only takes care of one of their problems.  It doesn’t deal with them being able to find new carriers or alternative plans as the replacement would.  So I’m just trying to figure out how much of an idea this really is that we should be focusing on, or should this attention still be on repeal and replace as the primary White House focus.

MS. SANDERS:  As I said earlier, the primary focus is repeal and replace through the current Senate legislation that is being discussed.  

Q    If you did separate them, it would complicate things.  Not only legislatively — 

MS. SANDERS:  I didn’t say that that’s true.

Q    What is — I’m asking.

MS. SANDERS:  I think that’s something we would have to review if we went that direction.  But at this point, again, we’re focused on the piece of legislation that does exist.  

Q    What does the President think about the idea of the cancellation of recess in August to focus on healthcare and other legislative ideas and agenda items?  That’s something 10 Republican senators suggested today.

MS. SANDERS:  Not cancelling the August recess?

Q    Cancelling the recess, staying in town, and working on healthcare and the sort of issues — the debt ceiling, tax cuts. Would the President endorse that?

MS. SANDERS:  I haven’t had a chance to have a conversation whether or not he wants to push Congress to cancel their recess.  I think that the timeline and that is really something that’s up to Congress, not the White House.

Q    On Chicago, with the ATF permanent taskforce there, is that a suggestion or a recognition that at least part of the problem in Chicago is a gun control problem or a firearms access control problem?  

MS. SANDERS:  I think that the problem there is pretty clear that it’s a crime problem.  I think crime is probably driven more by morality than anything else.  So I think that this is a law enforcement issue, and our focus is trying to add additional support.  

We’ve talked to people on a local level and asked for their input on how we best can be helpful, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.  That’s something the President talked about pretty extensively, and he’s focused on trying to help the people in Chicago.  


Q    At his recent rally in Cedar Rapids, President Trump said the situation in the Middle East is worse than it was 16 years ago.  Is he concerned about how long the war in Afghanistan is dragging on for?

MS. SANDERS:  Look, I think he, as well as others, are always concerned about any war taking place.  He is deferring as much as possible to the generals that he put in place, his national security team to do everything we can to limit those types of things, but at the same time protect Americans and certainly our national security. 

Q    Does he want to see Americans in a combat role there by, say, 2020?

MS. SANDERS:  As we’ve said many times before, the President is never going to broadcast what plans he has or doesn’t have.

John Gizzi.

Q    Thank you, Sarah.  With all the furor and tumult in yesterday’s press conference — or press briefing, some have suggested that maybe it is time for the President to have another news conference and perhaps answer these questions himself, rather than subject spokespeople such as you and Sean to questions about recent controversy.  Does he plan an actual news conference in the near future?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not sure if there’s one on the schedule.  But if there is, I guarantee you this room will be the first group to be notified.  (Laughter.)  

Q    The other thing is — my other question is:  Has the President today read The New York Magazine article by Gabriel Sherman about the White House and its involvement with Joe Scarborough at all?

MS. SANDERS:  I have no idea if he’s read that piece.  Sorry, John, can’t answer that.


Q    Back to the question of trade, the President said today that he was negotiating with South Korea on the agreement.  Has the KORUS agreement been reopened?  And if it has been reopened, what’s the mechanism for that?  And how much concern, if any, is there about impacting other relationships, security relationships with South Korea?

MS. SANDERS:  At the direction of the President, Ambassador Lighthizer is calling a special joint committee meeting to start the process of renegotiating and amending the deal.  And as always, and as we’ve said many times before, the President is committed to making sure he gets the best deal and a better deal if possible when it comes to trade.  And that’s the current status of where they are.

Q    Any impact on the cooperation over North Korean aggression with South Korea?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m sorry?

Q    What concern is there about an impact on the cooperation with South Korea on the military issues and security issues with North Korea? 

MS. SANDERS:  Are you asking if we’re concerned about an impact?  

Q    Yes. Yes, yes.

MS. SANDERS:  I think the President laid out pretty clearly where he is on that in his statement earlier today.


Q    Thanks a lot, Sarah.  I wanted to ask you about the travel ban.  It’s the first full day that it’s gone into effect, and it’s scheduled to last for 90 days.  And my question has to do with what are the next steps.  If it lasts for 90 days, that takes you up to the end of September.  Are there plans to extend the travel ban before this issue reaches the U.S. Supreme Court?

MS. SANDERS:  As of right now, for any specifics about the implementation process and anything beyond that, I would encourage you to contact the Department of Homeland Security, as they’ll be doing the review and recommendation on that process.

And, guys, I’m sorry, I know I was running late, and I hate to end early, but I was notified by note here just — 

Q    Just two quick questions here.

