Media Availability with Secretary Mattis en route to India
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis
SEC. MATTIS: So I'll basically read through something here, because I took some notes to make sure I didn't forget something, and then we'll go to Q&A, OK?
OK, first of all, thanks for coming on the trip. I know there are a lot of other things you could be doing, especially on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Washington, D.C.
But we're on our way to India, and with two great democracies, India and the United States, are natural strategic partners because we share common values, and we now describe ourselves as natural partners.
President Trump stated during his June meeting with Prime Minister Modi, the relationship between India and the United States has never been stronger, and I think that's pretty much an objective fact.
We have a historic opportunity to set a refreshed partnership between our nations, and it's a partnership built on respect, trust, and the shared values of democracy, freedom of expression and human dignity. And our vision aims to support an open, just and rules-based global order.
With Prime Minister Modi's government, I'm going to be discussing our joint efforts to advance common goals through a broader strategic exchange of views, basically putting meat on the structure, ladies and gentleman, not only in terms of U.S.-India partnership, but how the United States and India can work together to build partnerships across the region.
India, from our perspective, is clearly a pillar of regional stability and security. We share a common vision for a peaceful and prosperous vision in the Indo-Pacific region, one that's based on that strong, rules-based international order, and the peaceful resolution of disputes and territorial integrity.
Our shared vision of partnership is not based on narrow interests, nor is it to the exclusion of any other nation.
In particular, I want to applaud India's invaluable contributions, significant contributions, to promote Afghanistan's democracy, stability and security in the fight against terrorism.
Plus, we have a host of other issues to work with more vigor as well, as we look toward the future.
I will be laying a wreath at India Gate, and this is where we recognize the valor and the heroism of 82,000 Indian soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II in the fight against militarism.
I will meet with Minister Sitharaman for the first time. She's the newly appointed minister of defense.
U.S. and India defense cooperation has steadily expanded in recent years, underpinned by our common objectives and goals in the region. This cooperation will benefit both economies, while reducing any legacy, trust issues between our two democracies.
The Department of Defense's designation of India as a major defense partner reflects the progress made in strengthening our security cooperation.
My goal on this trip is to promote pragmatic progress between us and our defense partnership, delivering defense interoperability, aligned with Prime Minister Modi and President Trump's direction, because in this wide-ranging new relationship, security is on of the key strategic pillars.
We will continue this discussion in the future with Indian National Security Advisor Doval and Prime Minister Modi, a discussion that will continue to broaden and deepen in the months ahead, when Secretary Tillerson and I meet together with our counterparts. Steady engagement will be our watchwords for the path ahead.
Again, this is a historic opportunity for our two democracies, a time of strategic convergence. We will be working on this trip and in the future to bring our bureaucracies up to speed by underlining our commonalities in our approaches and our objectives.
So, that basically gives you a framework, ladies and gentlemen, for why I'm going, what we have in mind, not just on this trip, but how it fits into the broader agenda and the longer term agenda.
So, why don't we go to any questions that you have here.
Go ahead, Tom.
Q: Thank you for doing this, Mr. Secretary.
There's been a lot of talk about India of late in the context of Pakistan and Afghanistan, too. You mentioned Afghanistan just now in your comments. Some -- a lot of people in Pakistan took umbrage with the way that their relationship is characterized by the president recently.
I wonder, like, how -- how are you going to -- when you're in India, how are you going to make sure that you can energize that relationship without there being any kind of consequence in terms of how the Pakistanis -- because it's a very difficult balance that you have to strike. So how -- how do you juggle -- or how you balance that?
SEC. MATTIS: The relationship that we are building with India is not to the exclusion of other countries. It is specifically designed for inclusion using a rules-based order that any nation that is living by the traditional rules of non-interference in other states in today's age of anti-terrorism, they will not find this relationship in any way adversarial.
Q: Is there a signal, though, you're sending at all by going to India in the wake of the new AfPak strategy that Pakistan will take one way or another?
SEC. MATTIS: Yes, the new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, as you know, started from a regional point of view. We did not start it with Afghanistan and work out. We actually started with South Asia, as a region, and worked to refine how we would deal with the terrorist problem in Afghanistan.
So, the message would be that we continue to work the regional aspect as we come up with a mutual, wide-ranging counter-terrorism campaign, because terrorism is a bane to any country out here, and a lot of countries have paid a stiff price to the terrorists.
So, that is the message, one of inclusion, not one of exclusion, of rules-based order, of a broad mutual cooperation against terrorists, and certainly of strategic convergence right now with India, between India and the United States.
Q: What would you like to see India do in terms of helping with the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan?
