Media Availability with Secretary Mattis
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS: I think I also had -- what was it -- some kind of -- (inaudible) -- something --
Q: Lots of powers.
So on that note, I wanted to ask you -- let me know if it's off the record or on the record. You know, yesterday, you responded to Trump's tweet. He said, talking is over, you know -- I'm not sure exactly what he said -- talking is not the answer. And you were asked about that tweet, and you said --
SEC. MATTIS: No, I was asked if there are any diplomatic efforts --
SEC. MATTIS: -- left. And I said, "Of course." And diplomatic can include economic sanctions -- (inaudible) -- not just talking. It didn't contradict anything the president said. We're not talking to the North Koreans right now.
Q: That's what I took it as, but it was widely interpreted --
SEC. MATTIS: Well, they wouldn't know-- it was widely misinterpreted, then. I can't -- I can't help people who misinterpret things.
SEC. MATTIS: I'll do my best to call it like I see it, but right now, if I say six and the president says half a dozen, they're going to say I disagree with him. (Laughter.) You know. So let's just get over that.
And if that's the story that some people want to write, then they'll find the way, they'll sort out something. But there was nothing contradictory there.
The president made very clear, we're not talking to North Korea right now. And my job is to provide military options, but we're never out of diplomatic -- diplomatic is a lot more than just the narrow slice of talking to North Korea.
SEC. MATTIS: There was no contradiction at all there.
Q: Is that on the record or off?
SEC. MATTIS: On the record.
Q: But you have to be concerned about the way the Koreans fired that missile and it overflew Japan. It's -- because, for at least three weeks, it looked like they were -- they were on -- sort of hearing what the world was saying.
SEC. MATTIS: Yes, they might have been. I don't get into that. I agree it was a reckless, provocative act, firing that over Hokkaido. Absolutely. But I -- and you never heard me say -- you know, we were watching what they were doing, but I did not know what, in fact, they were thinking, whether or not they were really throttling back or not.
Q: Sir, you've said in the past that you would know within minutes where it was headed, and whether to shoot it down.
Did you know, as soon as it took off, where it was heading and that it would land in the ocean? And what was the decision-making process in terms of when will you shoot it down and when won't you?
SEC. MATTIS: I will not address the latter, so we don't -- we will defend ourselves and our allies. Yes, we knew within minutes where it was going.
Q: And are you seeing any signs of preparations for a nuclear test?
SEC. MATTIS: They could do something like that on relatively short notice. I won't get into what we're able to identify.
Q: Sir --
Q: Are you concerned about the recent threats to Guam, again, that the Korean dictator has been giving? And I mean, frankly, are you guys making any progress on this? And how do you feel about how things are escalating?
SEC. MATTIS: You know, I have military options for the protection of American interests, American -- Guam -- territory of Guam, Alaska, Hawaii, United States, allies.
Q: Could I ask about --
Q: But, I mean, when you hear -- when you hear things coming from Russia and China up in the U.N~., saying, "The United States doesn't need to be" -- or "needs to back off; South Korea needs to back off and not make these military responses," that's got to be frustrating for you, right?
SEC. MATTIS: No, it's not. They're entitled to their opinion, I guess. I think, if the person was talking about attacking the island of -- Hainan Island in China, or was talking about attacking Kamchatka peninsula in Russia, they might look at it a little differently.
But the -- when you saw -- again, in the United Nations Security Council, two nights ago, what they call the president statement out of the U.N~. security -- the presidential statement, and you look at the unanimous vote of the Security Council a week before, I mean, you can see the world is pretty united on this, whether or not we're able to carry it into effective action. We'll have to see -- but those are part of -- that's part of diplomacy.
Q: Could I ask about -- (inaudible)? So you have the number of troops -- actual number of troops out there now. You said that was the first step.
SEC. MATTIS: Yes.
SEC. MATTIS: Yesterday, we tried to get, you know, the -- you know, we wanted to get that straight first. And so I wanted to be certain what I was telling you was accurate.
