Visiting the White House on Thursday are the heads of state for the Baltic States, three former Soviet Republics that are now members of the E.U. and NATO.
President Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia, President Raimonds Vejonis of Latvia, and President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania are expected to talk trade, energy supplies and "cultural partnerships" with the U.S. The four leaders delivered statements and took questions from international media around 1:30 PM.
Since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and some other formerly Soviet-dominated countries have been concerned that Russia might take back more territory they ruled before the end of the Cold War.
In Taillin, Estonia last summer, Vice President Mike Pence warned: "At this very moment, Russia continues to seek to redraw international borders by force, undermine democracies of sovereign nations, and divide the free nations of Europe -- one against another. Under President Donald Trump, the United States of America rejects any attempt to use force, threats, intimidation, or malign influence in the Baltic States or against any of our treaty allies."
Last month, when Trump congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin on his re-election victory, the two agreed to hold talks in the "not-too-distant future."
Radio Free Europe reports that "the presidents of three Baltic states are expected to ask U.S. President Donald Trump to do more to deter Russia by bolstering U.S. forces on NATO's eastern flank at a White House meeting scheduled for April 3."
"I hope that the United States and other allies understand that the airspace of the Baltic states must be better protected and defended," Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite told her country's public broadcaster LRT ahead of the visit.
"It is important that [U.S. troops] are here on a permanent rotational basis in all Baltic states," she said.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
Some of your military advisers are urging you to keep a contingent of U.S. troops in Syria to ensure the defeat of ISIS. What is your current thinking on this subject? Do you still want them out?
And secondly, could you clarify what you meant about having U.S. military guard the U.S. boarder along with Mexico?
Thank you, sir.
The -- first of all the border, the Mexican border is very unprotected by our laws. We have horrible, horrible and very unsafe laws in the United States, and we're going to be able to do something about that hopefully soon. Hopefully Congress will get their act together and get in and create some very powerful laws, like Mexico has, and like Canada has, and like almost all countries have.
We don't have laws. We have catch and release. You catch and then you immediately release, and people come back years later for a court case, except they virtually never come back.
So we are preparing for the military to secure our border between Mexico and the United States. We have a meeting on it in a little while with General Mattis and everybody. And I think that it's something we have to do.
Now, the caravan, which is over a thousand people coming in from Honduras, thought they were just going to walk right through Mexico and right through the border. TRUMP: As you know, NAFTA is a phenomenal deal for Mexico. It's been a horrible deal for the United States. We're renegotiating it now. But it has been a horrible, horrible, embarrassing deal for the United States. This should have been terminated or renegotiated many years ago.
Mexico -- we have a trade deficit with Mexico of over $100 billion a year. And I told Mexico yesterday that, because of the fact that their laws are so strong, they can do things about it that -- hard to believe -- the United States can't.
I said, "I hope you're going to tell that caravan not to get up to the border." And I think they're doing that, because, as of 12 minutes ago, it was all being broken up. We'll see what happens. But we have to have strong borders. We need the wall.
We've started building the wall. As you know, we have $1.6 billion toward building the wall and fixing existing wall that's falling down and was never appropriated in the first place. And that's very important.
As far as Syria is concerned, our primary mission in terms of that was getting rid of ISIS. We've almost completed that task, and we'll be making a decision very quickly, in coordination with others in the area, as to what we'll do. Saudi Arabia is very interested in our decision, and I said, "Well, you know, you want us to stay, maybe you're going to have to pay."
But a lot of people -- you know, we do a lot of things in this country. We do them for -- we -- we do them for a lot of reasons. But it's very costly for our country, and it helps other countries a hell of a lot more than it helps us.
So we're going to be making a decision. We've had a tremendous military success against ISIS, as you know. It's close to 100 percent, as I just said. And we'll be making a decision as to what we do in the very near future. We'll be consulting also with groups of our people and groups of our allies, OK?
QUESTION: You're inclined to pull the troops out?
TRUMP: Say it?
QUESTION: You're -- you're inclined to pull the troops out?
TRUMP: I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation. We will have, as of three months ago, $7 trillion in the Middle East over the last 17 years. We get nothing -- nothing out of it, nothing.
And, as you remember, in civilian life, for years, I said, "Keep the oil." I was always saying, "Keep the oil." We didn't keep the oil. Who got the oil? Was -- ISIS got the oil, a lot of it. That's what funded their campaigns. They took a lot of the oil, and it was largely responsible for funding.
We should have kept the oil then. We didn't keep the oil. So I want to get back -- I want to rebuild our nation. Think of it: $7 trillion over a 17-year period. We have nothing, nothing except death and destruction. It's a horrible thing.
So it's time. It's time. We were very successful against ISIS. We'll be successful against anybody militarily. But sometimes it's time to come back home, and we're thinking about that very seriously, OK? Thank you.
QUESTION: Lithuanian Television (ph). Mr. President, a lot about getting out, but getting in -- the joint declaration mentions the periodic American deployments in the Baltic countries. What specifically can you commit to, having heard the requests and wishes of the Baltic states?
And, President, you have mentioned Russia as a terrorist state. Did you have a meeting of minds here as to the threat that Russia poses to the neighboring countries? QUESTION: Thank you.
TRUMP: Well, we have a very strong relationship, as the presidents will tell you, with the Baltic states. And we are with them. We're friends and we're allies. And we are going to have a long-term, very fine relationship.
In addition, we do business on trade. We work very hard on security together. Surprisingly, large numbers of trade -- and these are very industrious nations.
Now, you're from there. So you know exactly what I'm talking about. These are tremendous people and very, very industrious. We do a lot of business on trade. Thank you. Thank you very much.
