HomeNewsTranscriptsTranscript View

News Transcript

Media Availability with Secretary Mattis

Press Operations

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis
Nov. 7, 2017
PRINT | E-MAIL
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS:  So, how was Finland?

Q:  Good.

Q:  It was great.

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, you almost look Finnish, Paul.

Q:  You think so?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.

Q:  And it rubbed off too much.  I had too much reindeer, maybe, while I was there.  Maybe it's the --

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. MATTIS:  I mean, the brown shoes, the vest, the beard, I mean --

Q:  I need to shave the sides of my head, though --

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.

Q:  -- properly back, though.  That might help.

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.  It's pretty good now, though.

Q:  Yes.

SEC. MATTIS:  We got everybody?

Q:  I think so.

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.

Q:  Should I turn it up, or --

SEC. MATTIS:  Okay.  Well, what we'll do -- we'll talk for a couple minutes on the record.  I'll say something, you can ask a question or two, and I'll try to keep my voice for a little bit longer. 

So we're coming out of Finland and a -- what we call the Northern Group meetings, which I was invited to.  I'm not part of the Northern Group.  I was invited to be there.

But it was -- I would just tell you, the discussion -- it -- themselves, in terms of sizing up the security situation up here in the north and how they see it has developed, I'd say, over the last year or two -- no, I'd even take it further back, three years -- especially in the last year -- and you think about Zapad, which many of you have reported on.  That was the west exercise that the Russians did -- and then about how we look at the future -- there was a lot of unity there. 

The security climate, as you know, has become more severe since 2014.  2014 was a watershed year.  Even then, some nations tried to explain it.  I think those nations have now explained it sufficiently to themselves and their people, and you see the uptick in defense spending that really starts, probably, about a year ago, continues at a faster -- clearly a faster pace today, with Secretary General Stoltenberg being, certainly, in the front rank as the senior NATO person who is leading this effort here on -- in Europe. 

It's clear that one nation thinks it holds some kind of a veto or strong influence over others -- that's Russia.  The -- the country's name came up repeatedly over these -- those -- the last 48 hours since I last saw you.  And it's not that we're all NATO countries.  Obviously the host nation was not a NATO country.

I had a trilateral meeting with them yesterday.  I had a bilateral meeting with one of them yesterday, a bilateral meeting with the other today.  Then we met with the Northern Group today.  And it's -- my point is we don't agree on everything.  Like, the majority of Finnish people do not agree on being a member of NATO.  But they do support the partnership with NATO.  They do support the partnership with the United States.

So what, to us, is kind of a perhaps black or white issue is not, to the -- to the people here, as, from their perspective, they deal with the reality up here. 

So the -- (inaudible) -- 12 nation together -- they were all democracies.  And so it shows that we do stand together to reaffirm principles like sovereignty, territorial integrity, things like that.  There is no difference of opinion at all, whether it be a NATO country, or an E.U. country, or a -- you know, a non-NATO E.U. country.  In other words, however you slice that, the common thread cuts all the way across us. 

Also, a point that was brought up there -- that peace is not a passive virtue; that it requires active commitment, and that included concrete measures about capabilities and about exercises together. 

We're now on our way to the NATO defense ministerial in Brussels.  We'll continue to reinforce the importance of NATO's role in countering aggression in any of those who would seek to erode the rule of law.  And we're going to discuss an enduring commitment to the alliance -- the transatlantic alliance. 

This is how we do it.  We get together.  We talk.  We make decisions on things, and of course also about combating transnational terrorism.  So I don't know -- I hope Finland was of value to you.  I hope you got into some press events. 

Were you there at any of the things we did?  You were there, Paul?  And what were your impressions, just out of curiosity?

Q:  It was good.  I mean, the Finnish and the Swedish defense ministers this morning made themselves available to some of the press that were nearby.  They seemed interested about all the things that you had to say.  Going to talk about Afghanistan commitments, potentially, and if they're --

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.

