En route to Czech Republic Media Gaggle by Secretary Mattis

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS:  Q&A on the record then we'll go to off the record. That sounds okay?

Q: Yes.

SEC. MATTIS: Hey, Katie. I couldn't see you back there. OK, so I'll talk first of all about the visit in Bahrain. I didn't see much of you this time. I just see you in the various rooms. Where you at the -- when I gave the talk?

STAFF: Yes.

SEC. MATTIS: OK, good. OK, it was a pretty impactful visit there. I met with both European and Mid-Eastern leaders, foreign ministers, ministers of defense, spoke with the vice president of Yemen, minister of defense of Germany, U.K. reps, you know, just a broad rage of folks. The GCC secretary general, Retired Lt. General Zayani of the Bahraini forces. Of course, his office is in Riyadh.

I was there for the meeting too, so a lot of meetings. I haven't been even told you about all of them, a bunch of them. This one is Shangri-La are probably two of the best forums for drawing a lot of people together. It's a real good environment. Basically, reinforcing relationships, discussing the challenges, making certain I understand how they look at the world based on their threats to them, but also where they want to work with us.

You heard me reinforce our commitment to the Middle East, which haven't changed, by the way. I know a lot of people write about it and all, but if you look at it, you know, where you'll pick it up is the planning meeting. They go on all the time with various countries out here from Egypt, for exercises, for crises, for humanitarian assistance or disaster reliefs.

These planning meetings are going on all the time and I always look for where we're not doing something, are there gaps in that, and I did not come away with any, even to the point of asking what are we not doing, what do you need from us, what questions do you have? Basically, I called that clarifying and confirming visit with most of them to get some successes.
 
I got the overnight report in on the election done in Kandahar Province. You know, they got delayed for a week due to the murder of the police chief down there wounding of a U.S. officer, general, and all. It looks like very high voter turnout, long lines before 7 a.m.

Where both male and female lines, very long lines, to the point they had to extend the hours they were open to accommodate everyone, which they did do. We think there were 172 polling centers open. I was thinking there would be 165. Obviously, they got some others open, so people didn't have to travel as far.

There was very limited social media propaganda by Taliban. I can't tell you why. It just something we monitor. They said, of course, they would disrupt the election. They were very proud they were going to disrupt the election. They were unsuccessful a week ago and now it's an additional week where they, you know, military people would have had more opportunity.

There was, we think one attack, no casualties from that. It didn't appear to be fist fights or any of the things come out in passionate locations, but no casualties, so probably won't make a lot of news, will it? They pulled it off against everyone and said it wouldn't happen, so why report something like a victory for democracy. Let's wait until we have something worse perhaps.

There were administrative delays due mostly to biometric issues, but it looks like the new general, General Keating, did visit polling centers throughout the city. We've also got reports from him that aligned with what we are getting from the poll centers themselves about the numbers.

We were out in force doing train, advice, assist at the core and brigade levels, and cadet ministries in Kabul. So, basically, it was perhaps -- I don't want to go into. We also have the continuing rage ongoing against ISIS. I'm not sure why the Taliban weren't ready to carry on what they said they would do. I can't speculate on it.

A reminder on this poll election. About 249 positions, over 2,500 people running, do the math, you can figure how many people on average were running for a position. Again, this is something that many of the -- they presented themselves as experts and said that it wouldn't happen like the election would be, you know, put off by Taliban or that there's not much room for democracy in a country governed the way this country has been. I think 2,500 men and women disagreed with that, putting themselves out there even the Taliban said they're going to kill them, and did kill some.

A lot of talk in Manama about the strengthened cooperation, and in that regard, the prime minister of Israel visit to Muscat received -- I was at a lunch yesterday hosted by the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, followed after his talk yesterday as well as mine and all, and it was very well received that visit to Oman. Everyone thought that was a positive development and there were a lot of discussion on other things as well, heavy on Yemen.

I would say, though, is very keen alignment on what are the threats to stability right now, very candid discussions about all of those. They were quite interested in the U.N. team being on board the U.S. Destroyer in port that had hundreds of AK-47s that have been seized. We're pretty -- we're very sure ourselves for a lot of reasons where they came from, where they were headed to.

We'll see what the U.N. team was able to say about it. They need time now to put their thoughts together as they're flying back to New York or left yesterday, so that was three days ago now. I think I've mentioned to you that earlier this week, Thursday night, before I got on the airplane, it's the 35th anniversary of the bombing of the peacekeeper barracks. We lost 241 U.S. soldiers, sailors, and Marines. The French lost 58 paratroopers the same day as their barracks.

There were peacekeepers who were trying to stop what's going on in Lebanon in those days, 35th anniversary, that came up as well, in the lunch and in the dinner the first night, not last night's dinner. But it is a pretty powerful statement that what Iran has been doing through proxies has gotten -- it goes on for decades. It was good to be sitting with Foreign Minister Adel, who I've known for many years, the former U.S. ambassador to Washington.

