Secretary Mattis Hosts an Enhanced Honor Cordon Welcoming Minister for Foreign Affairs Gudlaughur Thór Thórdarson of the Republic of Iceland to the Pentagon

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis; Minister for Foreign Affairs Gudlaughur Thór Thórdarson of the Republic of Iceland

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS:  Minister Thórdarson, Ambassador Haarde, members of your delegation, you're all welcome here in the Pentagon.

In our two lands, as we both know from our history classes, basically, Minister, we share a long history tracing back to 1080.  That's when one of the best known heroes of the Viking age, Leif Erikson voyaged westward.  And we think -- we believe became the first European to set foot in North America.

And in modern times Iceland and the United States have forged a lasting friendship, really beginning in World War II when our troops stood with Iceland to deter German aggression.  And we worked together to secure vital shipping routes between Europe and North America.

And I think that wars -- hot wars, cold wars, may have brought us together.  But our relationship today is based on shared democratic values, not militarization, even while we recognize that our values need to be defended.

Since then, we have continued to fortify our nations' bonds; appreciating Iceland's efforts during the NATO operation in Kosovo when you provided critical medical and law enforcement support.  And we don't forget those days.  Thank you.

Thank you as well for Iceland's vote in the United Nations for peace and stability in the Balkans.  

Today we acknowledge the valuable part that Iceland plays in regional security.  

United by our shared values of individual freedom -- excuse me, rights and respect for the rule of law, and these are the values that remain paramount as we deter Russia that seeks to redraw international borders by force, and exercise a veto authority over democratic nations' political, or diplomatic, or economic or security decisions.

Geography is destiny.  And as in World War II and the Cold War, Iceland continues to serve as a critical outpost for ensured transatlantic security and stability.  So thank you for hosting temporary stationing of U.S. aircraft and personnel on rotation in and out of Keflavik.

And in the Arctic, where Iceland is keenly attuned, we appreciate your consultation and your advice.

Iceland and the United States continue to step forward together, bolstered by past cooperation in places like Kosovo, and seeking ways to further enhance cooperation on the GIUK gap today.  I look forward to discussing ways to further strengthen U.S.-Iceland relations so we may stand together for years to come.

So, Mr. Minister, you and your delegation, again are very welcome here, if you'd like to say a few words in front of the press.

MINISTER GUDLAUGHUR THÓR THÓRDARSON:  Thank you.  First of all, I'm delighted to be here with you, Secretary Mattis.  And as you mentioned we have -- our countries have a good and a long-standing friendship.  First of all (inaudible) ally and if we have a need so, we do not forget that you were the first one to recognize the Republic of Iceland in 1944.  

I'm glad you mentioned that we came here in the year 1000.  I often said that if the Indians would have been a little bit nicer to us, then we would be speaking Icelandic right now. (Laughter.)

But that's not the case.  And during my visit here in Washington, I am not only discussing security and defense, which we have exceptionally good relations, but also the Arctic, this is some growing concerns for not only our countries but the rest of the world.  And of course (inaudible), which has been good between our countries for a very long time.  

And I just want to thank you for your hospitality.  And I look forward to our discussion.

SEC. MATTIS:  Absolutely, and likewise.

Q:  Mr. Secretary?

SEC. MATTIS:  If members of the press will give us some time here, we'll get to work.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, a question on Iraq; are you angered by the results so far with the Iraq elections, given Muqtada al-Sadr's rule and the murder of so many U.S. and coalition troops?

SEC. MATTIS:  The Iraqi people had an election.  That's a democratic process at a time when people -- many people doubted that Iraq can take charge of themselves.  So we will wait and see the results -- the final results of the election.  But we stand with the Iraqi people's decision.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, was Hamas to blame for the violence yesterday in Gaza?  And did the Israeli's military handle that situation appropriately?  And with the movement of the embassy to Jerusalem...

SEC. MATTIS:  I prefer not to address that issue right now, until we've had all the facts in.

Q:  With the movement of the embassy to Jerusalem, is there a threat to U.S. forces in the region?

SEC. MATTIS:  Not -- no threat that we've detected.  Thanks.

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.