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Media Availability by Secretary Mattis en route to Mexico

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS:  I like history; I don't like "1492, Columbus discovered America."  When I think of my mom's background, she doesn't really believe she needed to be discovered, you know?  (Laughter.)  So we're off to Mexico.  Independence Day, pay our respects to our southern neighbor.

Again, you all remember that the only full honors parade I've done in my months here is for when the Canadian, Mexican ministers of defense and I were out on the Pentagon parade deck.  So, it's just a continuing effort.  We have very supportive military-to-military ties and this is simply to reinforce that.

So we're on our way down there.  I'm also going to meet with the Colombian minister of defense while I'm there, bilateral, just because he happens to be in town.  So, you know, we'll be there for their festivities.  I have a good meeting today with my Mexican counterparts.

They're organized like we used to be -- minister of defense and minister of the navy, basically.  Like when we had a secretary of the Navy, secretary of the Army, and that's how we ran things, up through World War II.

So -- be a good meeting.  We have very good relations.  We've been together before.  It's not a first meeting, and we'll continue the mil-to-mil relationship.  So what's on your mind?

Q:  We've got -- on the political level, obviously, there are many challenges and difficulties in the relationship in Mexico:  law and immigration and so forth.  How do you see yourself navigating through those issues, if at all, during this trip?

SEC. MATTIS:  We have shared security concerns.  There's partnerships, military-to-military exchanges that are based on trust and respect.  I'm going down to build the trust and show the respect on their Independence Day.

Q:  Do you -- do you anticipate being asked about some of these other issues that are related?  They are security issues, after all.

SEC. MATTIS:  No.  No.

Q:  Talk about the security aspects, the security importance of the U.S./Mexico relationship.  What are the common concerns?

SEC. MATTIS:  Clearly, drugs going through their country; illegal human trafficking, much of it out of either Central America, even outside the Americas, coming in through there; the counter-corruption efforts, how do we support them on what they're doing. The government is working it. How we are addressing drug reduction in the United States to dry up the demand that feeds this whole raft of issues.

Q:  Sir, you might have seen yesterday that the most senior Canadian official to NORAD went back and told his parliament that the U.S. is not responsible for protecting Canada in the case of an attack.  As you head to --

SEC. MATTIS:  He said the U.S. was not responsible for protecting Canada…?

Q:  -- In the case of an attack.  That's their --

SEC. MATTIS:  I haven't seen that.

Q:  -- there's a recent report of that.  But, as you go into Mexico, sir, what concerns do you have that America's neighbors can't rely on it in the case of a security scenario?

SEC. MATTIS:  No concerns whatsoever.

Q:  And why is that, sir?

SEC. MATTIS:  This is a relationship that has been many decades in the making.  Just go back - just for an example - go back to World War II.  It doesn't start with us.  It will not end with us.

You go back to those days when Mexico helped defend the Pacific coast line against supposed incursions, when the Japanese were surging across the Pacific. You look at Canada and the United States in World War II, landing together at Normandy, fighting together in Korea, the continued military-to-military relations -- Canada, the first troops -- conventional troops to replace me -- relieve me, reinforce me in Afghanistan in 2001 were Princess Patricia Light Infantry from Canada.

They were there when we got attacked.  We stand by them.  We share the North American Air Defense Command.  Just by the description you just gave, that the deputy commander of North American Air Defense Command is a Canadian three-star officer -- I mean, we are -- we are even embedded in -- in joint command -- coalition commands like that.

With Mexico, very, very strong, quiet military-to-military relations.

Q:  So, sir, why do you believe that rhetoric from the president that is literally divisive and is based around things like building walls -- why doesn't that chip away at the relationship that you're talking about?

SEC. MATTIS:  Again, our military-to-military relationship, we maintain a very steady relationship, a growing relationship built on trust and respect.

Q:  While you're there, will you be offering condolences for Hurricane Katia and the earthquake?

SEC. MATTIS:  Absolutely.  I think the latest count that I received -- I want to find out what their count is, I believe it's 96 Mexican citizens killed in that hurricane.

