Joint Press Conference with Secretary Mattis and Minister Parly in Paris, France

Secretary Of Defense James N. Mattis; French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly


MINISTER OF THE ARMED FORCES FLORENCE PARLY (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  Good morning -- good afternoon, Mr. Secretary.  Dear Jim, I'm delighted that this meeting is taking place here at the (inaudible) Rochambeau (inaudible) under the very eyes of Jean Baptiste Rochambeau, who is right here in this portrait right behind you, ladies and gentlemen, who's the head of the French Expedition Corps during the United States Independence War.

This is a symbol and also a reminder of the long-standing French-U.S. relations.  A symbol of a friendship that cannot and shall never come apart, regardless of circumstance, fear or threats.

I am all the more pleased at your visit, since my own trip to the U.S. two weeks ago had to be canceled due to a hurricane called Florence; you can't make this up.  In fact, I was not a little surprised to read that the title of the press article in the American press to remain engraved in my memory:  "Florence a rising threat to the security of the United States."  Of course, it wasn't me, however I found it very amusing.

So, Mr. Secretary, you have just crossed the Atlantic, but in reality, our cooperation areas are many and our exchanges are constant.  (inaudible) all strategic areas, and when it comes to global security we almost invariably find common ground and coordinate our actions.  In particular, and perhaps more than anything else, we share an unflinching resolve to find and to defeat terrorism.  We also design to enforce humankind's fundamental standards -- international standards and humanities standards.

For example, the ban on the use of chemical weapons through which we collegially warned Assad's regime (inaudible), something that we will do again in the strongest possible terms if he were to do it again.

Indeed, in this regard, I would like to welcome the United States' sustainable engagement in Syria.

In terms of intelligence, we are also proving that trust is not an empty word between France and the United States.  I will not dwell on this point, but you should note that the shared depth and breadth of our friendship is a major asset to keep French citizens safe.

As for our military forces, they know one another and act together side-by-side everywhere from the Atlantic to the Pacific and the Caribbean to the Sahel.

Precisely on the Sahel I would like to thank you, Mr. Secretary, for the United States' extremely valuable support to Operation (inaudible).  Such gestures and such cohesion also are telling terrorists that they will have no safe haven and that we are resolved to crush them.

Mr. Secretary, our meeting with the president of the French Republic this morning was exciting, useful and frank.  We've had a chance to continue this rewarding conversation here at Hotel (inaudible), this dialogue in which our nations are permanently engaged.  And we'll have a chance to meet again at the NATO ministerial meeting no later then Thursday.

I've already said it, but let me repeat it before you:  NATO is the bedrock of our collective defense.

The United States sees burden-sharing as a priority.  It is also a French priority.  It is, in fact, a prerequisite for the Atlantic alliance's proper operation.

That, in fact, is also the purpose behind the European Defense Initiatives, which are showing how determined Europeans are to act responsibility for their own defense.  And these initiatives reinforce their connective defense, and they reinforce NATO.  They make our response easier and more effective in the face of shared threats to our states like terrorism and cyber threats, or the (inaudible), or the arms race.

And so, believe me, Europe is not part of the problem.  But it is, indeed, part of the solution.

Mr. Secretary, I will never compromise on our values, on France's or Europe's security.

The Pentagon was kind enough to highlight the fact that your visit to France was a way for you to thank France for its commitment to fight terrorism.  So, I think it now behooves me to thank you and thank the United States for the fight that it is fighting for our values, for liberty, and against terrorism.

And so, in conclusion, dear Jim, I would like to tell you how proud I am to be fighting alongside you, you as the secretary of defense, and you more personally, dear Jim, as a fellow traveler whose wisdom and eloquence are a constant inspiration to me.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS:  Well, thank you, Minister Parly.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

But I thank you, Madam Minister, for your hospitality.  This is my first visit as secretary of defense to La Ville Lumiere.  I come to pay my respects, and I come in the spirit of, and I quote here, "the unalterable friendship of our two nations," to borrow words from the deed of gift with the Statute of Liberty, a gift from the ages from your people to mine.

