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Presenter: Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis August 16, 2018

Media Availability with Secretary Mattis en route to Bogota, Colombia

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS: So how you all doing? So we'll talk on the record for a little bit here, okay? The -- I haven't seen much of you lately, huh?

Okay, so we're going to -- (inaudible) -- a light history of literature and stuff, so -- (inaudible), leave that out.

We're leaving the land of the poets, -- (inaudible) -- and the -- (inaudible) -- mountains. They're snow-capped, but they're -- they're -- (inaudible). Truly, they've been very respected among the U.S. military people, for what it's done and what it's capable of, and no need to reiterate to you about RIMPAC and the role they played.

Again, it was no surprise, as I mentioned to the audience there today. We've seen them in action for a long time, and -- and they performed exactly as expected. They're very capable, and I would call them very mature partners, 'cause we've gone on for so many years together in the military lane.

Certainly their leadership has helped their -- our hemisphere transform increasingly into a powerhouse island of democratic stability. It's not total. We all recognize what's going on in Cuba for many decades, what's happened in Nicaragua, what's happened in Venezuela. But overwhelmingly, this is a democratic hemisphere, both the northern and southern parts of it. And that says something in a world -- (inaudible), facing a lot of challenges.

We're on our way now north, I think. Yes, north.


Confirming. Just want to make sure.

Plus we were getting ready to go into a -- a track, into refueling track. This plane was actually pointed -- I said we were going west. It was pointed east, and -- (inaudible) -- I looked over and I realized they were getting in line to get fuel, and so. There I was confusing the press.


But anyway, we're going north to Bogota, to Colombia. And it, too, is a long-standing leader. I don't -- I'm not going to go into a lot of detail, but if you go back to Ambassador Anne Patterson -- (inaudible) -- and General Charles Wilhelm, the commander of Southern Command -- we're talking decades here -- and they had in their mind, with the Colombians, the plan for how we were going to end that -- that problem with the FARC. And you saw, it took a long time. Many people said it wouldn't happen. Many people said it couldn't happen. Others said, you know, there was -- constantly checkered with violence and all.

Eventually persevered, and you saw what came out. Not perfect. Still working on it. Welcome to the real world.

The bottom line in Latin America, they have been a -- a -- I would call them a leader -- figuring out -- how to stop violence and reduce it, certainly.

But they've also been leaders globally, in the Indo-Pacific. This is one of the countries -- if you go to the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., on the Mall, you'll see -- if you walk up to it on the left, you'll see a number of countries that are named alongside the walkway. And Colombia is one of those that sent their husbands, their brothers, their fathers, their sons to fight alongside the U.S. and the other nations under the U.N. during the Korean War. And they were known there. They were in a Battle of Old Baldy, well-known, again, in the U.S. military. And the Colombians did not waver. Very, very difficult battle.

In the Middle East, they've been there, I think, for 36-odd years now, since around 1982, a continuous contributor to the Multi-National Force. An observer mission in the Sinai in Egypt. Again, takes many, many decades. Still in the Sinai -- when you think of what it was once, a battleground, in the Sinai today, Egyptians and Israelis work together against terrorists. It is not a state-on-state war. And that is the United Nations force in there to help bring that about, to set the conditions of what is today the best relationship between the IDF, the Israeli Defense Force, the Egyptian army -- (inaudible) -- employed since -- certainly, since the modern state of Israel, 1949, was -- was inaugurated.

Here in our own hemisphere, they've worked as regional partners, like on counter-narcotics initiatives and a host of other things.

I'm going to meet with the newly inaugurated President Duque. We're going to -- I know already, based on our embassy's discussions with his office, we're going to discuss a range of shared security concerns. It will not surprise you, since he has a border with Venezuela, that that will loom large, I'm sure.

Bogota, by the way, is known as the Athens of South America in some circles. History, art, learning and culture. Just think of that next door, in stark contrast to the tragic and fully avoidable reality in Venezuela.

This is a human-imposed condition. This is not some act of God. It's not something that just had to happen because it was a natural disaster. In fact, they sit on enormous oil reserves. They've got tremendous opportunity for their people.

And we abhor the wholly misguided Maduro regime. We stand with the people of Venezuela in the midst of the tragedy that's forced on them by the power-hungry oppressive regime that has compelled the citizens of the Bolivarian Republic to flee their own country -- with refugees.

Maduro's lashed out against and threatened neighbors who have pointed the regime's failures. Maduro should know that we do not solve our problems in this hemisphere in that way, and that we democracies will stand together in rejecting such bellicose language and the saber rattling that is behind it.

