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Remarks by Secretary Mattis in an enhanced honor cordon and meeting welcoming Poland Minister of National Defense Blaszczak to the Pentagon

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS:  Minister Blaszczak, Ambassador Wilczek, Excellency, good to see you.  Members of the delegation, welcome back to the Pentagon for many of you.  Mr. Minister, it's a pleasure to meet again after seeing you in October at the Defense Ministerial there in Brussels.

On Sunday, Poland celebrated a historic milestone we understand here, the commemoration of 100 years since its sovereignty was restored after World War I.  

This anniversary reminds us of the resilience of the Polish people.  It also reminds us of our nation's shared -- a storied history that stretched back well before President Wilson supported Poland's fight for freedom in 1918.

Just last month the United States celebrated General Pulaski Memorial Day, making clear our never forgotten gratitude for the role that he, General Koscuiszko and other brave Poles played in America's own bid for independence centuries ago.

And on that same Memorial Day, 81 years ago, President Roosevelt once again made clear, and I quote President Roosevelt here, "The debt which this country owes to the men of Polish blood and their efforts to hold aloft the torch of human liberty."  As he transferred the remains of a Civil War hero and a Polish officer in our Union Army, General Koscuiszko, to his rightful resting place in Arlington National Cemetery.

From Valley Forge to Bull Run to Ghazni, Afghanistan in this century, U.S. and Polish troops have forged a special bond, one understood best by those willing to serve, live and die for freedom, as General Pulaski once remarked.

Today we value the close U.S. - Polish defense relationship, and we recognize the key role that Poland plays as a reliable and stalwart ally in NATO.  Thank you for your nation's hosting of the rotational U.S. troops; your warm hospitality provides a center of gravity for U.S. forces in Central Europe.

The United States also appreciates Poland's steady commitment to international security, demonstrated by your nation's contributions to the defeat ISIS campaign, NATO missions in Afghanistan, and the enhanced forward -- forward defense forces in Latvia; but other missions also across Europe and Africa.

Your nation makes clear its commitment to collective defense with plans to surpass NATO's Wales pledge of 2.5 percent of defense spending by 2030.

Poland leads by example, solidifying its place as a role model for other allies.

The United States applauds Poland’s purchasing of the Patriot Air Missile Defense System to bolster your military's capabilities.  By working together we ensure that our military and our alliance remains fit for our times.

Minister Blaszczak, as President Trump said during President Duda's visit to Washington in September, Poland has chosen its place among the free and independent nations of the world.  So in our discussions today you and I reiterate the world is better for it.

I look forward to discussing ways to expand our already strong defense relationship.  You and your delegation are most welcome here.

Mr. Minister, if you'd like to say a few words in front of the press.  

POLAND MINISTER OF NATIONAL DEFENSE MARIUSZ BLASZCZAK:  Of course, thank you very much, Secretary and Ambassador, ladies and gentleman.  I am honored to be here today and I sincerely appreciate your warm hospitality.  I remember well our meeting here in Washington in April of this year in the same premises.  I'm strongly convinced that our discussion today will be, again, very fruitful.

The U.S. and Poland are bound by a long-lasting strategic partnership.  Our close defense cooperation is multidimensional.  It is mirrored in shoulder-to-shoulder service of our soldiers in missions and operations throughout the world, as well as growing collaboration between our defense industries.  

We strongly appreciate the U.S. forces' presence in Poland, strengthening deterrence and defense of Poland and whole NATO alliance.  I hope it will transform in the coming years into even more robust and long-term commitment.  

Today, we are meeting in a very special time for Poles, as we have just celebrated, on November 11, the centenary of Poland regaining its independence.  We had -- we have achieved this with the support of our allies.  I have to mention here President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points speech delivered in 1918, in which you adhered to the necessity of reestablishing the Polish state with political and economic independence and territorial integrity.  His statement is still considered as a landmark on the way to regaining our independence.  

Poles received the unprecedented United States support also in our struggle for freedom, democracy, and total independence from Soviet Union during the Communist era.  U.S. President Ronald Reagan's adamant policy towards Soviet Union and strong support for democratic movement in Poland has been crucial to our today's freedoms and democracy.  

Once again, thank you for hosting me today.  I am looking forward to our discussion.  

SEC. MATTIS:  It'll be a good discussion, Mr. Minister.  You're welcome here.  It's good to have your ambassador with us today.  I don't do anything without our State Department at my side -- (Laughter.)  -- and so we're going to have a good discussion, and if the press will excuse us, we'll get down to work.  Thank you.  

Q:  Mr. Secretary, if I could ask about the French President and the German Chancellor have both talked about the need for an E.U. military.  Is that something you support?  

SEC. MATTIS:  We in the NATO Alliance, we see NATO as the cornerstone for the protection of Europe in the security realm, and we fully support nations doing more to carry the load.  I would just point to Poland as a role model, as an example of what democracies do as we share the burden for protecting democracy in the world.  So we will continue to see the alliance strengthening, and Poland will be in the front rank of that we’re quite confident and we'll be right beside them.  Thank you.  


Q: ...presence in Poland?  

SEC. MATTIS:  We -- we certainly have a U.S. military presence in Poland.  Our troops that go there reenlist in the U.S. military at a high rate, so they must enjoy it.  But also we see the United States troops, Canadian troops, German troops, United Kingdom troops, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and reinforce those framework nations by the troops of numerous NATO nations standing united as a deterrent from the Baltic States all the way down into Poland.  

Q:  Mr. Secretary...  

SEC. MATTIS:  So we'll continue to mature that -- that stance as we move forward and make sure that the NATO alliance stays fit for its time.  Thanks very much, ladies and gentlemen.  We need to go to work now.  

Q:  Mr. Secretary, could I ask you one more question?  Do you agree with the first lady that Mira Ricardel should leave the NSC?

SEC. MATTIS:  I -- I don't comment on other people's staffing issues, thank you.