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Presenter: Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis July 13, 2018

Media Availability by Secretary Mattis en route to Oslo, Norway

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS: It will go off the record, but it's got to be pretty brief. I apologize, and I'll take a question or two on the record as well, if that helps.

So we're coming out of Croatia out of Zagreb. I would just tell you that if you want to see a success of a summit manifesting, I think you sensed it there, because -- the reason I wanted to come here was I feel the cost to a number of NATO nations and NATO-aspiring nations. You know that Macedonia was just opened to begin its accession program. And so when you get a number together like that, you also hear the exchanges between nations, and it's much less scripted than when you have 29 nations, where everyone's got to be given a chance. So we're down to these nations that were there today that you saw in front of you, plus my contact with the -- both the Croatians and the -- and the Montenegrins, because they were the co-host. One was physically hosting because it was a nation day, like our July 4th day in Montenegro.

In the bilaterals themselves, these are two nations that know what it's like to be small and vulnerable, to have to fight for your freedom, to try and be part of something larger where they gain strength. And it's a -- it's a classic case of, we're stronger together in defense of -- of democracy, of human rights, of international law.

The commitment to two percent spending is a given. I think the very hearty discussion yesterday at Brussels was very helpful, and you hear from a number of nations how they -- (inaudible). It was interesting to hear it there, in terms of what they see it doing for the protection of their values.

It was the A-5, the U.S. Adriatic Charter, the A-5 started out, as you know, 15 years ago as the A-3. Two of the three nations are now in NATO. The other one was granted a path forward into NATO. So what you see, too, is something that has an output. It's not just getting together for meetings. You see it resulting in something that brings nations into an international organization that's considered the strongest in the world when it comes to a -- to defense, security. We're now at A-5.

It was interesting. I found there that there was so much -- they all have little issues between them, as neighbors do, as we have issues between us and Canada, or us and Mexico. But the issues they had between them did not stop them from saying we out to expand there more widely in the western -- western, Southeastern Europe, Western Balkans.

So I think it's -- as Vice President Pence said last time, again, this is a continuity of effort. Vice President Pence said it's a testament to the U.S. commitment to Western Balkans. It's got a very unique role, though, I think, in fostering stability in what has historically been an unstable area. And right now, the U.S. supports each of these countries' chosen path, wherever they want to go. If they think it's NATO, they think it's E.U., some -- most of them think it's both, by the way.

And so good track record out of there. I would just tell you, Montenegro took over in February, I think, as a chair of the -- of the A-5, and bottom line is...

Bottom line is it was very, very successful all the way through the lunch, and the gain over the lunch, again, a lot of different perspectives. We had an hour and a half there, just to talk. So it was productive. I met with the president. I think you all -- were you all there when we met with the president? Yeah, you just got the picture? It's -- it was a very good discussion. I'll just leave it -- a very productive. It was more summing up of what is already in motion, and clarifying and confirming -- clarifying the issues, confirming the way ahead between us and -- and Croatia.

So I also just heard about this story that the Pentagon's in damage control.

Q: I also just heard about this story that the Pentagon's in damage control. That was fascinating. I love reading fiction, so it was stimulating to read it. I find out that while I've been with you in full transparency on the airplane with you watching what's going on that I've been in damage control. I must tell you- it must have been the most pleasant damage control in the A5 I ever could have imagined with the level of unity of purpose that we experienced there. So anyway, people are entitled to their own opinion, even if it's not facts-based.

SEC. MATTIS: That was fascinating. I love reading fiction. So it was -- it was stimulating to read it. I find out while I've been with you with full transparency on the airplane, you watching what's going on; that I've been in damage control. I must tell you, it must have been the most pleasant damage control in the A-5 I ever could have imagined with the level of unity, of purpose that we experienced there. So anyway, people are entitled to their own opinion, even if it's not fact-based.

