Remarks by Secretary Mattis at an Honor Cordon Welcoming Greek Minister of Defense Kammenos to the Pentagon

Secretary Of Defense James N. Mattis; Greek Minister of Defense Panagiotis Kammenos


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS:  Well, Minister Kammenos, Ambassador Lalacos and members of the delegation, general, welcome back, sir, to the Pentagon once more.  It's a pleasure to meet again.  We just met last week in Brussels, where I thought we had a very unified meeting, everyone on the same sheet of music. 

The history between our lands, I’m told, it goes back centuries.  In 1528, a sailor by the same of Don Teodoro became the first Greek to set foot on now-U.S. soil.  So I was not aware that it had started so many centuries ago, a friendship and partnership between our nations. 

As we remember the long history between our peoples, this year we also mark a special celebration of 150 years of diplomatic relations between Greece and the United States.  A reminder it doesn't start with us, nor will it end with us. 

This anniversary reminds us we share values of democracy and freedom.  We Americans observe this in the study of our founding fathers, many of whom read Greek so they could study your great philosophers closely, and so build our republic upon their firm intellectual foundation. 

Today, Greece and the United States share a commitment to ensuring a safe and prosperous world for future generations of Greeks and Americans, and we live this commitment to our growing defense relationship.

With increased joint exercises and training, expanded basing cooperation and enhanced defense-industrial partnerships.  So thank you for your continued hosting of U.S. forces at Souda Bay, one of the most popular locations for U.S. sailors anywhere in the world. 

The U.S. recognizes Greece's vital role in maintaining regional security in a difficult neighborhood.  Appreciate your perspective on challenges facing NATO's southern flank, and on your leadership in promoting Balkan stability. 

I commend Greece's strong investments in defense capabilities by not only meeting, but exceeding the NATO's pledge -- exceeding the NATO's -- NATO's Wales pledge of two percent of defense spending.  You illustrate your nation's commitment to collective defense.

Must also note the importance of the Prespa naming agreement, and your prime minister's support for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's road to NATO.  

Solving this protracted dispute took political courage and compromise by all.  And this step forward strengthens Balkan security and our NATO alliance. 

We applaud Greece's stalwart commitment to protecting democratic values by expelling Russian diplomats, who sought to disrupt the sovereign processes surrounding the naming agreement. 

In doing so, Greece made clear that the birthplace of democracy would not tolerate reckless violation and disrespect for international norms and your sovereignty. 

Mr. Minister, as Pericles wrote, "Freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it."  

Today, I look forward to discussing how we can further strengthen the U.S.-Greece defense relationship, ensuring that our forces always stand ready alongside each other to defend freedom together. 

So thank you for coming back to the Pentagon.  You know you're always welcome here.  Your officers, your ideas, are always welcome here.  

And, Excellency, it's good to see you here again as well.  Thank you.  

Mr. Minister?

MINISTER OF DEFENSE PANAGIOTIS KAMMENOS:  All right, Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.  I would like to thank you for the invitation and for your warm welcome.  

We have already meeting the context of other (inaudible) of NATO, the Munich Security Conference and I believe that our bilateral meetings, the second in three years, give a different dimension in our relationship.

We was always together in difficult moments.  In the First and the Second World War, we was together in Korea, in Vietnam, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and be sure that we be always together without exception.

I would also express my satisfaction as our relations have strengthened during the past three years.  This strengthening is the result of the geopolitical developments in the region, but also we agree to accept the result of a strong issue of personal relations with you, with your staff and United States colleagues working in Athens.

I'm particularly happy as to the development of our bilateral relation which has no (inaudible) has taken place during our (inaudible) ministries.  Also your excellency, I want to -- to share with you the feeling of the Greek people.  We will never forget that the difficult moment of the economic crisis only the United States was with Greece.  We have lived alone.  They have seen us as creditors, but not as ally.  Only the United States- personally, the president of the United States with his visit, President Obama, also president Trump with the invitation of the Prime Minister Alexi Tsipras (inaudible) White House.

The participation of the United States of the (inaudible) as the hundredth country was not only a big success, but also gave Greece an impetus for bilateral relations in the commercial sector through creating synergies between the top American companies, and Greek counterparts (inaudible) of the Greek economy, and more importantly have a positive (inaudible) to the Greek public opinion.

Also, I want to -- to confirm that Greece calls on the United States to be a reliable strategic partner and ally, the only one I dare to say.  It's very important for Greece that the United States deploy military assets in Greece on a more permanent base, not only in Souda Bay but also in Larissa, in Volos, in Alexandroupoli and why not in the future in (inaudible) Island.

We are open, you are welcome and your presence in Greece help very much the economical recovery, and the feeling of security.  We would be together in Mediterranean, also in Balkans with the respect of the nations of Balkans.

And we have a -- we are ready to extend bilateral and trilateral military agreement in the south with Israel and Cyprus.  And we think this bilateral relation can have the guarantee of the United States, and that would be very important for the stability of the Middle East, and also to the north.  And in parallel with the NATO procession, it's very important a military agreement between Greece and Albania, formerly Yugoslavia and the Republic of Macedonia, Albania -- Bulgaria and why not to the future Serbia, can join us to this security acts in Balkans.  That can provide prosperity and security to the whole area.  

Thank you very much for the warm welcome, and thank you very much for the support of the Greek armed forces in this difficult period.  It's for us a second master plan.

We don't have the possibilities for more budget to support big projected (inaudible), but the help of the United States, it's very important and can also proceed to the future to the -- foreign cooperation in the defense industry who can provide the -- the west the technology toward the countries of Balkans and the Middle East.

SEC. MATTIS:  All right, so a reminder of just -- close partnerships that we have, but also a reminder of the leadership role of Greece in that part of the world.  So thank you again, and if the members of the press will excuse us we'll get down to work.  

So thank you for coming out.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, can I just ask you about Nikki Haley's resignation, your -- your thoughts on it?  Just -- what does this do to the national security apparatus in the administration, and then your thoughts on her?

SEC. MATTIS:  It's a very -- it's a very tight-knit firm.  She's been a wonderful -- a wonderful partner in national security matters, and I am not in the least bit concerned with it.  I will regret her leaving.  She's been a great ally of the Department of Defense.

So thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.

Q:  Did you see the reports about the United States discussed with Greek government the possibility to build new military base in Greece.  What is your comment?

SEC. MATTIS:  I -- as the minister brought up here today, there's an open door for us, we have a close relationship.  Really what it shows is the high -- very high levels of trust and transparency between us.  And in that regard, we are always open to work with our NATO ally Greece on how we position our forces there in Europe.

This is a matter -- a sovereign matter for Greece and the United States, and we'll work it out as always -- work it out together.  

But thank you very much.  Good to have a Greek newspaper man here, too.  I want you to teach my Americans how to do their job, OK? (Laughter.)

A little collaboration between the news media, just like the military, how's that?  Excellent, thanks very much, ladies and gentlemen.

Q:  Thank you.