Simone de Beauvoir once said that the most perfect system of government is that which produces the highest sum of societal security and the highest sum of political stability. And it was Maduro and his inner circle that violated the liberator's proud legacy.

Let me go a little more broadly now. This -- we've just come out of our third country on this trip -- fourth stop, and tell you some impressions I have.

One is the depth of the warmth and the trust that have characterized the discussions. Very candid. In depth. We were joking, after one of the stops, that we had searched high and low for something to argue about and couldn't find it.

The -- the point I am making is that when you have a confluence of interests, you then have a lot more room on which to find common aspirations, common goals for the future.

There's common interests. You've heard it enough from me in these briefs. I never tire of talking about it, because we take it for granted. Most parts of the world cannot take it for granted or any other way.

Democracy, the rule of law, individual freedom, human rights, all those things that we literally -- it's like the air we breath. We just take it. I mean, right now, you represent part of that: freedom of speech, freedom to think what you want.

And when you look at what Maduro has done with no independent election commission and that sort of thing to remind them this doesn't just come automatically to anybody.

So one of the reasons I wanted to come down and collaborate and consult with other democracies is to make sure that we're united in what were doing down here. We're transparent in it. We're obedient to civilian control of the military: You've seen it in Brazil, you've seen it in Argentina, you've seen it in Chile, you will see it Columbia.

You will not see it in Cuba, you will not see it in Venezuela, you will not see it in Nicaragua, where the military is used to oppress their own people and keep certain regimes in power.

So we don't take it for granted. We start on that common ground and then we talk about, "Okay, what are the practical things we're going to do military to military?" We're going to train together. We're going to work together. We're going to be on each others' staffs. We're going to share information. We're going to share technology.

We're looking at each country separately. They tell us what they're looking to do. We look at where we have common ground. Where they have a challenge, for example security for an international conference, we find ways to help them.

This is the way we go about, in our Pentagon, in our National Defense Strategy, of line of effort number two. And that is to seek to broaden and deepen the relationships between allies and partners.

But, again, it was heartening to come down here. And sometimes you need to get down face-to-face on each other's ground and have the degree of rapport, the -- the degree of openness about what we're talking about. And it's -- it's going very, very well.

Each of the things I spoke about opens the door for more opportunities. And on some of those things we're starting task forces. Others are continuing.

For example, Chile will have a delegation in Washington, D.C., next week. That doesn't come out of this meeting. This has been many, many months in preparation. And this has to do with the document that you saw me sign today with the minister. And this has to do next week with putting practical application and where we have to work on cybersecurity -- in action. So they will be there next week in Washington.

One of -- the gentlemen who will be leading that, their undersecretary, was there present with us today at the meeting. Continuity of effort from our staff meetings a couple of weeks ago -- I think it was a couple weeks ago -- to the meeting today, to next week when they'll be in Washington.

Normal consultations, normal collaboration is only possible where there's a high degree of trust and a high degree of transparency.

Let me switch for a minute over to Afghanistan, because I'm sure you have some -- some questions here.

In Ghazni -- just -- a second here -- (inaudible).

Okay, we now know that the enemy had six objectives in Ghazni and they failed to seize any one of the six locations in the area.

It's been principally an information operation to grab a lot of press attention. They've been successful.

The operation itself, there are still some hiding out in houses, trying to get resupplied, that sort of thing. So clearance operations continue. But there's -- or at least right now, we do not have hunger in the town, commerce is going on, that sort of thing. So it is -- it's much more stable.

I bring this up because we are going in -- as you know, there's been talk about another -- some kind of cease-fire coming from the Afghan president, President Ghani. And this is what we've seen before insurgencies, when there's going to be a negotiation or a cease-fire, trying to up the ante.

This enemy does it by murdering innocent people, by going into a city with normal families and going after them. So they have not endeared themselves, obviously, to the population of Ghazni. They use terror. That means they use bombs. They simply can't win the ballot right now.

So there's also an election coming up soon, so we'll continue to see this sort of thing. They will never hold against the Afghan army. As you see, every time they take something -- they were unable to this time, but they have -- they've taken things, they're unable to hold it.

And so, that's where we're at right now. The Afghan army, supported by the NATO alliance, is regaining -- I would say, clearing of the town. They are clearing the town. But they're -- the Taliban do not hold any of the town right now. We know how many objectives they have, and they did not seize them.

I wonder if there's anything else I wanted -- oh, on the training for the -- with the combined patrols, it is starting shortly in Turkey. The gear is in. The officers are in. And -- and it will start shortly. To follow on what I told you a couple days ago, is going on track so far. I got a report in just a little bit ago.

Q: Sir, when you said shortly, do you mean within days?

SEC. MATTIS: I'm sorry?

