Press Topper Bilat at Pentagon with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Mihai-Viorel Fifor, Minister of Defense of Romania

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis; Mihai-Viorel Fifor, Minister of Defense of Romania


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS:  Minister Fifor and Ambassador Maior, good to see you.  General Ciuca and members of the delegation, welcome.  Welcome back to the Pentagon.

(UNKNOWN):  Thank you.

SEC. MATTIS:  And it was -- it's good to meet again, just after seeing each other at last July's NATO summit, where we last met and talked, and we'll see each other again in a little over a week once more in Brussels.  Grateful when a minister from a NATO country comes in, not just for the meetings here, but also, for the meetings elsewhere in Washington, where we keep -- keep your country's commitments well-known to our legislatures and -- and everyone else here in town.

And our countries do share a long history of cooperation, stretching back to 1880, when the United States first recognized Romania's independence.  And today, Romania and the United States reinforce that historic bond through our strategic partnership, and we're unapologetic about that.  We're proud of that partnership here in America, underpinned by our shared understanding of the -- of the security threats that we jointly face.

Next year, as the NATO alliance celebrates 70 years, we will also celebrate another significant anniversary: 15 years since Romania gained a coequal seat at the table of the greatest military alliance in history.  Since joining NATO, Romania has proven a reliable and model ally as the fourth-largest NATO contributor to NATO's Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.  Your troops have earned the deepest respect of those that serve alongside, and including, as you know, General, service in the fiercest sectors of Afghanistan, not the easiest sectors.  Your pledge of an additional 200 people further demonstrates your resolve to see the mission through, and we are grateful for that.

In addition to your valued troop contributions, Romania's shown a strong commitment to meeting the burden-sharing requirements for our collective security.  Romania is making good progress toward meeting both components of the Wales Pledge, two percent of GDP allocated to defense, with 20 percent going towards procurement.

In particular, we appreciate Romania's efforts to invest in U.S. equipment, because it bolsters our military-to-military relationship even further.

Mr. Minister, through these efforts, Romania makes clear its commitment to realizing a peaceful, prosperous and free world alongside like-minded nations.  The U.S. shares this commitment wholeheartedly.  Today, I look forward to reinforcing that shared commitment as we explore opportunities for further strengthening of our defense relationship.

Mr. Minister, thank you again for coming.  You're welcome here.

MINISTER MIHAI-VIOREL FIFOR:  Thank you.

SEC. MATTIS:  And if you care to say a few words in front of the press, please be my guest.

MINISTER FIFOR:  Thank you, Your Excellency.  Thank you again for welcoming us here in -- in Pentagon today.  I am proud and privileged to mark today, over a year since our first meeting in -- in this wonderful building.

On the road to Romania's centennial anniversary, my current visit recognizes the added value of our strategic partnership.  In this regard, I would like to emphasize the high value we place into the excellent relations of friendship and cooperation forged between Romania and the United States in general, and between our ministries of defense in particular.  

In September 2011, seven years ago, Romania and the United States adopted, in Washington, D.C., the common declaration regarding the strategic partnership for 21st century.  In September this year, we are witnessing an increased maturity in our cooperation.  Our constant dialog that we have personally developed throughout last year, either bilaterally or in the allied context, shaped and fueled our strategic decisions towards consolidation and increased relevancy of our defense cooperation for the benefit of both Romania and the United States Armed Forces.  The Romanian government decision to allocate two percent of the GDP for defense budget on the lines of increased (inaudible) for both allied veterans and defense.

2019 is the second year in a row of the 20 percent of the GDP allocation for defense, and the Romanian Prime Minister Mrs. Dăncilă and the leaders of the parliament are very much engaged in maintaining the strength for the next years, and respecting our strong commitments within the North Atlantic alliance.  

The relevancy of the two percent of the GDP is also based on an already-confirmed 35 percent rate of durable (inaudible) major acquisition program.  This commitment to major acquisitions is well above the required 20-percent minimum, enabling these very durable capabilities.  All actions in this direction reconfirms Romania's resolve in assuming a responsible role in such an unstable region whose complexity is determined by security challenges in the Black Sea, and in the western Balkans area.

The recent decisions for endowment with major capabilities, including the (inaudible) F-16 platforms, Patriot and HIMARS programs have taken our strategic partnership to a new level.  All these developments improve Romania's strategic and defense posture in Eastern Europe.

Secretary Mattis, Romania is the most stable ally of the United States, and a solid pillar on the southeastern flank of the North Atlantic Alliance.  In current times, characterized by more and more instability, the United States and all our allies can count on our determination in engaging in international efforts to countering all kind of threats to the security of our alliance, especially terrorism, cyber-attacks or hybrid warfare.  Romania remains a steadfast ally within NATO and a reliable U.S. partner, abiding by its operational commitments in the global coalition to defeat ISIL, the newly-launched NATO mission in Iraq, and the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.  The theater of operation is our top operational priority, and the Romanian parliament decision to continue to support the stabilization effort with up to 700 troops demonstrates that our country's a trustful and solid ally.

Next year, Your Excellency, we are going to approve in the parliament the increase of our contribution up to 900 troops.  

For my last -- from my last official visit to the United States in September last year, there have been major security developments in our region.  Romania is between the Black Sea region and the western Balkans area.  On the one hand, I would like to emphasize the military developments in the Black Sea region, raising serious concerns, and on the other hand, we cannot neglect evolutions on the security context in western-Balkans region.

The NATO Summit in July, allies have reconfirmed the strategic importance of the Black Sea region.  Romania strives for a balanced approach to our common security, (inaudible) concerns within NATO.  A strong stand on the principles of unity and solidarity of the alliance is key in conveying the proper strategic message of NATO that has adapted, and continues to adapt itself to the current strategic realities.

In this direction, we see the importance of a unitary and coherent approach of the eastern flank of the alliance in order to respond in an adequate manner to the tailored needs of the veterans and defense in the Black Sea region.

Your Excellency, I just wanted to list few major lines of both actions and efforts in our enduring partnership.  However, I much look forward to our fruitful discussion today to reflect together on more solutions to consolidate the defense dimension of our strategic partnership, to reaffirm Romania's responsibility and to even increase the U.S. opportunities for presence in Eastern Europe.

Thank you so much.

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, thank you, Mr. Minister.  Appreciate your words, and as always, we find consistency right down to some of the programs you alluded to.  

So we'll excuse press so that we can go to work at this time.

Q:  Mr. Secretary?  Have you been asked to draw up war plans for Venezuela?

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, in fact, uh, we do one.  It's called a hospital ship that we're sending down.

Q:  And to follow up on Lucas' question, Mr. Secretary, have you seen any indications that Iran is intending to block the Strait of Hormuz?  Have you seen ships or missiles move?  Do you think...

SEC. MATTIS:  No.  

Q:  No?

Q:  John Bolton says there's going to be hell to pay to Iran.  Are you two still on the same sheet of music, Mr. Secretary?

SEC. MATTIS:  This administration has been on the same sheet of music, alongside the nations in the Middle East that have paid a cost due to Iran's mischief that they caused all over there, from Yemen to Lebanon, keeping Assad in power.  They are directly responsible for continuing that war.  So absolutely, the administration and our allies are all on the same sheet of music, as far as that kind of -- that kind of murderous behavior goes.

Now if you'll excuse us, ladies and gentlemen…

(CROSSTALK)