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Media Availability with Secretary Mattis en route to Copenhagen, Denmark

May 8, 2017
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS:  Okay, thank you, colonel.

And good to see you, ladies and gentlemen.  Thanks for taking the time to go on another trip; in some cases, one of many trips that you've taken.  Happy to have you onboard.

We're on our way to Copenhagen, where we're going to have about a dozen countries, a little more than that, that are leading the fight against our ISIS enemy.

We're going to sit down, take stock of where we're at.  We're going to look to the future, determine what more is needed, if anything.  And how we are going to determine that is based upon an update with the enemy situation.

They're on their back foot in Syria.  They're on their back foot in Iraq.  They've lost a lot of ground; they still have strengths in Nangarhar.  

In Nangarhar, in Afghanistan, ISIS Khorasan, I think you may have heard, President Ghani announced that we have eliminated the emir.  And so, the fight goes on.

And from Copenhagen, after I'm done there, we'll move onto Vilnius in Lithuania.

I want to see how the German battlegroup is doing, call on some of the countries' leaders, and pay my respects for what they're doing, and ensure that we maintain a very visible NATO presence as we basically try to reduce the opportunity for miscalculation by anyone and buy time for the diplomats to -- to restore tranquility and stability up in the Baltics.

From there, we'll go to London, where we'll join a conference led by Prime Minister May.  The topic is Somalia.  It has a new president.  It is a country that's been through very tough times.  And the United Kingdom is coordinating leading the effort to try to find a way forward with the new president in position.

It's a -- it's a tough proposition to take Somalia forward, but that is the purpose of the conference, to determine how best we can do so.

So, three stops in about -- in several days, and that's the -- the crux of why we're heading out there.

So, can I take a question?  Yes, go ahead.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, just on Syria and the new safe zones that they have created there, can you give us your perspective on the safe zones?  Have you gotten a really good understanding of where the borders are?  And will the U.S. agree to this, will it affect the fight against ISIS do you think?

SEC. MATTIS:  The -- coming out of the Astana Conference, where we had an assistant secretary of state monitoring, there was a proposal made to have what you call the safe zones.  The specific location of the borders are still being worked out but they're -- the general locations are well understood. 

We'll look at them.  It's all in process right now.  It's not been decided, in the sense that these are the specific safe zones, here's who's going to be ensuring they're safe, who is signing up for it, who is specifically to be kept out of them.  All these details are to be worked out and we're in engaged.

I would add that General Dunford, our chairman of the joint chiefs, had a talk with General Gerasimov, his -- his opposite member in Moscow.  It was a general talk that also this subject was brought up.

But there's a lot of details to be worked out is what I'd say.  So, I can't answer all your questions because it's not firm yet.  But we'll take a look at them.

All wars eventually come to an end, and we've been looking for a long time how to bring this one to an end.  So, we'll look at the proposal, see what -- see if it can work.

Q:  Will it affect the -- the U.S. fight against ISIS?

SEC. MATTIS:  Will it affect the fight against ISIS?

I think the international community is united in a sense of wanting to see ISIS put on its back foot.  Whether or not those efforts have been fully coordinated is a constant effort.  For example, we have deconfliction lines with the Russians, which we use for some of that.  But the fight against ISIS will go on.

STAFF:  Phil, do you have a question?

Q:  Well, I just want to be quick on -- (inaudible).  You said that all wars need to end.  That presumes that this proposal has a hope of ending the war in Syria.  Is that -- is that -- is that --

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.

Q:  -- a legitimate (inaudible)?

SEC.  MATTIS:  Does this proposal have a hope for ending this war?  We'll have to look at it.  You know, we're going to have to look at it.  

The devil's always in the details, right?  So we've got to look at the details, see if we can work them out, see if we think they're effect -- going to be effective.  Can we -- can we actually execute them?  In other words, there's a lot of decisions to be made, both in planning -- I would say in planning, coordination among a number of nations and obviously in execution.

Lots -- lots to be worked out.  Can't give you a lot of specifics, but we owe it to the situation there, the people there, to at least examine it very, very carefully.

STAFF:  Sir, (We’ll let TM ask you the last question.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, the meeting tomorrow with the -- Wednesday or Tuesday -- with the --

SEC. MATTIS:  Defeat ISIS minister, yes.

Q:  Right, those are the 12 main contributors.  Are you going to be making any asks of them for the Raqqa fight, putting the Raqqa CONOP on the table?

SEC. MATTIS:  All right.  It's an integrated effort.  The specific -- we'll have to work out the enemy situation, what they're doing now.  As you know, this fight goes on in a number of locations.  And Raqqa, their capital, must be taken down.

But this is perhaps about one step above that level of operational detail, about the commitments in various parts of the theaters where we're engaging against ISIS.  So, it may come up, but right now I wouldn't -- I wouldn't get into that level of detail unless I see something that then can be provided based on the discussion.

Q:  One follow up, sir, just switching to Afghanistan:  Have you made the decision on if we're going to plus-up troops?  I know that you --

SEC. MATTIS:  No, we'll take that decision forward very, very shortly.

Q:  Thank you, sir.

STAFF:  All right, sir, I think we'll cut off now.  And if you've got a couple extra minutes --

SEC. MATTIS:  They're making food for you up front.

(Laughter.)