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Media Availability with Secretary Mattis en route to Vancouver, Canada

Press Operations

Secretary Of Defense James N. Mattis
Jan. 15, 2018
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS:  -- effort, if you want to -- if you guys want to bring up?

Q:  That's very helpful, sir.  Thank you.

SEC. MATTIS:  So, you OK?  Ready to go?

Q:  Yes, sir.


Well, first, thanks for coming on the trip.  As you know, the bottom --

STAFF:  Excuse me a sec, gentlemen.


STAFF:  (Inaudible).

SEC. MATTIS:  OK, all right.

STAFF:  Yes sir.

SEC. MATTIS:  Go ahead.

We're probably going to be taking off, so if we get interrupted then we'll just turn around and we'll make them more time after we get up.  I thought it was going to be a little longer as we got off here.  But, no sweat.  That's what I did on the infantry guys near the technical controls of the airplane, okay, because we'd probably crash it.

The -- but first of all, thanks for coming so we can -- you can see what we're up to.  And plus, we're going to be stopping in Idaho Falls, so you can see some of the -- some of the young folks who put in all the effort to defend the country and build alliances.

The Singaporean Air Force is also out in the middle of the Idaho Snake River Plain, and it just shows the effort on -- really there are two main lines of effort.

One is to build the lethality of our force.  That's done heavily through training.

And then you've got the second line of effort, which is built stronger alliances.  And you actually see it there, where you'll see people in Singaporean Air -- Air Force uniform flying Singaporean jets over the Snake River in America.

It gives you an idea how these fancy words or theoretical words actually come together.

Our first stop today, is we're heading out Vancouver for -- British Columbia for the sending states conference.  And this is co-hosted by Secretary of State Tillerson and the minister of foreign affairs in Korea -- in Canada.  And the subject, of course, is Korea.

The sending states is the name given to the -- to the nations that responded to the U.N. call of 1950, by sending forces to what would be called the first Korean War.

And the whole point of this is to bring together the foreign ministers.  I will be there simply to give the military situation and then I will depart, leaving the conference in the hands of our secretary of state and the foreign ministers.

I just want to emphasis this, because this shows that this effort right now is firmly in the diplomatic realm.  That is where we are working it.  That is then President Trump's direction.

SEC MATTIS:  Okay.  If at some point you can't hear me or something just let me know, okay.

All set, JJ?

STAFF:  Yes, sir. 

SEC. MATTIS:  All set (inaudible).

STAFF:  Yes, sir.

SEC. MATTIS:  Okay.  So, as I was saying, this conference is being hosted and co-hosted by the Canadian minister of foreign affairs and by the American secretary of state.  And the whole point is this in the diplomatic realm as far as how we're trying to address the issue.  Certainly our diplomats are -- are backed up by our military options.

But right now we're grateful that Canada, a Pacific nation, would host this for all of the sending states.  The sending states again being -- (inaudible) -- to the fight in 1950.  Plus Secretary Tillerson and his counterpart invited a couple other nations as well.

The situation we face I would call it sobering.  But this meeting is designed to still make progress diplomatically such as you've seen with three unanimous Security Counsel resolutions over these last months.  And, again, it's good to be reminded these resolutions were agreed to by nations as different as PRC, China, Russia, France, United Kingdom, United States.

My point is that it is the combined policy of Russia, China, ROK, Japan, the United States that all of us have a denuclearized -- verifiable denuclearized Korean Peninsula.  And how often do you see Russia and China and the U.S. and U.K. all voting, not once, not twice, but three times?

So, you see this is a continuation -- this meeting in Vancouver tomorrow is a continuation of a diplomatic effort.

They're trying to further align the coordination coming in now and intensify the international campaign of economic pressure on DPRK.  It is a global problem requiring a global solution.

And, the -- our efforts -- our international efforts appear to be having some effect.  You're aware that for the first time now in many, many months over years we are now having negotiations, even if they're starting with the -- with the Olympics.  They're still some reason to see the diplomatic initiatives are starting to go in the right direction.

It's too early to make a statement about that -- an all-encompassing statement about that.  But the fact is there are negotiations going on -- (inaudible).

We obviously also thank all the nations who are aligning with us.  I think you're aware that the Republic of Korea has impounded two ships that were caught violating U.N. sanctions.  So, you can see that this is starting to have more than just diplomatic words; there's actual outcomes.

The goal, as Secretary Tillerson had stated, is again a complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and (that the fellow diplomats from Latin America and Asia from Europe and from North America.  We're all going to be discussing alongside the diplomats of the Republic of Korea and Japan.

After we depart -- tomorrow morning, after we depart Vancouver, we'll be going to Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, which is home to the 366th Fighter Wing.  And they are the ones who train and out there.  They are deployable fighter squadrons under that wing, and they are the ones who are training alongside the Singaporean Air Force there on the Snake River in Denver -- over the Snake River in Denver.

I want to discuss readiness, make certain I'm hearing -- (inaudible) -- their challenges, their readiness levels, and -- as defined by their commanders and their senior enlisted -- (inaudible).  And I want to hear from airmen -- (inaudible).

I'm going to give you a real quick -- (inaudible) -- of why am I going to Vancouver -- why am I going to Vancouver -- Mountain Home, what I hope to gain.

Vancouver up here is with the military aspects of the diplomats.  Vancouver has more -- (inaudible) -- hearing what's going on with the troops.