SEC. MATTIS: So it took us a little while to make certain it was.
Q: So now with the additional troops that you've -- (inaudible) -- given the authority for, you know, have you signed any orders? How close are you to signing orders to send additional troops?
SEC. MATTIS: Yeah. Yes, I've signed orders, but it's not complete. In other words, I've signed some of the troops that will go, and we're -- we're identifying the specific ones. Yes.
Q: (inaudible) -- I mean, how many are we talking right now?
SEC. MATTIS: No. I'll -- I'll brief you on that --
Q: (inaudible) -- 82nd Airborne?
SEC. MATTIS: Pardon?
Q: Can you confirm there are some elements of the 82nd --
SEC. MATTIS: No -- (inaudible) --
Q: Are they combat troops or trainers?
SEC. MATTIS: Well, let me just be real clear. When you go into Afghanistan and you're carrying a gun, you're going into a combat zone. I don't buy -- don't get me wrong -- the fight will still be carried by the Afghan security forces plus the 38 other allies who are there alongside us.
And we'll be working -- we have some counterterrorism strike teams that are there, as you know, that by and large this is to enable -- by and large, this is to enable the Afghan forces to fight more effectively. It's more advisers. It's more enablers -- fire support, for example. And there are some other things --
Q: Are the forces you signed for en route? Are they en route, sir, the forces you signed for -- signed the orders for?
SEC. MATTIS: I don't think -- well, there's always some who are going in, and probably the specific alignment of some of those forces are starting to align with the decision to put more enablers in. In other words, you'll start seeing the change, even in the forces who are there as they become more aligned to the president's new assigned mission.
Q: Right, but you said you signed some orders. So those forces that you've signed for this particular mission?
SEC. MATTIS: Okay, but I sign orders every week.
Q: I understand. That's my question, sir. Are they on their -- are they on their way?
SEC. MATTIS: Well, there are troops on the way. Yeah.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
SEC. MATTIS: He just made the decision. I just signed the orders. It's going to take a couple of days --
Q: Mr. Secretary?
SEC. MATTIS: Yes. How are you?
Q: There have been some stories indicating that you're in some ways breaking with the president, contradicting the president.
SEC. MATTIS: Yeah.
Q: He comes out and says we're done talking with North Korea. (inaudible) -- you say we're never done talking. Just what --
SEC. MATTIS: No, what I said was -- I was asked yesterday "are we out of diplomatic options?" I said no. I mean, from diplomacy to economic sanctions to working with other countries. He said it's not the right time to talk with North Korea. That's a narrow slice of diplomatic options. So there was no contradiction. I do not agree -- I agree with the president we should not be talking right now to a nation that's firing missiles over the top of Japan, an ally.
So I was asked -- he said, "We're not talking to them." I agree 100 percent. We're working diplomatically with Rex Tillerson -- Secretary Tillerson in the lead, and I maintain behind that military options for the president to back up the diplomacy.
But we're not done with diplomacy as you saw as recently as less than 36 hours ago, Ambassador Haley at the U.N. getting the U.N. Security Council to unanimously agree on a president of the Security Council statement. Diplomatic options continue. That's what I was referring to. No disagreement with the president.
Q: I wanted to talk about the overall view, the stories coming out now --
SEC. MATTIS: Yeah.
Q: -- that both you and Secretary Tillerson are almost distancing yourself from the president. You had Secretary Tillerson say, "The president speaks for himself."
I just want you to talk in general about that sense out there --
SEC. MATTIS: Yeah.
Q: -- you and Tillerson, as sort of backing away from what the president says.
SEC. MATTIS: Yeah, I've seen this now for months and I -- I'll give you an example.
Some of you may have seen a -- I walked out of a -- out of a building in Jordan. And a couple hundred young troops there harassing me. (Laughter.) Wonderful, youthful, rambunctious young troops out in the middle of the desert there, just enjoy serving America at the far reaches.
