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Remarks by Secretary Mattis at an Honor Cordon Welcoming His Excellency Fayez Serraj, Prime Minister of Libya, to the Pentagon

Nov. 30, 2017
Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis; Fayez Serraj, Prime Minister of Libya

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS:  Mr. Prime Minister, Ambassador and members of the delegation, welcome to the Pentagon.  It's very good to have you here, on your first official visit to the Pentagon.  Just let me express my appreciation for our counterterrorism partnership.  

I'm here with your minister of foreign affairs, with your ambassador, here.  Obviously, we want to salute your liberation of Sirte but at the same time express my condolences for the 36 people that were just found in the mass grave in Al-Abyar.  

We seek to continue our partnership, Mr. Prime Minister, especially in light of ISIS and al Qaeda having taken advantage of remote spaces inside Libya to establish sanctuaries from which they hatch murder.  

And with our ambassador here, we note, with encouragement, the work of the U.N. Special Representative Salame, in helping your country to form a stable and unified government. 

My aunt and uncle taught English in Libya in the early 1960s, so many of us remember a Libya with great promise.  And after 40 years of oppression, we are optimistic you're going back in the right direction.  

And we certainly recognize the great difficulties that confront us both, as we were discussing, walking up the stairs.  But we also have confidence that the Libyan people have the strength and history on which they can draw an awful lot of strength.  

And the Libyan poet, Ibrahim al-Koni, summed it up well when he said, "Wherever there are human beings, there is an epic story."

And it is for the people of Libya to write their own epic, and we seek to help them get the time to do that, through the Government of National Accord.  

I thank you again, Mr. Prime Minister, for making time in a very busy schedule, to spend some time with us here in the Pentagon. 

Thank you.  

PRIME MINISTER OF LIBYA FAYEZ SERRAJ:  Persnally, I appreciate the opportunity to meet with you, Secretary Mattis, and it's a great pleasure to discuss our cooperation to -- in different fields, especially in the Mediterranean security.  I hope that -- this (inaudible) and meeting today will be the first start -- or the good start for the new future for Libya. 

If you don't mind, I'll speak in Arabic so I can express my...


SEC. MATTIS:  Of course.  I understand.  Yes, thank you. 

P.M. SERRAJ (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  First of all, allow me, Mr. Secretary, to thank the U.S. for its continued support, politically and on the security front, for Libya.  This support has manifested itself in a two-parts (inaudible), and has also manifested in a success story in the liberation of Sirte in a very fast manner.

And here, I would like, also, to refer to the role that (inaudible) and General (inaudible) played.  We have a personal and a very strong relationship with them. 

We know that -- very well, that the success story of the liberation of Sirte is a very impressive story, and we need to build on it.  We also know that there are other places where there are -- terrorism is also a threat and we, for that purpose, we need to continue to maintain our coordination, also, with your ambassador, so that we can eliminate all these places where terrorists hide. 

Certainly the Libyan people have paid the price for the (inaudible) of terrorism in the country and our friends also have suffered as a result of this war.  But the Libyan people are determined to complete this mission.  Thousands of people -- of Libyans have fallen and martyrs have been injured as a result of this war.  But the government of the -- National Accord Government has decided and is determined not to stop until it wipes out terrorism.

Certainly, the political situation in Libya and also the deep division inside the country that has characterized the last few years has reflected itself negatively on the performance of the military and security establishment in the country.

In spite of that we continue to focus on fighting our common enemy which is terrorism and also extremism and we continue to meet with different parties in the country in order to accomplish this mission and eliminate terrorism.

But in spite of all this these challenges that the country is facing we have managed to restore the security situation in Tripoli.  We have achieved marked progress in this regard.  We have also managed to contain many of the armed militias and we have absorbed them into the (inaudible) guards and the various security institutions.

We are also facing another challenge which is the lack of capabilities and means.  And this includes also the embargo on the armament that the National Accord Government is facing, and we hope that this embargo will be partially ended at least against some of the military branches such as the presidential court and the Coast Guard so that they can complete their mission.

SEC. MATTIS:  Thank you Mr. Prime Minister.  Again, welcome and ladies and gentlemen of the press if you'll allow us to we'll get down to work.  Thank you very much.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, one quick question, if I may.  You've repeatedly said that efforts to solve the North Korean crisis should be diplomatically led.  Kim now has a missile that can reach anywhere in America -- even though President Trump has said that won't happen.

Given that diplomacy hasn't worked, now what?

SEC. MATTIS:  I'm not willing to say that diplomacy has not worked.  We will continue to work diplomatically.  We'll continue to work through the United Nations -- the United Nations Security Council and we will be unrelenting in that.  At the same time our diplomats will speak from a position of strength because we do have military options.  Again, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for coming out.

Q:  Secretary, what do you make of Tillerson's -- reports of Tillerson's stepping down?

SEC. MATTIS:  I make nothing of it -- there's nothing to it.

Q:  Can the US still defend against this new type of missile?