Secretary of Defense James Mattis Gives Press Briefing in Riyadh and Discusses Iran's Role in the Yemeni Conflict

April 19, 2017

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SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES MATTIS:  Well, good evening, ladies and gentlemen, here in Riyadh.

I had meetings with the king and with the deputy crown prince.  The meetings could not have gone better.  They were frank.  They were candid.  They were honest.  They were highly productive in terms of outcomes, to include how we're going to work together with one of our best counterterrorism partners against the enemy.

What was really obvious to me today was the regional leadership role of the Saudis and how they are helping across the region, from assisting the refugees who are being thrown out of Syria by the fighting there, supporting Jordan in taking care of those refugees; the supplies, the energy supplies and other support they are giving to Egypt as they work through some really tough financial times.

But it's very clear that Saudi Arabia is stepping up to its regional leadership role out here right now at a key time in terms of trying to restore stability in this key region of the world.

So, let me take questions from whoever's got questions.  Gordon?

Q:  Right.  Secretary, thanks.

So yesterday, you talked about deepening and broadening the relationship here.  And then I think at the top of the meeting earlier, you talked about helping to reinforce Saudi resistance to Iran's mischief.  So I'm wondering if you could kind of like elaborate a little bit more about what form that could take now that you've met with some folks.  And also, you said that, you know, you'd like to push for, you know, a peace deal.  Do you think that the Saudi government is anywhere closer to thinking that way as you are?

SEC. MATTIS:  You're talking about Yemen?

Q:  I'm sorry.  Yemen, yes, yes, sure.

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, right now, as you all know, we watch Iran's impact across the region from the militia they maintain, Lebanese Hezbollah that they support in Lebanon.  That militia is also contributing thousands of fighters.  And of course, Iran's got its own military inside Syria, continuing to hold Assad in power.  Everywhere you look, if there is trouble in the region, you find Iran.

So right now, what we're seeing is the nations in the region and others elsewhere trying to checkmate Iran and the amount of disruption, the amount of instability they can cause.  So going to Yemen, the point you were bringing up there, our goal is to push this conflict into the U.N.-brokered negotiations to ensure that it ends as soon as possible.  It's got to be ended.

At the same time, Iranian influence, Iranian support, infiltrating weapons that have been caught in transit by the French navy, by the Australian navy, by the U.S. Navy, shows that Iran once again is no help.

So we will make progress on this.  The international community will make progress on it.  We'll have to overcome Iran's efforts to destabilize yet another country and create another militia in their image of Lebanese Hezbollah.  But the bottom line is we're on the right path forward.  We just have to get down the path and get this in front of a negotiated peace by the United Nations, which is what we stand for and all nations out here that want the best for Yemen stand for.

So thank you very much.


STAFF:  Mr. Secretary, I promised America's newspaper one question as well.

Q:  The nation's newspaper (Laughter.)

STAFF:  The nation's newspaper.

Q:  Sir, could you clear up the confusion that's surrounded the Vinson -- some of it's apparently come out of the Pentagon; some from the White House.  How did that come about?  And where does it stand right now?

SEC. MATTIS:  The bottom line is in our effort to always be open about what we're doing, we said that we were going to change the Vinson's upcoming schedule.  The Vinson, as I said on the record, was operating up and down the western Pacific, and we were doing exactly what we said.  And that is we are shifting her -- instead of continuing one direction as she pulled out of Singapore, she's going to continue part of her cruise down in that region, but she was on her way up to Korea.

We don't generally give out ship schedules in advance, but I didn't want to play a game either and say we were not changing the schedule.  And in fact, we had.

So, we're doing exactly what we said we were going to do.  She will be on her way, and I'll determine when she gets there and where she actually operates.  But the Vinson is going to be part of our ensuring that we stand by our allies in the Northwest Pacific.

Does that answer your question?  All right.

STAFF:  Thanks, you guys.