So I walked over and talked to them. I'd gotten up at 3:30 that morning, because it was Tuesday morning and I wanted to hear the president's Monday night speech about the additional troops for Afghanistan.
If you'll remember, the first, I don't know, three, four, five, six paragraphs was about America coming together. And so, fresh in my mind a couple hours later, and I used that theme to say that, you know, we've got to come back together, get that fundamental friendliness. "You guys -- military guys, you hold the line as our country comes back together."
And people took -- literally, I -- I'm using the president's thoughts and they thought that I was distancing from the president. So I mean, it shows how ludicrous this really is.
I mean, I'm not trying to make -- I mean, I'm not trying to make fun of the people who -- who write along those lines. But I literally can take the president's themes and use them, and I'm still seen as at odds with the -- I think this is more someone's rather -- rather rich imagination.
Q: But, sir, are you -- are you concerned that the divisiveness in the U.S. that showed itself in Charlottesville is actually a danger to the unity of troops in the field?
SEC. MATTIS: No, it's not a danger to the unity of the troops in the field.
The -- the way our military is organized, the leaders -- and by leaders, I mean the sergeants and the gunnery sergeants, the chief petty officers, the lieutenants, the captains -- there is such a cohesion to the U.S. military.
There's a reason this is a -- this is national jewel, this U.S. military. It's a national jewel. And that almost insulates it in a very proud way from something like we saw in Charlottesville. I mean that -- that would never be tolerated. It would never be accepted, not from the most junior corporals to the senior admirals. They wouldn't accept something like that.
Q: Mr. --
SEC. MATTIS: That's not to say it's not a concern, because this lack of a fundamental friendliness among all of us, something I think the president brought up very well in those opening paragraphs of the Afghanistan speech -- I -- I -- agree a hundred percent with the way the president characterized that.
Q: Mr. Secretary --
SEC. MATTIS: If you go back and read that again, you'll see just -- it goes to the heart of what you're saying. There's a broader issue here, but it's not impacting the military.
Q: Mr. Secretary, why -- why don't we see you briefing in the briefing room?
SEC. MATTIS: What's that?
Q: Why don't we see you briefing in the briefing room?
SEC. MATTIS: I -- I prefer -- I'm from the West. I like -- I like informal -- you know, if you get into discussions like here --
Q: We can do that now --
SEC. MATTIS: -- it seems like it's -- you know, you sit there like dutiful students -- you're not dutiful at all. (Laughter.) I'm up there like the professor knows everything. I don't know everything. I read the Early Bird every day, because somehow I read things that you guys know, I say, "I want an answer here," you know.
Q: Sir, if --
SEC. MATTIS: I just don't -- you know --
Q: So are we ever going to see you in the briefing room?
SEC. MATTIS: Oh, I'll come down there. (inaudible).
Q: This is not a social request.
Q: (inaudible). Plus we do have a multi-million-dollar briefing room with state-of-the-art technology. We're all standing around recording on our iPhones.
SEC. MATTIS: I'll work on it, okay?
Q: Mr. Secretary --
SEC. MATTIS: I understand. It's just --
Q: Thank you.
SEC. MATTIS: It -- I prefer -- I don't see you all as adversaries. I see you as at times allowed to be more skeptical than I can be in a leadership role, and skepticism is part of a healthy -- keeping the organization healthy.
And I think I do better here when people are trying to calculate each word, because I want -- I'm on TV now, and you're on TV, and all that sort of thing.
Q: Sir, I --
SEC. MATTIS: -- more honest and open communication in an environment like this.
Q: Mr. Secretary, along those lines, you know, the president came out and talked about the Afghan strategy. It was very bare bones. Everyone who heard that speech thought the same way.
Can you come out and talk about the way ahead in Afghanistan and give us a -- why will 4,000 troops make a difference when 100,000 troops couldn't? I mean, we have -- we all have many questions about the way ahead there.
SEC. MATTIS: Yeah.
Q: Does this make sense and how long this will take.