I cannot come before you without expressing my esteem for the fighting faith of French troops.  Your military's timeless devotion to the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity creates respect and a natural affection with your comrades in the U.S. military, one reaching back more than two centuries.

I note that France is the oldest treaty ally of the United States.  Amid our argument with Britain's King George III was France's army, navy, and two French officers, in particular, who played a pivotal role of helping General Washington win the final battle of our American Revolution.

And to put it in today's parlance, as our ambassador to Paris has put it, we were a startup nation, and you were the first investor that we had.

Those officers that we now celebrate in America, Rochambeau and Lafayette, led coalition troops in a multi-domain environment, creating strong trusted relationships under wartime conditions.

Today, the fact is the Marquis de Lafayette and General Rochambeau stand in a picturesque square in front of the White House in Washington, D.C.  An inscription identifies them as "fellow laborers in the cause of liberty."  And that's how we see our transatlantic alliance today, fellow laborers in the cause of liberty.

France's leadership and valuable contributions to global security testify to that, from your well-led and well-executed campaign to the Sahel, to the D-ISIS coalition, to your actions against Assad's use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Our world is awash in change, and so I am grateful for my conversations with President Macron and you, today, Madam Minister, before this week's NATO ministerial, when 29 allies converge to implement the decisions made at our National Leaders Summit in July.

I applaud France for committing to spending 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2024.  In Washington, the U.S. Congress saw your decision and others like it in numerous capitals across Europe, and we Americans mirrored your financial commitment to European security in last week's fiscal year '19 defense spending bill.

Amid competing priorities, American lawmakers did not reduce funding for the European Defense Initiative by a single cent, instead maintaining, once again, the highest levels of commitment since the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

We have also maintained a number of U.S. troops permanently assigned here while adding additional capability.  Within our NATO alliance, we quickly staffed the hub of the south at the request of allies in Southern Europe, for we are keenly aware of the dangers close to your home.

Madam Minister, an American adage says, "Actions speak loudest."  The U.S. has acted, showing that our commitment to the transatlantic alliance remains ironclad.

Our NATO alliance is also active.  Every NATO ally is awake today to the reality of Russia's malicious behavior.  Every ally has now increased defense spending, recognizing peace and the rule of law are best maintained by strength and unity, for therein lies deterrence from conflict and strong diplomatic persuasion.

I look forward to working with you and our colleagues in Brussels this week, as the most successful military alliance in history continues to adapt to protect our peoples and to counter threats to our democracies, our shared values and our intertwined destinies.

To close, Madam Parly, France is a partner of choice of the United States.  Like those who came before us, we will continue to work shoulder-to-shoulder in coalition environments, maintaining trusted military-to-military relationships across time, space and languages, knowing well that the true distance between Washington, D.C., and Paris is only the reach of our arms to the telephone.

Whenever trouble has loomed, we have always stood united.  In our shared missions and shared values, we will be in the future, as we have been in the past, fellow laborers in the cause of liberty.

So thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.

(UNKNOWN):  (UNTRANSLATED)

Q:  (inaudible)

So once ISIS is deprived from these last territories in Syria, what will give international coalition specifically do on the ground, to prevent ISIS from re-emerging and also to stabilize -- to help stabilize the country?  And in particular, how could France contribute?

Q (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  (inaudible)

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, to answer your question about what we do post-ISIS, first of all, ladies and gentlemen, we are still in a tough fight.  Make no mistake about it, as ISIS has collapsed inward, in their own way, they have reinforced a center as they've been forced into what is now less than 2 percent of their original territory that they held.

So it's going to still be a tough fight.  I don't want anyone to be under any illusions.  And we're together in that fight.  And we will be successful, but it's still going to take some time.

But the question is valid, "So then what?"  First of all, as you see in territory uncovered against ISIS today, we hope to set up local councils of people who live in the area, and then we create security forces -- local security forces who are stronger than what we could ordinarily call police.

The reason is to restrict ISIS from rising once again, to bring out a very well-armed, well-trained local security forces, who reflect the local ethnic composition so they have support from people in the communities.

This takes time to train them, equip them and at this point in time, still to reinforce them, until we actually shatter ISIS as a fighting force.

