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Secretary Mattis Joint Press Conference with Minister of Defence Nirmala Sitharaman

Press Operations

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis; Indian Minister of Defence Nirmala Sitharaman
Sept. 26, 2017
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STAFF:  Welcome, friends, to this joint press conference.  The format of our conference will be first, will be a joint press statement by Honorable Raksha Mantri Nirmala Sitharaman.  Followed by a press statement by his excellency, defense secretary, Mr. James Mattis.  This will be followed by one question each, one from the India media side and one from the U.S. media side.

So we begin with, I request Honorable Raksha Mantri to start with the press statement.

MIN. SITHARAMAN:  Good afternoon, your excellencies, Secretary James Mattis, secretary of defense of the United States, representatives of the media, ladies and gentlemen.  It is indeed a privilege to receive Secretary Mattis in Delhi.  I extend a warm welcome to him on his first visit to India as secretary of defense.

He's a special visitor for me, as he is the first administrative counterpart I have met since taking over my responsibility as defense minister of India.

We have just concluded a very substantive, constructive, forward-looking talk.  I thank Secretary Mattis for generously sharing his deep knowledge and wisdom of defense matters.  I'm confident that his knowledge and experience will contribute to further deepening defense and security cooperation between India and the United States.

Ladies and gentlemen, India and the United States share a strong and vibrant strategic partnership.  As the world's largest democracies, we also share fundamental values and interests.

Defense cooperation between India and the United States has grown significantly in recent years, and emerged as a key pillar of our strategic partnership.

Our military-to-military engagements continue to grow.  We recently concluded the trilateral Malabar naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal, along with Japan.  This edition of Malabar demonstrated the progress made in operational synergies between our navies.

As we speak, our armies are conducting their exercise Yudh Abhyas in the United States.  In our talks today, we agreed to explore additional and specialized exercises.

Cooperation in defense equipment has grown steadily over the past years.  The U.S. is now a leading supplier of state-of-the-art defense equipment to India.

I appreciated Secretary Mattis' willingness to share further cutting-edge platforms which would enhance India's defense preparedness to meet current and emerging threats.  Secretary Mattis and I agreed that we need to expand on the progress already made by encouraging co-production and co-development efforts. 

I reiterated India's deep interest in enhancing defense manufacturing in India under Prime Minister Modi's make-in-India initiative.  I thank Secretary Mattis for his supportive position in this regard and look forward to working closely with him to realize joint projects.


In this context, we agreed that the full implementation of the understanding reached following the announcement by the U.S. last year recognizing India as a major difference partner will provide further energy and momentum to our collaboration on defense technology and manufacturing.

We also discussed how to refocus and reenergize the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, the DTTI, as a mechanism to promote technology- sharing as well as co-development and co-production efforts.

We also exchanged views on regional and international issues of mutual interest.  The situation in our neighborhood and the growing menace of cross-border terrorism were discussed in depth.  There is growing convergence in the approaches of border countries on this issue.  We both recognize the importance of holding those who use terrorism as an instrument of state policy to account and to dismantle the infrastructure that supports terrorism. 

As you're aware, India welcomes President Trump's new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan announced last month.  Today, I had useful discussions with Secretary Mattis on how we could strengthen our cooperation bilaterally as well as within -- as well as with the government of Afghanistan, in pursuit of our common objective of a peaceful, democratic, stable and prosperous Afghanistan. 


 We also discussed the issues relating to maritime security in the Indian Ocean and the broader Asia -- Asia-Pacific region, as well as regional connectivity issues.  I'll read that again.  We also discussed the issues relating to maritime security in the Indian Ocean and the broader Asia-Pacific region, as well as regional connectivity issues. 


India supports the freedom of navigation, overflight and unimpeded lawful commerce.  We also believe that disputes should be resolved through peaceful means and in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law. 


I am happy to note that Secretary Mattis reaffirmed the U.S. position in support of these principles.  I also welcome his reiteration of the U.S. commitment to work with India in ensuring maritime security in the Indo-Pacific and as first responder to HADR situations. 


From our discussions today, I'm confident that we are entering a new phase in our strategic defense partnerships with the United States.

I once again thank Secretary Mattis for visiting India.  I also thank him for inviting me to visit the United States to carry forward our discussions.  


I now invite Secretary Mattis to deliver his remarks.  Thank you.

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, thank you, Madam Minister, and thank you very much for hosting me during my first trip to India as the secretary of defense.  And please accept my congratulations on your recent appointment as India's minister of defence.  I believe that India is very well served with such a dynamic, dedicated and experienced public servant.  