SEC. MATTIS: Yeah. I'm going to go up -- I'm going to talk on Capitol Hill shortly and it's not that I -- I have to go up there and talk to them first. But in their role of oversight, as the representatives of the American people, I think I owe them that discussion. And so they don't have to read about it first here. It's -- it's more a sign of respect for the Congress and their role.
And had this been other than August when we finally came to the decision, I probably would have been up on the Hill the next day after the president. I would have been talking to you shortly after. So, I'll be down to talk to you. I just wanted to --
Q: Sir -- sir, on the trip, you mentioned that you needed --
SEC. MATTIS: Yeah. I mean, I think it was in the press this morning that we were talking up on the Hill -- Secretary Tillerson, Director Coats and myself, maybe the chairman, on the 6th of September. So very soon.
Q: You mentioned on the trip that you needed a baseline number of troops. Now that you have that -- you said you wouldn't mention, you know, troop -- the number of troops, but you'd mention capabilities. So -- and you mentioned fire support. So is that HIMARS? Or what --
SEC. MATTIS: Yeah, I'm not going to get into that level of detail right now.
SEC. MATTIS: Here's the point I'm making, that I'm going to also not say some things about this in the future, but I owed the American people transparency and frankly honestly on what's there now, and not because I inherited the number that I could not look you in the eye and say that's what's there. I was going to get that straight.
And because our reporting processes down to units spread all over the place had been set up for this kind of -- of accounting, I had to change the reporting processes just in order to make certain what I told you was accurate.
Q: And just a point of clarity. You mentioned signing deployment orders. Was that related to the new South Asia strategy?
SEC. MATTIS: Yes.
Q: What did you sign deployment orders for?
SEC. MATTIS: I'm not going to say that yet.
Q: So you said -- you had a press conference here yesterday where you talked about transparency. Now, are you going to tell people eventually what the new additional number is? Or is transparency only related to the past?
SEC. MATTIS: Yeah.
Q: Which is it?
SEC. MATTIS: I'll give it to you about how many more we're sending.
Q: And will you give transparency on -- I'm sorry -- on the numbers for -- full transparency on the numbers for Iraq and Syria?
SEC. MATTIS: When -- when I get them straightened out, yes.
Q: So last thing --
SEC. MATTIS: I want to get them right.
Q: Right. I don't want to belabor the point on access to the media, but if you come in here, can you please consider having some process by which we all know. The problem is that when it's very ad hoc, it leads to holes in the reporting when we don't all know.
Q: If you could just consider a process for letting us know.
SEC. MATTIS: All right. Now, I'll --
Q: I'm only asking you because --
SEC. MATTIS: -- I could make it a lot more rigid, trust me. (Laughter.) It'll be on a -- on a very steady timeline.
Q: Now, we -- now, that's no fun.
Q: I just want to -- I just want to clarify, the orders that you've just signed, so I can report it right -- they are in addition to the 11,000 approximation that are currently in Afghanistan? These are new troops that are going to be heading to Afghanistan for the new --
SEC. MATTIS: Yes, but I'm not going to give you the details right now until I've talked to the Congress.
SEC. MATTIS: And I have signed them.
Q: Okay. Thank you.
Q: Sir, you mentioned that you are frustrated with reporting suggesting that there's a difference between your point of view and the president's point of view on a variety of issues.
SEC. MATTIS: Not on -- what -- on very specific things, as I look at them, like what I said to the troops and was caught on YouTube, what -- I read the press reporting this morning, which basically shows that I think that -- I guess, that I was contradicting the president, who said it's not time to talk to the North Koreans.
I didn't say that. I said it -- we're not out of diplomatic options, I think is the question I was asked. So, yes, it frustrates me when I see something that is so obviously at odds with reality. Yes.
Q: So, on the transgender issue, is there any difference between your point of view and the president's point of view? Do you think transgender troops should not be recruited? Or is that open to -- after this study -- to being revisited?
