James Mattis - United States Secretary of Defense
IISS Manama Dialogue 2018 – 26-28 October 2018 – Transcript by DoD
Full Transcript of Prepared Remarks and the Q&A
Thank you, Dr. Chipman, and Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen. It's truly a pleasure to be back here at the Manama Dialogue. A special thank you for the foreign minister of Bahrain for its traditional and well-known warm hospitality to borrow the words of a former U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral William Crowe, Bahrain has and I quote here, "pound-for-pound." So, thank you very much to Bahrain for its continued leadership in this regard.
Hosting the Manama dialogue is I think a prime example of Bahrain's leadership making clear that the size of a nation's territory does not determine the impact of its commitment to regional security. And now in its 14th iteration this worthwhile forum, the Manama Dialogue, brings together from across the Middle East and across the globe those committed to crafting a better future and exchanging ideas and sharing best practices.
We owe thanks to IISS and to all the people of this kingdom for the opportunity to work together for peace. As I was falling asleep last night, I was thinking about what the King of Jordan's words conveyed to all of us at dinner in that very short, very succinct but very hard-hitting set of remarks that were delivered in his behalf.
And he said that hope when working for sustainable peace cannot be unilateral. We must work together to offer hope to all to carry out our collective responsibility. And I think that to create peace, it's our obligation to the next generation and in the spirit of a multilateral hope that is how I want to offer my views today on the U.S. role in the changing Middle East.
I think more importantly I come to listen to your perspectives because while I frequently visit this region, many of you live here and I am a good listener. When you have ideas, I take notes. So, I'll speak for a few minutes before leaving time for questions and I would look forward at that point to hearing your question but especially your insight on how we can together further bolster cooperation to meet our shared challenges in the region.
Today, to quote former Secretary of State George Shultz, "The world is awash in change." The Middle East sits at the center of an increasingly complex security environment impacted by the return of great power competition and enduring threats from actors that seek to undermine the rules-based international order.
While some do not share our vision for a peaceful, prosperous, and stable region, the United States remains committed. I am here today, the United States is here in the Middle East, and we are committed to working alongside like-minded partners to reinforce durable and dynamic international responses to regional challenges.
For we understand a stable Middle East underpins a stable world. Instability does not respect national borders. It grows and spreads if left unchecked. This region is critical to the international economy. While America may not require Middle Eastern oil for its own internal economy, our markets rely heavily on it, and beyond economic factors, the people of this region deserve peace just like everyone else.
Like-minded nations here today do not seek war or conflict, yet, we cannot ignore the malign influence and destabilizing behavior pursued by violent extremist organizations and by Iran's "outlaw regime" to borrow U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo's recent words.
And so, therefore, today, I reiterate the United States stands against Iran's proliferation of advanced conventional weapons and its provision of financial and technical assistance to lethal militants amid proxy terrorists and others across the region they support. Their impact being on display in Yemen, in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and even here in the Kingdom of Bahrain.
In Yemen, Iran continues to export missiles rockets and unmanned aerial systems to Houthi militants in violation of United Nations strictures. Over the past 18 months, Houthis have launched more than 100 missiles at Saudi Arabia including civilian targets like the King Khalid International Airport.
Iran support, prolongs, and expands the conflict in Yemen, adds to humanitarian suffering, threatens critical waterways, and disrupts efforts for sustainable peace. In addition, al-Qaeda leadership's use of Iran as a safe haven widely acknowledged amongst extremists is unacceptable to the international community and senseless in terms of what is in the best interest of the unfortunate Iranian people saddled with the regime focused on creating pandemonium and violence beyond its borders.
We stand against Iran's unsafe even reckless behavior in the maritime domain like the July attacks on international shipping by Iranian-supplied Houthis in the Bab el-Mandeb. These behaviors flout freedom of navigation and disrupt maritime security and global trade. We stand against Iran's conducting destructive and costly cyber attacks against sovereign nations and corporations.
We stand against its testing and proliferation of missile systems in contravention of international mandates irresponsibly spreading these threats to Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere. The fact they operate through proxy forces does not lessen the Iranian regime's culpability nor will it lessen their accountability by the international community.
We will not stand idly by any attempt by the Iranian regime to pursue a nuclear weapon. As President Trump has made clear, the United States recognizes the Iranian regime does not speak for the Iranian people, who have a right to live and prosper in a safe, secure, and peaceful region.