Q: When you said shortly, do you mean within days?

SEC. MATTIS: Oh, yes. Yes, absolutely. Within probably -- I hate doing that -- I say within -- 72 hours -- (inaudible). Should be soon.

We'll have to get it set up and normal -- everybody there and get them organized -- (inaudible). But that's all part of getting it rolling.

So I'm -- I think I'm done talked out and I've got something coming up. We've got some time, though.

Q: Can I ask a couple --

SEC. MATTIS: Not many --

Q: -- couple of quick follow-ups?

SEC. MATTIS: Okay, on the record. Go ahead.

Q: Yeah.

Just quickly on the -- (inaudible) -- objectives, can you give us an idea of what you're talking about, like military objective -- I mean, the locations of --

SEC. MATTIS: Yes. No, I don't want to go into that. But they had -- they had these specific objectives they did not seize.

Q: In the city?

SEC. MATTIS: In the city.

Q: Okay.

SEC. MATTIS: Well, in the city environment. It might have been on the edge of the city.

Q: Okay. All right.

And then another non-Latin America question, just before we --

SEC. MATTIS: So non-Latin America -- all I've been doing is Latin America.


Whatever it is, you probably know more than I do about it, Bob. But go ahead.

Q: No, there's reports in Washington that the latest Pentagon estimate of what it's going to cost to hold a military parade in November is $92 million. (inaudible)

SEC. MATTIS: I have not -- I have not seen an estimate of $92 million. The estimates were coming to me. I've given initial guidance. But I have received no such estimate.

I -- I haven't received an estimate of $10 million, or $92 million.

Q: You haven't received any estimates?

SEC. MATTIS: We looked at approximate cost for certain elements of it. But those were very premature, and -- and they made it very clear when they briefed me: "We will get you the cost estimates." I have not seen it yet.

Q: Okay.

SEC. MATTIS: In fact -- and maybe because I'm down here. And some things, I leave it to staff in Washington. But I doubt that that has been done, just knowing the normal comptroller. They are very, very good in the Pentagon, and they -- they -- I doubt they have it done yet.

Q: Okay.

And just -- one of the last things --

SEC. MATTIS): -- I don't think they could have it done yet. (inaudible) -- I -- I -- I --

Q: Would you --

SEC. MATTIS: I never told you that. Just probably smoking something that's legal in my state, but not in most states, okay?


Q: The -- the last question on that is, would you even tolerate such a -- an expense for such a thing?

SEC. MATTIS: No. I'm not going to get into hypotheticals.

Q: It's a large number.

SEC. MATTIS: Yeah. Well, yeah. But -- but I'm not giving that -- I'm not dignifying that number with any reply.

Q: Okay.

SEC. MATTIS: I -- I would discount that. And anybody who said that, I almost guarantee you one thing: They probably said, "I need to stay anonymous." No kidding, because you'll look like an idiot. And number two, whoever wrote it needs to get better sources. I'll just leave it at that.

And I don't know who wrote it. I haven't seen it. And -- but I guarantee you, there's been no cost estimates for it.

Q: Sir, to follow up on -- Ghazni --

SEC. MATTIS: (inaudible)

Q: On -- (inaudible).


Q: (inaudible) -- do you know that this was a -- (inaudible) -- by the Taliban, if they --

SEC. MATTIS: They -- it's not just propaganda. What -- (inaudible) -- what -- and you'll -- if you go back and study insurgencies, when they get close to negotiation or an imposed end -- in other words, you know, they can't sustain -- you know, any number of reasons why they think the clock is running -- here at this point -- there is a proposed -- cease-fire -- (inaudible), there's an election coming up -- you'll often see an uptick in violence because that's the only thing they can do.

In this case, they went in -- they -- they didn't attack, you know, Bagram -- airfield. They didn't attack one of the Afghan army cantonments; maybe outposts and all. They attacked a city with its people. That's what they do.

So they do it so they can get some kind of negotiating strength, to try to state something. You know they were forced into the last cease-fire. They didn't want it, and seeing their own troops decide to lay down their guns and go into town and enjoy life a little bit, the leadership had to basically accept the cease-fire, because they were going to lose control.

In this case, it appears their timing is going to try to throw a cease-fire off the path or something like this.

So the amount of attention that's been granted to it, some of the stories -- which my military reporting did not collaborate, is the politest way to put it -- they -- they -- they achieved, I think, a degree of disquiet, and I think that was their primary focus.

So propaganda, but also negotiating position, and trying to keep their lads' hearts in the game, that sort of thing.

Q: (inaudible) -- in South America on some of the demands -- (inaudible) --

SEC. MATTIS: No -- (inaudible)

Q: We just learned that the admiral has been -- (inaudible).