I mean, that was a -- down in the southern part of the country. Sometimes we hear more about troubles or -- or storms up closer to us.  This is down in the southern end, but I want to get updated on it and see how they're doing about it.

Q:  Do you mean in the earthquake, that -- that --

SEC. MATTIS:  Excuse me, in the earthquake, yes.  Thank you.

Q:  Certainly.

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, it was 96 killed.

Q:  Sir, do you think that Mexico, not -- not just to the earthquake, but just more in general in terms of combating the drug issue -- that they've asked for the United States in terms of training, equipment, anything like that or anything we're going to be offering them?

SEC. MATTIS:  We have a very strong relationship.  I think we've delivered helicopters that they decided they needed.  We work at the navy-to-navy, all that goes on.  I'm not going down for -- the reason I'm there this day is Mexican Independence Day, and we'll talk about all these things.

But I go there mostly to listen.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, John Kelly is quoted in today's "New York Times" saying that Mexico is on the verge of imploding.  He compared it to Venezuela under Hugo Chavez -- do you believe that Mexico is imploding?


Q:  How would you -- I mean -- do you think you're going to be asked about those remarks?

SEC. MATTIS:  Mexico -- the government -- the people are keenly aware of their crime problem.  They're dealing with them.  The drug problem -- drug trafficking going into America -- we're working together on it.

You know, Mexico's got -- every nation has its challenges it deals with, and Mexico is keenly aware of these, and I'm there to support them in dealing with them.

Q:  And I hate to ask about the wall, but I mean, is there any U.S. military role in perhaps defending that wall?  Should -- should there be?


Q:  No U.S. military (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS:  No.  In the United States, we use Customs and Border Patrol to maintain the sovereignty of our nation's borders, not the U.S. military.

If there was, you know, obviously a problem, whether it be a hurricane or something in southern Texas or something, would we be there to reinforce local police?  Perhaps.  But I -- that's a speculation.

Our job is -- is overseas.  We have no arrest authority in the United States, and that -- those are law enforcement issues, not military.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, there's been a lot of discussion about whether or not there's more assets needed in the -- on the Pacific side of Mexico to deal with the drugs.  Do you see that being a military mission, a Coast Guard mission?  Do you have the ability and the bandwidth to do that?

SEC. MATTIS:  So, Dan, you're talking about in the blue water?

Q:  Really, both.

SEC. MATTIS:  Inside Mexico's territorial waters, I see us having no role. 

Q:  Okay. 

SEC. MATTIS:  In the blue water, beyond the territorial limits, we work collaboratively with navies from Colombia, from Costa Rica, you know, Mexico, they work with us.  It's principally a law enforcement issue, so when we're engaged in that, we'll take Coast Guard officers and boarding teams with us. 

Again, we don't have arrest authority.  We can provide them the transportation and the backup.  And if they find a problem, then they can arrest.  But it's a navy-to-navy relationship, and when it comes down to actual going after the drug people from us, it's a law enforcement issue, reinforced by Coast Guard.

Q:  What about increasing ISR, drones, anything like that?

SEC. MATTIS:  You know, we work collaboratively.  I won't go into the specifics, Dan, but we'll see what they have to say.  That's why I'm going down there, to talk to them about it.

Q:  Sir, since a little bit of time has passed, is there anything else you can tell us about yesterday's North Korea launch?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes. Sally, could you hand me -- I think it's under the -- yes, let me just look. 

You know, I saw Secretary Tillerson's statement, and he makes note of something I mentioned to some of you in the downstairs.  I've had, you know, millions, tens of millions of Japanese people going into duck and cover -- second time that they've had to do that since World War II. 

And I believe it will further North Korea's isolation -- diplomatic and economic isolation -- because more and more nations are realizing there's simply no collaboration with the international community.  There's a dismissal of international concern, unified U.N. Security Council concerns. 

I think they're deepening their isolation, economic and diplomatic.  And right now, I don't have any more forensics on it.  That takes us a little while, as we amass everything and analyze it.

Q:  Did the South Koreans try to shoot the missile down?

SEC. MATTIS:  Did they…?

Q:  Did the South Koreans try to shoot the missile down?  (Inaudible) you saw some --


SEC. MATTIS:  Not that I'm aware of. 