An Iranian regime that ignores the needs of its citizens feels free to escalate and initiate costly conflicts that serve no one's interest. Nothing is more emblematic of Iran's maligned activities in the Middle East than its support for Assad's murderous regime. This support coupled with Russia's repeated vetoes of United Nations Security Council resolutions is the leading reason Assad remains in power.
Russia's opportunism and willingness to overlook Assad's criminal activities against his own people evidences its lack of sincere commitment to essential moral principles. Today, I make clear Russia's presence in the region cannot replace the long-standing, enduring, and transparent U.S. commitment to the Middle East. One that I reiterate today without reservation.
We stand with our partners who favor stability over chaos and we support unity of effort among our nation's militaries in response to shared threats and challenges for in such unity is the real power to set and to maintain peace. This year, the United States released its first national defense strategy in more than a decade.
In addition to prioritizing the threats we face in today's complex landscape, the strategy highlights the critical importance of strengthening existing alliances and partnerships while also forging new relationships with like-minded nations. Our logic is simple, nations with allies and partners thrive while those who view others only as vassals or dependents to be exploited wither.
Within this region and beyond even in the midst of current challenges, there is immense opportunity for cooperation alongside those who share a vision for a peaceful, prosperous, and free world. One underpinned by the rule of law at home and internationally.
Over more than four decades in uniform, I never fought in a solely American formation. I always served in coalitions in most cases alongside troops from the nations gathered here today. Those experiences made clear to me, we are stronger when we work together, and we can better deter maligned behavior when unified, and if conflict does occur, we can end it more swiftly when we collaborate.
As Winston Churchill once said, there's only one thing harder than fighting with allies and that is fighting without them. Although, we may disagree on many issues at times, efforts to create peace are stronger when we work together building productive, reliable, and resilient partnerships. It's not always easy, but it is necessary, and I would even say it is noble work.
Within this framework we see a path to stability that begins with an effective regional security architecture. One that increases cooperation and interoperability, one that builds our respective defense institutions and streamlines information sharing, and one that supports harmonious political resolution.
The solving of internal debates among our GCC partners is vital for realizing this vision. Without it, we weaken our security at a time when U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffin in Yemen and Staffan de Mistura and his successor in Syria will need our aligned full support, and they will need it most at this time.
That is why the United States supports ongoing discussions to explore the formation of an inclusive Middle East Strategic Alliance, what we call "MESA." A concept born here in this region and one that brings together all partners to productively and effectively address shared challenges.
The United States is committed to working by, with, and through allies and partners across the region to make this concept a reality and reinforce deterrence of hostile actions. The power of collaboration is evident and all we have accomplished and continue to achieve together to counter destabilizing behavior from the maritime, cyber, air, and missile domains, and to counter proliferation and counterterrorism.
There have been successes we know. In the maritime domain, the United States will continue to work alongside your nations to ensure freedom of navigation and transit of international waters. And here I must note that Bahrain Navy's command earlier this year of the combined counter piracy Task Force 151 outside the Gulf.
Our fifth fleet based here in Bahrain and our coalition maritime partners remain resolute in our determination to keep the seas free from illegal interference and illicit trafficking in weapons, in drugs, and in people by patrolling together in these waters and conducting joint maritime security operations to permit peaceful commercial use by all nations engaged in lawful pursuits.
In the cyber domain, the Department of Defense will continue to share with our partners the cyber lessons that we have learned as we work together to strengthen your resilience against destructive cyber attacks on critical systems. Further, we stand ready to support our partners and allies should nefarious actors attack them in the cyber domain.
In the air and missile domain, the United States will continue to strengthen partner defenses by sharing our best technology permitting these nations to defend their populations. We will help disrupt malign proliferation of missiles and related technologies, identify and share opportunities to enhance counter unmanned aerial systems efforts, and retain capable air and naval aviation aircraft in the region to detect, deter, and if necessary, confront aggression.
I should note here that several nations on the frontline confronting air and missile threats have shared their invaluable lessons learned with us, so this is clearly a mutually beneficial effort. Our combined air operation center in Qatar with representatives from 17 countries serves as a sentinel against air and missile threats in the region.
And we will continue to work with other parties to bolster missile defense more broadly. For in this domain like so many others, no nation can protect its population alone when a missile can swiftly pass over numerous borders to strike. In the counter-proliferation domain, the United States remains committed to working with our partners to ensure weapons of mass destruction stay out of the hands of destabilizing and your irresponsible actors far too likely to use them.
