SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS: Deputy Prime Minister Shekerinska and members of the delegation, welcome to the Pentagon on your first, but not your last, visit.
Madam Minister, it's a pleasure to host you after our last meeting at NATO's defense ministerial. I believe it was in February that we last spoke together.
And I would just note that in front of both of our delegations, you spoke with great eloquence about the common challenges facing the West. And I think you were both persuasive, and your words even dominated the discussion, powerfully reminding us of our responsibility to defend our values.
As a NATO partner, Macedonia has taken strong steps to meet these challenges itself, sending troops to assist NATO's Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan -- thank you -- and contributing to the Defeat ISIS coalition. Again, thank you. And you're doing this as a partner nation, placing yourself firmly on the path to spend the 2 percent of GDP on defense. So again, your example, is heartening.
We do not take your efforts for granted. They affirm the prudential decision taken at the 2008 Bucharest Summit to invite Macedonia to join NATO as soon as a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue has been reached with Greece. We commend your work with Greece to resolve this issue, and I'm hopeful it will bear fruit soon. We don't wish to see you stopped at NATO's doorstep.
Today's security environment requires a spirit of amity among all who stand for freedom, of basic human rights and respect for the international rule of law. And I must applaud Macedonia's resistance to Russia's malign influence in the Balkans. And I welcome your continued leadership by example in this region. And by expelling a Russian diplomat after the Salisbury chemical weapons attack, that shows, too, how Macedonia stands firmly on the side of civilized nations and for international law.
Macedonia's voice carries weight in the region. I encourage you to employ that eloquence with your neighbors to do likewise.
Lastly, I note that in you, we welcome a graduate of Tufts University's Fletcher School in Massachusetts, as well as a published academic in the field of electrical engineering.
Which, by the way, is one of my favorite fields of study --
-- but I find few people in the political world who can spell electrical engineering.
So in recognition of your accomplishments, from defense and diplomacy to advanced electrical engineering, we are honored to host you today, Madam Minister. Your insights are most welcome here, and thank you again for coming.
If you'd like to say a few words in front of the press, the floor is yours.
MINISTER OF DEFENSE RADMILA SHEKERINSKA: Well, thank you, Mr. Defense Secretary, General Mattis.
Let me thank you for this opportunity, and for the steadfast support that the Republic of Macedonia has been receiving from the United States of America.
Since our independence, we have placed NATO membership as our key strategic priority, and we have secured and maintained a very strong consensus within our society for this.
Let me assure you that Macedonia is ready to become a NATO member. We have recovered very quickly from our protracted political crisis, and after a strong reformist push, we are seen now as the source of hope in the Balkans.
We have engaged in defense -- important defense reforms, supported strongly by the U.S., and we have increased our contributions to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. We have proven to be a dedicated and reliable partner, and we aim to be also such an ally, as member of the alliance.
Therefore, allow me to ask for your support -- for the U.S. strong support as Macedonia's strategic partner for our NATO membership in a strategic goal that has united all the previous and the present government, and most of the citizens of the country. An invitation for Macedonia this July will support us in our strategic goal, will help the region in building long-lasting stability, and will also increase the U.S. and NATO leverage and readiness.
So thank you very much again for this opportunity.
SEC. MATTIS: You're most welcome, Madam Minister.
And if the press will excuse us, we will now get down to work. Thank you very much for coming out today.
Q: Mr. Secretary, 10 of our colleagues were killed in Afghanistan yesterday. And today a new report says that Afghan security forces have shrunk by 10 percent. The message from this building has consistently been that things -- the situation is turning around; that things are improving there.
How do you reconcile this difference?
SEC. MATTIS: First, I don't know that that's been the message from this building. I would not subscribe to that.
We said last August NATO is going to hold the line. We knew there would be tough fighting going forward.
The murder of journalists and other innocent people is a great testimony to what it is we stand for; more importantly, what we stand against.
The Afghan military is being made more capable. You'll notice that more of the forces are special forces, advised and assisted, accompanied by NATO mentors, and these are the most effective forces. So the expansion there is why the enemy has been unable to take any district centers, provincial centers, or make any advances there.
We anticipated, and are doing our best, and have been successful at blocking many of these attacks on innocent people. But unfortunately, once in a while, they get through, because any terrorist organization that realizes it can't win by ballots and turns to bombs -- this is simply what they do: They murder innocent people.
We'll stand by the Afghan people. We'll stand by the Afghan government. And the NATO mission will continue, as we drive them to a political settlement.
But thanks very much, everybody.
Q: Mr. Secretary, the U.K. and France say that the documents presented yesterday by Prime Minister Netanyahu show why the Iran deal should be in place. The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) says there's been no credible evidence of any activity by Iran since 2009.
Are you taking this into account as you advise the president?
SEC. MATTIS: I advise the president, and I owe him a certain amount of confidentiality as I do that.
But thanks very much, ladies and gentlemen. We need to get to work.