This year marks the 70th anniversary of modern India's independence, and the United States is proud to salute the world's largest democracy.  We meet at a very good time, Madam Minister.

As President Trump stated during his June meeting with Prime Minister Modi, the relationship between India and the United States has never been stronger.  As two great democracies, India and the United States are natural strategic partners who share common values and common interests.  

We have a historic opportunity today to set a refreshed partnership between our nations, one that is built on respect, trust and shared values of democracy, freedom of expression and human dignity.  Our common vision aims to support an open, just and rules-based global order.

A peaceful and prosperous future in the Indo-Pacific region is based on a strong rules-based international order and a shared commitment to international law, to peaceful resolution of disputes and respect for territorial integrity.  


U.S.-India defense cooperation has steadily expanded in recent years, underpinned by a strategic convergence between our two countries based on common objectives and goals in the region.  This cooperation will benefit both economies, while reducing legacy trust issues between our two democracies.  

The United States' designation of India as a major defense partner reflects the progress made in strengthening our cooperation.  This designation recognizes India as a pillar of regional stability and security, and it reflects our desire for a long-term strategic partnership in the 21st century.  

My goal on this trip is to promote pragmatic progress between us in our defense partnership, delivering defense interoperability, aligned with Prime Minister Modi and President Trump's direction.  

In the wide-ranging new relationship between our nations, security is one of the key strategic pillars.  As we work to strengthen our defense relationship, we seek to expand our cooperation and building partnerships, also, across the region.  In particular, we applaud India's invaluable contributions to Afghanistan and welcome for their efforts to promote Afghanistan's democracy, stability and security.  

Our two countries recognizes a threat that global terrorism poses to people throughout the world.  There can be no tolerance of terrorist safe havens.  As global leaders, India and the United States resolve to work together to eradicate this scourge.  

In broad-ranging initiatives, we value India's leadership across the Indo-Pacific and beyond.  India has a vital role to play in supporting southeast Asia's regional institutions, particularly in ASEAN and in building partner capacity across the region.

We appreciate India's stabilizing leadership in the Indian Ocean and seek to work together to build a resilient regional architecture with a foundation both our nations respect:  that of a rules-based order.  

We also appreciate India's efforts, along with those of the United Nations and the broader international community, to increase pressure against North Korea over its dangerous and destabilizing behavior.  In addition to our growing global cooperation, the minister and I reaffirmed our commitment to deepen bilateral defense cooperation, in particular, expanding maritime engagement as one of our top priorities.


Our annual Maritime Security Dialogue is an important mechanism to develop a shared understanding of the challenges we face and the opportunities for cooperation in addressing them.  The U.S.-India Malabar Naval Exercise that the minister mentioned is one with Japan, and an example what a deepening shared trust and operational cooperation.  

I look forward to opportunities to increase our engagement based on shared maritime objectives and to explore new exercises as well.  We also discussed ways to further deepen the robust defense trade and technology collaboration between our defense industries.  And we look forward to sharing some of our most advanced defense technologies through the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, or DTTI. 

Cooperation in this area will improve the capabilities of both our militaries and reinforce the foundations for an enduring partnership.  I look forward, alongside Secretary of State Tillerson, to convening the inaugural two-plus-two dialogue in the near future between our foreign and defense ministers.  "Steady engagement" will be our watchwords for the path ahead.  

Let me close by reiterating the importance the United States places on building a vibrant defense partnership with India.  This is, again, a historic opportunity for our two democracies, a time of strategic convergence.  As India takes its rightful place at the global table, India will find the United States to be a steadfast friend and partner.  


Thank you.

MIN. SITHARAMAN:  Thank you, His Excellency.  Now we'll take first question from Mr. -- (inaudible) -- from the Indian media.  One question, please.

Q:  Secretary Mattis, this is -- (inaudible) -- from News 18, and I have two questions, both for Secretary Mattis and Raksha Mantri Nirmala Sitharaman.  

My question to you is that you have mentioned about the strategy convergence between India and United States.  We have heard President Donald Trump highlighting the South Asia policy and highlighting the zero tolerance against the safe havens and sanctuaries of terrorism.  

How are you seeing -- how do you see the role of India in the -- in the strategy convergence and increasing role in Afghanistan -- safety, security and stability of the democracy?  

And also, India would soon be observing the one year of the surgical strike.  Do you and do we see the endorsement and support of United States against any such cross-border action against -- (inaudible) -- terrorist safe havens and launch pads?

And to Secretary -- to Raksha Mantri, Prime Minister Narenda Modi always highlight eliminating the terrorists and the countries and organizations who support terrorists and safe havens of terrorisms.  Into countries like Pakistan who support, aid and abet terrorism is a cause of concern for the global community.  