MS. SANDERS:  Hold on a second, I’m trying to finish a sentence — that the President is actually going to sign an executive order, and he’s going to do that in the next few minutes.  And so I’m going to step away.

We will be available this afternoon to answer more questions.

Q    On what?

MS. SANDERS:  On the Space Council.  And we’ll send out more details about that here in the next few minutes.

Thanks, guys.

2:46 P.M. EDT

“Sisterhood” needed as battle over women’s rights intensifies: expert

Listen /

High-Level Women Leaders Forum for Africa’s Transformation at the United Nations in New York from 31 May to 2 June. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Women are being urged by a UN independent expert to “open their eyes” and form a “real sisterhood” to counter the “alarming backlash” against women’s rights underway in many parts of the world.

Alda Facio, Chairperson of the Working Group on the Issue of Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practice made the remarks on Thursday.

The group released a statement warning that the very concept of gender equality was being increasingly contested in some quarters.

Speaking to Jocelyne Sambira on the line from Costa Rica, Ms Facio shared how some UN member states were “openly hostile” to women’s equality and rights.

Duration: 2’45”

Remarks by President Trump, President Moon, Commerce Secretary Ross, and NEC Director Cohn in Bilateral Meeting

Cabinet Room

10:50 A.M. EDT

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Okay, thank you very much.  We have many of our great members, our Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense.  We have several of our really wonderful leaders here.  And you have your leaders with you and your representatives.

And we’re going to be discussing two things mostly, and number one would be North Korea, and we pretty much discussed that last night at length.  I think we have a very, very strong, solid plan.  And number two is going to be, of course, trade — because the trade deal is up, and we want to make a deal that’s fair for the United States and fair for South Korea.  So we’ll start doing that.

Gary Cohn is here.  Wilbur Ross is here.  And I think that’s a very important thing.  And, Wilbur, perhaps you’d like to say a few things about trade right now, and we can probably leave the media — because trade is very important — for a little while.  But perhaps you’d say a few words about trade and what we’re looking to do.

SECRETARY ROSS:  Yes, sir.  The trade imbalance with South Korea has doubled since the KORUS treaty was put into effect, and the largest single component of that is automotive trade.  That’s an absolute majority of it.  So there are a lot of non-tariff trade barriers to U.S. exports.  Only 25,000 cars per Big Three manufacturer are allowed in based on U.S. standards.  Anything above that needs to be on Korean standards.

So that kind of rulemaking affects quite a few industries and really restricts the access that U.S. companies have to the Korean market.  

We have a separate problem with oilfield tubular goods and other steel products.  There is no domestic market for oilfield tubular goods in Korea.  So everything they make is for export, and we had recent trade cases demonstrating that a lot of that is dumped Chinese steel coming as hot-rolled coil and then coming back to the U.S. as oilfield tubular goods.  

So there are a lot of very specific problems, and I think the way to address it is to deal product by product with what we can do to change the export side and what we can do to reduce the bad import side.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  All right, thank you very much.  You can stay for this also.  Perhaps Gary Cohn could say a few words also about trade.

MR. COHN:  Yes, thank you, Mr. President.  As you know, much of our biggest problem on trade has to do with our economic relationship with China, and we have maintained a very large trade deficit with China, and it continues to grow.

As Wilbur said, China has many predatory practices in the way they deal with us, with intellectual property and trade barriers for us.  We’re forced to transfer technology into China, forced to have joint ventures in China.  We have tariffs and nontariff barriers; unable to own companies in China, as well.  And we’re dealing with all of their policies.  

At some point we’d be interested to hear how you’re dealing with the Chinese policies and how you can help us in dealing with Chinese policies.  

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Thank you very much.  The fact is that the United States has trade deficits with many, many countries, and we cannot allow that to continue.  And we’ll start with South Korea right now.  But we cannot allow that to continue.  This is really a statement that I make about all trade.  For many, many years, the United States has suffered through massive trade deficits.  That’s why we have $20 trillion in debt.  So we’ll be changing that.

The good news is we’re making great products.  And I appreciate very much they’re giving — South Korea is giving very, very big orders to the United States for — as you know, for military.  They’re buying many F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed, and they’re buying other military equipment at a level that they’ve never reached before.  So that’s good.

Also, I understand you’re dealing with Alaska — great state — on natural gas, and other parts of the United States.  We have a lot of natural gas, so we love that you’re going to do that.

And things like that will bring down the trade deficit substantially.  That’s what we like, and we appreciate it very much.

Mr. President, would you like to say something before the media leaves?

PRESIDENT MOON:  (Speaks Korean.  No translation provided.)

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Okay, we can do that.  And I’m sure that everybody understood that answer.  (Laughter.)  I hope.  But it was a very good answer.  

Thank you all very much.

10:56 A.M. EDT