SEC. MATTIS: Yes, right now, I'm putting together the study. The president's given us the direction, he's given me -- he wouldn't have given me the time if they have -- it was just -- if there wasn't needed -- some kind of review.
And so, on the one hand, you want as many Americans to serve as possible. On the other hand, the effectiveness and lethality and deployability of the military -- those bookends exist. And now I'm going to bring in some people, civilians, if they get confirmed, who will actually have to carry out the policy, and they're going to sit down and look it over.
And so that --
Q: But you agree with the president?
SEC. MATTIS: The president gave me the time to look at this. And he's -- he -- obviously he wanted me to do something, or he would have said, "I want something done tomorrow."
He's told me what he wants, in theory -- in broad terms, and now he's leaving it up to me. I'd -- I'll have to read the actual words in there, but obviously, now, I'm going to respond as the president wanted me.
Q: Sir, what would you say --
Q: But the individuals who are currently serving and who have self-identified as transgender -- do you have a number on that?
SEC. MATTIS: No, I don't. I'm sure we -- we can find one, but, no, I don't have it.
Q: Do you -- do you think it's in the hundreds?
SEC. MATTIS: I don't want to -- I'd prefer to say yes or -- what the number is. I'm not going to do it.
Q: If I could just go back, shortly, to the negotiations, when you made your comments --
SEC. MATTIS: To the negotiation of what?
Q: -- when -- on what you said yesterday, concerning today's --
Q: North Korea.
SEC. MATTIS: Yes.
Q: Had you read the president's tweet?
SEC. MATTIS: Yes, I -- yes, I had, at that -- by that time in the morning. I read the Early Bird, and on the last page, they've got tweets and all, and I read it every day. So I'm sure I -- (Laughter.) -- I'm sure I'd read it, yes.
SEC. MATTIS: But the question was, "Are we out of diplomatic options?" No, we're not. And it was not, you know, "Should we talk now with the North Koreans?" to which case I would have said no. I agree with the president exactly. We don't do that right now.
Q: Given that you had read the tweet, though, were you trying to clarify what the president was saying?
SEC. MATTIS: No. I was answering the question. "Are we out of diplomatic options," was the question. So I answered the question.
Q: Sir, going back to the transgender issue --
Q: -- the question of daylight. It seems, every time there's something the president says that upsets half the country, there's a call for the generals -- you, Kelly, McMaster -- should resign for something.
Could you talk -- answer those critics of -- what -- just tell them, while you're serving, have you ever had those thoughts cross your mind, in this administration, would that have crossed your mind?
SEC. MATTIS: You know, when a president of the United States asks you to do something, I come -- I don't think it's an old-fashioned school at all I don't think it's old-fashioned or anything. I don't care if it's Republican or Democrat, we all have an obligation to serve. That's all there is to it.
And so you serve, and you -- I mean, the first time I met with President Trump, we disagreed on three things in my first 40 minutes with him, on NATO, on torture and something else, and he hired me. This is not a man who's immune to being persuaded if he thinks you've got an argument.
So anyway, press on.
Q: Secretary, on South Asia, how do you see Pakistan's reaction? Yesterday they had canceled three high-level business meetings with the U.S. (inaudible) -- Pakistan National Assembly passed a resolution that says the statements coming from the U.S. are hostile and threatening in nature. What kind of relations do you see in Pakistan now? And what are the options Pakistan has?
SEC. MATTIS: We intend to work with Pakistan in order to take the terrorists down. I think that's what a responsible nation does.
Q: What kind of a timeline for this?
Q: Sir, they did a report out there on the Russian ambassador to the U.S. has called for the resumption of military-to-military contacts between Russia and the United States. What do you think about that?
SEC. MATTIS: The NATO policy right now on military-to-military is no business as usual, based on the -- what just happened in Ukraine -- in Crimea.
Q: Sir, Congress is coming back just next week, so two questions -- two issues, really, for you right now. One is the budget, which obviously ends in September.
SEC. MATTIS: Yes.
Q: How confident are you that there's going to be resolution to that?