In the months following the final defeat, we will continue this creative security that prevents ISIS from returning.  But every step of the way, the coalition is united behind the U.N. special envoy -- and this is Staffan de Mistura -- and the Geneva process.

This is the true solution to the tragedy that we now think of when we call out the name, "Syria."  It is, how do we restore peace to Syria and do so through the Geneva process?  And we will have to do this, obviously, despite Russia's efforts to marginalize the United Nations in this -- in this effort.

So we're under no illusions about the challenge, but we do have to plan for how we go forward.  Our diplomats there on the ground have been doubled in number.  As you see the military operations becoming less, you will see the diplomatic effort now able to take root.

Hope that answers your question.

MIN. PARLY (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  (inaudible).  It is indeed a (inaudible) in the relationship between France and the U.S.  And France, together with other countries, has been a member of the coalition against terrorism in the Levant.

(inaudible) just communicated, this is work that is still not finished and we will remain part of that coalition for as long as the coalition itself remains involved in the Levant.

We are under no illusion, we are not naive.  We know how difficult the fight against terrorism, how much time it will take to crush and defeat terrorism.

And we are seeing some encouraging changes in some of the territories that used to be under ISIS control, but, indeed, we need to continue to ensure that the fight against terrorism continues and continues effectively.

This is why we also need a political process.  This political process involves the need to optimize (inaudible) in the shortest possible elections to bring together the whole of the Syrian people, (inaudible) who still live in Syria today, but the millions of refugees who have left their country and who at some point will have to have a say on the future of their own country.

And so, yes, we have mentioned this area at length, it goes without saying.  And, yes, we will continue to involve as we have always done under the aegis of the coalition.

Q:  As you know, after the Niger attack, where a number of U.S. and Nigerian troops were killed last year, the U.S. has been doing an ongoing evaluation of its troop presence and operations in Africa.  So I wanted to ask you, did you discuss today the U.S. continued commitment to and in Africa, including to French forces who are there?

And, Mr. Secretary, did you provide any commitment to France today about U.S. commitment?  And what would that be?

SEC. MATTIS:  As far as the U.S. commitment to France, as I said in my opening remarks, the French-led effort in Mali, if you go back a couple of years, I think had France not acted swiftly and decisively, Mali would've fallen to the terrorists, and you'd have an altogether different meetings we are having here today.  Fortunately the French moved quickly.

And we have also supported the French-led effort with the African troops that the French are supporting, and we have no intention of cutting back one bit on that support.  We will maintain the intelligence support and logistics support, and we fully embrace the French mission there, as -- as do a number of our other allies.

MIN. PARLY (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  As Mr. Secretary has just indicated, we obviously mentioned the Sahel in our conversation.  France has been heavily involved in the Sahel (inaudible) in particular since 2013.

France certainly would not have been able to maintain this level of engagement without the constant support of the U.S. in terms of intelligence, in terms of transport capabilities, supply capabilities for planes.  This support has been constant, and Mr. Secretary has told me that whatever change there might be to (inaudible) operations assistance and any effort, that there would be no restriction to the levels of support given by the U.S. to France in Mali (inaudible).  Just as important to us is that the U.S. support to the G-5 in Sahel (inaudible) significantly go up compared to what was originally scheduled.

The reason I'm saying this is because France is present in this part of the world.  Obviously, it's not something that's supposed to last forever.  We will stay as long as we need to stay.  But we believe that the improvement of the safety and security in the region primarily requires the ability of these African states to support the conditions for security.  Which means that we need to train local military forces.  Something that we're doing through the Barkhane operation, but it also requires the G-5 in the Sahel joint force, a novel initiative of five states in the Sahel, should become operational.  And for that, this force will need equipment.  And, I think, to that effect, Mr. Secretary, I believe the U.S. has decided to reinforce its support and financial support.

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  A question about the ITAR regulation.  The (inaudible) partners.  Have you been able to find a compromise solution on this dossier?

And more generally speaking, Mr. Secretary, what, in your eyes, will be the future of this regulation, vis-a-vis your partners, particularly, France?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.  Excuse me.  I was having a little trouble hearing the translation.

