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Remarks By Acting Secretary Shanahan At An Enhanced Honor Cordon And Meeting Welcoming Albanian Minister Of Defence Xhaçka To The Pentagon

April 18, 2019
Acting Secretary Of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan; Albanian Minister of Defence Olta Xhaçka


ACTING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE PATRICK SHANAHAN:  the strongest press is in the Pentagon.  That's good, right?


Q:  One more question about North Korea.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Yeah.  After maybe a couple opening remarks and we'll --

Q:  Sure.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  -- take questions.

So first of all, welcome to your second trip to the Pentagon.  It's good to see you again after our introduction at NATO.

The relationship between our respective countries is strong.  And today, I think we'll have very productive discussions.

I understand you had a good visit to New Jersey, where you were able to work with the National Guard.  And I think it just speaks to the breadth of resources that we have here in the United States that will support Albania.

I do want to thank you for your contributions and being a model ally, whether it's being able to achieve two percent in terms of the -- the Wales Pledge, your role and participation in Afghanistan, to other contributions to NATO and other activities in and around the region.

Today is a wonderful opportunity for us to discuss how we can strengthen your capabilities, but also together address some of the threats, and work to make sure we have strong security for the future.



Thank you, Secretary Shanahan.  It's always a pleasure to be here.  Thank you dearly for the hospitality you've shown myself and my delegation.  Thank you for the opportunity to discuss firsthand about our partnership, the great work that we've done so far, but also the projects for the future.

This is the second time we are visiting in the space of a year.  And I think that this alone illustrates the strong strategic partnership and distinct bond that exists between our countries.

This is an important year for the alliance as it marks its 70th anniversary of NATO's founding.  But this is also very special year for Albania as well, as we -- a few weeks ago, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of our accession in our alliance.

 And I think I express the sentiment that is shared by all of the Albanian people when I say that we are deeply grateful for the unwavering support that the United States has given to Albania's NATO membership, which was obviously an extremely important achievement for all Albanians.

The United States has always been a great friend and ally to the Albanian people in Albania proper, but also in the western Balkans area.  The United States has been a great promoter of peace and stability, but also a great promoter of democracy and rule of law.  I know and we all know that without the generous support and that commitment of the United States, the fate of the region as we know it today would have been very, very different.

Also, allow me, Secretary Shanahan, to express the gratitude of the Albanian government to the United States' administration for standing very firmly on our side on key reforms that we are undertaking to build stronger democratic institutions and to strengthen the rule of law.  And especially on the reform of our justice system, which is crucial to our European Union integration process.

I can hardly overstate the importance of this support for pushing through some very difficult, but at the same time very crucial, reforms as we try to modernize our country.  We owe a great debt of gratitude to our allies, but especially to the United States, as we have been working very hard to repay that debt.

I'm very proud that in 10 years that we've passed since we have joined our NATO alliance, Albania not only has become a pillar of stability for the region, but also a net exporter of security.

With your assistance, we've been working hard to further develop our niche capabilities, including special forces, air surveillance, intelligence, EOD and CBRN.  And this investment and support has proven to be beneficial to our collective security.

I assure you that we will sustain and employ these capabilities acquired in operational theaters where United States and our NATO allies are present.

Modernization of our armed forces on the other side is always a priority, yet not an easy one to achieve.  But we've had the generous support of United States.

And we are extremely grateful that that support has just recently translated into the provision of a fleet of over a hundred armored vehicles dedicated to the light battalion -- Light Infantry Battalion Group, which has very recently been certified by NATO as combat-ready and interoperable for nations in operations of shared security.

For all this support and the fulfillment of these projects, I can't thank enough your staff, the Office of the Defense Attaché in Tirana, Commander Hilton, which I prefer to, sort of, count on this side of the table, as part of our delegation --


-- and also, the Office of the ODC.  Their professionalism, I have to say, is impressive and very inspirational.

Moreover, recently, you've approved two major projects of equipping the armed forces with Black Hawk helicopters and boosting our cyber-capabilities.  And I hope that this visit can further accelerate this process.

We also succeeded in less than a year to include the American military industry, through Lockheed Martin, in all of our major modernization projects.

Last but certainly not least, within this year, we hope to break ground on the alliance's first air base in the region in Kucova; a development that I believe recognizes Albania's role as an anchor of stability in the region, but also increases our strategic importance to the alliance as a whole.

This is a very important development in a region that has, in the recent years, become a hotspot of geopolitical rivalries and has witnessed a very concerted effort to undermine security and stability.

I think that we will have the opportunity to discuss further all these issues, also the level of our cooperation and joint engagements, as well as, sort of, the way forward to enhance our cooperation.

But allow me once again, Secretary Shanahan, to thank you for your hospitality, to thank you dearly for all the support you've been giving us.  Know that you can always count on us when you need us.  Our soldiers are your soldiers.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Thank you.  You're most welcome.  And we know we can count on you.  Thank you.


Q:  Mr. Secretary, what message do you think North Korea is sending to the United States with these -- with its testing, with some of their recent statements about the secretary of state needing to be replaced, and statements like that?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Right, yeah.  Right.

The -- you know, I'd give you a thoughtful answer in terms of all those messages.  But what I would offer, usually within the first 24 hours, you want to review the intelligence.  I mean, there's a, kind of, quick reaction.  That's why, you know, hesitant to make any kind of broad statements.

The test or the launch, depending on how you want to characterize it, was not a ballistic missile.  So I think that's a statement in and of itself.

But, you know, when you integrate these other messages, you could derive many different conclusions.

I would say, let us look at the intelligence that we've gathered and then formulate, really, kind of what the message is.

You could interpret a lot of things.  I'm not going to rush to judgment, okay?

Q:  Mr. Secretary --


Q:  I have a question.  Do you see any concerns in terms of Russian influence in the region?  Balkans region, I mean.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Well, that's why we're meeting today.  Or that's one of the main reasons why we're meeting today.

It's a -- it's a risk and it's why we're strong partners.  


STAFF:  Okay?

Q:  Sir, could you speak more about the -- your comments outside, that you're looking forward to having the F-35 delivered to Turkey?  Has Turkey sent any messages about reconsidering the S-400?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Well, my comment on the F-35 delivery was really more my optimism.  It was an expression of optimism to Defence Minister Akar.  The fact that I would go to deliver the F-35 represents that we resolve the S-400.  And that's what I am expecting we'll be able to solve.

And just, you know, maybe back to Minister Akar, he's got a very difficult job, and he's managing many, many different issues.  And in many areas, we're very much aligned.  And in others, you know, we have, you know, real difficult challenges to solve.

We have many, many discussions, and then the people working for us.  And that's to include Ambassador Jeffrey; he's not part of, obviously, the Department of Defense.  But there's a rich dialogue going on as we're addressing the situation in Syria.  And then disconnected from that is this S-400.

Q:  Are you any closer to coming to -- having a discussion, a final decision on the S-400?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  We're we're closer.  Okay?  Thank you.  Thanks, everybody.

Q:  Thank you.