SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS: Minister Fifor, Ambassadors Maior and Klemm, military officers, and members of the delegation, welcome. Romania is always welcome in the Pentagon, you’re a staunch NATO ally, and you're critical, of course, to Black Sea security, as we look at the world to see where you're located.
And Mr. Minister, I must say I am grateful you've taken time so early in your tenure as the Minister of Defense, to come to the Pentagon. But it's good to see you here, and thanks for, in the middle of getting - getting going there, taking the time to come all the way to Washington.
We are going to discuss, obviously, our shared priorities, as is appropriate between two allies. You have been a reliable partner, as far as it goes for security in Europe. And I also want to thank you for honoring the Wales Commitment the way your country has.
I would just tell you that, by the end of this year, you'll be at the two percent, I believe. And you've increased spending nearly 50 percent over the last year. That is a phenomenal sacrifice and commitment by your country and your people, and we recognize it for what it is.
I'm glad to see you're investing in NATO-interoperable equipment, as well, as that fills the real capability among all of our forces. And I think that the success of this summer's Savor Guardian exercises was a good show of NATO unity, and certainly firm resolve in the face of Russia's aggressive behavior.
Twenty-five thousand service members from more than 20 ally and partner nations. And as a cohost, I think it is obvious that Romania was integral to the success of that exercise. And your commitment to unity and stability shows, I would call it leadership by example, there in NATO.
I must also thank you for Romania's commitment to the Resolute Support mission today in Afghanistan. But you were also one of the first nations to engage with us, stand with us after we were attacked. And you deployed even before joining NATO, making it very clear where you stood when it came to terrorism.
But, that said, I cannot welcome you here without paying my respects for the sacrifices of your troops, including dozens of your troops who have been killed in action standing with us in some of the most difficult parts of the battles.
And just last Friday, we lost a Romanian soldier, a comrade in arms in Kandahar province, one of the fiercest provinces there in Afghanistan. But the service and sacrifices of your troops are tangible demonstrations that NATO military alliance stands united in the face of terror or other threats from the East.
We in the U.S. Defense Department look forward to deepening the relationship with the Romanian Ministry of Defense. And Minister Fifor, ambassador, members of the delegation, you are most welcome here again. Welcome to the Pentagon.
And Minister, if you would say anything in front of the media, please feel free.
MINISTER OF NATIONAL DEFENCE MIHAI-VIOREL FIFOR: Thank you, Secretary Mattis. It's been an honor for me to be here today. And I would like to reiterate that the strategic partnership with the United States is one of the fundamental pillars of Romania's security and defense.
One of the priorities of my mandate is to further consolidate it, especially on the defense dimension. We have a solid bilateral relationship, and I praise your constant and relevant support on defense matters you provided us.
Russia's influence in the Balkans region has been significantly increased. NATO is seen as the main foreign military threat to Russia's security, and subsequently, the states hosting components of the allied ballistic missile defense, including Romania, were included as potential threats.
There is a need for a comprehensive approach, in both political, operational and major acquisition fields, to ensure a strategic balance of power in Black Sea region. And in this regard, the U.S. is already playing an essential part in a resolute way.
We commend the U.S. continued to send unwavering commitment in its region, from the presidential and congressional support, to the Department of Defense support. Expressed through a robust military presence in Romania, and an intense program of combined joint exercises.
The U.S. efforts in the region represent a strong enabler to the allied foreign presence of NATO’s eastern flank. Together, aiming for the strengthened, credible, and effective deterrence and defense posture in this area.
We strongly support a unitary and balanced approach of the entire eastern flank of the alliance. And we over welcome safer, recent single foreign presence perspective.
The U.S. support remains essential for our impetuous efforts dedicated to the implementation of all land, air, and maritime compliments of the tailored forward presence. We are currently investing a lot of commitment in having the multinational brigade reaching final operational capability in 2018.
Our bilateral cooperation of military acquisition is an important booster for the modernization of the Romanian armed force.