Yes, we discussed this.  We also have our staffs meeting right now.  We have an invitation out to the French to answer two final questions.  The meetings are going on as we speak.  And those two final questions have to do with certain technologies that we generally share only with our closest allies, one of which is France, and whether or not it can be further transferred, and how France will protect the technology.

Right now, we don't have a final answer, but it's all going in the right direction.  And it was a very fruitful discussion today.  But our staffs are working this forward right now, sir.

MIN. PARLY (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  I'd also like to mention a number of topics and dossiers for which solutions have been found.  And I'd like to thank the defense secretary for allowing drones to be equipped with weapons, as we wanted, by the end of 2019.  So, I would like to, officially, thank him for that in this setting.

Q:  Madam Minister, the United States and France are on opposing sides of the Iran nuclear (inaudible) and how that progresses.  Over the past few weeks, the administration -- the Trump administration has had some strong words for Iran, including the national security adviser, who said that Iran had to pay if -- if it crossed the United States.

Do you believe that bellicose statements like that increase the risk of miscalculation and the chances for military conflict?

And for Secretary Mattis, over the past few months -- about a year -- Russia's not been in compliance with the INF Treaty.  And it's something that you've talked about, as well as your counterparts.

What is the United States ready and willing to do to bring Russia back into compliance with that treaty?  Is that something that's going to be discussed in Brussels over the next few days?

SEC. MATTIS:  On the INF Treaty, I think many of you are aware that for four years, two American administrations have had diplomatic discussions with Russia.  This is a treaty that is only signed between Russia and the United States, but it has very, very strong links to the security of Europe and the security of NATO.

So what are we willing to do after four years of diplomatic efforts to try to bring Russia back into compliance?

One of the reasons I'm here this week -- or one of the subjects I will bring up this week -- and I've already previewed with our trusted ally France -- is I want the advice from the NATO nations, what do we do with a treaty that two nations entered into, one is still living by -- that's us, the United States -- and Russia is not?

So I'm going to lay out the situation, which we've discussed before here at NATO.  But I want their advice as I return to Washington, D.C., and enter into these discussions.

I cannot forecast where it will go.  It's a decision for the president.  But I can tell you that both on Capitol Hill and in the State Department, there's a lot of concern about the situation.  And I'll return with the advice of our allies and engage that discussion to determine the way ahead.

MIN. PARLY (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  As regards the Vienna agreement, you know France's position on this.  The French position says that the JCPOA is not a perfect agreement, but at least it's the agreement that we have.  And it's an agreement we can build on, expanding it.  And its merit is that it actually suspends the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  If this agreement were to be denounced, the proliferation would start again.

So France's position is to make sure that Iran respects this agreement as much as possible.  And President Trump and (inaudible) have mentioned this on a number of occasions.  We have not welcomed the U.S. decision to pull out of this agreement.  So we are doing our best (inaudible) ensure that Iran remains under this agreement.

But just like President Trump, we too understand that Iran's ballistic activity is a threat.  Just like President Trump, we feel that Iran's influence in the whole region is a topic of major concern.

And as a result, it is our belief that these topics must be discussed with Iran without Iran pulling out of the treaty and the Vienna agreement.

So there's nothing new here for you.  But we reaffirm our belief that Iran must remain part of the agreement.

STAFF (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  Perhaps the very last question, because the secretary, here, of defense, Mattis, had agreed to go and he has a very strict timetable.

Q:  (OFF-MIKE) I was interested to know what the reaction of the United States, when you see President Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel trying to build a European defense.

How do you see it in America?  Are you against it?  Are you worried about that?  Is it a good option for you?

And Madam La Ministre des Armees, (inaudible) what do you think the U.S. participation is going to be?

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. MATTIS:  We are not in the least bit worried about European efforts to increase their defense spending, to strengthen NATO.  There are other aspects of what Europe has to do.

For example, in the event it's something of interest only to Europeans, and so there should be some sort of organization along those lines.  As long as it does not duplicate NATO, so long as it does not provide any competition to NATO's utility of the forces, then we see this in a positive direction.

MIN. PARLY (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):  In answer to your last question, the U.S. is going to be present at the best possible way, because I do believe that President Trump actually intends to participate and be present in Paris for that event.

Thank you.