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Remarks by Acting Secretary Shanahan at an Enhanced Honor Cordon in Honor of Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham

May 23, 2019
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan

ACTING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE PATRICK SHANAHAN:  OK.  How is everybody?  OK?  All set?  Good. 

Jeff, you all good?

(UNKNOWN):  (off mic)

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Good.  OK.  These are our best friends.  Yeah, so. (Laughter.)

We -- there's lots going on in the world, so it's always a good chance to get to know you and then we can answer some questions.  But, Mr. Minister, it's so wonderful to have you here at the Pentagon.  I've been looking forward to this discussion for quite some time.

And, you know, Secretary Mattis speaks so fondly of the relationship he's built over time with Vietnam, and he gave me the assignment to make sure that I don't screw it up.  (Laughter.)

So, you know.  I'm hoping today will be the first of many discussions with you.  And then I look forward to discussions at Shangri-La.  But there's very strong work that we've done together.

But today will be about, not so much the honoring of our past, which there's much to recognize there, but how we're going to build on the future.  What collectively we can do on security in the South China Sea, what we can do in order to build interoperability, how we can support one another as we build up your self-defenses.

So with that, I'd just welcome any remarks that you have.  And it's -- with all sincerity, really excited to have you here today.


And thank you to all of you for very kind words, and also for welcoming in the Pentagon. 

I truly value the role of the Defense Department and yourself in strengthening the relations between Vietnam and the United States.  And we believe that the comprehensive balance between our two countries will continue to grow.  And I'm looking forward to have fruitful discussions with you on bilateral issues.  Thank you.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Very good.  Thank you. 

Q:  Mr. Secretary, why is General McKenzie at CENTCOM requesting additional force protection in the Middle East?  Have additional threats been identified?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Yeah, let me -- I'm glad you brought that question up.  The -- every day, as you're well aware, we have lots of intelligence that's shared.  So part of the conversation that's just normal is, "Do we have the right assets in the region?"  You know.  And this is very qualitative.  So it's not as though we can, like, instrument it and here's the exact number.  So those are the conversations that have occurred.

And when we were downstairs talking about, you know, numbers and everything, what I'd like to communicate is, the process that we'll go through.  So we'll have a conversation with General McKenzie much the same way -- like tomorrow, I'll have a conversation with General Miller in Afghanistan.  So it's just -- as we work things operationally, getting kind of the back-and-forth.

What was kind of surprising yesterday was that even though we were having these conversations, people started to speculate on numbers.  And this is where I think all of us have to manage the process because so many people are interested in what we're doing, and that's why I want to make sure we have these ongoing conversations.

But we'll talk.  The chairman will come see me.  He'll give me an update.  So today, because the president's going to leave town, we're going to go give the president an update on the security situation in Iran.  And I think that spun some of this.  We'll have a discussion with him.  If things change, then my plan will be to update Congress because they've, you know, been very clear.  "Keep us current." 

So, you know, back to your earlier question, this was the normal back-and-forth that we have with CENTCOM.  But we're at a higher elevated level, given all of this -- you know, the dynamics there in the Middle East, OK?

Q:  Mr. Secretary, you had said earlier this week that the threat to U.S. forces in the region had been put on hold.  What -- why do you need additional force protection now?  What are some of those threats that you continue to see?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Well, I haven't said that we're going to add additional resources.  But it's the -- this gets back to the risk of Iranian miscalculation.  So we're very protective of our men and women.  We're very protective of our interests in the region.

So first and foremost, just like you would with your, you know, teammates or men and women under your responsibility, make sure that we're at the right levels.  And so, you know, what you may find is that we're conservative, you know?  More protection is better than less protection.  So that's really been the nature of the dialogue.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, what has General McKenzie requested in terms of additional force protection measures? 

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Jeff, when we're ready to share that, you all here will be some of the first people to know.  But you can imagine, he's got a wide range of resources, just -- just so as you guys kind of think through this process, let's just say he asked for something.  We also have to think through where would that come from.

And so that's why this process goes back through the chairman.  So the chairman has to -- you know, if we said, "We'd like X," then the chairman has to see, "Well, where is X?"  And if you wanted to move X, how would go about doing that?

So this isn't about, you know, hiding anything.  There's some mechanics and there's a real process to this.

Q:  And is the United States concerned about the Russians using Cam Ranh Bay as a naval base?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  I am not aware of that as an issue, OK?

STAFF:  All right, folks.  Thanks.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  All right?  Hey, thanks everybody, OK?  Take care.