We already took important steps, as you say, towards this, based on the government's strong commitment to properly budget the defense sector at two percent of the GDP, and almost 40 percent is allotted for the acquisition of new equipment and the modernization.
We firmly believe that the new opportunities for cooperation with Romanian defense companies will arise and welcome further extending the American investments in the Romanian defense sector.
On the operational side, we remain fully committed to the resolute support mission in Afghanistan, where our soldiers are engaged shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. troops in the fights against terrorism. Including the U.S. led anti-Daesh mission.
All I have mentioned are evidences that Romania is a reliable and predictable partner. And is really willing to develop its own capabilities in order to preserve national security, and to substantially contribute to the regional and international one.
Hence, our strategic partnership and U.S. support are vital in this regard. Therefore, we see the merit in exploring new modalities to further enhance our cooperation along the following lines. Completing the efforts for granting Romania the status of dependable undertaking.
This status presents a real incentive that we'll significantly boost our cooperation in the area of military purchases and acquisition. Moreover, our efforts rely heavily on the synergy between bettering capabilities and timely resources.
Thus, immediate efforts should seek granting this status out of the cycle before 2019. Consolidating the security assistance, including extending the financial support provided by the U.S. government via the foreign military sales program and other initiatives.
For example, European reassurance initiative will generate more modern equipment supplied to fielding deployable troops.
A more substantial employment of Ishtar capabilities developed through bilateral cooperation, including with a view to having a mutual exchange of information by means of the common platforms in use.
As well as continuing the implementation and use of the strategic monitoring systems, developed in cooperation with the U.S. intelligence agencies. Continuing the implementation of the assurance and adaptation measures as agreed of NATO summits, Wales 2014 and Warsaw 2016, with a focus on unitary approach of the whole eastern flank.
And the consistent implementation of tailored foreign presence in all competence - land, air, and especially maritime.
Reaching planned final operational capability for the multinational division southeastern headquarter, and for multinational brigade, we present timely opportunities to further assign additional U.S. personnel and forces to the region.
Moreover, their positioning should be reconsidered, as recent deployments of Russian and the access area denial elements rendered to the situation more quickly. Supporting the development of a genuine maritime component of foreign presence.
We are following with huge interest the current debates on NATO command structure adaptation. Furthermore, Black Seas security still requires an adequate and credible maritime deterrent in this area.
Supporting the further development of the combined joint enhanced training is constant. It was coordinated with all Black Sea leader allies. A common declaration between Romania and Bulgaria was signed last Saturday at the military committee conference in Tirana.
Calling on NATO allies to join in and contribute to a credible tailored foreign presence in the area. The program aims at creating a continuous NATO presence in the Black Sea region, and to maximize training and exercise opportunities in the area.
Extending the consistent presence in bilateral exercises for the period 2018-2020, we are fully committed and prepared to host prepositioning rotational and assigned U.S. presence and deployment on Romanian soil.
Continuing the implementation of the provisions of the ballistic missile defense agreement, including the force protection and air defense measures of the Deveselu Base. Enhancing and further expanding the Mihail Kogalniceanu Airbase, used as a hub for transition of troops and equipment to and from Afghanistan.
Enhancing the National Guard state partnership program, especially with Alabama National Guard, which contributes to an increased interoperability of our armed forces. Allow me, Mr. Secretary, for this truthful discussion aiming at enhancing our strategic partnership.
Of course, there are many other things we can discuss today, and I would like to thank you again for giving me this opportunity to be here together with my colleagues, to present and to discuss things regarding our strategic partnership.
SEC. MATTIS: And thanks again, Mr. Minister. It's good to have you and your delegation here, and I'll ask the press to now depart so we could get down to business.
Q: Mr. Secretary, just briefly. What message was President Trump trying to send by calling Kim Jong-un "Rocket Man" at the UN today?
SEC. MATTIS: We are dealing with the North Korean situation through the international processes, and we will continue to do so with Secretary Tillerson leading the effort. And we will hopefully get this resolved through diplomatic means. But thank you again, ladies and gentlemen.