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Media Availability by Secretary Mattis En Route to Vietnam

Press Operations

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis
Jan. 24, 2018
STAFF:  Just a quick warning:  We're a little tight on time, so we may --

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS:  Yes.  The usual -- (inaudible).

Q:  Well, got to say before we start, thank you for making yourself so available.  I was just talking about --

SEC. MATTIS:  You guys are going to come.  We owe you this.

Q:  Thank you.

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, no problem.

Okay.  First of all, obviously, coming out of Indonesia, very successful visit in terms of shared understanding of the security issues in the region, from counterterrorism to freedom of navigation, that sort of thing.  

As you know, I was responding to an invitation.  They were not just warm in their -- usual -- wonderful hospitality of Indonesia, but they were also transparent, as were we, on issues.

But the bottom line:  It was a very successful visit.

Were you all at the military headquarters this morning?

Q:  Yeah.


SEC. MATTIS:  That was -- me and the snakes -- (inaudible).


But you could see -- you could imagine how much training went into each individual there, that they were able to do that.  And when you watch a force do that many things perfectly, you can imagine that they can also put the bigger issues together; it's an indicator of that.

But those were special forces.  (inaudible) -- see when the dogs coming out of the helicopters knew what to do when confronted with something I had to wonder about the guy in the -- (inaudible).


SEC. MATTIS:  (inaudible) -- some humor in this job.

Q:  I think your security guys were about to jump out and take the snake.

SEC. MATTIS:  Is that right?  Yeah.

The snakes -- you see them tire them out, and then grab them, you know, the way they were flipping them around.  And the snake gets tired very, very quickly.  So, anyway.

But also that visit this morning was very good.  As you know, Marshal Hadi was -- he's only about a month and a half into his job, but clearly very, very on top of each one of the issues -- across the board.  And we had a good talk after we had the demonstration by his troops there.

On our way now into Vietnam.  And I think that as you look at many of the freedom of navigation issues in the South China Sea, if you look at the geography of the archipelago of Indonesia and then you just go up the map a little ways -- I'm just going to pull your things off of there -- and you look at how here is the South China Sea and you look at Vietnam's coast, you can understand why many of the freedom of navigation issues are finding geographic similarities, what I mean there, okay.  That's just the reality of geography.  It doesn't take a Rhodes Scholar to figure that out.

But it does have one of the region's fastest-growing economies, and so freedom of navigation and access in the South China Sea will be critical to them economically, of course, and their security efforts.

We see the same value there that we see elsewhere in this region:  a prosperous and independent country.  And in part of security, they -- because, again, of the coastline they have -- they occupy, they're going to be a foundation for any kind of prosperity and building closer defense ties there. 

Minister Lich and I have met several times already.  He came to Washington to see me.

Also have to pay my respects there and thank them for their support on the DPRK issue.  They have been supporting the United Nations sanctions at some cost to them, and so we appreciate the leadership on that leading by example and stepping up.

We are building a positive future together.  You know all the other visits, from Senator McCain to U.S. Navy ships in Cam Ranh Bay, president obviously, so this is simply a continuation and I look forward to a productive dialogue.

And just to make sure you're aware of it, I think we've mentioned this in regards to, but just to make sure, on Friday flying back to Hawaii, I'll meet with the defense minister, Admiral -- Song -- Minister Song, the Republic of Korea as well.  I think we spoke about that on our first talk, on the plane coming out.  That just because we have an opportunity out here to link up in the field, makes it easier for both of us -- on the travel side. 

So can we go off the record or you need something on the record?

Q:  (inaudible) -- you told me that you would think about it.

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah, I have had no time to think about this.


I mean, truly.  I mean, it's something that happened decades ago.  It's certainly a reminder that we all have issues.

But I have not formulated any thoughts on this.  So yes, I apologize.

Q:  (inaudible)

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, no.

This is in our past, and we respect our past.  Both our nations do.  But we both look to the future.

Minister Lich did not come to Washington to see me based on -- on that chapter.

I think also, had it not been for communism in those days and the Cold War, I think America was very much on record, both during World War II and post-World War II, on our view of colonization and what we were unwilling to do for even wartime allies in World War II and the years afterward.

So -- but it's -- it's a much more complex issues is the point I'm making, and really I'm focused on now and the future, as Minister Lich was when he came to Washington.

Q:  Okay, really be helpful to get a comment about the future of Vietnam.


Q:  How far do you want to go with this -- (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah, very good question.

And on the record, we want to be responsive, in terms of understanding their security requirements, their economic perspectives on the way ahead, because security and economic prosperity go hand-in-hand.  And based on that and the common ground we find, grow a stronger military-to-military relationship.

Q:  Could you just articulate?  You said that the help on DPRK came at a cost to Vietnam.

SEC. MATTIS:  Oh, of course.