GRYBAUSKAITE: The second part of your question -- of course, interesting, especially because we didn't talk to -- in that ways (ph) about the rival, especially on our border. But, then, country behaves aggressively, performs wars, threatens with nuclear missiles on your border, of course, you sometimes call this country not very friendful (ph).
That's why we -- investing into our defense. We investing into our security. We investing into reforming NATO, and we would like to see strong NATO, strong alliance. And that's what we are going to do together.
TRUMP: OK. Thank you. Would you like to choose somebody, President?
GRYBAUSKAITE: Your turn. Your turn. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Mr. Trump, speaking about economy, about economical cooperation with my country, with Latvia, what is your message for investors in Latvia, and what is -- what is your opinion about the investment in Latvia? Thank you.
TRUMP: I think all three would be great places to invest. The stable governments, incredible people, hardworking, industrious people -- I think they would be great places to invest. I would have no problem with it, although I think, as president of the United States, they would call it a slight conflict of interest, perhaps.
You might be hearing from these people.
No, I think it would be great place. I think all three would be a great place to invest. OK?
QUESTION: Thank you.
TRUMP: Thank you.
QUESTION: Marie (ph) (inaudible), Estonian Public Broadcasting. First, a question to President Trump.
As the concern of the Baltic states is Russia, and, before the press conference, you also said that, at the same time, good relationship with Russia is not (ph) bad -- but how are you going to deal with President Vladimir Putin? Is he -- as your enemy, or as someone you can have dialogue with?
And the second question is to our president, Kersti Kaljulaid. Is the defense of the Baltic states enough? Or should there be something more -- for example, air defense systems? Thank you.
TRUMP: Well, I think we'll be able to have great dialogue, I hope. And, if we can't, you'll be the first to know about it. Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have. And you can -- and I know you're nodding yes, because everyone agrees when they think about it -- strong energy, the United States.
My opponent was into other forms of energy, like windmills. We're -- we're very strong on energy. We're essentially, now, energy-independent. We're an exporter of energy. That is not a positive for Russia. But it's certainly a positive for the United States.
We just passed a $700 billion military budget. Next year, $716 billion, the largest ever passed. We are going to have a military stronger than we've ever had before, by far. Now, that's not exactly a great thing for Russia. But that's the way it is. We're going to have the strongest military that we ever had.
NATO -- NATO was delinquent. They were not paying their bills. They were not paying, a lot of states, as we discussed. They were not -- they were not paying what they should be paying. TRUMP: Since I came in, many, many billions of dollars additional have been paid by countries that weren't paying, and now they're paying. And they will have to pay more, frankly. They're going to have to pay more.
So there are many things that I've done, and not only the 60 diplomats. Germany did four, France did four, we did 60. There's nobody been tougher on Russia.
And with that being said, I think I could have a very good relationship with President Putin. I think. It's possible I won't, then you will know about it. Believe me, this room will know about it before I know about it.
It's a real possibility that I could have a good relationship. And remember this: Getting along with Russia is a good thing. Getting along with China is a good thing. Getting along with other countries, including your three countries is a good thing, not a bad thing.
So I think I could have a very good relationship with Russia and with President Putin. And if I did, that would be a great thing.
And there's also a possibility that that won't happen. Who knows?
OK? Thank you. OK.
KALJULAID: If I may, Marie (ph), I would also like to contribute a little bit to your first question.
As I reminded you all, we could trust the judgment of United States administrations and people, even while we were occupied. We could trust your judgment when we regained independence and seeked membership of NATO, for example.
We could because we are on a common foundation. You can walk around the mall and read; it's all written there. This foundation, our compass for both. And therefore I trust the judgment of President Trump and his administration on that matter, too.
Now on your concrete question on -- on air defense, yes, we did discuss the deterrence capacity necessary to make sure that our deterrence is believable to everybody who might want to question it.
But, you know, equal partners don't come to talk with each other this way. I come here to Washington to ask for visa (ph) freedom, I come here to ask for let's say, "May you support me for this or for that." We analyze situation together and we find the solutions together which will work for us all together.
Because we are in it altogether, we are contribute -- this equal contributions according to our size, to this process of guaranteeing our security.
VEJONIS: Maybe I will add that today during our summit we discussed security issues in our region, President Trump. And I am sure that this discussion will help a lot to continue any political dialogue with our eastern neighbor, Russia.
TRUMP: Pick a reporter, please. You could pick a reporter, a Baltic reporter ideally.
Real news, not fake news.
Go ahead. You want to pick? I think we have enough, do we have enough? Yes?
TRUMP: Go ahead, pick -- Mr. President, pick a reporter from the Baltics. Not the same man; he was very tough. Go ahead, pick a reporter.
QUESTION: I can...
TRUMP: Yes, go ahead. Yes, please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Anod (ph). I am from Latvia. So I have a question for our president from Latvia.
You're going to San Francisco after your meeting here in Washington, and you're meeting some people who are making business connections from Latvia and the U.S. Do you see any -- any certain outcomes out -- out of that? QUESTION: Thank you.
VEJONIS: Well, first of all, I think during our summit, I will repeat again that we discussed how we can strengthen our economic cooperation between Baltic states and the U.S.
And, of course, my visit to California, to Silicon Valley, will give, I think, good basis for -- for better understanding what our businesspeople need to be presented here and what I can help -- how I can help them to be here.
Because, anyway, I think all these cooperations between Baltic states' businesspeople and U.S. businesspeople is very important for our societies, for our business societies.
And, as I said, we are thinking not only about investments in our country -- and we are trying to make better environment for investments in our country -- but also, our businesspeople are in this (ph) -- invested here, and I think it is important for both countries -- for Latvia and for your -- for the U.S.
TRUMP: Just want to conclude by saying that I am very impressed with these three great Baltic nations and these three great presidents. Thank you very much for being here.