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Remarks by Secretary Mattis in an Honor Cordon Welcoming Croatian Defense Minister Damir Krsticevic to the Pentagon

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS: Minister Krsticevic and delegation ambassador, what a pleasure to have you here. And thank you, Sir, for coming here from -- from Arlington, where you paid respects to our fallen.

Seeing you here today reminds me of my time at Supreme Allied Commander Transformation when Croatia joined NATO. And that was a very good day for the alliance.

Twenty-two years ago next month marks the anniversary of an operation named Storm, an operation that is studied in the U.S. military to show what a well-led force, well trained, well equipped, and with good political guidance, how it can change the course of history. And we are honored to have you here today for your role in that operation.

We have great respect here for our friend and ally. It's a small country, but I would just say that it, as we say, bats above its weight, fights above its weight. You've been a wonderful example.

February was my first ministerial as the Secretary of Defense, and you said the United States is our strategic partner in the area of defense and security, and it is very important to maintain communication at the ministerial level. Thank you for coming so we continue the communications.

From Kosovo to Afghanistan, we're proud to serve shoulder to shoulder with you and your troops.

And it's a pleasure also to have you here because of the values you represent, the contribution to peace and stability so different from some of the issues I deal with, like North Korea, which is exactly the opposite.

And as a graduate of our U.S. Army War College, Mr. Minister, you know we have a lot to learn from each other. Not all the good ideas come from the nation with the most aircraft carriers.

So again, welcome to you and your delegation.

CROATIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DAMIR KRSTICEVIC: Thank you, Secretary Mattis and the (inaudible) delegation, I am glad to be here in Washington to talk openly as a friend and ally.

First of all, allow me to express condolences for the tragic loss of life in yesterday's accident -- (inaudible). I want to thank you for all your -- (inaudible) -- and support since the time of fight for Croatian independence still today.

I'm happy to say that the United States is for Croatia number one partner, strategic partner in the field of security and defense. Our country -- (inaudible) -- great effort in building peace and stability, especially in NATO alliance.

We have been together in Afghanistan since 2003, and in Kosovo since 2008. And we shall be together in NATO in -- (inaudible).

I'm proud to say that Croatia will be one of only a few allies joined in the two battle groups in Lithuania with Germany and in Poland with United States. This clearly shows our contribution to NATO, and our strong international responsibility.

We also firmly support the global coalition against Daesh, led by United States, and this year we shall join operation in -- (inaudible) -- by sending officers to the operation headquarters.

Thank you, Secretary Mattis.

SEC. MATTIS: Thank you, Minister. And again, welcome to all of you to the Pentagon. You're most welcome here.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen of the press. Thanks very much.

Q: Mr. Secretary, any statement on the crash the minister referenced, the KC-130 crash?

SEC. MATTIS: Yes, we don't yet know what happened, but we will find out. Right now, our condolences are with the families of the sailor and the Marines who died in that crash. The investigation is underway.

Q: Thank you.

SEC. MATTIS: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

Q: -- (inaudible) -- Croatia -- (inaudible) -- could be really good asset to NATO and especially as a bigger American ally?

SEC. MATTIS: Croatia has been an example of a NATO ally ever since their first days there -- a full member, full-fledged. They contribute to the ideas. They put their troops in harm's way. They've been an outstanding member of the alliance.

Thank you.

Q: Thank you.