Let's let's shift over quickly to some questions. I want to make sure we give you some for a couple on the record, then we'll go quickly off the record, and it's going to be quick, okay? Go ahead, (inaudible).

Q: Well, one thing -- when you were at the -- when you were at the meeting with the Croatian president, I think we overheard someone asking you about the summit, and you said that it was a very honest summit.


Q: So I'm wondering how the -- how NATO inserted itself back here into the A-5 discussions. What were their main concerns that were expressed there about Russia? And then, how is your trip to Norway? I mean, obviously -- (inaudible)


SEC. MATTIS: So -- (inaudible) -- to keep track, that's the only thing. You asked me that -- (inaudible).

Q: Okay.

SEC. MATTIS: First of all, on the summit itself, I think the very fact that people stopped going just through a set timeline, and stopped to actually talk about fundamental issues, levels of commitment of national treasury, of commitments of forces. What happened -- it has -- it's almost like it washes away all the veneer and people really talked about where they stand.

So in there today was a sense of a clear sense of purpose, why joining NATO has been good for Croatia, why it has been good. Number 29, when you say "NATO at 29," you're talking about Montenegro. That's NATO at 29. It's the 29th nation, and to see the confidence that they have from a NATO that is that open in discussion, and honest in discussion.

So I'd say the summit was purposeful in what it gave NATO. It gave a sense of shared purpose that needed to be -- it needs to be refreshed in any organization.

What was the next question about?

Q: It was about Russia. It was about, you know, I asked the Montenegrin -- oh, no, Macedonian defense minister what she thought of Russia when they were trying to interfere with their accession.


Q: She, you know, obviously raised her -- her concerns, you know.


Q: So how did Russia factor in your discussions? I know in open...


Q: ... Congress you know didn't talk about it.

SEC. MATTIS: Yeah. Russia factors in in the Southeastern Europe area as a destabilizing element. They have chosen to come in and to undermine the democratic fabric of nations that are young in their democratic processes, that have been freed as nations in recent times, and whether through false news reporting, economic strictures and interventions, they are not seen as helpful, would be probably the most polite way to describe it.

Anything else?

Q: Do you -- do you -- given the activities today at the meeting, did they ask you for any assistance in dealing with Russia?

SEC. MATTIS: What we discussed today was where we clarified where everyone wanted to go. It was, again, a great deal of shared purpose, I think, buoyed up by the summit, and a sense of purpose coming out of there. And then, where we can work together on a number of NATO initiatives that are ongoing and bilateral initiatives, from rearmaments and national commitments. That's the two percent, of course, coming out, where they're building up their defenses to make them sit for a time when they have, for example, both a threat from the south, and a threat from the east, most of the threat from the east being hybrid, not -- not being a threat -- military threat, of course. So it's along those lines.

Q: Did you learn anything about the threat you didn't know?

SEC. MATTIS: It was more clarifying to hear it in -- from their perspective, and clarifying that what we've all been sharing in NATO is keenly felt in southeastern Europe.

Okay, you'd better go off -- off record or I'm not going to have time for off-record.

Q: Nothing from Norway? You want to say anything about Norway?

SEC. MATTIS: Well, Norway -- we, yeah, we're still on the record here. On Norway, an ally long long-standing ally. You know, it's a founding member of NATO, the sentinel for the north. I'm going in there to do, again, a lot of listening, and making certain we understand the priorities and perspectives they have up there in the maritime area, and also in the -- in the Baltics, in -- (inaudible). They're -- they're part of -- they front on the Baltics, as well, the Skagerrak. And also it's -- I'd just say with Norway, it's more of a continuation of a very, very strong relationship, you know, the continued consultation between strong allies, long -- long-standing allies. And I'll be -- I can probably be better at Norway when we come out of there, but it's all on track. This is the normal consultation. It's not some, you know, alarm signal that's drawing me there. It's the normal consultations.

Okay, so let's go off the record here, okay?

Q: Thank you.


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