Q:  -- considering sending troops there.  Did you get any feedback from them on that, by the way?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.  There was feedback from a number of nations, both formally and informally, about what -- they're looking to uplift their numbers based on the American uplift.  Full support for the South Asia strategy, and that was demonstrated by a number of them saying they're going to add troops. 

Some of them gave us specifics.  Some said they have to take it in front of their parliament, get a governmental decision.  I just sent them a letter last month, so in some cases, we're catching them kind of in mid-stride, as they're -- as they're doing their own internal government things.

But, by and large, we talked about, before I sent them the letters -- that we knew they were going to be on board already.  They'd already indicated, even before we rolled it out, that we're -- that, when I was putting it together, they had input into it.  So all the better. 

Go ahead.  Yes.

Q:  I just wanted, actually, just to kind of just jump in on that.

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.

Q:  These additional troops -- is that in addition to the 3,000 that Secretary General Stoltenberg announced this morning?

SEC. MATTIS:  That who announced?

Q:  As -- NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg.  He announced today 3,000 additional NATO troops to Afghanistan.

SEC. MATTIS:  I -- yes, I'm not -- I just haven't seen what he said or the context.  I -- so I don't want to comment on that right now. 

We're sending, as you know, a little over 3,000 -- over 3,000 U.S. troops, and then there's more coming from the NATO nations, but also the partner nations -- the non-NATO nations that are there, as well.  And some of them are also sending more of the partners. 

So I won't have -- some of them, I'm going to have to call when I get back, because they're not obvious.  Some will be in Brussels for the Defeat ISIS meeting.  Some will not be there that contribute troops. 

Q:  Sir ?.

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.

Q:  Last question on the record, sir.  Just going back to the U.S., Former Airman Devin Kelley, the shooter who --

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes. 

Q:  -- killed those people in Texas -- came out last night -- the Air Force put out a statement, saying that his criminal background wasn't shared with the FBI.  Just wondering why that happened and what the Pentagon's going to do to make sure it doesn't happen again.

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.  I understand the situation as you described it.  The -- what I've directed is that the I.G. of the Department of Defense -- this is at my level -- look into the circumstances surrounding this and find out what's going on, as well as the specific circumstance of the Air Force, that -- we're already investigating why they -- it was not shared. 

I can't offer any more until I get some feedback from the investigating people, both in the U.S. Air Force, and then where I've moved some of it up to my level, in order to look more broadly across the department.

Q:  How do you -- how do you make sure this -- while you're waiting for the investigation to continue, how do you make sure that, in the interim, this doesn't happen again?

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, first of all, we have to make certain we've got the right direction out there.  And so that's part of what we're looking at in the initial quick look.  So, right away, make sure that the right word is out there.

Q:  So are you planning on sending, or have you sent out any directive to the -- sort of -- Pentagon to say --

SEC. MATTIS:  First, I have to define what the problem is.  If the problem is we didn't put something out, then we'll correct that.  There is an -- at least an indication in what I'm reading the press and what I'm getting from other elements of the government, not DOD, that in fact the direction is out there. 

And -- but I've got to -- I've got to make sure.  I don't want to make assumptions right now.  I want to find out what's the problem.

Q:  All right.  Sir, can I ask you about --

Q:  On background --

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  -- can I ask you one more question about Saudi Arabia? 

Since the reorganization this past weekend, I’m interested to know if you've had any contact with your Saudi counterpart.  And what confidence do you have that, particularly with consolidation of power of all the security services -- is not going to have any affect on Saudi Arabia's ability to do counterterrorism --

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.

Q:  -- contributions to the coalition?

SEC. MATTIS:  I need to -- I need to get more details on it.  Yes, we've been in touch, government to government, and myself included, with the senior people in Saudi Arabia.

Q:  So the president said he has full confidence.  Do you -- do you share that assessment?

SEC. MATTIS:  I --

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. MATTIS:  -- I prefer not to even answer that.  I need to look at what he said, what context was it in, that sort of thing.  So I -- you know, let me get back to you on this, once we've settled some back-and-forth sharing of information between us and the kingdom.

Q:  Great.  Thanks, sir.