Q:  (Inaudible) right away.  Okay. 

SEC. MATTIS:  Not that I'm aware -- no, I'm not aware of any effort by the South Koreans to shoot it down.

Q:  Okay.

Q:  They fired a missile somewhere. The South Koreans fired a ballistic --

SEC. MATTIS:  The South Korean government said they fired a missile within minutes afterwards, from their coastline.  It was a short-range missile, obviously, simply to make clear that they have the capability to defend themselves.

Q:  The nuclear test -- you said earlier this week, it was more than 100 kilotons, potentially.

SEC. MATTIS:  I believe it was, yes.

Q:  There's reporting out of Asia that it's actually potentially like -- potentially even twice that size.  Do you have anything on that?

SEC. MATTIS:  No, I -- not right now. No.

Q:  Sir, tell us about how the rest of your trip went, coming out of Minot, now coming out of Offutt.  Any questions answered for you in terms of the nuclear posture review?

SEC. MATTIS:  It mostly was clarifying and confirming and -- but gaining more depth on how the warfighter that's tasked with maintaining the deterrent and deploying it so that we could employ it, thus we don't have to employ it. I just wanted to deepen my understanding and make sure I was current.  And that was very much accomplished -- a very, very productive trip.

Q:  Can you talk about some of the concerns you might have heard from any of the airmen on either of your stops?

SEC. MATTIS:  No, I won't share those.  I will just tell you that we have a safe and effective deterrent right now, and obviously we're engaged in the posture review, the updating and the modernizing of it to maintain it.  That's about future readiness.  The current readiness -- it's ready.

Q:  Any greater sense no of when the NPR might be ready?

SEC. MATTIS:  No, no, and that hasn't changed in 24 hours, okay?  Well, I don't like -- I tell people, "I want you to move, I want this to be your primary job.  I don't want any moss to grow on your feet."  But I don't generally put timelines on things until I'm sure that it does not constrain -- in military operations, the officers and NCOs in the field. And on studies like this, I want it done right, not fast.  This is going to have to endure and be persuasive to me and be intellectually rigorous.

Q:  (Off mic) Tens of thousands of, I guess, service members' response to the hurricanes in the United States --

SEC. MATTIS:  Oh, yes.

Q:  -- in Irma -- how has that, if at all, impacted readiness?  And also budgetarily, with the CR and everything else coming up, how has that affected (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.  Well, budget-wise, we'll have to see if our response to the hurricane impacts. Generally speaking, we can be reimbursed from outside -- U.S. military funding, because there's funds set aside by the government for this sort of -- you know, that's how FEMA operates and all.  But I'll have to see about readiness impact. 

I'll tell you that I've looked at the units that were assigned.  What I'm looking for is their next deployment and what does this do to the readiness cycle, their preparation, that sort of thing.  And I don't have all the answers on it yet. 

We're looking at -- we intentionally chose units where it would have the least impact. I'm not saying it had none. I just have to look at it.  It may not have any impact.  But I have to look at it.

Q:  I saw on your schedule that you're scheduled to meet with CNO Richardson sometime later?

SEC. MATTIS:  Oh, yes.

Q:  Do you plan to get an update on any of these ship collisions?

SEC. MATTIS:  No, not right now.  I'll wait until the investigations are done.

Q:  The CNO is in Mexico, is that --

SEC. MATTIS:  No, no.  That's a good thing to bring up, thank you.  You know, when we talk about mil-to-mil relations, I mean, he was down there whether I was going or not because we have very close relationships with SEMAR, their department of the Navy.  And so he's down there as just an example of it. 

General Robinson, who's also -- will also be down there for this.  She's our commander of NORTHCOM, and she has very close relations, and that command does, with Mexico.  And so this is just a sign of how deep the relations run.

Staff:  Sir, you’ve got ten more minutes. 

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.  Oh, yes.

Q:  Sir, do you know if any of the other service chiefs were invited or are planning to go, or?

SEC. MATTIS:  No, I don't know.  They have to run their own schedules.  I've got -- I'm busy enough on mine, you know?  (Laughter.)

Okay, thank you.

Q:  Thanks very much, sir.