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Joint Press Conference with Secretary Mattis and Secretary Fallon in London, England


It's a pleasure to welcome Secretary Mattis to London; his first visit here since his appointment.  We've only been working together for a short time, but I've already come to value his huge experience and expertise and wisdom.

Secretary Mattis, you are visiting our capital at a historic moment.

Two days ago, our prime minister triggered Article 50, initiating the process by which Britain leaves the European Union.  Our prime minister wants to agree a good and special partnership with the European Union, encompassing not just economic, but security cooperation.  When our security is more fragile than at any time since the end of the Cold War, it is in both our interests to bolster this partnership.

But this historic week is also an opportunity for us to build a global Britain.  Our armed forces embody that internationalist approach.  From Afghanistan to South Sudan, our service men and women are working with allies and friends to defend the international rules-based system.  And we have no closer friend than the United States.

Our relationship endures because it is founded firmly on the values that we share in common.  And last week's terrorist attack at Westminster, which claimed the lives of four citizens, including U.S. citizen Kurt Cochran, reminds us that those values are under attack.

So we began today by reviewing our international efforts to confront global aggression and extremism.

In Iraq and in Syria, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder as leading members of the counter-Daesh coalition.

Today, Daesh is failing. In Iraq, it is clinging on to its last stronghold, though 40 percent of west Mosul has now been liberated and hundreds of thousands are returning to their homes.

Meanwhile, our two nations are providing reassurance to our Eastern European allies in the wake of Russian aggression.  We are leading NATO's enhanced forward presence.  By next week, Britain will have 800 troops in Estonia and 150 personnel in a reconnaissance squadron serving alongside U.S. forces in Poland.

In May, we will send four RAF Typhoons to Romania as part of NATO's mission to protect the Black Sea skies.  This is part of the biggest deployment in Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War.

The second item of our -- on our agenda was about making the NATO alliance fitter and faster.  Fairer burden-sharing is the key here. Only five members of NATO meet the two-percent target, the U.S. and the U.K. among them.

Our defense budget here in Britain is growing every year and remains the biggest in Europe.  Both Secretary Mattis and I have agreed that others must now raise their game, and those failing to meet the two-percent commitment so far should at least agree to year-on-year real-term increases.

And increased burden-sharing is not on its own enough.  We've also agreed that NATO must modernize and streamline its military structures to ensure faster decision-making and take a 360-degree view of all the security threats that face us.  NATO has the experience and resources to combat international terror.

Finally, Secretary Mattis and I agreed steps for an even more dynamic bilateral relationship.  Our collaboration is already as deep as it is broad.  Our troops serve together around the world.  We cooperate on everything from intelligence and innovation to nuclear and conventional capability.

Our joint work on the F-35 fighter is a prime example.  I was immensely proud when the United Kingdom recently won the F-35 maintenance, repair and overhaul contract and was appointed the hub for all European F-35s.

But there is more to come to deepen that relationship even further.  Today, I am announcing a 90 million contract for BAA Systems to support the upkeep of these fifth-generation fighters, sustaining hundreds of highly skilled jobs and keeping that great partnership flying high.

At the end of this year, we will own 14 F-35 aircraft, and I welcome the continued commitment of the United States to deploying F-35Bs on the first operational deployment of HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2021.

Let me say in conclusion that almost exactly 100 years ago, America joined the allied effort to fight for victory in the Great War.  One hundred years later, at a time of unprecedented uncertainty, we continue to stand together.  Today, we are accelerating our endeavors so that we can continue fighting for freedom side-by-side now and far into the future.

Secretary Mattis?

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS:  Thank you, Secretary Fallon, for the very warm welcome on this, my first visit to your country as the secretary of defense.

I've been many times to the United Kingdom, building my respect and affection each visit.  And the close cooperation between our two military highlights the special relationship between our countries.

It's good to be standing beside you, especially at this time and place, soon after a senseless murderer killed citizens of both our countries.  The United States and the United Kingdom stand together in good times and bad, united by values that took root here so long ago.

I'm grateful for the determination of our two countries to defend those values down through the generations, as we stand here together today to show that our people are worthy successors to those past generations that defended the freedom we enjoy today.

I cannot visit this country without a sense of humility and respect for the U.K. lives lost since America was attacked in 2001, and I’m speaking about your troops here.  We in America acknowledge and deeply respect the U.K. families that have lost their loved ones and those grievously wounded.

On behalf of the American people, I thank the people of this country for being with us to confront our foes.  If necessary, we will follow them to the ends of the Earth to stop their mayhem.

