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Remarks by Secretary Mattis and Defense Minister Niinisto at the Pentagon

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS:  Welcome, Minister Niinisto and Ambassador Kauppi, distinguished members of your delegation.

Minister, you're very welcome here in the Pentagon.  We appreciate you taking your time to visit Washington and to meet here at the Pentagon -- two democracies on opposite sides of an ocean, but we share a love of liberty and especially of independence.

And Finland's position in the north and your history can sharpen our thinking here in Washington, plus it can deepen our understanding of the situation that is challenging stability that we all face right now.

Our democratic nations can collaborate in defense of our values.  And in this regard, I look forward to joining you later this week and discussing our coalition effort against ISIS.  And I thank you for your contributions -- the contributions of your elite forces to that fight against ISIS, to the NATO missions that you've contributed to and continue to, and of course to the U.N. missions which go even beyond just the purely military.

And thank you, Mr. Minister, for your steady leadership.  It's been noted here in Washington.  Again, thank you for coming.  Welcome.  I look forward to our discussion.

MINISTER OF DEFENSE JUSSI NIINISTO:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for receiving our delegation.  Finland takes its defense very seriously, and we see ourselves as providers of security, not consumers.

Our first line of defense is on our borders, but we, like you said, we also share international burden by participating actively in international operations and defense cooperation between like-minded countries like United States.

And I must emphasize that U.S.-Finnish bilateral defense relationship is on a strong basis.  The signing of the bilateral statement of intent last October in Helsinki was a concrete step to take the relationship even further.

Active bilateral training and exercise program has been an effective way to increase the interoperability of our forces.  And we look forward to continue this cooperation also in the future.  And I also look forward to a good discussion today.

SEC. MATTIS:  Thank you very much, minister.

Thank you.

Q:  Mr. Minister, do you have any response to the report that Rex Tillerson isn't going to the NATO meeting next month?  Any concerns about what message that sends from the Trump administration to NATO allies?

MIN. NIINISTO:  Well, Finland is not part of NATO, so it's really not our business.  But we are good partners with NATO.  Of course, we like to see that the United States is represented in the NATO meetings, but after all, it is not our business.

Q:  What's your impression of how Russia interprets these kinds of moves, sir? 

SEC. MATTIS:  We'll take care of the representation.  This is something to be worked out.  No -- (inaudible).