Across the region, we will work to bolster the capabilities of our regional partners and allies to confront enduring and emerging terrorist threats, sharing intelligence and 14 nations that leverage terrorism, showing contempt for your sovereignty and their bid to undermine regional stability in pursuit of their radical ideologies.
In that pursuit, the defeat ISIS coalition continues to make critical strides by working together in supporting the Iraqi military. They have liberated ISIS-held territory, and the physical caliphate in Syria has diminished less than 2 percent of the land - once controlled.
Yet, the fight is not over, and we must not grow complacent. In Syria, the 17-nation coalition will continue to root out ISIS remnants and expand space for our diplomats to negotiate for long-term peace in that war-torn country where Assad remains in power only due to the support of Russia and the Iranian regime.
We will remain engaged in the fight against extremists as long as they present a clear and present danger to our security and allied interest, but the Syrian conflict requires a political resolution, and we appreciate our partners tireless efforts to guide the Geneva process under the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254.
We are deeply aware of the sacrifices many of our partners have made in this effort and continue to make in dealing with the effects of Assad's violence against his own people. Our nation has keenly recognized that any battlefield is also a humanitarian field for the innocent caught up in war.
I commend those nations particularly Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, which have offered safe haven to millions of refugees while proactively countering radicalization among the displaced and vulnerable Syrian people. Thank you for your ongoing efforts to promote stability and to limit further human suffering among people who have suffered far too much for far too long.
The United States also seeks to bolster conditions for peace in the Yemen conflict. As a step towards stabilization, we strive to build the capacity of legitimate Yemeni security forces while strengthening our regional partner’s defensive capabilities. I reiterate U.S. support for our partner's right to defend themselves against Iranian supplied Houthi attacks on their sovereign territory at the same time call for an urgent end to the fighting.
Going back to what the King of Jordan said past in his words last night in pursuit of this worthy and necessary goal, we resolutely support respected U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffith's efforts to secure a political solution to the war. All wars must eventually end, and the tragedy of Yemen worsens by the day. Enough time has been spent on the subordinate issues. Now is the time to move forward on stopping this war.
In November, we must start negotiating the substance of the issues, compromise must replace combat, and the people must have peace to heal. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States stands with NATO and the world's strongest nations, which remained committed to building national security forces capable of defending their populations against threats to their people and their sovereignty.
Both nations have conducted elections this year when so-called experts said that would not happen in the face of terror, when skeptics doubted in Iraq and Afghanistan, the people prevailed in the face of it all and the terrorism's efforts. Imperfect the elections may have been, but against the odds the people still prevailed.
Over many years, international troops have fought shoulder to shoulder with Iraq and Afghan forces. We witness everyday the sacrifices the combined forces make to bring security and stability to their homelands. And if the international community will continue to stand alongside them in this effort, they will continue the long hard journey to peace at home.
When opposing voices can be heard in a political process adapted to each nations culture, one that permits peaceful opposition by giving voice and human rights to all, a nation becomes more secure. When people can speak and be heard calling for peace and for respect for all, the terrorist message of hatred and violence is not embraced.
With our collective interest in peace and unwavering respect for human rights in mind, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in a diplomatic facility must concern us all greatly. As U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo stated, "the United States does not tolerate this kind of ruthless action to silence Mr. Khashoggi, a journalist, through violence."
Failure of any one nation to adhere to international norms and the rule of law undermines regional stability at a time when it is needed most as President Trump noted, "we're going to get to the bottom of it." So, within our democratic form of government in the United States, we recognized it, and President Trump has called for congressional involvement in the matter.
Due to the gravity of this situation, I will continue consulting with our president and secretary of state as they consider the implications of this incident within our broader strategic framework. We will maintain our twin imperatives as stated by Secretary of State Pompeo protecting America and our interests and holding accountable those responsible for this murder.
Our secretary of state has already revoked visas and will be taking additional measures as the situation is clarified. The United States shared security interest with our Arab and Israeli partners in this region remain and our respect for the Saudi people is undiminished, a respect solidified in 1945 when President Franklin Roosevelt and Saudi King Ibn Saud met in Bitter Lake aboard USS Quincy.
We maintain our strong people-to-people partnership knowing that with our respect must come transparency and Trust as indicated by President Trump, Secretary of State Pompeo, and European leaders alike. These two principles are vital for ensuring the continued collaboration because we know that to remain committed and we are committed.
