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Press Gaggle by Secretary Mattis En Route to Washington, D.C.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS:  Hello, everybody.  Come on in.  All right, here we go.




Yes, you've got to watch it.  It'll be a little damp in here, which it does rain in this area.  I'm not kidding you.  Not now; it's all frozen out there.


Q: (off mic)


SEC. MATTIS:  Well, we're going to go on the record initially, and we'll break at some point.  I do have a pretty hard stop.  We'll try and give you the full half hour, but I've got a pretty hard stop at -- on the hour.


Well, I hope you had a good time in Singapore.  Probably one of the most organized, in the sense that there's not distraction when you go in.  You can really concentrate on issues, unlike some security -- security get-togethers.


So the DPRK issue.  I know you all want to know. In almost all of my discussions, but it was a surprising commonality about, you know, a complete verifiable, irreversible, removal of WMD, of nuclear weapons and WMD.


The hopes are on -- riding with the diplomats, no surprise.  This is all pretty, frankly, consistent with what we've been saying now for a couple of weeks.


We -- I don't know what more to really say about it, because when we get together, as you know, in multiple locations.   So we'll see how it goes, but a lot of support across the board.  Some challenges on other issues, but I disagree -- I did not hear any disagreement on this.


And I have, you know, bilateral talks with a whole bunch of folks.  I had a lot of -- in the lunches and stuff, meeting basically one v. one with the German minister, with I think a PRC lieutenant general who was there, and his officers.  So it was, you know, again, there's a lot of commonality there.


On DPRK, one thing that keeps coming up is about our troop strength on the peninsula.  I'll say it again, I'm not making news here, the same thing -- we're not going anywhere.  It's not even a subject of the discussions.  You know, obviously there are there because of security conditions 10 years ago, five years ago, this year.


If five years from now, 10 years from now, it could be up for review, that would be between a democracy called the Republic of Korea and a democracy called the United States of America.


The US has United Nations equities in it as well, because of the United Nations flag flying over that headquarters there.  As a matter of fact, I got the chance to meet the Canadian lieutenant general this morning who's coming in to be the deputy commander, the U.N. commander.  That's a Canadian Army General.


So you can see there is no change.  Everything is steady.  I'm just telling you this, because I don't know what more I can say.


But if you -- if you have questions, you want to ask me.  I'll answer the exact same way I just did.


What is interesting, too -- we've got the secretary of the Navy here -- the amount of attention America put in out here.  If you just step back from this specific conference and look at the large, impressive, delegation.  They were not only defense people; you know, some of them came out industry committees.  You know, on our shipbuilding committee.


There is a much broader interest in Congress about our presence in the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean.  Full support for renaming the command the Indo-Pacific Command.  And by the way, that was also an international decision.


The Republican, Democrat, defense, non-defense, it was very, very interesting to see it.


Normally -- you know, sure, you might've seen Senator McCain in the past at this one out here.  You know, but now you see a younger crop of senators, congressmen, and now you can tell, this is a priority.


We had one of the senators from Alaska.  Texas. And one with Colorado, too.  You know, so it's not just based on geography.


So that was kind of an eye-opener about America's commitment out here.  As you know there’s a lot criticism out there that's built on junkets.  That is enough in some cases, if you're in a tough race, to not go.  I think it was Mark Twain who said, travel -- what was it -- it's like an antidote for prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.  You know, you just can't keep a closed mind when you travel, you know.


So the more we can get the congressmen and women out here, bipartisan, defense and non-defense, I think that says more about a commitment to Asian than just my going.  You know, because that's huge.  Those others are not, they're not expected.


Let me shift for a minute.  Let me just look at prepared remarks here.


You know what we're for, safe, secure region, freedom of navigation.  This all new to you? (Laughter.)


You're that hard drinking, cigarette smoking press from back-in-the-day.


You know I thought I remember India (PM Modi), that speech. It was like listening to one of those old-timey people.  I thought he was really great, and you know just hammering home.  And I really liked his point about massive debt.  Massive debt -- and I was thinking that night after I went back to my room, you could lose your sovereignty and your freedom from debt more than a soldier with a bayoneted rifle, you know?  You can lose it economically instead.  And I thought he made a really good point there about the dangers of accepting loans that are too good to be true, and being forced into another -- another agenda.