He was the one, of course, and Attorney General Holder and his crew, who put the courier in jail for the plan to murder him two miles from the White House with a car bomb at a Georgetown restaurant on a Saturday night. You can imagine what that would have been like.

So, this is emblematic right down to the AK-47 for fixing up, let's see -- this is the way Iran operates and that is probably the one point brought up by everyone I was talking to in various private discussions and public discussions around the table. Just because it's too frosty, we don't agree that in any way that they lose accountability and responsibility for these things.

So, we're working with our friends in the region and in Europe to hold them accountable for it as they should be. Of course, the other destabilizing behavior, you know what they're doing in Syria. They'll need to go over that again.

But I think one point that I made in the speech and in all the private discussions was the need for addressing the war in Yemen, humanitarian situation was front and center.

I said these people need peace to heal, that needs to start. That doesn't need to languish. We've had plenty of discussions of the subordinate issues. I've mentioned yesterday in the Q andA, we don't need to talk about subordinate issues. We need to all get aligned with U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, very, very capable, experienced guy, who knows what he's doing.

By the way, he was much more positive there. I think I've mentioned off the record, I'll say it on the record now, much more positive when I met with him Thursday morning for an hour. I think our third face-to-face and about our fifth or sixth telephone face-to-face meeting. The United States is fully in support of the U.N. efforts to stop the fighting once and for all.

So, we'll stay aligned with him and increase our support for him. We'll be looking for every opportunity, calling other nations. All of my calls forward in the private meetings and in even afterwards some of the e-mails I've gotten from Europeans, who were at Manama, on the speech talked about the emphasis on humanitarian situation in Yemen on the speech and the Q and A.

Now it's time to get on with it, not discuss it but negotiations, start the negotiations and in November is what I said. Last time I checked that's coming up shortly. But again, it was for all the challenges and there's a bunch of them from Syria to Yemen, and all the rest. There was much more agreement on working together.

What surprised me was even with the GCC countries, talking about working together with Qatar. Not that the risk is over, but they've always said they were not going to stop the military to military relationships. As you know in many cases, the exercises have gone on with Qatar to date in the exercise. But they also recognize that we're a lot stronger when we work alongside like-minded folks.

I think that's the reason why and I just sat listening to them all yesterday and that was -- I think who was there -- Saudi was there right after the speech, and obviously Bahrain, Yemen's vice president, the Jordanian foreign minister, who gave the talk on behalf of the king. Were you all at the dinner too?

OK, the king couldn't make it. If you know about the deaths of the children and some of the teachers and all in the flashfloods. So, this guy came, explained why the king wasn't there, and then read the king's speech. It's only about nine minutes long. As always from the king of Jordan, very hard hitting, no fluff, meet NATO, work together, what we've got to do.

So, he was there. The Kuwaiti was there. Who else was there? Emirate was there. Japanese, U.K., Honorable (inaudible). I've got his card here somewhere. He's like their foreign secretary, but he's not really the foreign secretary. The minister for Middle East and North Africa, a whole lot of folks there.

But there was much more alignment and I think that may have been why they were so supportive of the sultan in Muscat invited the prime minister of Israel over there. On our way now to visit another like-minded ally, the Czech Republic. They've been very good allies, by the way. He's not anymore. They had a great lady and I will leave it at that. She was wonderful. She called them like she saw them. But they have a great minister there now too.

Hopefully, we'll get in. There are some snow flurries and all there and we have to fly through but celebrating a 100th anniversary of the Czech Republic founding. So, the Czech Republic invited me to it. Happy to go there. By the way, I'll also meet with the Slovakian minister of defense while I'm there, just a short meeting. Again, someone we're very much aligned with, of course, NATO ally. Of course, we're aligned with them.

Both of these nations, Czech Republic and Slovakia are both have their national plans to get the 2.0 and to do so online with the Wales pledge so full speed ahead. I think they're somewhere -- I think around -- Czech troops I think are somewhere around -- just for those who think that we sometimes do everything in this world.

They've got a lot of troops. Both these little countries have a lot of troops. Yes, I've got it here somewhere, but no sweat. They've got probably between about 1,500 troops committed to NATO missions, hundreds to NATO missions, by the way, Iraq, Afghanistan, E.U. missions and U.N. missions.

These are responsible countries. They do more than just look up for themselves. They're good partners. Hard fighting in the MERV this week in the Middle Euphrates River Valley. This is as we get down into the -- it's under  two percent now as the fighting goes on, very hard fighting. Exactly what we anticipated as we concentrate some more, they become more capable of sailing out. So, they've got a fallback and of course, the reinforcement themselves.