We are going to have to have continued transparency and security for all in this region and it is necessary if we're to have a safe and prosperous Middle East. And in the King of Jordan's words from last evening, "stability and confidence go hand in hand."
We are stronger when we work together for peace. The United States stands ready to continue to work by with and through our allies and partners across the region. Working alongside you, we will strengthen your efforts to refine an integrated regional security system that is inclusive of all our partners in the region. One that will serve as a comprehensive mechanism for solving conflict and preserving peace into the future.
Today, I look forward to working closely with you to combat maligned influence with partnership to counter destabilizing behavior with cooperation. For without this cooperation, we only strengthen those who mistakenly see their own security in the insecurity of others domestically or internationally.
Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan once remarked that "lasting peace cannot be secured through the strength of arms alone. The open exchange of ideas ultimately is our greatest security," and now in that spirit, I look forward to that open exchange of ideas as I take your questions. Thank you very much, Ladies and Gentlemen. (Applause.)
JOHN CHIPMAN: Thank you very much, secretary of defense, for that splendid statement. We have three or four people who wish to take the floor. I know others wish to do so as well. Make certain that you go through your three steps. If you are struggling raise your hand and IISS staff member will help you.
But first from the UAE, Dr. Ebtesam Al Ketbi .
Q: Thank you, John. (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
I'm going to ask in Arabic please.
MR. CHIPMAN: Go ahead.
Q: (Speaking in Foreign Language).
MR. CHIPMAN: Thank you very much. I think we'll take a few more. Certainly, this question of how one deals with Iran's own strategy of working by with and who allies in their case, non-state actors and militias, an important question.
Q: Thank you, John. Thank you, Secretary Mattis for your remarkable (inaudible). Jim, I'd like to press you on the issue of U.S.-Turkish relations and more broadly on the role of Turkey and the security of the region in the wake of the Khashoggi murder in Istanbul. Turkey has taken on a strong indeed assertive stance.
Turkey has also released an American citizen. Under these circumstances, how do you see the future of Turkey's role both as a NATO ally, indeed an ally of the United States, and as a regional power interacting with the U.S. notably in Syria but also here in the Gulf notably through the defense relationship between Turkey and Qatar. Thank you.
MR. CHIPMAN: Thank you, and from the Kingdom of Bahrain, Dr. Majeed Al Alawi.
Q: Thank you and thank you, Secretary of Defense for this strong commitment to the peace and security of the region. I have a question. Do you think announcing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the U.S. Embassy there contribute the security and stability of the Middle East?
MR. CHIPMAN: Thank you and I'll take one more in this round from Dr. Chung Min Lee.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for your speech.
U.S. efforts to control Iran's nuclear program is a cornerstone of the Trump administration's non-proliferation policy in the Middle East, but having pulled out of the JCPOA, what are the implications for ongoing U.S.-North Korea negotiations to completely denuclearize North Korea? And the U.S. also just announced its withdrawal from the INF treaty, how will this influence the U.S. force posture across the Eurasian rimlands including the Middle East. Thank you.
SEC. MATTIS: Well, nobody said it was going to be easy, right, but this is exactly why I come to Manama because this is hard work. For the first question from United Arab Emirates, it is our goal to have Iran cease its calculated attacks on others. Again, we do not believe the Iranian regime speaks for the Iranian people. We know there are people -- all of us in this room know there are people in Iran who want peace, who want prosperity, who want trade, who want their children to be able to go to universities in other countries and come home and have the same freedom at home they had when they were in other nations.
So, if we can see Iran rejoining the community of nations responsibly not having proxies and surrogates that they arm and spreading mischief and murder across the region and elsewhere, then, of course, the sanctions would change, but it must be conditions-based. It cannot be based on a hope or based on some deceit or denial.
We know what Iran is doing and I invite all of you to come to Washington wherein an aircraft hangar, yes, it takes an aircraft hangar to hold the examples of what we have collected across the region of Iranian missiles, explosive boats, and other accoutrements of war and combat not of peace.
So, based on the effort to try to bring Iran back into alignment with international law, with international principles, then and only then would you see us willing to accommodate Iran's expectations. We do not accommodate what Iran is doing today and I would just add here on the questions from our Korean colleague, the control of the nuclear programs and the nonproliferation of those programs is an international responsibility.