Britain's global leadership role is as needed today as at any time in history.  In the words of President Reagan, the essence of our special relationship is a special concern for democracy and for liberty, and that includes the responsibility to pass those freedoms and intact to the next generation.

We see each other on an equal footing in our assessment of the security challenges and in crafting our partnerships way ahead because our two nations are bulwarks against the maniacs who think that by hurting us, they can scare us.  But they do not understand and we don't scare.  To paraphrase one of your former wartime leaders, as descendants of El Alamein and Normandy, of Iwo Jima and 100 other tyrant challenges, our people are not made of cotton candy.

The special relationship between our countries is not an historic artifact.  It is instead a source of strength today for our two nations committed to standing together in defense of our freedom and it is demonstrated daily in our military-to-military interactions, such as you noted, Sir Michael, and across a host of domains.  Never taking the special relationship for granted at any time.  In fact, our relationship grows in strength with the commitments we make and the mutual respect we share in trying times.

Sir Michael and I just finished a highly productive meeting that he summarized, one in which we shared a mutual appreciation for the security challenges that we jointly face as strong members of a NATO alliance.  In that regard, I point to Britain's leadership and the European Reassurance Initiative, providing a formidable reinforcement of our Baltic allies.

With our shared history, our shared values and shared commitments, we will always stand together with our British allies, bound by inseparable ties of friendship.  Thank you.

SEC. FALLON:  Well, thank you.

Now, it's time for a few questions.  The first from -- (inaudible) -- Sky News.

Q:  Hello, thank you.

General Mattis, perhaps first to you.  Back in 2012, when I think you were still in uniform, and when asked what the three greatest threats facing the United States were, you said Iran, Iran, Iran.  Now that you are out of uniform and in a suit and defense secretary and in light of their recent ballistic missile test, what are you going to do about it?

And Secretary Fallon, the E.U. has said deal-or-no-deal security across Europe will not be affected.  The British government has said if there is no deal, that will weaken security.  Can you clarify the British government's position and explain why that is not a threat?

SEC. MATTIS:  Thank you.

At the time when I spoke about Iran, I was commander of U.S. Central Command and that was the primary exporter of terrorism, frankly.  It was the primary state sponsor of terrorism and it continues that kind of behavior today.

But in the larger scheme of things, obviously, in a global situation that's dynamic, you've highlighted appropriately I think the North Korean threat.  This is a threat of both rhetoric and growing capability, and we will be working with the international community to address this.  We are -- we are doing so right now.  We're working through the United Nations, we're working with our allies and we are working diplomatically, including with those that we might be able to enlist in this effort to get North Korea under control.

But right now, it appears to be going in a very -- a very reckless manner in what its conduct is portraying for the future, and that's got to be stopped.

SEC. FALLON:  Thank you.

So far as the European Union is concerned, we benefit at the moment, and Europe benefits, from the cooperation between our police forces, our intelligence and security services, and from the judicial arrangements that allow us to have criminals that we want to have tried here returned to us.  We benefit from those arrangements and we want to see that cooperation continue.

If there is no deal on that, then we're all weaker -- we're weaker here and Europe is weaker because that is a joint effort to tackle organized crime and to combat terrorism.  What we're seeking in these negotiations is a deep and special partnership with the remaining European Union on both economic issues and on security.

Now, let's take an American question.  Bob Burns.  Right here.

Q:  Thank you.  Question for both of you, if I may.

Secretary Mattis, in recent days, General Scaparrotti spoke of his concerns about Russian threats to European allies and the need for the United States to increase its military presence on a permanent basis, not just rotational, but permanent.  Although decisions may not have been made about this sort of thing, you know, as a general matter, do you think that it's time for the U.S. to increase its permanent military presence in Europe?

And also, may I ask both of you a question about the alleged Russian violation of the INF Treaty?

Secretary Fallon, realizing that this is a U.S.-Russia treaty by itself, nonetheless, do you feel it's the sort of thing that requires some sort of response in kind in terms of missile deployments in Europe?

And for you, Secretary Mattis, on the same matter, do you think it's time for the United States to exit that treaty?

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, thanks, Bob.

Russian -- excuse me.  Russia's violations of international law are now a matter of record, from what happened with Crimea to other aspects of their behavior in mucking around inside other people's elections, that sort of thing.

So I think the -- the point I would make is that NATO stands united, the trans-Atlantic bond is united.  We are going to maintain article five as absolute bedrock of the NATO alliance.  And we will, as you see with the European Reassurance Initiative, act according if Russia chooses to be a strategic competitor.

On the INF issue, we're in consultation with our allies and we're still formulating the way ahead.  In fact, it'll be addressed, I think, very, very soon as a matter of highest-level concern.

