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Media Availability with Secretary Mattis Enroute to Washington, D.C.

May 11, 2017
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS: Okay.  We're coming out of London. I was in London to attend the U.K. government-sponsored conference on Somalia -- the way ahead in Somalia. As you're no doubt aware, President Farmajo has been elected, and he's got right now an economic and a governmental program to put Somalia back on its feet. It needs a security framework as well.

So we were working on how the future looks and what nations could commit what to what and get the framework right. It includes on the security side both a continued maturation of their security forces in the defenses against al-Shabaab, but it also includes a reconciliation program designed to pull the fence-sitters and the middle-of-the-roaders away from al-Shabaab. It's very well put together.

There were quite a few nations -- I don't remember quite how many nations and organizations, like from the Arab countries, African countries and World Bank, E.U. -- those kind of organizations. So it's very much a holistic approach to the situation that Somalia finds itself in.

There is certainly an attitude of renewed hope based on the election of what appears to be a very good leader in terms of understanding the need for military security, but as well economic efforts and certainly reconciliation is going to have to mark this way forward as well.

So, basically Prime Minister May kicked it off, saying that we have an opportunity here that we don't want to let go of. And then we began going around the room with various presentations and discussions about -- about the specifics of what the E.U. or what the other ones recommend -- the other nations recommend.

AMISOM has done a very good job in a very difficult position. For years, AMISOM and the Somali soldiers have fought against a pretty, pretty tough enemy that has sworn allegiance, as you know, to Al Qaida. And so it's an enemy that's got to be fought and the people have to be defended.

I had a private discussion with the president about his vision for the future, and I came away from that heartened.

So let me stop there and take a question or two -- (inaudible).

Q:  Can you tell us just a little bit about your meeting with the Turkish prime minister? How you think it went?

SEC. MATTIS:  Sure. This is separate now from the meeting on Somalia, okay? On -- on the margins, actually before the meeting began, I met with the Turkish prime minister. I would characterize it as the usual sort of honest, transparent and helpful discussion between two long-term NATO allies on issues that directly impact the security of NATO alliance; directly impact the security of Turkey; and how we work out the way ahead in regards to the continued offensive against ISIS.

Q: (inaudible) -- did you -- I mean, clearly Turkey has been opposed, and he specifically made some public comments the other day about this opposition to the arms agreement.

SEC. MATTIS: Yes.

Q: Do you feel like you've reached -- you've talked about being able to work this out. Were you able to work it out?

SEC. MATTIS: I have no doubt that Turkey and the United States will work this out with due consideration, significant attention paid to Turkey's security, to NATO's security, and the continuing campaign against ISIS. And Turkey is committed to that campaign just like the rest of NATO and the 68 nations that are aligned against ISIS.

And that includes in particular the campaign against the enemy's caliphate -- self-proclaimed caliphate in Raqqah.

Yes?

(CROSSTALK)

Q: So, a few times in the last couple of days you said that you're going to guarantee Turkey's security.  How are --

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. MATTIS: If I said I was going to guarantee it, no -- this is a hard-going fight and Turkey's security is a primary concern to us. In this world today, no one -- no one nation, no two nations can guarantee security. We must work together against an enemy that violates every -- every civilized norm. And this is -- there is only hard work ahead on this.

But I just wanted to be clear on that.

Q:  Sorry, I misspoke.

But how -- what can the United States do to reassure Turkey of -- about insecurity concerns? What are you planning to do to help reassure them?

SEC. MATTIS: Yes. When it comes to terrorist groups, we are unrelenting in our approach to a united front against them. And that's the way we're going to stay. We started that way. We've stayed that way. Oftentimes, it can be untidy as we deal with the polarities of time -- in other words, urgency -- and a group that must be thrown onto its -- (inaudible) -- if Turkey, if Europe, if all the nations that ISIS has threatened around the world are to be kept on the right trajectory for security, but there's no guarantee.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Just going back to the Somalia conference, we didn't get to hear your opening remarks. So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that.  And also -- also, if you could tell us, did you make any new commitments or pledges towards U.S. military involvement in the country?

SEC. MATTIS:  As you know, the U.S. -- this is on Somalia now -- the U.S. military has been involved in Somalia in the effort to build up the Somali capacity to defend itself.  That has involved basically two fundamental thrusts.

One is that where we can identify a terrorist threat, obviously we work by, with and through our allies to directly go after it. But also, and probably the way we have had the most involvement to date, has been the support, both equipment and training support of AMISOM forces. These are the African forces in support of Somalia that have been buying the time for Somalia to hold, for example, the election they just had; to get the police forces put together.

And they've had to do this in the face of the al-Shabaab threat. So it's really along two lines, our military support -- to AMISOM and the African forces and against terrorist threats. That's intel sharing, training, obviously strikes if the conditions are met, that sort of thing. That's where we've been and you'll see that continue.

We'll probably also do the continued equipping of the Somali army as they stand it up. In other words, not just to the AMISOM force, but continue to provide the basic kit that light infantry needs to go into the field.  We'll work on it. I honestly don't know how -- what the specifics are. I know we're going to provide a kit to them -- may or may not; I'm not sure.

Q:  (inaudible) -- in terms of additional U.S. forces going in?

SEC. MATTIS: No. The president did not ask for additional forces and the issue did not come up with President Farmajo today in my one-on-one with him, or in the larger group. I'm not -- that's a decision we'll take if it's broached to us and we'll decide yes or no in -- (inaudible).

Should I take another question?

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  (inaudible) -- Turkey's main concern is PKK. So, I just want to make sure what you were talking about before -- (inaudible) -- PKK at all, or is it only -- (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS: Okay, in regards to PKK, which is -- and we agree 100 percent with Turkey's concern about PKK, a named terrorist group. It is an -- conducting an active insurgency in Turkey. It has orchestrated the killing of innocent Turkish civilians and Turkish soldiers.

And we support Turkey in its fight against PKK as a fellow NATO member, just like all the NATO countries stand with Turkey against the PKK.

Q:  When you say you can keep the weapons out of the hands of -- are you confident -- and you told them you're confident U.S. can keep the weapons out of the hands of the PKK? Because that's their big concern.

SEC. MATTIS: We do not ever give weapons to the PKK. We never have and never will.