Defense Secretary Jim Mattis disputed Thursday that there is daylight between him and President Donald Trump on key issues while acknowledging there is little he can do about such characterizations.
Mattis, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, cited several examples, including how the media and other observers cast comments about North Korea made by him and the president Wednesday. Trump tweeted his frustration about North Korea in the morning, saying that “Talking is not the answer!”
Shortly afterward, a reporter at the Pentagon asked the defense secretary whether the United States was out of diplomatic options.
“No, we’re never out of diplomatic solutions,” said Mattis, speaking alongside South Korea’s defense minister. “We continue to work together, and the minister and I share a responsibility to provide for the protection of our nations, our populations and our interests, which is what we are here to discuss today.”
A Washington Post reporter was not at the Pentagon on Thursday when Mattis dropped by the press room, but accounts by several journalists said the defense secretary disputed that there was “anything contradictory” between the two statements on North Korea.
“The question was, ‘Are we out of diplomatic options?’ ” Mattis said, according to the account of a Breitbart reporter. Mattis continued, “No, we’re not. It was not, Should we talk now with the North Koreans, in which case I would have said, ‘No, I agree with the president exactly – we don’t do that right now.’ ”
Mattis also expressed frustration that a speech he gave recently to troops in Jordan was also interpreted as an indictment of Trump’s comments. In the secretary’s remarks, captured in a viral video, he urged service members gathered around him to stay faithful to their job while the country wrestles with its problems.
“It’s got problems that we don’t have in the military, and you just hold the line, my fine young soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines,” Mattis said. “Just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it.”
The remarks were interpreted by some as critical of Trump’s comments after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, that led to the death of a woman protesting the presence of white supremacists in the city. But Mattis said he actually was trying to echo sentiments Trump had just expressed in a speech on Afghanistan.
“If you remember the first, I don’t know, three, four, five, six paragraphs was about America coming together,” Mattis said, according to a partial transcript posted by a CNN journalist.
Mattis and his advisers have previously rejected stories highlighting apparent differences between Mattis and Trump, as The Washington Post outlined Wednesday. Mattis was explicit Thursday, saying, “If I say six and the president says half a dozen, they’re going to say I disagreed with him,” according to an Associated Press reporter.
The defense secretary’s unannounced visits to the media bullpen have become frequent. He said Thursday that he does not see the media as adversaries and prefers meeting with journalists off-camera because “I do better here,” according to a journalist with the website Defense One.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Dan Lamothe