As you know, we have international rules about this, so I think that it was the sundown aspect of the JCPOA that said we were in effect, not our intent, but we were in effect saying it's okay to go for a nuclear weapon and here's the start date. It's a couple of year down the road, then you can do this.
That is what we had to address, and that in itself gives I believe more credibility to what we are doing on the Korean Peninsula, again working through the international community, but we have a responsibility to lead there was well, to ensure that these weapons do not spread and we get them under control so that we don't have a worsening situation as we tried to reduce the number of weapons in the world.
On INF, we are in close collaboration with our European allies, in consultations, as recently as yesterday. And we will continue to collaborate very closely with a treaty and its implications for European security.
Now, a point to remember here is two American administrations, Democrat and Republican, have worked for nearly five years to bring Russia back into compliance. Remember, there's only two nations that signed this treaty and one of them have been out of compliance for years. We have met diplomatically and it's been unproductive over two administrations.
Eventually, we have to look reality in the eye. That is to mean that we are walking away from arms control. But arms control must be more than words on the paper. It must be actions, and so I believe that it actually strengthens the level of commitment, because we do not dance around noncompliance issues and look the other way as if everything is fine.
On U.S.-Turkish relations, Turkey is a NATO ally and throughout this difficult period, as tensions have been introduced by the amount of violence in Syria, and remember, that is the source of the tensions that we are facing today, as we deal with those issues, we have had our military to military alliance has remained very strong, very open communications, transparent, trusted. At the same time, even on the broader issues, we have more in common with our NATO ally, than we have in uncommon ground that is simply not the case that it would in some way dominate.
We do have some very vexing issues, but I see Turkey's role as we move forward here with progress that you noted in a couple of key areas, as having more traction for coming back together on those issues, where we've been apart and we are committed to doing so.
Dr. Al Alawi,on Bahrain, it was about contributing to stability, whether or not the announcement of an embassy going to Jerusalem contributed to stability or not.
I think the most important thing is that we have a commitment to the Middle East peace process. That is the important piece.
Now, we have had a consulate in Jerusalem for a long time and I don't discount the symbolism of moving our embassy to Jerusalem. But it was in no way intended to slow the peace process. It is intended to show the reality of what Jerusalem is. It is also part and parcel, we believe, of how we move forward with the Palestinian situation, and guarantee them the hope that the Jordanian king spoke of yesterday, that hope cannot be unilateral, it must be multilateral, it must to include the future, a better future for the Palestinian people.
And in that regard, I do not believe that the movement of the embassy there in any way throws off our commitment to bring in the Palestinian people home to a better future. We remain committed to that. Right now, it is a routine discussion in Washington, D.C., at the highest levels about how do we move both peoples forward toward peace and stability and a positive future.
MR. CHIPMAN: Thank you very much. I'll take another round, three or four more. The first is Tobias Ellwood, parliamentary undersecretary of defense in the United Kingdom -- Tobias.
Q: Secretary, really good to see you here and recommits your energies, United States' energies to this region.
You spoke of the erosion of the rules-based order and you gave examples of how complex and dangerous our world is becoming, challenges from state and non-state actors. It's as if we're no longer at war, but we're certainly not at peace. We're almost at constant conflict.
My question is about the organizations perhaps created after the Second World War whether they're up to date, whether they're capable of dealing with -- legally, dealing with the challenges that we face, many of the attacks that take place, cyber attacks and so forth, you could argue is being sub Article V from a NATO perspective, and the United Nations Security Council that we all look at and wants to support is thwarted in its effort to hold countries to account because of the veto.
Is it time for like-minded nations to look and to update these organizations that we seek to hold nations that go rouge to account?
MR. CHIPMAN: Thank you.
And from the United Arab Emirates, (Rasha AlJundi .
Q: Yes. Please, Secretary Mattis, I just want to ask if there is a formula regarding Yemen peace process, especially when you said, you talk about the compromises that should be done to reach peace there and with the Iranian back in the Houthis. Do you think that the Gulf countries can back a peace plan in the same time accomplishing and preserving their security from the Houthi attacks, especially Saudi Arabia? Thank you.
MR. CHIPMAN: Thank you.
And Betsy Mathieson based here in Bahrain.
Q: Good morning. Thank you, Secretary, for your remarks.
