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Remarks by Secretary Mattis and Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide at the Pentagon

May 17, 2017

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS: Madam Minister and all of your delegation, Ambassador -- just welcome to the Pentagon, of course -- a place where -- where Norway is always welcome.

It's a pleasure to see you again so soon after we just met last week in Copenhagen, and I think that, most especially on Norwegian Constitution Day -- a fine day. So that's why we put the extra cookies out -- (Laughter.)

Congratulations to you, to your nation, to your people and all that you stand for. It's -- it's always a privilege for us here at the Pentagon to host NATO's doorkeeper to the north.

I would just tell you that we also see eye to eye on the values basis of our NATO. And I do want to mention that our alliance stands for the defense of democracy, the defense of human rights and also freedom, just in general -- for freedom to think and do as we please.

And the enduring strength of the transatlantic bond that remains steadfast right now but just as it has so many years, through decades in the past, through every trial and tribulation, it's been strong all the way through. It continues today, and it will tomorrow.

Norway, from our perspective on this side of the Atlantic, is an essential NATO ally with invaluable expertise in the North Atlantic and the Arctic, and we want to thank you for sharing that expertise with us, and for supporting the U.S. Marine Corps cold weather training taking place today in Norway.

It is still cold weather (for our ?) -- (inaudible). (Laughter.)

MINISTER OF DEFENSE INE ERIKSEN SOREIDE: I can assure you.

SEC. MATTIS: Together, Norway and the American -- we are a testament to the military readiness and the interoperability that has been developed over years of devotion to NATO.

And your country is recognized as a front-line member of the defeat ISIS coalition, serving alongside -- our boys serving alongside each other down there, and we appreciate the contributions of your special operations forces and your training team, we’re keenly aware of what you're doing.

And the only problem with Norwegians is there are not enough of you. (Laughter.) We -- we could -- we'd love to see your country gaining in population -- (inaudible) -- I'll just leave it at that.

But thank you, as well, for staying the course with us in Afghanistan and sharing the burden of protecting respect, really, for what is international law, ultimately. That's what we're doing there.

We applaud Norway's acquisition of the F-35 and the P-8 aircraft, and we look forward to an even closer partnership with you as we bring those advanced capabilities online. And since the pledge your government made at Wales in 2014, Norway has steadily increased its defense spending as a percentage of GDP.

Your recognition of the threat and demonstration of political will are examples to all NATO allies. From this side of the Atlantic, we salute you for matching words with action, and respect you for strengthening our NATO alliance.

I look forward to our discussion here today, and to further strengthening of the defense relationship between our two nations. Relationships don't stay the same -- they either weaken or strengthen. We are dedicated, here, to strengthening that relationship.

Madam Minister, welcome. And if you'd care to say a few words, please.

MIN. ERIKSEN SOREIDE: I'd love to. And -- and thank you, Jim -- Secretary, for receiving me and my delegation here today.

It is, of course, a special day for us as well, since it is our Constitution Day. And it is a very fine way, in my opinion, to -- to actually celebrate that day, with -- being in a country that stands so close to the hearts of so many Norwegians, and has always done so.

You are absolutely right in the fact that we are strengthening our relationships. We are entering into cooperations that will only deepen in the years to come, and we have a longstanding history of decades of cooperating in crucial areas where I think that we can say that we mutually contribute to things that we could not do alone, or could not do each and one of us.

And that is why I feel like this relationship and this cooperation is just gaining pace, and we are actually on track of -- of making it even stronger. And I'm very glad to hear that you are satisfied, also, with the winter training for your Marines. I can assure you that they have had -- had a cold winter. They're happy, and they've also, I think -- they've lost some weight, actually, as I hear. (Laughter.)

Eating healthy, doing exercise and training, and they are well integrated, also, into local communities, and they are -- they are a very welcome part of the local community as well. I've spoken both to mayors and -- and inhabitants who are happy to have them there.

But you also touch upon some of the important issues, where we stand shoulder by shoulder in either developing NATO -- your leadership in NATO is extremely important to the alliance, and I have earlier on also commended you for your leadership, and I will gladly do so again, because I think that is vital to the alliance and vital to Europe.

And also in our (inaudible) SOF operations in the fight against ISIS -- it's extremely important that we continue to stay the course, and to actually be able to be flexible, also, when -- when the dynamics changes, which of course is -- it's a challenge.

So once again, thank you so much for -- for hosting us, and for taking the time to discuss some of the issues that we both care deeply about, be it our -- our soldiers being in operations, or the strategic challenges that is posed to the North Atlantic and the development of -- of NATO, and also our bilateral relationship.

So, again, James, it's -- is an honor to be here.

SEC. MATTIS: Thank you very much.

And again, you're all welcome here, and I would just tell you that you've always made our troops feel welcome in Norway, and I'm happy they've been behaving themselves. (Laughter.)

They can be a bit rambunctious at times. But thank you very much, to the members of the press for joining us.

Q: Madam Minister, can I just ask you quickly -- do you see Norway as having a continued role in Afghanistan? Have you been asked to provide any additional troops there?

MIN. ERIKSEN SOREIDE: Well, we -- we have always consistently said that we went in with our allies, and we're going to leave with our allies. So depending on what NATO takes as their next step, we will, of course, follow that discussion very closely, as will every country, I suppose.

And I think that we, some time through the summer, will see that NATO also makes some decision on what to do next with the Resolute Support mission.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can you give us, please, an update on -- on that -- on when you might be making your recommendations?

SEC. MATTIS: Yes, Tom, we're working on it. (Laughter.) Okay? We're working on it, and we will obviously engage quietly with our allies as we come to final decisions.

We will not come to final decisions without having allied input, and so it will be soon. But we're working on it. It's more important to get it right than do it hastily.

Q: Secretary Mattis -- I'm for the Norwegian broadcasting. Do you believe that enough NATO countries will contribute enough towards the two percent goal in sufficient time for the United States?

SEC. MATTIS: Well, it's a great question. I would just tell you that, when Norway steps up with leadership by example the way it does, I think it puts us -- the alliance in the best possible position, because here you are -- a nation known for its values, known for its willingness to contribute to international order -- and they see a situation today where they have to increase the burden that they're carrying. I think that example is probably the best answer to your question.

STAFF (?): (inaudible).

MIN. ERIKSEN SOREIDE: Thanks.

SEC. MATTIS: Thank you very much.