Meanwhile, the business of the Pentagon goes on, and our audit is underway.  So now it's really got traction.  When you look at the size of that omnibus spending bill, and the amount of trust that they must have up there, that we're not going to misspend it.  You know, we look at how do we focus on lethality and thwart-ability.  Lethality obviously has to do with the capability of our military.


We've got this big, full-scale audit.  It's an army of auditors going through and taking our programs apart.  And -- I just sent a note out to everybody.  I just said, we're going to invite the scrutiny.  We're going to find the problems.


I have hit on this before, about coming out and (inaudible) for the department.  It is -- I don't want people trying to be -- being shy here.  I know it's uncomfortable to get inspected.  But this is what's necessary to maintain bipartisan support and the budgets we need.


And you heard the concerns out there.  This is why it is a priority theater.   So it's contingent on spending money wisely and with integrity.  And so this -- this audit, I know one day we may get to a clean audit.  The last thing I would expect for the first time in decades ever, since we were made as a department, that we're going to have a clean audit.


But we are going to clean up every problem that they find.  Feedback loops and displays of data as we manage that.


So let me stop there and see what's on your mind.  I’m available for a little time.


STAFF:  We don't have a lot of time.


SEC. MATTIS:  Go ahead, Lita.


Q:  Just a quick follow-up on the Korea question.  Do you -- you were talking about the troops on the Korean Peninsula.  Is that an issue that came up this morning in your meetings with our allies Japan and Korea?


SEC. MATTIS:  No -- Lita, it is -- everyone at the bilats basically reiterated the same thing.  You told us you're not going.  We know you're not going.  And I saw the Canadian minister at a breakfast this morning.  I'm right behind this lieutenant general.  I mean, you -- these nations are even putting people in. They're talking about bringing in light infantry, other troops of their own to show, you know, basically that we're all standing together.


I really don't know where this stuff comes from.  I get asked it every time in the Pentagon press room.  I just decided it's just something that's going to be out there.  Once it's -- once someone's made it up -- I mean, it's truly never even come up -- once someone's made it up, however, apparently it gets a life of its own.  Someone picks it up, and someone else said so, too.  No, it never comes up.


Q:   On your speech yesterday, you were pretty strong on China.  Did you get any personal reactions from the Chinese on it?  And do you believe there is any possibility that you won't be invited on the China trip?


SEC. MATTIS:  No, I'm -- I'm still certainly going to China.  The Chinese -- they're entitled to their view.  I saw them at lunch yesterday, which would have been after I spoke, and we enjoyed our Coca-Cola together, and we talked.  Nothing adversarial at all.


Q:  (off mic)


SEC. MATTIS:  Say that again?


Q:  Yesterday you said the road to negotiations was a bumpy one.


SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, all negotiations are bumpy.


Q:  So it's not a function of anything that's happening currently?


SEC. MATTIS:  No -- oh, I see.   No, no, I mean -- I mean, you remember how we were going crazy -- oh, gosh it's off when a bad letter comes in.  And immediately it's back on?.  Welcome to reality.  It's only TV that does this.  How many times does DPRK travel on an international negotiation?  The best I can figure it's once, back about 61, when they made their friendship treaty with China.  I don't think there's even been other negotiations.


We have more experience obviously than a lot of people do working like this together.  So yes, it's going to be bumpy, but nothing late breaking or too difficult.


Q: (off mic)


SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, well,  I believe the first – actually, I can't talk in specifics come to think of it.  When we get off the record, ask me again.


Q:  Have you notice any impact of the President’s tariffs…


SEC. MATTIS:  On the trade?


Q:  Yes, on trade.


SEC. MATTIS:  It has no effect on the military-to-military.


STAFF:  Anything else we need on the record?


SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, I'd like to give you a couple of minutes off the record.


STAFF:  We'll go off then.




STAFF:  Kill the cameras and recorders.