Q:  Could you be more articulate about that?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, DPRK sells coal very cheaply, and so, you know, obviously, if they turn that off, there could be costs associated.

But I mean, it's -- it, too, is a Pacific nation.  And so, when you say you're not going to trade with somebody nearby, I mean there's a cost there.  And yet they've stepped up and -- and aligned themselves with the United Nation sanctions, and we -- we commend them for it.

Q:  So, they're in line.  They're complying with the U.N. sanctions?


Q:  Sir, this is a broader question on DPRK.

So, several administrations historically have had to deal with a new nuclear power, but -- (inaudible) -- did not enjoy that process, but they had to take military action or they'll be threatened as part of that process.

SEC. MATTIS:  Which ones are you referring to?

Q:  China.  Talk about Israel.  Talk about Pakistan, India.  Generally speaking -- (inaudible).

You described a nuclear -- (inaudible).  What's different about North Korea that makes it intolerable for them to have -- (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS:  Violations of the sanctions.  The unity of the United Nations on this issue shows that this is a broadly-based assessment of -- this -- nation, not one the international community wants to see with a nuclear capability.  And it is the public and stated policy of the United States, of Republic of Korea, of Chinese, of Russian Federation, and I can go on, that the Korean Peninsula, due to its unique circumstance, the fact that there's been no peace treaty, just an armistice, this is not a place where the international community can tolerate nuclear weapons, okay.  They're all aligned -- (inaudible) -- Korean Peninsula, with only one nation on the Korea Peninsula -- (inaudible).

(inaudible) -- I can say on it.  Been very clear, cut and dry.  So, that's where we're at.

It's not just The United States, it's not just China, it's not just Russia, it's not just Japan, it's not just ROK, not just the nations on the U.N. Security Council.  It's a very broad -- appreciation of the situation.

Q:  (Inaudible).

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah, if you want to go up there and we've got to go up -- (inaudible) -- because I have some work to do.

Q:  Yes, we have one last -- (inaudible).  I wanted to ask about -- (inaudible).

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah, yeah.

Q:  So, (inaudible) -- to sort of re-focus -- (inaudible).  (inaudible).  But you have decided over a number of -- (inaudible) -- over implementing security measures -- (inaudible).  So now, (inaudible).

SEC. MATTIS:  For those of you who are not aware of it, this is a program that allows people with certain language skills and all, they may not be citizens, you know, obviously, and how they can be brought into the service.

We have an internal integrity approach; we discipline ourselves.  And during our internal examination of the MAVNI program, we found that because of the numbers one of the -- services of the Army was bringing in, although the other services –have some degree of use for the program as well, we were not keeping pace with the usual standard.  We've got to look people's backgrounds, and if you have a lot of family members in certain countries then you come under additional scrutiny.  –Well it has been for decades.  It goes back to World War II.  Don't quote me on that, but I think it goes back to World War II.

So what we found was we were not keeping pace as the number was coming in.  We had to stop the program, screen those –in the vetting of those who were in the program and get them done.  Until we can get them screened, we don't -- we can't bring in more.  You've got to be able to screen them as they come in, rather than get them in and then you send them off to a unit and say, "By the way, they don't have security clearance yet."  And then they say, "Well, thanks very much, but I can't use them," (inaudible).

So it's simply a matter of aligning the process, the recruiting process with the usual screening process and make sure the person -- (inaudible) when they come through.  There's nothing more to it.

Certainly, okay, if it were to go on a long time, we'd be denying ourselves a capability.  But I don't see that happening.  It's a matter of getting the thing -- getting the security clearances caught up.

Q:  (Inaudible) -- ideas or thoughts about how you can rebuild a (inaudible).

SEC. MATTIS:  We won't have trouble rebuilding credibility, I don't think.

Q:  These people –sought asylum worried about returning to China -- (inaudible).

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, I haven't seen the data on this.  I'm sure that what you're saying, you can find cases like that.  In fact, in each case the recruiters have gone back to explain the situation. We also have people that we've enlisted over medical things and it turns out we can't waive somebody going in for a reason that surfaces later.  So as the person goes back and two years later it comes back.

For those who want to be in, I don't anticipate this being a problem.

Q:  These are -- (inaudible).  Internally you can't muster these folks even before they are sent to deportation, because they are choosing to flee the country.

SEC. MATTIS:  I -- I'd have to see where that's happened.  And -- and I -- I don't know what you're saying.  I'm not quite -- in your view, I have not seen the data that supports -- (inaudible).

We have been very careful on all matters about immigration for about the last 10 months, watching any policy that we do not an impact inside those serving, those with honorable discharges, or those what we call the -- (inaudible) -- program.  So, that's we're at on it.

Q:  Let's switch to off-the-record here.

SEC. MATTIS:  Okay.  Go ahead.