So, hard fighting casualties down there both sides, but we'll continue to go after them in the weeks ahead. The minister of defense of China is coming in early November. We are deconflicting with our national holiday, but I'm not sure -- one of you wrote that it was a delay, never been delayed. It's been on the same timeline for the last month of June.

We talked about it when I was in Beijing in June when I met with him. It's a very long discussion in Beijing. The two plus two was canceled for me. It was canceled on the diplomatic side, but even at that point, we'd already agreed to meet in Singapore with as you know was a little over a week ago. The November visit was a longstanding invitation from me to him to come to America.

All on track. We're developing ways that we're going to work together and reduce mil to mil tensions even as we have other disagreements the way it is. On the border, we are preparing what we call Defense Support for Civilian Authorities. Right now, it will be phased. Right now, if you look at how we organize for the storms, for Puerto Rico where you surround the storm, for Texas, for Florida, we surround the storm.

So, right now, we're planning it, how we're going to do it. We need to -- but we're planning the logistics. Right now, logistics are always a tough part where you have to actually line up first to gear up, where the troops at, what are the dimensions. Our staffs have been meeting over the last three days. They're meeting now. They're meeting tomorrow, and we all make certainly have whatever material just like we do for the storms.

What's the material requirement, how many troops are needed, break it down like that. The meetings are going on. The orders are being drafted and some material is moving, construction-type material, 30 barriers, that sort of thing that they may need. We anticipate from what they thought they'll need. I'll come back to you when we have it finalized, the details, the rules that the troops will be under, I'll give that. I do not have that at this time.

They're working on it. I'll review it either tonight when I get back to Washington or tomorrow. What else is going on here? Good talk with the Japanese foreign minister there in Bahrain about the situation in Korea, very much aligned. We were just again clarifying and confirm. We and Japan are on the same kind of music. That's an opportunity to meet with the foreign minister at the lunch yesterday, which was hosted by foreign ministers.

I think let's just go to Q and A. Is there any other figures who you want me to cover before we go to Q and A?

Q: I'm just going to ask about -- you mentioned your meetings in Bahrain. (Inaudible).

SEC. MATTIS: Yes. We discussed the same thing we talked about, transparency, full and complete investigation, full agreement from Foreign Minister (inaudible). No reservations at all. We need to know what happened and there's very collaborative agreement.

Q: Secretary, you talked about meeting your European partners, (inaudible), how would address their concerns about the U.S. leaving the INF Treaty?

SEC. MATTIS: We're still on track to have the discussion of the foreign ministerial -- NATO, we needed NATO at summits, from the head of state cons. We meet in DefMin. How often do I do those, Katie? Every three months and then the foreign ministers I meet, I think meets every six months. I'm not sure on that. Don't quote me on that part of it, but they will meet on December 4th, I believe is the date.

At that point, we'll I'm sure have some kind of culminating point. Now what it will be is still to be determined. Is it material breach and Russia decided to reverse itself? Have they woken up to the danger they put the treaty in? We'll have to see, but we are in consultations with our European counterparts. I was speaking about it yesterday or a day before. The minister of defense, as I said, the consultations continues.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you talked a lot about Yemen. Was there any discussion any shift in U.S. support to the Royal Saudi coalition? You've talked before about how the military has helped press the  diplomatic effort. Any changes do you think on U.S. support toSaudis and Yemen? Did you talk about that with (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS: We support the defense. For example, we continue the training of their guys and how you construct missions so innocent people are not hit, how do you plan those missions. The commander of the Royal Saudi Air Force has visited every base. We're doing much of the same orientations, making very clear the protection of innocents. He's talked to his pilots actually face-to-face going from base-to-base talking to them.

We'll continue to support the defense of the kingdom. You'll notice there have been no missiles fired for a while. We are focused right now on supporting the U.N. special envoy. We do not accept that there is any reason for a slowdown in the effort to bring this to a negotiated end because now is the time. As I said yesterday publicly, now is the time to do this.

I have worked with Foreign Minister Adil and (inaudible). So, full support from the king of Bahrain. Everybody wants to see this brought to an end and so it's how do we do it in a way that does not allow the Saudi[sic] the opportunity to continue to bring weapons in to destabilize the region. How do the people inside Yemen with the U.N. being the fair broker work out the political situation internally, but you know, we've got to get on this right now.

Q: Did you speak with the German minister about the meeting in Istanbul yesterday between the Russian president (inaudible) about Syria? There was a meeting yesterday, Russia, Turkey, France and Germany about Syria. Did you speak about that to the German minister? Did she inform you what they were doing?

SEC. MATTIS: Yes, with the collaboration goes on, our position is the Geneva process with the U.N. brokered process to end this fighting, we support it. If other people want to talk in support of getting this to the Geneva, that's great. But the Geneva process must meet all of our alignments right now.

Q: Why U.S. was not participating in that meeting?

SEC. MATTIS: Pardon?

Q: Why U.S. was not a part of that meeting?

