Mattis Calls NATO Chief, British and Canadian Counterparts

Secretary of Defense James Mathis / AP
January 24, 2017

Defense Secretary James Mattis made separate phone calls to the NATO secretary general and his British and Canadian counterparts on Monday, days after being sworn in to lead the Pentagon.

Mattis spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg about the "key role" the alliance plays in transatlantic security, the Pentagon said in a release late Monday. Later, he made calls to Canada Minister of National Defense Harjit Sajjan and British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, underscoring the United States' defense partnerships with both nations.

"The secretary, who previously served as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation, wanted to place the call on his first full day in office to reinforce the importance he places on the alliance," Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said of the conversation with Stoltenberg. "The two leaders discussed the importance of our shared values, and the secretary emphasized that when looking for allies to help defend these values, the United States always starts with Europe."

"Both pledged to consult in the months to come and look forward to meeting in person during the NATO Defense Ministerial in February," Davis said.

Mattis was sworn in as defense secretary on Friday, shortly after being decisively confirmed by the full U.S. Senate in a 98-1 vote. Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general, has emphasized the importance of America's alliances and particularly NATO, given the rise of Russian aggression in Europe.

Mattis' confirmation took place just hours after President Donald Trump was inaugurated on Capitol Hill. Trump has made controversial statements about NATO, describing the alliance as obsolete and demanding that member states spend more on defense. Only a handful of nations, including the U.S. and U.K., currently meet their defense spending obligations in the alliance.

Mattis "emphasized the United States' unshakeable commitment to NATO and he thanked Secretary Fallon for his country's commitment of two percent of GDP to defense and contributions to international security," the Pentagon said Monday of the defense secretary's phone call with his British counterpart.

In a separate call, Mattis thanked Sajjan "for his leadership and the deep and enduring defense partnership between the United States and Canada."

"The two reiterated the depth and breadth of the relationship shared between the United States and Canada as NORAD partners, NATO allies, and North American neighbors," the Pentagon said.

Trump is expected to visit the Pentagon on Friday to participate in Mattis' swearing-in ceremony.