Media Availability by Secretary Mattis

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS:  Yes, thanks for being out here on a warm day.  

Q:  Thank you.  

SEC. MATTIS: Hi, Barbara- writing opinion pieces now.  (Inaudable) not saying anything...  

(CROSSTALK)  

SEC. MATTIS: My gosh. Yeah Jennifer, you'll talk to me. 

Q:  I-- I would like to talk to you.  

SEC. MATTIS: Yes.  

Q:  The Australian officials have said they're concerned that the U.S. is preparing air strikes and -- or military strikes against Iran next month.  Can you assure the American people that the U.S. is not preparing military strikes against Iran?  

SEC. MATTIS: I have no idea where the Australian news people got that information.  I'm confident it is not something that's being considered right now, and I think it's a complete – frankly, it's – it’s fiction.  It's the best I can give you, Jennifer. 

Go ahead.  

Q:  Has the president asked you to start working with Russia on the ground in Syria militarily?  

SEC. MATTIS: No.  

Q:  OK.  And what is your understanding of what came out of the Helsinki Summit?  What policy changes?  

SEC. MATTIS: I have -- I have talked -- immediately after the Helsinki Summit, both the Chief of Staff and National Security Advisor called me -- I wouldn't say "immediately," but as soon as they got free.  There have been no policy changes that have come out of it.  

On the -- going back to your earlier question about Russia, we maintain constant deconfliction lines.  These are handled at varying levels depending on the variety of subjects or the gravity of the issue, and certainly in Syria the deconfliction line is one that is connected between senior colonels of the Russian military as we make certain, from our side, that we are not having any chance of -- of our own aircraft operating in the same airspace.  Then it can move up to another level, which is the general officer level, if there's some reason for it.  

It generally does not -- it has never been down over my 18 months here.  The Russians have never failed to answer on their end, we have never failed to answer on our end.  It has been maintained through all of this.  

We also have between our J5, our -- on the Joint Staff, plans officer here for the Joint Staff under General Dunford.  We also have that line of communication with the Russian General Staff in Moscow, plus, as you know, General Dunford, our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, maintains a degree of -- of communication, both telephonic and face-to-face over the last 18 months of this administration.  So that's what's going on with the Russians at this time.  

Q:  Mr. -- Mr. Secretary, on the return of remains from North Korea...

SEC. MATTIS: Yes?  

Q:  Do you see that as a confidence-building measure to some extent?  Does it give you any more additional confidence that the North Koreans are going to engage in their promise on denuclearization?  

SEC. MATTIS: Yes, Barbara, clearly what we have here is something that has been frozen for -- for years now, and so that's warmed up.  The remains were turned over as agreed during the -- or it’s initiated and agreed during the summit that President Trump had with Chairman Kim.  It was a coordination effort over the last month, that we determined where they would deliver the remains to, where our plane would fly in, where they would be taken to for the initial review.  

So all of that went well, and I think when you have that sort of communication going on, it sets a positive environment, a positive tone for other things, more important things in terms of international diplomacy, but this humanitarian act obviously is a step in the right direction.  

Q:  Could you foresee actually sending U.S. military personnel back into North Korea for the first time in years to conduct additional search missions?  

SEC. MATTIS: That is certainly under consideration.  Absolutely.  I would consider... 

Q:  OK.  Is North Korea doing enough?  

SEC. MATTIS: That -- you'll have to talk to the State Department.  They're responsible for this.  They're -- they're in -- the ones who are day-to-day are performing the diplomatic function for the United States, and I defer to them on all of these.  So you get one straight answer from those who are actually effectively doing it.  

In the areas where we support them -- and by the way, we maintain probably daily communication between Secretary Pompeo and I, some days two, three times a day, maybe I skip a day -- this is always one of the issues.  Right now, we're in a supporting role, and that supporting role had to do with -- Barbara, what you just brought up on the return of remains, that sort of thing.  

And obviously we are in -- embedded with the team, the backstop team that actually coordinates on what our message will be so that state and defense are tied tightly together on this.  

Q:  Sir, what is the -- what is the government doing to halt Russian interference in the next elections?  

SEC. MATTIS: Yes, I'm not at liberty to explain what we're doing in that regard.  Just, rest assured, there are actions underway to protect our -- our elections or to expose any external -- any -- by anybody -- external efforts to influence the American public, to show false news, that sort of thing.  We have ongoing efforts, but I'm not going to go into any details right now.  

(CROSSTALK)  

SEC. MATTIS: But I will try and get down a little bit later today, if I can do it, and -- and see you all.  We -- as you know from reading your own newspapers and watching your own TV stations, we've been a little busy lately.  You know?  Go ahead.  

Q:  Mr. Secretary, did the dismantlement we saw in North Korea of some missile facilities -- was it meaningful?  

SEC. MATTIS: I -- I'd prefer not to go in to the -- into -- anything to do with the negotiations.  Please use State Department, the people who are actually monitoring everything.  

OK, I've got to step away here in a minute, but please use State Department on those things.  That's who I call when I have questions, but I encourage you to do the same.  

Q:  Can we go back to Iran one for one second?  

STAFF:  Sir, the delegation's pulling up...  

SEC. MATTIS: OK, I -- I'll try and get down in a few minutes here today.  Assuming nothing else comes up.  Thanks, folks.