SEC. MATTIS: We're not part of all meetings in the world. Our goal is to move this towards Geneva. If other nations are trying to move it towards Geneva, we support it. If other nations are trying to delay or divert from Geneva, then we believe that's a mistake, but we're not part of all meetings in the world.

Q: Back to the border wall, is this  strong response? (Inaudible) or is this a very specific (inaudible)the caravan.

SEC. MATTIS: I prefer not to even answer. That's where it's going to be. I'm just going to show for us it's a military problem that we're given, and this is the process we follow. No, I'm not trying to say, this is a storm, OK. I'm just saying this is a mission in support of the civilian authorities and here's how we go through it, so you understand why right now I have something done. Another thing is still on process.

Q: But it's very specific to this caravan. It's not a general a general plus up.

SEC. MATTIS: This is a result - response to the caravan directed by the president based on what Secretary Kirsten, Secretary Nielsen says we need in order to address that issue.

Q: Czech Republic, with their losses in Afghanistan, are you a little concerned that Czech maybe facing more public pressure to maybe not contribute supplies to Afghanistan with how much they have lost there?

SEC. MATTIS: No.

Q: Have they expressed any concerns to you?

SEC. MATTIS: Pardon?

Q: Have Czech officials expressed any concerns to you about their amount in losses?

SEC. MATTIS: Yes, I keep thosekind of conversation, , generally, I maintain confidentiality but no. In fact, they have not.

Q: You support the U.S. withdrawal from the INF?

SEC. MATTIS: We have to do as I've said -- I think it was -- well, I've talked about it many times actually, mostly in meetings whether it be with the Russian ambassador to Washington or with the NATO allies or probably at least I know for 16 months, it might be 18 months. I can't remember if I started in February. My first talks I know by April when I came into office, I was talking about it.

And I said, it is unsustainable that you have a treaty between two countries and one country denies breaking it and then when they're confronted with the evidence, they say, well -- then they said, we deny that it is a violation of the treaty and they kept going. Finally, they admitted it, but they withdrew it when they realized what they've done.

So, we've made it all along. It's untenable. It's a treaty. When two nations have the treaty and one is violating it, and not just for, you know, accident or disagreement on the terms. In fact, the reason they denied the missile even existed initially and then never forced because they've made a mistake to admit they had it. They knew it was in violation if they admitted it. So, it's untenable is I think our position, so Russia has to return the compliance.

Q: Can you rule out -- I think one of the things the European, the Czechs are worried about. Can you rule out that the U.S. would supply intermediate range missiles on the ground -- 

SEC. MATTIS: You're new here, but I never rule things out like that. It's a legitimate question. I never rule things out. I also don't rule ideas. There are a number of ways for us to respond. It does not have to be symmetric and it will be in close consultation with allies.

The closest consultation when you look at the destabilizing aspects of what Russia has done that will require us to be in very close, as I have been, and State Department has been for years. Remember, it's under two different administrations, Democrat, Republican.

The Democrat administration rules them in violation. The intel is compelling. Russia has eventually inch by inch been put in a place where the have to acknowledge it. They continue now to deny it, but the bottom line is the diplomats have been trying repeatedly in many meetings over two administrations to bring them back in compliance.

We put the word out. When I was at NATO last time, I laid out the situation again, and I said, I need your advice. I need to know we have only unpalatable options, that's the words I used, I need to know if you have any ideas about what we can do to bring Russia back into compliance to save this treaty. So far, we have not been able to find any and that's from 28 other nations in Europe.

Another question, go ahead.

Q: Any reaction to the shooting at the Synagogue?

SEC. MATTIS: I know right now what you know plus I've received one bit of intel, which does not add anymore detail. It's just a normal report that I would get on any what we would consider to be a significant event like that. I've talked before about the loss of respect and fundamental friendliness towards one another, but there's one person responsible.

This individual I wanted to call him a man who is the the poorest excuse for a man you could even come up with who would use a weapon in a house of worship on unarmed innocent people and even shoot four policemen and then surrender himself. This is a coward and he is not a man by any definition that we use in the Department of Defense.

That's tough on the neighborhood, on the members of that synagogue, on all of us, the way you've been creating of religion and one of our most fundamental rights that our country was founded on.

Q: Just a follow on that, how come when we speak to troops you talk to them about the stabilizing effect (inaudible) very uncertain time right now for a nation? Wouldn't you talk to them especially like a lot of the division that's going on in the country?

SEC. MATTIS: You know what, Tara? The U.S. military -- what I'd expect from our troops and what I've see of them, these men and women working respect alongside each other. People will look at other people's religion as a private matter to be respected. The U.S. military I believe represents what it's all about in America where you work together to solve things, but also in the U.S. military, our job is to protect democracy and we're devoted -- focused like a laser beam on that. So, let's go off the record, okay?