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Secretary Mattis Hosts an Honor Cordon Welcoming Poland Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak to the Pentagon

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N.  MATTIS:  Minister Blaszczak and members of the delegation, each of you, it's a pleasure, sir, to welcome you on your first official visit to the Pentagon and welcome you back to Washington after your visit.  I think it was in January, if I remember right.


SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.  But it's good to see you again, also, after our last meeting in February at Brussels.  That was a good meeting.  I thought we made progress there on a number of issues.

But between the two of us, the United States and Poland have a long-shared history of military cooperation and understanding.  And across the Potomac, you can see the homage to this close relationship in Lafayette Square, where a statue of General Kosciuszko stands tall.  And the inscription is what we remember there.

Inscribed on that statue is, "And freedom shrieked, as Kosciuszko fell," and it reminds us of the critical role he played in our Revolutionary War, the role of leaders in protection of liberty and protection of freedom.  And, he did so masterminding the victory at Saratoga in 1777 and then reinforcing the fortifications at West Point which, in those days, was a key choke point on the Hudson River.

And over a century after he fell, and after standing by our soldiers in our struggle for liberty, President Wilson reinforced America's commitment to the Polish people's freedom in his Fourteen Points when he was stating the need to guarantee, by international covenant, an independent Polish state with, quote, "Free and secure access to the sea, political and economic independence and territorial integrity."  Three things that you enjoy today, I might add.

Today, the bond between our two nations' militaries and our people remain strong.  And we thank you for Poland's continued hosting of U.S. and NATO forces, and for your contribution to the Defeat ISIS campaign and Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.

These contributions, along with your hosting of NATO's 2016 Summit in Warsaw, illustrate Poland's deep commitment to collective security; a commitment that includes the purchase of a Patriot air and missile defense system last month.  Thank you and that is helping to ensure your military is fit for our times.  I also solute your commitment to reach 2.5 percent of defense spending by 2030, surpassing NATO's Wales pledge, and an example for other nations as well.

And as a Polish poet -- and I will try to say the name correctly here -- Wislawa Szymborska?

MIN. BLASZCZAK:  Correct, perfect.

STAFF:  Perfect, perfect. (Laughter.)

SEC. MATTIS:  I love your names; they're such a wonderful challenge.  As she wrote, "The book of events is always open in the middle."  And so, we have been writing a book for a long time.  And you and I have inherited that book.  And today, we on the U.S. side look forward to writing the next chapter of U.S.-Polish relations with you, and your delegation, and discussing opportunities for further strengthening of our military-to-military cooperation.

Again, Mr. Minister, welcome to the Pentagon.  You're welcome here.  And if you'd like to say a few words...


SEC. MATTIS:  ... In front of the press, please.

MIN. BLASZCZAK:  Thank you very much to you, Mr. Secretary.  I would like to sincerely thank you for hosting me today.  I know that today is a busy day for the U.S. administration.  But, thank you very much, once again.

At the same time, I am really glad that this is already our second meeting in just a few months.  This is a clear proof that our defense partnership is very close.  Let me also mention that we celebrate this year 100th anniversary of Poland regaining our independence, where the U.S. support was one of the most crucial.

You mentioned about President Woodrow Wilson, it was a crucial thing for us and we remember one of -- one of the main places in Warsaw is named Woodrow Wilson.  So, we -- we remember.  We remember this fact.

And, I'm convinced that also this perspective will bring additional context to our -- today's discussion.  I would like to tell you, secretary, that I met yesterday, Ambassador Bolton.

And, I met Congressmen from both parties today.  I met the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Mr. William Thornberry.  And, yesterday, I met the ranking member of this committee, Mr. Adam Smith, and ranking member of the Senate -- the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Reed.

So, I've -- I discussed with them about -- about our cooperation and I would like to tell that there were very good discussions.

SEC. MATTIS:  I would imagine so, Mr. Minister.  We always have time here for Poland, we're never too busy.  This is no interruption of our routine.  We've looked forward to this visit and I would just tell you that we don't have to search for common ground.  We share common ground in our values and our hopes for the future.  So, if the press will excuse us, we're going to get down to work.  But...

Q:  Mr. Secretary, could we ask one question about North Korea, sir?

SEC. MATTIS:  ... Thank you very much for coming in.

Q:  Could we ask just one quick one on North Korea?  If there is a peace treaty that's reached, as they talked about in Panmunjom earlier today, do -- do U.S. troops need to stay stationed on the Korean Peninsula? 

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, that's part of the issues that we'll be discussing in the negotiations with our allies first and, of course, with North Korea.  So, I think for right now, we just have to go along with the process, have the negotiations, and not try to make preconditions or presumptions about how it's going to go.  We -- the diplomats are going to have to go to work now.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, Poland would like to host more U.S. troops on its soil, what's your answer?

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, Poland is a NATO ally.  We host troops in NATO according to the needs of security.  And so, we're always open to those discussions.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, do you trust North Korea?  Do you trust that it will carry out its part of the bargain?

SEC. MATTIS:  This is about international relations.  This is about negotiations and we will build, through confidence-building measures, a degree of trust if it's going to go forward.  So we'll see how things go.  I don't have a crystal ball. I can tell you we are optimistic right now that there's opportunity here that we have never enjoyed since 1950.  So, we're going to have to see what they produce; but, that's going to take diplomats working and I'm not going to calculate in advance of anything.  But thanks very much for coming up, ladies and gentlemen.