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Joint Media Availability with Secretary Mattis and Minister Karoblis in Vilnius, Lithuania

May 10, 2017
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis; Lithuian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS:  Thank you.  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and my fellow ministers from three NATO allies standing here with me.  It sends a message I think to look at these fine troops from several NATO nations working together, training together, and making certain that there's no misunderstanding, that we all stand together in defense -- purely in defense.

There's nothing offensive here.  It is defensive, to make certain that the NATO alliance Article 5 is understood by everyone at home, here in Lithuania, in the Baltic neighbors, and certainly elsewhere in this region.

So, with our ministers, we've had some good talks this morning together as we share in appreciation the situation and of the road ahead.  And what you see here, with the enhanced forward brigade, is matched in several other Baltic nations as well.

This one, with a strong German contingent, but allied nations also part of the battlegroup under the command of the German commander here.  It shows the way NATO can be interoperable and our troops can come together and work together, and if necessary, fight together.

So, can we take your questions?  And the ministers are here.  So, please direct your questions also to them because I don't want to answer them all. (Laughter.)

Yeah?

STAFF:  Julian (off mic)

Q:  Mr. Secretary, do you share concerns of the Baltic States that Russia could leave troops behind after the Zapad exercise or use the exercise to upgrade and modernize the forces they have in this new -- (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, the -- the question has to do with the Zapad exercise that the Russians will run.  This is a routine exercise.  I trust it'll stay routine.

At the same time, NATO will conduct its exercises here.  They're exercising today, tomorrow.  They're on a -- on an exercise right now.

And our concentration is on showing the unity of NATO at this time of year and making certain there's no misunderstanding there.  So, no concerns.  Simply staying very visible.

NATO is very visible, as you see here today.  You can see it.  But it's also indivisible when it comes to its partnerships with each other.

We are unified as an alliance.  And that's really what we're all about out here, Julian.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, Lolita Baldor with the Associate Press.  In the wake of the announcement yesterday, the Turkish foreign minister has said that any weapons that are going to the YPG threatens Turkey.

Did he -- did the Turks express these concerns to you yesterday when you spoke to them?  And how much do you think this threatens the U.S.-Turkey alliance?

SEC. MATTIS:  In the alliance -- in NATO alliance, all of the nations are coequal.  We have very in-depth discussions.

Turkey is a NATO ally.  It confronts -- it's the only NATO country that confronts an insurgency in its own ground from the PKK.  And we will work very closely with Turkey in support of their -- their security on their southern border.

It's Europe's southern border.  And we'll stay closely connected.

We have very open discussions about options.  And we will work together.  We'll work out any of the concerns.

I'm -- I'm not concerned at all about the NATO alliance and the relations between our -- our nations.  It's not always tidy, Lolita.  But we work out the -- the issues.

STAFF:  (Inaudible) from Reuters has a question.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask about the air defenses, which are the major -- a (inaudible) in the Baltics.  Do you think NATO and -- and U.S. should do more to help the Baltics to -- to plug that hole in order to create real deterrence?

And foreign ministers, I'd like to ask, will you be asking the United States to deploy Patriot or Valkyrie in the Baltics beyond the (inaudible) exercises?

SEC. MATTIS:  The -- the question is about the air defense.  And we will deploy whatever capability is necessary here.

The reason for the deployment you see right now is the lack of respect for international law by some nations -- by a nation in the region.  And so long as nations show respect, then we wouldn't have to deploy that.

But we will talk to the -- to the leaders of each of the nations and we'll work this out in Brussels.  And we'll work together if necessary.

Any of you wish to say something here?

DEFENSE MINISTER RAIMUNDAS KAROBLIS:  Well, whatever we hear from the secretary -- or the -- the all defense systems, which are necessary will -- will -- will be in the region.  And, well, we are not speaking here about the real tactics, real concrete, specific systems.  But also, speaking about air defense, it's not totally what we have or what we'll have -- (inaudible) -- but also around us.

STAFF:  And one last question from (inaudible).

Q:  Yes, so, a question to Mr. Secretary.  How do you evaluate the effort the Baltic countries has made to increase defense spending?  And is there something you would bring to the table for the next NATO summit on that?

SEC. MATTIS:  In NATO, there is a goal that all the nations signed up for at Wales.  It was 2 percent of GDP to be spent on defense and 20 percent of that to be spent on basically filling in capability gap with modern systems.

These nations are a model for the trajectory they are taking their defense spending.  They are serious about it.  They are setting an example of growing their defense.

In the case of Estonia, they're already at 2 percent and going higher.  Lithuania, Latvia are on the right track.

We salute what they're doing.  The American people are heartened by what they're doing.

And we have no reservations about the direction they're on.  We're completely aligned with them.  OK?

STAFF:  I’m afraid that is as much time as we've got.  Thank you so very much for questions.  Thank you for coming.