SEC. FALLON:  Well, thank you.

So far as enhanced forward presence is concerned, we want to see that presence as persistent as the threat that it is designed to deal with, to reassure those allies on our eastern flank, and to deter the kind of Russian aggression that we've seen recently:  military build-up, use of hybrid techniques, and indeed, interference in -- in -- through cyber and -- and other techniques.  We need to stand up that presence for as long as needed.

So far as the INF Treaty is concerned, we reviewed that in our meeting this morning and we look forward to the more formal response from the United States and we too think that is something that needs to be taken forward not just by the United States, but by NATO generally once we have those violations confirmed.  

SEC. MATTIS:  (Off mic)

SEC. FALLON:  A British question -- (inaudible).

Q:  Secretary Mattis, one of your generals has said that Russia maybe -- arming the Taliban in Afghanistan and there's also the presence of Islamic State in the country.  How concerned are you by these factors?  And what will you do about it?  And so Michael- the same question for you about Russia.  And also, will the U.K. send combat troops back to Afghanistan as it steps in its global war post-Brexit?  Thank you.

SEC. MATTIS:  We have seen Russian activity vis-a-vis the Taliban.  I'm not willing to say at this point if that has manifested into weapons and that sort of thing.  But certainly, what they're up to there in light of their other activities gives us concern.  

I would -- I would just say that we look to engaging with Russia on a political or diplomatic level.  Right now, Russia is choosing to be a strategic competitor and we're finding that we can only have very modest expectations at this point of areas that we can cooperate with Russia, contrary to how we were just 10 years ago, five years ago.  It's no longer a cooperative engagement with them.  Right now, it's when we're going to have carve out diplomatically some kind of maneuver room here, assuming Russia can change its behavior and act in accordance with international norms and international law.

SEC. FALLON:  Thanks.  

This is -- there's a path of interference by Russia in different parts of the -- that leads us to be -- when we engage with Russia, to be wary of what Russia is up to, and that is there cannot be at the moment any return to business as usual with Russia.  We work with Russia to de-conflict in areas where Russian aviation may be involved on the edge of our information regions – flight information region or in Syria and we engage with Russia in discussions about a possible role where Russia has great influence.

But otherwise, we need to be extremely watchful now of this persistent pattern of Russian interference. 

I’m sorry- you had a second part to your question.

Q:  (Off mic)

SEC. FALLON:  Combat troops in Afghanistan.  No, we're not committing combat troops back in Afghanistan.  We last year increased our presence in Afghanistan and we continue to wait for advice on the continuation of Resolute Support for 2018.  As you know, we're helping staff the Officer Academy, we assist on counterterrorism and we are engaged in supplying the bulk of the Kabul protection force, but we're not going to return to combat in Afghanistan.  

Now, final question please from Reuters.  Phil Stewart. Phil? He’s here.

Q:  Thank you.

Just a follow-up on the last question on Afghanistan.  We already know that General Nicholson and General Votel will support more forces in Afghanistan.  Secretary Mattis, would you support more forces?  

And then on Syria to both of you, the previous long-standing policy has been in Syria that President Assad must go.  Would you please both bring us up to date?  Is that still the policy?  And if it has changed in any way, is there concerns that what is going on right now as far as the Islamic State fight, could ultimately benefit Assad, should he be around for the long-term?

Thank you.

SEC. MATTIS:  On the -- on the question about the more forces for Afghanistan, the suggestion and recommendations coming in to us from the NATO commander in the field have been received and we are reviewing those right now.  Our chairman of the Joint Chiefs is reviewing them.  Obviously, in light of our relationship with the U.K., we always engage with them on issues like this simply because we consider them an equal partner.  Their advice is always solicited.

It doesn't come down to the number of troops in the field.  So, we'll be working with our allies on that issue.  We have not made a decision yet.  I've not put a recommendation forward to our president at this time.

And I would say on the Assad issue, we're working this one -- one day at a time as we throw Daesh on the back foot.  You're all aware that Daesh has every intention of striking externally from the region, and that's immediate threat goes into Europe and we're going to have to keep them on their back foot and that's where we're concentrating at this point.

SEC. FALLON:  Well, thank you.  

The priority, of course, as Jim Mattis has said, is to eliminate the threat from Daesh to us here in western Europe, which is why it's so important the campaign to isolate and then liberate Raqqa continues its momentum.

We don't see a long-term future in Syria for somebody who's been bombing his -- his own civilians.  On the contrary, what we seek in Syria is a wider political settlement that could embrace all factions in Syria and lead Syria to a -- a better and hopefully more democratic future.

Thank you all for your questions.  Thank you very much.