Transcript

Remarks by Acting Secretary Shanahan at a Bilateral Meeting With Republic of Latvian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Dr. Pabriks

May 10, 2019
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and Republic of Latvian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Dr. Artis Pabriks

ACTING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE PATRICK SHANAHAN:  Well, welcome, Mr. Minister.  It's certainly good to see you.  It's only been a few short months, but it's been a lot of days.  We've been very busy in the Pentagon, but, so, welcome.  To be able to host you here, and I think we had good dialogue at NATO, earlier in the year.  

The thing I find very encouraging about Latvia is, you lead the way.  You know, in terms of contributions and participation in NATO, it’s been 15 impressive years.  But the level of spending, the level of procurement is significant.  

But the dollars aren't the only thing that matter.  It's the relationship and our partnership.  We're strong allies.  We see it in the training that we do.  And I think I'd be remiss in not expressing my condolences to the Albanian soldier that was killed in the...

LATVIAN MINISTER OF DEFENCE DR. ARTIS PABRIKS:  Thank you. 

SEC. SHANAHAN:  ... were wounded this week.  But your support in Afghanistan is significant.  

We -- I think we'll have good talks today about EDI, about our readiness initiatives.  And I think our time here in the Pentagon will be well-spent and I look forward to working with you in NATO.  Please. 

MIN. PABRIKS:  Thank you very much.  Well, DOD Defense Secretary, first of all, thank you for receiving me and my delegation here in the Pentagon and in Washington.  It's nice to be here among friends and allies, particularly among friends and allies in difficult times and in more pressured times.  

Because you have been always standing by us.  And we highly appreciate the United States' position regarding Latvia and the Baltic States, whenever it comes. 

So we are always ready to pay back with the same friendship.  And I think we have very much in common, also, within our transatlantic alliance because we are the nation which highly regards independence, freedom and also security.  

So from that perspective, we are also ready to pay for our capabilities and our army.  So we are one of the nations which is, according to the best standards of our NATO organization, paying 2 percent for our defense.  We just passed a budget for -- for this year, a bit too late because we had a change in government.  And we are working already for the next year.  We will just do the same.  

And we understand that we are also the outpost of West, so we are the border for NATO as well as for European Union.  

I also would like to say that we are really highly valuing our partnership in different international missions.  So we have been participating and living and sometimes also dying together with American soldiers, together in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places.  So that's where we are involved, also, now. 

Of course, looking from our perspective, it is highly important that we keep alliance alive, that we are serious about security and defense, and that we are keeping, let's say, our plans and everything together.  Because in this challenging world, no country alone can prosper without good cooperation.  

So from that perspective, we are thankful for your support, also military support to our region, to our country.  And we are ready to stand shoulder-by-shoulder with you. 

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Wonderful.  Thank you. 

MIN. PABRIKS:  Thank you. 

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Should we take some questions, what do you think? 

Go ahead. 

Q:  Mr. Secretary, I'm wondering if you anticipate a difficult confirmation process coming up here, particularly given the ongoing debate on the Hill about the border?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  You know, I've only heard that confirmation processes are difficult.  So, it's -- look, the confirmation process is important.  And the process of asking someone to demonstrate their credentials is critical.  

So I welcome the process.  I've had a couple years here to familiarize myself with the department and all the issues, and grown into the role.  So I look forward to working with the Congress. 

Q:  Mr. Secretary, have you seen changes in Iran's behavior or their posture since the U.S. announced additional forces will remain in the region? 

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Yeah, I would just say it's important that Iran understand that an attack on Americans or its interests will be met with an appropriate response. 

We're in the Middle East to defeat terrorism, fight and build security.  The clandestine insurgencies are really what we're there to address.  But we will protect ourselves and that's very important.

I won't really address what the Iranians are doing.  I just want to talk about what the Americans are doing.  We will position ourselves.  We will protect our interests.  But we're there to build security.  We're there to address violent extremism.  And that's our focus. 

Q:  Acting Secretary, on North Korea, can you clarify what was launched recently?  And the North Korean dictator just told his military to maintain a combat posture.  What does that mean for U.S. forces on the peninsula?  And what do you say to that? 

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Well, I would -- on North Korea, nothing has changed in the sense of, we're pursuing full denuclearization of the peninsula.  And that's being pursued diplomatically. 

From a military standpoint, our operations, our posture will not change.  We'll focus on our readiness.  And I think what's been reported in terms of missiles and rockets is accurate, OK?

Q:  Just back -- back to Iran for just one second. 

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Sure. 

Q:  Can you say if the U.S. is moving additional hardware into the region?  There's been some reports of Patriot missiles going back in. 

SEC. SHANAHAN:  We will protect ourselves, OK?  Thanks everybody. 

Q:  Thank you. 

SEC. SHANAHAN:  All right.  Take care.  Have a great weekend.  You didn't ask me about the border. 

Q:  I'll ask about it...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. SHANAHAN:  There you go, there you go.  Yeah. 

Q:  Would you answer?  Are you sending...

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Yeah.  I don't know why I have to ask all the questions.  Yeah.  So.  

Q:  Are you transferring $1.5 billion?  And does that include $600 million that was going to be going to Afghan...

SEC. SHANAHAN:  I am.  I am.  So, you know, a couple things.  I won't be reprogramming any more money for the border wall.  There was a billion and a half dollars that was reprogrammed.  Some of it did come from money we were under-running or saving or whatever terminology you want to use, from Afghanistan. 

The -- but we have very smart people here in the department.  And we found ways to do this without having any impact on readiness.  So -- and tomorrow, what I'll do is, go down with Kevin McAleenan and, yeah.

We'll do work on the airplane, we'll be doing work down there to really look at, "Are the things that we're supporting effective?  How do we -- how do we even be more effective?"  And then longer-term, how does he make sure he has the right capability.  And then I'll let you know how that goes, OK?  Thank you, everybody. 

Q:  Thank you.