SEC. MATTIS: Well, I mean, there'll be a resolution --
Q: There will be a budget, a C.R. --
SEC. MATTIS: We will work with them. We've already got meetings scheduled to sit down with them and talk with them about the way forward.
Q: Are you confident a C.R. will happen to get you through at least a couple months?
SEC. MATTIS: No, this is up to Congress. That's why I need to sit down and talk with them. Is it going to be a budget, is it going to be a C.R. -- it'd be a short-term C.R. -- all those things, we've got to work with Congress on.
Q: And then, today, you just mentioned you needed some people to come in. Yesterday, Dana White mentioned, similarly -- need some people to come in to fill those spots.
SEC. MATTIS: Yes.
Q: How confident are you asserting these spots, especially the undersecretary of policy, which has been empty for a while?
SEC. MATTIS: Yes, well, they -- all of them that are empty have been empty since January 22nd. So, yes, they'll fill them. It's a process -- you know.
Q: Are you seeing an actual impact in the building from the spots being empty?
SEC. MATTIS: So far, we're trying to avoid that, you know?
Q: If you could do one more --
Q: Sir, one --
Q: -- on India and China, that -- looks we're in a descent to a standoff --
SEC. MATTIS: Yes, looks like -- up there, it looks like both sides have found a way to reduce the tension up on the Indian-Chinese border. And so we think it's been handled in a way that it won't go to any more tension -- go the other way, to calm down. Yes.
SEC. MATTIS: Yes, I'm hopeful.
Q: Sir, on the transgender issue, what would you say to the troops -- transgender troops who are currently serving, and have spent their -- have spent decades in the military? What would you say -- or have spent a certain amount of time in the military -- what would you say to them, who -- they may be feeling in limbo, not knowing what's going to happen next?
SEC. MATTIS: That's exactly why the chairman came out immediately and said, "Everyone just stand fast until we get the direction from the president."
We now have that direction. We're going to study the issue. Everyone, stay focused; as I said in the -- what came out in the YouTube videos, hold the line, hold the line, hold the line. Everyone, just keep holding on until -- until we get through all the fights were in and all.
Q: Sir, could I just follow up on that? Could you clarify, on this transgender issue -- one of the --
SEC. MATTIS: Well, probably not, because -- that's why I'm calling in people to study it. (Laughter.)
Q: No, no, no. But, you know, one of the possible outcomes of this, that some of these --
SEC. MATTIS: I won't get into -- I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. I -- anything I say in this position would be seen as directing. They're in an organization where I've got certain authorities, and I don't want to prejudge this issue.
That's why I'm pulling people together, going to look at combat effectiveness and victory on the battlefield at the least cost. And by holding that on the one hand; on the other hand, any male or female -- anybody who wants -- who's a patriot, it's a touchstone to serve in the U.S. military.
And between that touchstone and the one that the grim realities of the battlefield have got to be taken into account, and everyone's got to carry their load, are we going to find that this is something that contributes to lethality, or not?
And so we'll -- we'll sort it out, but I'm not going to make any kind of calculations. By doing that, I would be -- I would be sending a message and I need to be open to what this -- this group is going to come back with.
Q: And if I could must follow up very quickly. You indicated that some nominees who should be confirmed soon will be key in this process with the transgender policy? Were there specific positions or nominees that you were thinking of?
SEC. MATTIS: The leadership -- the civilian oversight of the military, the civilian leaders who fill those 50-odd positions that are still not filled.
Q: Personnel and Readiness -- you mean -- or policy -- (inaudible) --
SEC. MATTIS: I mean, Army, Navy, Air Force -- Department of Army, Navy, Air Force -- all the folks.
I've got to go back to work.
Q: Listen -- (inaudible) -- time to stand around here all day. You know, we -- (Laughter.)
SEC. MATTIS: I like the way you think. (Laughter.)
Q: Thank you, sir.
Q: Thank you very much.
SEC. MATTIS: All right, then we'll do it.
Q: Thank you.