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Mike Pence: Trump's Taiwan Call Was Just 'Courtesy'

Pence would not say whether their administration plans to further break with established U.S.-China policy, which does not recognize Taiwan.
Image: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence depart the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence depart the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mike SegarMIKE SEGAR / Reuters

Vice-President elect Mike Pence dismissed Donald Trump's phone call with the president of Taiwan as a "courtesy," telling NBC's Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press" that nothing more should be read into a conversation that broke with decades of United States policy.

Pence would not say whether the incoming administration plans to further break with established United States-China policy, which does not formally recognize Taiwan.

"She reached out to the President-elect and he took the call from the democratically elected leader of Taiwan," Pence said, adding that the call was one of more than 50 that Trump has had with world leaders since the election.

Related: Trump's Call With Taiwan's Leader Could Result in 'Severe Provocation' by China: Expert

A top Taiwanese official told NBC News on Saturday that the call had been pre-arranged, and Trump tweeted Friday that Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen had called him. However, NBC News' chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell noted that "it doesn't matter who made the call. The point is the conversation happened."

Mitchell also pointed to Trump's linguistic breach of protocol in referring to Tsai as the "president of Taiwan," something Pence also did during his interview with "Meet the Press."

"That's a no-no," Mitchell said, adding that China would now look at Trump in a different way.

According to Pence, there are no current plans for a call with China to calm any rough diplomatic waters, which Pence likened to a "tempest in a teapot." The Chinese government had said the phone call was a "petty move" on Taiwan's part, but later lodged a complaint with the U.S., urging it to adhere to the "one China" policy.

"I think I would just say to our counterparts in China that this was a moment of courtesy," Pence said.

"I think most Americans and frankly most leaders around the world know this for what it was. And it's all part and parcel. I think you're going to see in a President Donald Trump a willingness to engage the world but engage the world on America's terms," Pence added.

When asked if Trump was soliciting State Department protocols for this call and others, including conversations with the Pakistan prime minister and president of the Philippines last week, Pence pointed to the presidential daily briefs and national security briefings the president-elect receives as part of the transition.

State Department officials said Saturday that Trump has not been briefed by the agency before any of his calls to world leaders since winning the election.

Pence also declined to shed light on whether former Gov. Mitt Romney is still in the running for secretary of state, a prominent cabinet position with a seemingly ever-expanding pool of candidates vying for the job. Romney met with Trump for the second time on Tuesday, and lavished the president-elect with praise following their dinner. However, Romney, who fiercely criticized Trump during the campaign, faces strong opposition from within Trump's transition team.

Trump met with another controversial secretary of state contender, last week, as well — former CIA chief David Petraeus. Petraeus, after admitting to having provided classified information to his mistress, was fined and sentenced to two years probation in 2015.

Todd on Sunday pressed Pence on how significant an issue the conviction for mishandling classified information is for the President-elect, given the emphasis Trump placed on the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, which led to no evidence of criminality.

"Well first, let me say that General David Petraeus is an American hero," Pence said. "[He] led forces in battle, acquitted himself with great distinction, and he paid a price."

Trump routinely claimed on the campaign trail that Clinton's private server disqualified her to run for president as his supporters chanted "lock her up."

As to whether mishandling classified information disqualifies Petraeus from serving as secretary of state, Pence said, "that will be up to the president-elect."