Media Availability with Secretary Mattis before Honor Cordon Welcoming Greek Minister of Defense Kammenos to the Pentagon

Secretary Of Defense James N. Mattis


Q:  How are you?

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS:  So how's the day?  Nice, huh?  Not so bad.

Q:  Long time.

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah.

So we have the Greeks coming today, the Greek minister of defense.  I was with him last week in Brussels where we had a very strong show of unity when we saw the -- had to actually interrupt, on Thursday, the NATO Council as we were sitting there in ministers format, ministers of defense, for the Netherlands to brief us on what they'd uncovered in The Hague.

And it was quite disheartening.  It was not a surprise to see it one more place, one more occasion.

So the minister is coming in.  I believe he's coming in from a trip to Moscow himself.  So I'll be very interested in what he's come up with and what he's heard.

But otherwise, we're in good shape.  This -- yesterday I was down in Cancun, Mexico.  Remarkable there was the degree of unity, from Argentina and Chile all the way up to Canada, as we were all there discussing about the security challenges, the shared concerns we have here in our hemisphere, which has the enormous potential -- economic, diplomatic.

For anyone who thinks democracy took a hit last year, take a look at Latin America and look at the progress democracy made across that -- that region.

So it was very heartening to be there.  A lot of -- a lot of discussion about the Russians sending a bomber to Venezuela coming up soon.  Flying a bomber down there.

The American response to this man-made tragedy that Maduro has created for his people is we're sending a hospital ship with doctors, not a bomber, which was very much appreciated by those down there living in that region, where in some cases you have tens of thousands, even over a million, refugees in their countries.

So it was, again, a lot of common ground between us -- I didn't call that drummer to do that, by the way.

(LAUGHTER)

Q:  Can I ask about Saudi Arabia before you continue?

Obviously, you speak with your Saudi counterparts quite often.  Have you or anyone at the DOD talked about the missing Saudi journalist in Turkey?

SEC. MATTIS:  We're monitoring this very closely -- this situation very closely.  And we are working closely with State -- U.S. State Department.

Q:  When you say you're monitoring, you mean the Defense Department, because that's who you speak for.  So, can you help us understand what capabilities you bring to monitor and understand this situation --

SEC. MATTIS:  No, I'm talking about intellectually.

We're monitoring this right now.  We're reviewing what's going on.  Obviously we have mil-to-mil relations that have to do with the protection of the Saudi people.  As you know, they have been under fire from the Iranian-aligned Houthis, and we are trying to make certain that no innocent people die down there right now, so that's what we're doing at this time.

Q:  President -- President Trump -- President Trump has talked about the fact that the Saudi regime could not continue to exist without U.S. protection.  There is the situation with the Saudi journalist.  There's the war in Yemen.

To what extent do you think you need to take another look?  Is U.S. support for the Saudi regime and the current crown prince unshakeable? Irreversible? Or is it time to look at it given all of these things, especially the president saying the regime couldn't last without U.S. military protection?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah.

Right now what we do in Yemen is, number one, we are fighting al-Qaida and ISIS in Yemen.  We provide defensive support to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in terms of protecting their populations -- their innocent populations of civilians and towns that have been under fire.

Foreign policy, as you know, is run by our State Department.  And our president has spoken bluntly on this issue having to do with the missing journalist, and I'll just leave those statements as they stand right now.

Q:  Your -- your thoughts on Nikki Haley stepping down?

SEC. MATTIS:  Oh gosh, she's been a wonderful -- Ambassador Haley has been a wonderful representative for our country and she has been just a tremendous asset to those of us here in the Department of Defense.

We have a very close working relationship.  We saw ourselves in many occasions collaborating together on how we would deal with certain issues, alongside the secretary of state.  She's done yeoman's work up there, and I would just tell you that she may be moving on but she's not -- she's not losing our respect one bit.

It's been a good, good team.

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  Did you know she was retiring?

Q:  Were you aware?

SEC. MATTIS:  I don't --

Q:  Did you know she was going to step down?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah, I -- I don't get into private discussions.

Q:  With her -- with her departure, it leaves you as one of the last few original Cabinet members standing.  How does this affect your job and are you going to stick around?

SEC. MATTIS:  Oh my gosh, listen to that last few.

No, I -- the team is doing very well.  I will just tell you I won't see you Thursday morning because I'm having breakfast with the secretary of state and the national security adviser.  It's a close relationship.  I'm having lunch tomorrow with the president.  The beat goes on, things are going fine.

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  How important is the role of Greece for the U.S. interests?

SEC. MATTIS:  Greece has been a NATO ally for decades.  Greece has been a solid ally.  We work closely together.  Their officers go to our schools.  Souda Bay is one of our most important ports of call in the Mediterranean; in any part of NATO.  And we have a very close collaboration, including my personal interactions with the M.O.D, the minister who will be here today.

So they're an excellent ally, all the way through from what they've been working on with the refugees, to the way they support the U.S. Navy operations and the collaboration between our military.  Plus our diplomatic collaboration in Brussels has been strong.

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  Are you concerned about the defense budget, depending on how the midterm elections go?

SEC. MATTIS:  No.  I think defense has proven, through this period -- nice tie, by the way.

Q:  Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. MATTIS:  Have to admire your taste in ties.

Q:  I got the idea from you, sir.

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, exactly.  Haberdasher must be the same.

But I think defense -- defense spending, defense policy, have been an area of bipartisan -- overwhelming bipartisan support.

Again, it's somewhere upwards of 83, 85 percent of the House and the Senate voting for our bill this year.  Appropriations bill in the Senate, it was 93 percent.  Ninety-three senators voted for our bill.  It's just -- it's hard to believe that we don't have some of the highest levels of bipartisan support that we've ever enjoyed.

And this, again, was not for a reduced bill or a modest bill.  This was the American people making sacrifice, including political sacrifice, for some of those, political penalties for some on the Hill who voted for it with the elections coming up.

So now I believe that as long as we make a strong statement, a strong argument and we are transparent with the Congress about what we need, I'm confident that we'll stay well taken care of by our -- by our Congress.

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  -- USS Pueblo returned from North Korea?

STAFF:  The delegation's arriving now.

SEC. MATTIS:  All right.