Did you raise this issue with Secretary Mattis?  And what assurance did you get on the cut-down of the U.S. military aid to Pakistan?

MATTIS:  Well, on the role of India in counterterrorism, India has suffered grievous losses.  The United States has suffered losses to terrorism.  Many nations around the world have suffered losses to terrorism.  


And I believe one aspect of this that is universally shared by all responsible nations in the world is that there can be no safe havens, anywhere, for terrorists.  We intend to work closely with India, collaborating with India and like-minded nations.  And in the Indo-Pacific region, obviously India's one of the leaders that we intend to align with as we eradicate this, as I mentioned in my -- in my prepared remarks.


But I think also that as we look at -- at terrorism and what is going on in the world today, we see an increasing number of nations that are willing to put their -- their troops in the field, to put their police departments working together.  And we just see a -- overall a stronger level of collaboration in this regard.


And I believe in the long run that we are going to put terrorism on its back foot, but it's going to be a lot of work and it's going to require a high degree of teamwork by all nations.  And I think that that is -- that's coming into focus.  


MIN. SITHARAMAN:  Yes, I did raise this issue.

And in fact I must, before getting to details, thank the secretary for mentioning more than why -- more than once that the United States sees India as a stabilizing influence in this region, and also sees that India not just confined to the region, but has a role to play in the global situation as working together with the U.S. in controlling and containing terrorism, and also be able to work together with the United States in order that globally countries do recognize that neither through terrorism not through coercive or unilateral action, no country should be in a position to change the global rules-based order or threaten any existing status quo.  

 
On the specific issue of whether -- (inaudible) -- of terrorists being given safe haven in Pakistan, I have recalled -- in fact I borrowed the words of Secretary Mattis in saying that he had -- when he was interacting with our prime minister, stated very clearly that the very same forces which find a safe haven in Pakistan have been the ones who hated New York as much as Mumbai.

 

People of that region and also assets belonging to both the U.S. and India in those two attacks stand out as examples of how such terrorist attacks have hurt democracies both in the U.S. and in India.  And therefore, my request which was received by Secretary Mattis was that if at all and if and when he would visit Pakistan, he would be able to speak out on these issues and take a position.

 
STAFF:  Thank you, ma'am.  Now from the gentleman from Wall Street Journal.

 
Q:  So, sir, one question for you.

 
The war of words between the U.S. and North Korea has escalated to the point of where miscalculation seems a real risk.  How do you avoid that at this point?  And -- and how do you deescalate to the point of where diplomacy can have some room?  

And, Madam Minister, if I could ask you a question about Afghanistan, clearly the U.S. is seeking more contributions to the mission there.  Could you articulate what form of contribution India might be prepared to provide?  And do you rule out troops on the ground?


SEC. MATTIS:  The effort to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula is one that has been diplomatically led and with an increased emphasis here as the DPRK -- as North Korea's provocations have become more pronounced.


 We continue to maintain the diplomatically led effort in the United Nations.  You have seen unanimous United Nations Security Council resolutions passed that have increased the pressure -- economic pressure and diplomatic pressure on the North.


At the same time we maintain the capability to deter North Korea's most dangerous threats, but also to back up our diplomats in a manner that keeps this as long as possible in the diplomatic realm -- this effort in the diplomatic realm.  And that is our goal, to solve this diplomatically.  And I believe that President Trump has been very clear on this issue.


 STAFF:  Thank you.

MIN. SITHARAMAN:  On your question about, what is India's contribution to Afghanistan, may I remind you that India's contribution to Afghanistan has been for a very long time and it's been consistently on developmental issues?



We've built dams, we've built hospitals, we shall continue doing all of them.  Dams, hospitals, schools, any institutions which Afghanistan may require, we shall continue supporting them on that.


And we're also, at the moment, providing training for -- in the name of good government for their officials, and also for their administrators.  Those trainings will continue so that engagement will also be positively enhanced if necessary.


Medical assistance is also provided by India.  We give them the facilities in our hospitals, both for wounded -- those wounded in the hospital and those in the -- (inaudible) -- or even for civilians who need medical assistance.  Those assistance for medical help will also continue.


So India's contribution has been on these grounds and we shall expand if necessary.  However, of course, we've made it very clear that there shall not be boots from India on the ground.


STAFF:  Thank you, ma'am.


Thank you, His Excellency.


I would request media to please remain seated while the ministers move for their next engagements.  Thank you and please join us for refreshments later on.  Thank you.