So let me stop there.  Questions?

Q:  What do your senior --

Q:  Secretary Mattis, what would you hope would come out of this meeting in Vancouver -- (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS:  It's a good question.  What's the outcome, you know. 

First of all, it's expanding the number of nations that are sitting down now and looking at how we reinforce the diplomatic overtures and the diplomatic initiatives. 

So a lot of this is just -- (inaudible) -- one another, answering questions, and making certain that we replace uncertainty with certainty, so they know -- everybody knows where we're going as we go forward.

As you're aware, we've got the ROK, Republic of Korea, forces -- (inaudible) -- less than 30,000 of U.S. forces there.  They're under the U.N. rubric of years ago that is a compliance demand of international -- (inaudible).  And part of this -- (inaudible) -- as everyone knows, how do we fit into this, if the diplomatic option does not work, then obviously the whole point is to reinforce the diplomatic option to show that there are military options should there be a DPRK attack.


Q:  What's -- what's the uncertainty, sir -- what's the uncertainty about -- you say we're replacing uncertainty with certainty.  What is the uncertainty about?

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, the certainty with uncertainty will show them that there are military options.  But -- (inaudible) -- within the framework of strengthening the diplomats' hands.  That is what we want to have come out of this, let the diplomats know that they are backed up by the force of arms.

Q:  Whose idea was it, sir?

SEC. MATTIS:  Pardon?

Q:  Whose idea was it to have these -- (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS:  I'm not aware of it.  I'm not aware of it.

Again, they've talked about for some time, I just don't recall the imitating -- (inaudible), the initiating.

Q:  When you talk about, (inaudible) -- almost every time you talk, you talk about giving the diplomats the tools that the need and the strength -- (inaudible).  Giving the diplomats the tools and the strength and letting them know that there are military options.

We don't have China and Russia in this diplomatic gathering. You talk about the importance of the three -- (inaudible) -- of resolutions, but China and Russia aren't participating in this round.  Will that hamper the overall unity message?

SEC. MATTIS:  I think you said the -- the right words, Hans.  They're not participating in this round, but they will receive back briefs from -- (inaudible) -- or secretary of state -- (inaudible) -- going to Beijing and Moscow.

Q:  One of the things you've spent your whole doing is being ready.


Q:  And when you walk out of this meeting, if there is some kind of event or something that could -- this meeting leads to some kind of further discussion or some kind of a -- (inaudible) -- situation, how ready are you to do that -- (inaudible) -- North Koreans or the South Koreans?

SEC. MATTIS:  We're going to continue the dialogue.  How ready are we to continue the dialogue?

Secretary Tillerson, through the diplomatic channels, has laid out how we could move forward like this.  And, again, that's where we can give the hand to the diplomats.

I can't give you a thorough answer, but all along this has been guiding towards some kind of freezing of the programs, both ballistic missile tests and nuclear tests, and moving this back into discussions for that verifiable nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

Remember, we have moved our weapons -- our weapons out of there many years ago.  So there's only one nation -- when China said they want a nuclear-free peninsula, when Russia, U.K., France, ROK, Republic of Korea, Japan, United States said we want a nuclear-free peninsula, there's only nation that could start that negotiation, and that's DPRK.

That's the reason for economic sanctions and the diplomatic isolation you see going on.  And the force going that way.

We would be ready to do it.

Q:  (inaudible) -- current talks between the North and the South relieve some of the pressure?

SEC. MATTIS:  The current talks about the Olympics -- (inaudible).

I think they're a positive indicator.  I don't think they relieve any of the U.N. sanctions.  I don't think it's -- we have sufficient data to say what this indicates as far as the way forward by the Kim regime.  We don't know where -- (inaudible) -- don't have enough data.

But I think it is a positive indicator.  We just don't know where or how far it goes.  Does it have traction?  Will it go a long ways or will it go no further than this?  I don't know.

Q:  (inaudible) -- if I ask about the Hawaii missile alert?

SEC. MATTIS:  No, that was a state issue, as you know.  The state of Hawaii is taking full ownership of the problem.  I think that they'll figure it out.  I'm positive they have good people that are in state government and they'll figure out what went wrong and they'll put procedures in place.

Q:  Let me ask a follow on that.

Is there an indication that the North Koreans saw that false alert and reacted in any way?  Did they talk to their counterparts in the South and do you have any indication on that?

SEC. MATTIS:  No, I don't.  There's no implication like that that I know.

Q:  Okay.  I just want to be clear on that.  Okay.

SEC. MATTIS:  Any last question?  (inaudible).

Q:  Follow up, sir.

SEC. MATTIS:  You got to watch this guy.  He's very -- he's very dangerous.

Q:  I realize I'm the newbie here --

SEC. MATTIS:  (Inaudible).

Q:  Thank you.

Mr. Secretary, real quick back to the North Koreans -- (inaudible) --being interested in talking with the South.  Do you feel like Kim is sincere about this or is this --

SEC. MATTIS:  I don't know, JJ.  I can't -- we don't have enough data yet to know what's in his mind.

Our problem is not with the North Korean people.  Our problem is with Kim and his regime.  But that is the regime in power that we must deal with.

And I believe it is impossible to say right now, after the years of provocations, if this one indicator is sufficient data point.  (Inaudible). 

Your question really goes to the heart of the issue.