Here in the Kingdom of Bahrain, we do believe very strongly that religious freedom is the foundation towards peaceful coexistence for all people. I'm the deputy chairman of the King Hamad Global Center for Peaceful Coexistence, created this year by his Majesty King Hamad. He has also written a very powerful and no-nonsense document called "The Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration," calling for religious freedom and peaceful coexistence for all.
Secretary Mattis, you've mentioned something very important, that stable and peaceful nations need people to have the right to be able to stand up and call for peace and we see hate crimes on the rise around the world, particularly religious themed hate crimes. And so, we call on all people and we ask the United States, will you work with the King Hamad Global Center for peaceful co-existence? Will you read and adopt and share the words of his majesty in the kingdom of Bahrain, calling for this right for all people?
How important have you considered this as another weapon? You have nuclear weapons, we have talked about cyber threats, but we often forget that insidious cancer which is the poisonous ideology of terrorists whose voices we allowed to be louder than ours? Thank you.
MR. CHIPMAN: Thank you. And I'll take two more.
Nabil Fahmy from Egypt? Nabil, go ahead.
Q: Thank you, Secretary Mattis.
A quick comment and a question. I have to say I take issue with your explanation that moving the embassy to Jerusalem does not affect the message about your commitment to the Middle East peace process, especially that you also close the consulate in East Jerusalem, and move that to your embassy.
But my question really is, could you elaborate a little bit on U.S. role in this situation in Libya, which is another problem area in the Middle East? Thank you, sir.
MR. CHIPMAN: Thank you.
And last from the United States, Dr. Mara Karlin .
Q: Thank you, Secretary Mattis.
Given the National Defense Strategy's focus on China and Russia, and in light of recent steps, like the removal of an aircraft carrier from the Gulf and key missile defense systems, could you share with us your thinking on reshaping U.S. military posture in the Middle East?
SEC. MATTIS: Well, it doesn't get any easier, does it?
But, first, Tobias, great to see you here. I would just point out that the United Kingdom's role continues to be essential. I'm reminded that the deputy commander of the U.S. Fifth Fleet here in Bahrain is a Royal Navy officer. It shows the collaboration the many nations exercise because as the crown prince of UAE has said, because the area is critical to the international economy, we need international support to maintain stability in the area.
And U.K. has been at the very forefront of carrying that kind of commitment forward, not just on military, but also on diplomatic, and a host of other areas to include the medical collaboration that allows an exchange of the top flight technology, medical technology. Why do I bring it up? Because it's important we always expand this problem in order to truly address it, of security and stability, you don't want to address it merely and United Kingdom has been one of those with the most mature outlook on this.
But as far as the post-World War II organizations, the United Nations coming out of Bretton Wood, we saw the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. It was designed for the desperate people and economic privation would not turn to Mussolinis. They could turn to the lender of last resort.
There are other organizations and structures that have come out and do we need to update? Absolutely, they must be admitted. In America, we are now permitting our folks to invest, our government to invest basically differently with our foreign aid, rather than having it narrow. That allows us to more broadly address the needs of the changing world that we see.
So, yes, it needs to be updated, but we must remember the first principles. Why did we have the IMF? Why did we have the World Bank?
And as we update these organizations, we have to remember again going back to the very good word to the king of Jordan last night -- we have got to be able to instill hope. We do not want people feeling hopeless and then wonder why they lash out.
So, we have to work together on this through many nations in the region that have been very generous and trying to help others and whether they'd be refugees, or education, that sort of thing, economic support. And I think we have to continue to update all of these organizations which means we have to define the problems of our day. If we do not define the problems well, we will not update the organizations appropriately.
On the formula for Yemen -- excellent question. We have had a lot of talk, ladies and gentlemen. They were quite. They have gone on for some time.
We came close to bringing everyone together and then we have someone back out -- the subordinate issues in Yemen had been talked about long enough. It is now time to go to the very crux. And for the question that's exactly fit for our time, what is the formula then?
I think the first part of the formula is that we ensure the borders are demilitarized so that people don't feel they have to put armed forces along borders. There should be nothing more than customs and border police there to expedite the flow of goods and people back and forth legally.
Secondly, I think the deweaponization, demilitarization on the high scale. I'm talking, there's no need for missiles anywhere down in Yemen right now. No one is going to invade Yemen. We are going to come back to the U.N.-supported government, one that gives the traditional homelands for the traditional peoples, for everyone to be in their own area, no need to take over other parts of the country and let the diplomats work their magic right now. But it has to start I think along those two lines.
