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Remarks by Secretary Mattis and Finnish Minister of Defense Jussi Niinisto

MINISTER OF DEFENSE JUSSI NIINISTO:  So, Mr. Secretary, members of media, first of all I would like to thank Secretary Mattis for being here.

The United States -- (inaudible) -- brings stability to our homeland security environment are much appreciated.  The main message from the Finnish side is, the United States is a partner of utmost importance to Finland.

Our bilateral relations on defense are on solid foundations.  We are actively implementing our statement of intent signed last year.  However, there are several feats of cooperation where we have prospects of deepening further.  For example, the U.S. participation for training and exercises, whether in air, sea or land, have improved our readiness.  

But there is still room for development.  As I have previously said -- large international exercise in Finland in the early '20s would definitely -- (inaudible) -– and enhance our defenses.  Any U.S. participation -- (inaudible) -- this year would be beneficial and most productive.

The regional situation continues to be challenging yet relatively stable at the moment.  We see the U.S. presence in the Baltic Sea region and in Europe in general as a stabilizing factor.

Yet, as -- (inaudible) -- take care of our own defense, as -- (inaudible) -- government defense report.  This, of course, is in no contradiction of deepening defense cooperation.  Common understanding and interoperability bring added value.

On the operation, we are pleased to see that ISIS is being defeated in Iraq and finally also in Syria.  The menace of ISIS must be destroyed in all domains, including information networks.

Finland has supported -- (inaudible) -- coalition by some 100 troops and according to new national mandate, we are able to continue until the end of 2018.  Finland will also contribute to Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan.

To conclude, thank you once more, Mr. Secretary, for your time and support.  And let us go forward together.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS:  Well, thank you, Minister Niinisto, and gentlemen for having us here.  It's an honor to be here with the northern countries.  And it's good to see you again after having met very early in my time after being appointed as secretary.

I want to congratulate Finland on 100 years of independence.  We share your view of independence and of sovereignty, and we salute you for 100 years.  We know it didn't come easily for your country and we recognize that today as we look forward to building on those discussions that began at the Pentagon last March.

The nature of the security situation, I'm happy to say after the morning meetings this morning, we have a shared appreciation of the security situation, to include a continuing partnership with U.S. involvement in exercises where it actually increases your interoperability and your resilience as a nation. 

Also want to salute the European Center of Excellence for Countering ISIS Threats.  I think it's an organization that's fit for its time, an opportunity for us to share lessons learned and experiences and come up with a way democracies can protect themselves from people with malicious intent.

In terms of your contributions to Resolute Support and other missions, I just want you to know that we're grateful for it.  We're proud of serving alongside you.

Your troops are tactically efficient.  They are also ethical.  And in this world today, you need that combination, not just of operational capability, but also setting a standard that the rest of the world can admire when it comes to the use of force.

And these efforts together, I think, are a reminder that we are strongest when democracies stand united, whether it's in the face of barbarism by terrorists or by countries that would choose to violate international law, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

We are hardened by our deepening bilateral partnership, which you referred to, Mr. Minister.  I would tell you, if we look to the future, we continue -- we will continue to bolster our partnership.  And that's in an effort to create stability and maintain peace up here in this part of world.

I think, too, that here in the Arctic region, it builds international confidence to see Finland assuming the chair of the Arctic Council this year.  So as President Niinisto said, it's important that the Arctic remains a territory of common respect and dialogue.  And we are completely aligned with your presence on that.

So, Minister, thank you for hosting us.  I look forward to our discussion today.