SEC. MATTIS: Oh, thank you.

Q: Can you -- can you comment a little bit about how -- (inaudible)?


Q: How you came to that decision to -- (inaudible).

SEC. MATTIS: What we have when we select our combatant commanders, is we have to have people with a deep and serious strategic background.

This officer has commanded an aircraft carrier strike force. He's been the operations officer of U.S. Central Command in the midst of heavy fighting in various locations. He's been with a -- a combatant commander. He's been in the secretary's office, as you know. He's been in my office. He's been one of the officers who was responsible for legislative affairs for the secretary of the Navy. He understands the mix of diplomacy and high-level decision-making, the role of the military in democracy -- to provide options.

So they're selected at this point not just for their experience. They all have experience. They've all got 30, 35 years experience. They're selected because they can think strategically, their judgment, their jointness -- by that, I mean they know how to employ Army officers, as well as their own service's, as well as the Air Force, as well as the Marines.

So they're selected along those lines in order to maintain a -- a very finely-tuned alliance with our diplomats in the field, and the provision of options to the Pentagon, to me to present to the president.

Q: (inaudible)

SEC. MATTIS: I'm sorry?

Q: So there's not just -- (inaudible).


I'm kidding. (inaudible)

SEC. MATTIS: That's a good way to put it, though.


Q: Question on Latin America, please?


Q: Okay, so we've got -- tomorrow, you are going to be meeting with President Duque.


Q: What kind of agreements, or what kind of conversation will you have in Venezuela -- (inaudible)? Like, will you have to say -- (inaudible). Tomorrow, we may not be able to.

SEC. MATTIS: You may not be able to what?

Q: To have any additional information, so --

SEC. MATTIS: We'll get information to you.

Q: (inaudible)

SEC. MATTIS: Yeah, somehow. I mean, I'll try to do it myself. If not, Sergio or – or David, they've got to brief him.

I think number one is always -- I -- I know it sounds boring, but I'm going in to listen. He's newly elected.


SEC. MATTIS: We'll talk about that in just a minute, okay, and you'll get first shot.

Q: So -- after -- President Trump took away former FBI Director John Brennan's security clearance this week. Today, Admiral McRaven published an op-ed in The Washington Post saying I think that he would consider it an honor if his security clearance was also revoked, because he highly feels that he -- gets to -- speak up against the presidency.

I wonder if you -- (inaudible) -- the comments that you made about former military leadership to -- (inaudible) -- both sides when you were in Brazil. What's your reaction to that?

SEC. MATTIS: I -- I don't have any reaction. I haven't studied any of this. I've been consumed, you know, in -- you've watched me. You know what I've been -- (inaudible) -- myself. I -- I'd prefer not to -- (inaudible) -- on something I haven't studied and thought about yet.

Q: Can I ask you one more question, real quick?

SEC. MATTIS: Okay, this'll be the last question on the record, okay? And then we'll go to off the record.

Go ahead.

Q: All right, so these trips are fairly choreographed, and people can -- (inaudible) --

SEC. MATTIS: Choreographed?

Q: Well, we -- (inaudible).

SEC. MATTIS: There shouldn't be --

Q: Too many surprises. I'm wondering --

SEC. MATTIS: Oh, no, there were -- I just walked out of the room, and -- and had something come up to me, I've had -- (inaudible). It came out as we were talking. They then wrote something altogether different.

I have never had one of these -- let me think now. Let -- let me just take this trip -- (inaudible). We've had new in Brasilia. New -- things come up in Brasilia. Obviously, I did not know what questions I'd be asked in Rio. We had new -- Argentina -- (inaudible), yes, yes we did. And in this one today, we had something come up -- two things come up.

You know, I mean, the idea that this is all -- the reason I come here is because it's -- we -- we start with what we're working on, and we'll think something's just going great, and they'll say, "No, no, we've got a problem here." So that's not choreographed. Then we move into unknown territory.

Q: So my question was, what was -- and here is one or two of the unusual -- (inaudible).

SEC. MATTIS: No, I'm not ready to right now. I need to go back and do -- I mean, it's that fresh -- to go back. We do our homework. We come back to it.

I will tell you that there were areas, again, of confluence that I could see immediately we can work with them. But we have not put thought to it yet.

In some cases, you know, when we work with other countries, I have certain legislative requirements I have to meet. We expect, in some cases, opportunities and others coming out of the law, that sort of thing. So I try not to shoot from the hip.

STAFF: (inaudible).

SEC. MATTIS: Yeah, we got to move. We got to go quickly.

Let's go off the record, okay?

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