And if we do that, I think that the Houthis are also going to find, they will not find the better time than to engage now with Martin Griffith and his good officers at the U.N. special envoy in order to have what I believe is in their best interest and they would agree in their best interest, and that is, they're in their own area, they have some degree of autonomy or some ability to coalesce together and have their voices heard. They do not need any help from Iran to do this. The United Nations can set that framework and the formulas, so long as it involves no attacking outside its borders and we don't see Iran using other countries as highways instead of respecting their sovereignty, using them as highways to bring their destabilizing weapons in to interrupt commercial traffic in the Gulf or firing missiles to civilian targets in the kingdom.
That was a great opinion, ma'am, about his majesty's statement on religious tolerance and I would just point out to all of us here something that is well-known to those of us who are familiar with the region, but Bahrain has always had that level of tolerance for people's expressing of whatever religion was intimate to them. And I think as far as the hate crimes, it's almost like we're losing our fundamental friendliness toward one another as people. We're losing a sense of calm and shared destiny on this planet.
And why people are becoming more tribal, why this is becoming manifested in religious terms, I think we need to turn the countries like Bahrain and say this is not the way we have been for many, many years, and having known the king, met the king first in 1996, I would just say his reform-minded way of approaching how he listens to his people I think is part of how we find our way out of this increased tribalism and this increasingly unhelpful sort of dialogue, what you called hate crimes. And hate crimes, and also hate speech.
But I think it is very important and you have our commitment that we will, of course, work, and this is so consistent what his majesty has set up with the center. This is so consistent with what America stands for. It is -- put out reservation, I say, we support that.
For Nabil, I understand why you would take issue with my point about the move of our embassy and I understand it. I would just say, if you watch our actions, it is -- that is not a singular action. Watch our other actions, as we try to once again do what President Clinton tried so hard to do and nearly succeeded.
Remind everyone that when Yasser Arafat walked away, that was probably the closest we had been. We had seen the king of Saudi Arabia back in the early 2000s come up with his peace plan. We know that if people of goodwill will work together that this can go forward. The Palestinian people need this and we support and President Trump supports that effort.
In Libya, I would just say that the return of Ambassador Bodde this week to service, he had a family situation with his father he needed to attend when he retired from the State Department. He is back. We are working with our -- especially our European and North African partners on the Libya situation and we'll continue to do so.
There again, we've got to find a way to put an end to the conflict. I don't have any good ideas on that one right now, but I think the right people are working it, to craft what the framing principles should be as we go forward.
The last question about the National Defense Strategy and the focus on China and Russia. You know, as I look at my responsibility, I often see where military aspects are only part of a solution. And oftentimes, if you were to ask me what my real job is, you know, I'm the secretary of defense. I'm responsible for military options and collaboration with our partners and allies.
But my real job is try to maintain the peace or what passes for peace for one more year, one more month, one more week, one more day, so the diplomats can carry out their responsibilities. And I think that right now, we had to recognize that times had changed and that Russia had chosen a different path in partnership with Europe and with NATO.
There was a time when we had objective reason to believe we could continue along that path. Regrettably what has happened in Syria and Crimea and Salisbury and I can go on, has caused us to recognize that reality.
With China, it is a very different situation, and there, I would just point out that strategic competition does not imply hostility. I have met with my counterpart in Beijing a month ago. I met with him again in Singapore a week ago. He is coming to Washington next week to continue our discussions.
And I would tell you that we are committed to cooperating with China, with Russia, where we can, but we will not surrender freedom of navigation. We do not surrender international law and no one nation can on its own change international law. It has to be a collaboration because we're all together in this planet.
So, we worked those issues with them but not as you can see from my presence here today, not through the lack of attention on our alliances and partnerships here in the Middle East. The Middle East is critical to the world's economy. The Middle East has been the source of too much strife and we are going to continue to stay committed here and in no way are we walking away from this.
We didn't pivot in this administration, to put it bluntly. We're not pivoting away or towards. We're simply broadening how we look at the world without losing any focus here, and I think that you'll see that in our actions here in the future. You will not have any doubt that we are firmly committed here, is firmly committed as the other nations represented here today.
MR. CHIPMAN: Thank you very much, Secretary Mattis, for your elegant command of all the strategic questions that you demonstrated today. And I think all of us in this hall wish you all the best in your enduring mission to combine cool strategy with human warmth. Thank you very much, indeed.
SEC. MATTIS: Well, thank you. (Applause.)