Mattis: 'Fair Share of the Burden' Message to NATO 'Very Well Received'

Defense Secretary James Mattis said his message to NATO that members carry their "fair share" of the financial burden was "not contentious," but rather his meetings in Brussels were "very optimistic."

In remarks Wednesday with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the alliance headquarters, Mattis said NATO "remains a fundamental bedrock for the United States and for all the transatlantic community, bonded as we are together."

"As President Trump has stated, he has strong support for NATO. And NATO is in the midst of transformation. It has always been adapting to the security challenges," Mattis said. "This is nothing new, perhaps the pace of change is certainly picked up a bit, but this is something that we can deal with."

"And it's absolutely appropriate, as the European minister of defense said last week, it's a fair demand that all who benefit from the best defense in the world carry their proportionate share of the necessary cost to defend freedom," he added. "And we should never forget ultimately it is freedom that we defend here at NATO."

After his ministerial meetings concluded today, Mattis told reporters that "our strong Trans-Atlantic bond and it's as strong as I have ever seen it."

"My intent was to affirm the full U.S. commitment to NATO and to gain an updated appreciation of the situation facing our alliance. The burden sharing I delivered was expected and it was very well received," he said. "...We thoroughly discussed the increased threats facing our alliance. And unified by the threats to our democracies, I found strong alliance resolve to address these growing threats. Russia's aggressive actions have violated international law and are destabilizing."

Mattis stressed that "the commitment to Article 5 remains rock solid."

"The message that I brought here about everyone carrying their fair share of the burden, the sacrifice to maintain the best defense in the world, was very well received," he added. "It was not contentious. There was no argument; there was simple discussion about how best and how fast can each nation with its own particular circumstance reach it. I leave here very optimistic."

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu said earlier today that Russia is "ready to restore cooperation with the Pentagon -- but attempts to build dialogue from a position of strength with regard to Russia are futile."

Mattis replied that NATO "has always stood for military strength in protection of the democracies and the freedoms we intend to pass on to our children," though he noted he had "no need to respond to the Russian statement at all."

The Defense secretary told reporters Russia must "live by international law just like we expect all mature nations on this planet to do."

"And what we will do is we will engage politically," he said. "We do not -- or, are not in a position right now to collaborate on a military level, but our political leaders will engage and try to find common ground or a way forward where Russia, living up to its commitments, will return to a partnership of sorts here with NATO. But Russia is going to have to prove itself first and live up the commitments they have made in the Russia-NATO agreement."