Acting Secretary Shanahan Hosts Enhanced Honor Cordon and Meeting Welcoming Belgian Minister of Defense Didier Reynders to the Pentagon

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan


ACTING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE PATRICK SHANAHAN:  Well, welcome.  Long time no see.  (Laughter.)

I think officially this is the first visit in five years, but I think this is our third visit in one week.  So I think we're off to a very good start.  And I just wanted to give you a very warm welcome to the Pentagon.  And if I may, I would just like to thank you for the warm welcome you provided to me in Brussels and in Munich.  

And I found your engagement and your leadership very beneficial.  And I'm looking forward to doing the same in our bilateral, but also longer term as we work on our collective issues.  

Maybe just a few comments just to share.  Belgium has been a reliable ally to the United States for generations.  This year our alliance marks two important milestones: the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge where the 1st U.S. Army and the 5th Belgian Fusiliers Battalion fought side-by-side to repel the fascist enemy's last stand in Belgium.  

We honor these men as well as Belgian civilians who died amongst the trees of Ardennes, linked together by what President Eisenhower once described as a “basic kinship between our two peoples.” 

This year is also the 70th anniversary of our nations working together to establish NATO; laying the foundation for trans-Atlantic security.  As Minister von der Leyen said last week in Munich, NATO offers reliability in an unpredictable world.  The alliance between our two countries has only become stronger as we continue to work hand-in-hand on the world stage.

Minister, thank you for Belgium's continued commitment of troops and air support to the D-ISIS coalition.  Your pledge to increase support to Resolute Support mission, sustained troop contributions to NATO Mission Iraq, and NATO Enhanced Forward Presence, and your enduring commitment to NATO's nuclear deterrence mission.  

Thank you as well for your assistance in our recent transition of an army brigade combat team as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.  We are working quickly to provide you with the capabilities you need to determine your efforts.  

I'm encouraged that our decades-long partnership on fighter aircraft will continue with your transition to the F-35A.  We also welcome Belgium's interest in the MQ-9B Sky Guardian UAV.  

Today, we will discuss how we can bolster our cooperation to meet shared challenges as Russia seeks to test NATO's resolve on our eastern flank, and China seeks to infiltrate our technology base.  So that our alliance remains ready to meet the challenges of both today and tomorrow, I urge Belgium to meet its commitment of 2 percent defense spending under the Wales pledge.  

Together we will continue to combat global challenges bilaterally, in NATO, D-ISIS coalition, and now the U.N. Security Council as Belgium begins its two-year term.  Your nation's insight will be most welcome there.  

Mr. Minister, thank you for coming, and I look forward to our bilateral.  

BELGIAN MINISTER OF DEFENSE DIDIER REYNDERS:  Thank you very much for such a warm welcome, such beautiful weather, I'm sorry, in Washington. (Laughter.)

Of course, it's not my first visit to Washington, but in my capacity as minister of defense this is the first time, and my first visit to the Pentagon.  So thanks, then, for that.  

We have had many meetings in the last days, like you said, in the NATO, and we are very proud to be the host country of the NATO, and, of course, in Munich to discuss about the coalition and the anti-ISIS coalition.  Just to say that we are very proud our allies.  We were very proud to receive a different moment of our history, the American troops (inaudible).  

We have commemorated the First World War from 2014 to 2018.  We also in the year of anniversaries about the Second World War.  And we are surely to work together in the trans-Atlantic alliance.  But we certainly to do more than that.  I want just to insist on the fact that we have decided to reinvest in defense.  

We have seen that.  We have (inaudible) and we start a progression of defense expenditure.  We have now an investment project of $10 billion for the next decade.  And we have started the F-35, but we are certainly the same way for the — all the forces, for the navy, for the land forces and all.”

And I want to say that we have tried to be present in many of the operations together, that we have since the beginning in Afghanistan, but we are also at work in the Baltic countries because there it's important to do the job with the threat coming from Russia, and we're trying to do the job in (inaudible) order capacity that we have provided to the U.N. in support of other coalitions in the region.  And of course with the anti-Daesh coalition, D-ISIS, we are in Iraq, and we (inaudible) the F-16 from Jordan to operate in Iraq and in Syria.  

But I want just to say that and, of course, to repeat that we have had the discussion in the NATO -- in Brussels, at the NATO in Brussels we are certain to go further with a balanced approach with Russia.  We need to be very strong when it comes to deterrence and sometimes some sanctions.  We have (inaudible) those sanctions.  And we try sort of an open dialogue.  And it's not easy for the Belgians due to different situations which we are knowing.  

And just the last point, of course, because we have started a sort of (inaudible) in the European Union and that’s about China.  We need to attract many investments from all over the world, but we need to sort of protect some strategic interests.  And we have had an interesting discussion on that at the NATO meeting.  But we continue to exchange on that and many (inaudible).

Thanks again for your warm welcome here in Washington.  

SEC. SHANAHAN:  You're very welcome.  Thank you.  

OK, what do you think?  

Q:  Mr. Secretary, would you tell us what -- how are you going to deal with having on Syria a powerful self-described adversary in the U.S. Senate?  

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Well, I always think of Senator Graham as an ally.  And we have shared interests.  He is a problem-solver and I'm very confident we'll come together with solutions for Syria.  

Q:  Mr. Secretary, has the Pentagon asked DHS to identify certain locations of the border wall where they would be effective for the military troops deployed there?  

SEC. SHANAHAN:  We've asked DHS for input, facts, data, priorities.  We're waiting to receive those.  When we do, we'll then process that.  When I say process that, we'll match that with our mission analysis and begin the process.  I think I've described to many of you, just, — tomorrow, our intent is to brief Congress on the way forward and to give people not just a sense of the activities we're going to undertake, but the timing.

And then following that briefing we'll brief all of you so that you have a good sense and some background on, really, what the next week looks like.

Q:  And, sir...

Q:  Mr. Secretary, on Syria, is it true that your European allies rejected any request to stay as some kind of observe force without a U.S. presence?  

SEC. SHANAHAN:  No.  

Q:  And, sir, back to...

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Hold on, let's just ask -- this is awesome, right? (Laughter.)

Why don't we ask one of our allies right now?  (Laughter.)

MIN. REYNDERS:  I was attending meeting, it's possible to confirm, no, we didn't say that we are, just looking for the different capacity that we have to take part in such a process.  But we have started process and we have started the preparations of possible operations.  But we ever so insist on one issue, it's a legal mandate.  Is it possible to have a (inaudible) to do something in Syria on the ground.  

But we are open to discussing what's -- an open discussion in Munich about that.  But with all the (inaudible) from all different countries, as you said.   

Q:  Would it open to -- even without U.S. troops there, would you be open to having possible...

MIN. REYNDERS:  We are waiting for preparations of the withdrawal of the U.S. troops.  And we are waiting now for more discussions about the way to prepare something, if it's possible, and good collaboration is a different part.  But it was the beginning of the discussion in Munich.  

SEC. SHANAHAN:  We only have a short period of time.  So if...

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. SHANAHAN:  I'm sorry.  We need to do this.  

STAFF:  Thank you that will be all.  Thank you.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Thank you.