SEC. MATTIS: India has been a constant supporter of the fight against terrorists in Afghanistan. Over the years, it's contributed tens, even hundreds of millions of dollars, for building the society, building the -- these public services. They have helped train in India, had officers come there for schooling. They've been a great asset, and we would see them continuing along the lines they have already chosen, and looking for any other areas that they may believe appropriate to the relationship with Afghanistan.
Q: Does that include security cooperation, sir?
SEC. MATTIS: Well, the security cooperation India has provided is training. It's building the underpinnings of the government that actually builds the affection and respect of the people of Afghanistan to a government that delivers. It's absolutely critical to security that the people of Afghanistan feel hope for the future. No nation has probably contributed more bilaterally than India in building that hope.
Q: Can you expand a little bit on how, given the kind of strategic awkwardness the U.S. has with Pakistan right now, and the relationship, particularly in terms of this kind of tough love that you guys are, I think, trying to exhibit toward Pakistan? How do you want to balance as you visit India and ask for more reinforcements and more support in Afghanistan and not exacerbate that -- this kind of strategic awkwardness between the U.S. and Pakistan?
SEC. MATTIS: Pakistan has come out recently again saying that they are fighting the terrorists. I think Pakistan will find nothing out of line with India and the United States alignment in the same fight.
Q: On the issue of Afghanistan, when President Trump met with President Ghani this week at the United Nations, a big part of the public statement that the White House put out was on Afghanistan’s minerals. I'm wondering, how big of a priority that is for you when it comes to military operations in Afghanistan?
SEC. MATTIS: A nation that has security can do a lot of things. They can provide schooling for their children. They can provide public health. They can provide the stability with which commerce can thrive.
In this case, Afghanistan is blessed to have a lot of mineral wealth.
President Ghani's point is that this wealth can be exploited if we can achieve a level of security, and that that wealth will help build for a poverty-stricken country economic hope for the people.
So, I don't think there was anything different between President Trump and President Ghani's view of the future, the contribution of an economy that starts growing and building per-capita income for people who've lived well below the poverty line.
Q: Last year, the focus under your predecessor, Secretary Carter, was a lot about maritime work and dealing with the south -- maritime patrols, trying to get India more involved in the South China Sea issue. Is that going to be a focus again this year, or has the focus shifted now to Afghanistan.
SEC. MATTIS: Yes, again, this is my first visit to India, my first visit with my counterpart, first cabinet official from this cabinet to go to India to visit. The first thing I need to do is listen to them, and what are their needs? What are their interests? And look to see where our interests converge, where they overlap.
So, I'll sort this sort of thing out once I'm there, but I'm going to initially do a lot of listening.
Q: Back to Afghanistan one time. The -- what is the U.S. assessment on the level of Taliban control in Afghanistan? Has it gotten larger in the past few months?
SEC. MATTIS: Yes, I think the last few months have seen the Taliban continuing to fight, but not achieving the same level of success they'd had before.
But I cannot give you the specifics right now in terms of percentages of land and all, but they have not achieved the success they have broadcast that they were going to, clearly. You know, that has not happened.
Q: Have they made any gains?
SEC. MATTIS: Have they made any gains? They've had gains and losses both.
Q: Sir, can -- President Ghani said that he would like to see 80 percent of the country under government control, I think, in the next four years. Is that a realistic goal?
SEC. MATTIS: The campaign plan right now has got 39 nations aligned with troops on the ground there in Afghanistan, and there is a military campaign aligned with a counter-corruptions campaign, aligned with an increased government services campaign, and these are all integrated. Counter narcotics campaign, that's focused differently than it was before. These are all integrated. And, absolutely, I believe it's achievable.
Q: What are some of the metrics for your success in Afghanistan?
SEC. MATTIS: Yes, I'm not prepared to give those yet, because I need to get to Afghanistan, and I need to sit down in Brussels with the other nations and talk with them together about what the metrics are, and make certain we all put our heads together on this.
So, once I have that, I'll get very specific. In general terms, you know what the metrics are, but I want to get a lot more specific.
Q: On North Korea, what is the U.S. military concern over North Korean threats to detonate a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific? There's ton of commercial airliners --
SEC. MATTIS: What is the military concern about a hydrogen bomb in North Korea?
Q: Uh-huh. What is the U.S. military concern over the North Korean threat to detonate the hydrogen bomb over the Pacific?
SEC. MATTIS: I mean, there has not been a detonation like that above ground, I don't even remember, 35 years -- don't quote me on that number of years. This would be a shocking display of irresponsibility toward global health, toward stability, toward non-proliferation.
Q: Would it be an act of war?
STAFF: Thank you, guys.
SEC. MATTIS: Yes, I think that's about it now. I really want to stay on India for right now, folks.
Q: Do you have anything to say about the NFL being someone who has served in the military?
SEC. MATTIS: I'm the secretary of defense. We defend the country.
STAFF: Thank you.